North Wales football’s greatest stories No5: Colwyn Bay’s Great Escape

Frank Sinclair was manager when Colwyn Bay achieved the well-nigh impossible in 2012/13. All pictures provided by Colwyn Bay FC match reporter Tim Channon

What’s the greatest relegation escape you’ve witnessed in North Wales football?

Colwyn Bay’s Conference North Houdini act in 2012/13 takes some beating.

Heading into their final six matches of the campaign, the struggling Seagulls, then managed by former Chelsea defender Frank Sinclair, looked all but doomed.

All their remaining games were against teams above them in the league, yet remarkably, the Bay won all six to beat the drop.

Sinclair told me in a later interview this stunning feat ranked right up alongside anything he had achieved in his illustrious playing career.

Quite an admission!

Playing then in what was known as the Blue Square Bet Conference North, relegation appeared a certainty after the Bay flopped 3-1 at home to already-down Droylsden on April 9 to make it eight league matches without a victory.

Sinclair’s charges seemed sure bets to finish in the dreaded bottom three, but suddenly the picture changed.

Tim Channon (left) interviews Frank Sinclair

Colwyn earned themselves a glimmer of hope in their survival quest by scraping a 1-0 win over a Gainsborough Trinity side which gave Wrexham a big fight over two legs in the FA Trophy semi-finals.

That game signalled the end of player-manager Sinclair’s five-match suspension and the return of the ex-Chelsea and Leicester City defender in the next fixture was to have a considerable effect.

An unexpected 3-1 triumph at promotion-chasing Brackley Town edged Colwyn to within three points of nearest fellow strugglers Corby Town with two games in hand.

Bay were now on a roll and a 3-1 home success over Oxford City took them out of the bottom three – the route to safety had become more of a reality.

Back-to-back 2-1 away wins at Workington and Bradford Park Avenue followed, putting the Llanelian Road club on the brink of saving themselves.

Sinclair’s valiants needed a draw at home to Gloucester City in their final game to end their relegation fears.

The Bay secured survival on their own terms, beating Gloucester 1-0 with a John McKenna header to finish up fifth bottom and five points clear of the club below them.

Cue Elmer Bernstein’s famous tune….

Colwyn Bay’s team that day was: Chris Sanna, Tom Smyth, Mike Lea, Frank Sinclair, Danny Meadowcroft, John McKenna, Gareth Evans (Jason Lampkin 90+2), Shelton Payne, Jamie Crowther, Jamie Ellison (Moore 75), Charlie Joyce. Subs not used: Danny Taylor, Paul Ennis, Fraser McLachlan.

A tremendous team effort revived Bay’s season, but the goals of Shelton Payne, Jamie Ellison and Rob Hopley proved ultra-helpful.

And perhaps the biggest factor of all was the return of the colossal Sinclair at the back.

Much criticism had been thrown around about Bay’s performances that season, but the club deserved credit for having come a long way in a short time.

As recently as 2009/10, they had been languishing in Evo-Stik Division One, seemingly destined to do little more than hold their own.

However, the appointment of Neil Young as manager turned the tables.

Promotion to the Evo-Stik Premier after a seven-year absence was achieved that season via the play-offs.

Young left to take over phoenix club Chester FC and former Tranmere Rovers hero Dave Challinor became the new Bay boss.

Colwyn sealed back-to-back promotions in 2010/11, beating FC United of Manchester in the end-of-season play-off final to make the jump to sixth-tier Conference North.

The 2011/12 season brought its share of off-the-field problems when Bay were told they had to upgrade their stadium or face explusion from BSB North.

However, a fantastic fund-raising effort led to the opening of a new stand and thumbs up from the FA regarding the improved ground.

In November 2011, Challinor departed to take over ambitious AFC Fylde, but under former Liverpool striker Jon Newby, the Bay managed to finish 12th in their first campaign in the Conference North.

What Frank Sinclair achieved as Colwyn Bay player-manager will never be forgotten

The 2012/13 season again proved difficult for the club, but the appointment of Sinclair in February saved the day.

Fortunes have dipped since those days, with the Seagulls now in Evo-Stik NPL West, level eight of the pyramid, and they are set to return to the Welsh system next season.

How Colwyn Bay achieved The Great Escape in Conference North in 2012/13

13/4/2013: Colwyn Bay 1 Gainsborough Trinity 0

16/4/2013: Brackley Town 1 Colwyn Bay 3 

18/4/2013: Colwyn Bay 3 Oxford City 1 

20/4/2013: Workington 1 Colwyn Bay 2

22/4/2013: Bradford Park Avenue 1 Colwyn Bay 2

27/4/2013: Colwyn Bay 1 Gloucester City 0

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