North Wales football’s greatest stories No12: Clubs from the north’s successes in Europe

Joy as Prestatyn Town celebrate their famous 2013/14 triumph in Latvia. Pic: Gareth Hughes

North Wales football clubs have not always had the best of fortunes in European competitions, but a few great results over the years have made our participation worthwhile.

Borough United, Connah’s Quay Nomads, Bangor City, Rhyl and Prestatyn Town have all recorded the rare achievement of winning a tie in Europe under the Gogledd banner. City are the only team to do it twice.

North Wales European triumphs

Borough United 0-0 (a) 2-0 (h) v Sliema Wanderers (European Cup Winners’ Cup preliminary round 1963-64)

After their stunning Welsh Cup Final victory over Newport County in 1962-63, Borough went on to cause another upset by beating Malta’s Sliema over two legs in the 1963-64 Cup Winners’ Cup.

An amalgamation of Llandudno Junction and Conwy Borough, United drew 0-0 at The Empire Stadium in Valletta, before defeating the Maltese 2-0 in front of 17,910 at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, courtesy of goals from Gerry Duffy and Mike Pritchard.

In the next round, Borough were far from disgraced as they went out 4-0 on aggregate to a very powerful Slovan Bratislava of Czechoslovakia.

Bangor City 1-1 (a) 0-0 (h) v Fredrikstad (European Cup Winners’ Cup first round 1985-86)

Much deserved Euro glory for Bangor after their heartbreaking exit in this competition against Italian giants AC Napoli 23 years earlier.

In that 1962-63 tie, Cheshire League part-timers City beat the mighty Serie A outfit 2-0 at Farrar Road, then lost the return 3-1 before an 80,000 crowd at the San Paolo Stadium.

Under modern-day rules, Tommy G Jones’ side would have progressed on away goals, but things were different then and a third game play-off was required at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium to determine a winner, the Italians edging a 2-1 triumph.

Fast forward to 1984-85 and Bangor qualified for Europe by virtue of being Welsh Cup runners-up. Shrewsbury beat the Citizens in the final, but the England-based trophy winners were not eligible to reach Europe via the Welsh Cup.

Bangor took on Norwegians Fredrikstad, by no means anywhere near Napoli’s class, but still a difficult opponent for the Northern Premier League team.

City drew 1-1 in Norway thanks to an Everton Williams header, and a 0-0 split at Farrar Road meant the all-blues were through on away goals.

Illustrious Spaniards Atletico Madrid awaited in the next round which saw Bangor perform brilliantly to lose just 3-0 over two legs.

Rhyl 2-1 (h) 2-3 (a) v FK Atlantas (UEFA Cup first qualifying round 2005-06)

Rhyl became the first North Wales team since the birth of the Welsh Premier League to win a European tie when they pipped Lithuanians Atlantas on away goals in 2005-06.

Dispatched 7-1 on aggregate in their Euro debut versus Skonto Riga of Latvia the previous campaign, the Lilywhites qualified for the UEFA Cup this time through finishing second in the WPL.

Lee Hunt’s double ensured John Hulse’s side beat Atlantas 2-1 at Belle Vue to set up a tense return in Klaipeda.

In an intimidating atmosphere, the WPL heroes were beaten 3-2, strikes from Greg Stones and Gary Powell, but that was enough to progress on away goals, the aggregate score being 4-4.

Rhyl lost 3-1 over two legs to Norway’s Viking FK, managed by future England boss Roy Hodgson, in the next stage.

Bangor City 2-1 (h) 1-1 (a) v FC Honka (Europa League first qualifying round 2010/11)

Neville Powell, a player in the Bangor side which beat Fredrikstad in 1985-86, was manager of the Citizens when they took on Finland’s Honka in the 2010/11 Europa League.

City had played nine previous ties in Europe as a Welsh Premier team and lost the lot.

They had also been turned over 3-0 on aggregate by Honka the season before.

On this occasion, things were different. Powell’s heroes earned a tremendous 1-1 draw on a 3G surface in Finland, Chris Jones on target, to tee up the prospect of a thrilling second leg at Wrexham’s Racecourse.

And what a return it was! Honka took the lead, Dave Morley equalised and then in the dying stages Chris Jones plundered a winner to send the Bangor fans wild.

City lost 10-3 on aggregate to Portugal’s Maritimo in the next round, but went on to win the Welsh Premier League title that season.

Prestatyn Town 1-2 (h) 2-1 (a) – won 4-3 on pens v Leipajas Metalurgs (Europa League first qualifying round 2013/14)

The 2012/13 season had seen Prestatyn lift the Welsh Cup for the first time in their 103-year history, beating Bangor City 3-1 in the final.

A first venture into Europe was secured and Neil Gibson’s side were drawn against Latvia’s Leipajas Metalurgs.

The first leg at Belle Vue, Rhyl, finished 2-1 to the Virsliga team, Andy Parkinson netting for the Seasiders.

Leg two at the Daugava Stadium was forecast by many as a straight forward task for the Latvians, but that never-say-die Prestatyn spirit came to the fore.

Metalurgs looked to be cruising when Valerijs Afanasjevs struck early, but the hosts had Dzintars Zirnis sent off and Ross Stephens started Prestatyn’s fightback, before player-boss Gibson grabbed a 90th-minute goal.

Extra time was scoreless and Prestatyn emerged winners 4-3 on penalties, Gibson, Stephens, Sean Hessey and Michael Parker all netting for the Euro debutants.

A star-studded, expensively assembled HNK Rijeka of Croatia disposed of Prestatyn 8-0 on aggregate in the next round, but the Seasiders had already created their piece of history.

Connah’s Quay Nomads (h) 0-0 (a) 1-0 v Stabæk (Europa League first qualifying round 2016/17)

Having won the Europa League play-off final the season before, Nomads embarked on their first European adventure in summer 2016.

Stabæk of Norway were the opposition, and after holding them 0-0 at Rhyl, Andy Morrison’s side created a sensation by winning 1-0 at Fredrikstad in the return, Callum Morris notching the all-important goal.

The result marked the first time in 24 years and 214 games that a Welsh side involved in Euro competition had kept two clean sheets across the two legs of a European tie.

The Nomads would go on to lose 3-1 on aggregate to Serbian side FK Vojvodina in the second qualifying round. 

Near Misses

Bala Town won their first-ever European game in 2013/14 when they beat FC Levadia of Estonia 1-0 at Rhyl, but lost the second leg 3-1.

Bala were within seconds of qualifying for the next round of the Europa League the following season. Having lost 3-1 away to Differdange, Town led 2-0 in the return at Rhyl and were set to progress on away goals before the Luxembourg side scored with almost the final kick.

Airbus went out on away goals in the 2013/14 Europa League, drawing 1-1 at home to FK Ventspils, before only managing a 0-0 outcome in Latvia.

Bangor City beat crack Serbian side Sartid Smederevo 1-0 in the home leg of their 2002/03 Uefa Cup tie, Paul Roberts with the goal, but the Welsh Premier side were beaten 2-0 at the Smederevo Stadium. The Serbians lost narrowly to Ipswich Town at the next stage.

In the 2017-18 Europa League, Connah’s Quay Nomads managed a magnificent 1-0 home victory against Finnish stars HJK Helsinki at Bangor, but lost 3-1 on aggregate.

Rhyl achieved one of the best results for a WPL side in Europe when they saw off FC Haka of Finland 3-1 at Belle Vue in the 2007/08 Uefa Cup competition, but the Lilywhites were eliminated on away goals after losing 2-0 in leg two. The major difference was Russian midfield ace Valeri Popovitch, who scored the second goal in Finland, but missed the first leg in Wales due to a fear of flying.

Bala beat Tre Fiori of San Marino 1-0 at home this season, but suffered a 3-0 defeat at the Stadio di Fiorentino.

North Wales clubs in Europe

Ties won: 6

Games won: 12 (Bangor City 3, Bala Town 3, Rhyl 2, Connah’s Quay Nomads 2, Prestatyn Town 1, Borough United 1).

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