Grassroots football in Wales suffered another blow when it was announced last year that changes would be made to the way our country was represented in the UEFA Regions Cup.
Previously entering mainly Tier 4 and 5 players, the FAW gave the green light last December for Tier 2 talent to become eligible for national selection.
The biennial tournament for amateur teams in Europe, which began in 1999, did not have a Welsh competitor until 2009, when Gwent flew the Red Dragon for the first time.
One of the big attractions of the competition was it allowed players from the lower tiers of the Welsh pyramid to represent their country in Europe.
After Gwent County qualified for Cymru again in 2011, it was then the turn of Chris Morrell’s North Wales Coast FA squad of mainly Vale of Clwyd and Conwy/Gwynedd League, plus Welsh Alliance Division Two players, to be the great Welsh hopes at tournaments in Macedonia and Estonia in 2013 and 2015.
At the last two Regions Cups, South Wales led the Wales charge and in the 2019 competition became our first team to progress beyond the preliminary stage.
This year, however, everything was set to change.
Following rule changes ratified by the National Leagues Board in 2019, the permutations around who can be selected for the squad took on a different direction.
Players from Tier 2 and below are now able to compete, provided they have never played in the JD Cymru Premier and have never been a professional.
A two-legged playoff at the end of the 2019/20 season was to be used to determine which side will compete in the Intermediate Round in September 2020.
JD Cymru South XI v JD Cymru North XI clashes were scheduled for April and May 2020 to decide which region will represent Wales in the 2021 UEFA Regions’ Cup.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the cancellation of all the qualification matches – and next year’s tournament.
Those two occasions where the North Wales Coast represented Wales in Europe were very special and should never be forgotten.
Here is how Chris Morrell’s heroes progressed twice to the finals and subsequently performed.
2012 UEFA Regions Cup Wales Final
North Wales Coast FA 2 (Cassidy 48, Whiteley 52)
Gwent County FA 0
Coast FA’s senior team qualified to represent Wales for the first time in the UEFA Regions Cup, to be held in 2013 in Macedonia.
Chris Morrell’s side beat Gwent County FA 2-0 with goals from Darren Cassidy and Steffan Whiteley.
In the 48th minute, the outstanding Cassidy ran past the last defender to then chip Gwent keeper David Preece and give Coast the lead.
Only four minutes later, a well-delivered corner from Michael Jones found Whiteley and he powered in the second.
2012/13 UEFA Regions Cup Finals reports
South East FYROM 1 North Wales Coast 0
North Wales Coast 1 (James Hay) Eastern Region 2
Hestrafors 1 North Wales Coast 1 (James Harper)
Coach Chris Morrell could not have been prouder after his North Wales Coast FA team won the first ever Welsh point at the UEFA Regions Cup in Macedonia.
Competing in preliminary round Group B, North Wales drew 1-1 with Hestrafors of Sweden to secure a well-deserved first reward in the tournament at the country’s third time of asking.
Earlier, the 18-man squad, which included 12 players from Morrell’s club side Meliden, produced fine performances in losing narrowly to hosts South East FYROM and Eastern Region of Northern Ireland, 1-0 and 2-1 respectively.
North Wales Coast took on South East FYROM in the opener and matched their quality, creating some good chances, and could feel really aggrieved not to pick up at least a point.
Bojan Petrovski scored the only goal of a tight game at the Mladost Stadium in Strumica on 33 minutes.
The second game saw a brilliant, experienced Northern Ireland select team deservedly beat NWC 2-1, albeit through a debatable penalty from Ryan Moffatt.
David Wright scored first for the Irish on 27 minutes, Conwy Borough’s James Hay equalised for North Wales on 42, but Moffatt’s spot-kick restored the Eastern lead after 44.
With injuries and suspensions now playing a factor, the Welsh gave everything in their final game against the Swedes, and after Meliden’s James Harper put them in front after 11 minutes, things looked good.
However, Hestrafors, who had lost their first two matches by heavier margins than North Wales, levelled through captain Mathias Svalin on 57 minutes.
Despite having to endure some late pressure, Coast held on for a deserved and historic point.
NORTH WALES COAST SQUAD: Gary Higham, Andrew Jones, Chris Evans, James Harper, Lee Beattie, Darren Cassidy, Michael Jones, Daniel Mills, Peter Evans, Sam McDougall, Gareth Walsh, Warren Adam (all Meliden); Steffan Whiteley (Mochdre Sports); Daniel Abbott, Andreas Alvarado (both Kinmel Bay); James Hay (Conwy Borough); Asa Thomas (Morawelon); Jordan Owen (St Asaph).
2014 UEFA Regions Cup Wales Final
North Wales Coast FA 2 (Sharpe,48, Jones 90)
West Wales FA 1 (Phromchantha 43)
Coast FA retained the FAW Regions Cup in a thrilling conclusion to qualify to represent Wales again in the UEFA Regions Cup, this time in Estonia.
The stunning last-minute winner came from sub Matthew Jones of CPD Llannerchymedd in the final FAW match to be played on grass at Latham Park, the home of Newtown AFC, on Saturday, May 17, 2014.
Coast started the brighter and had chances through Anthony Parry (Trearddur Bay), Gavin Sharpe (Llannerchymedd) and Duncan Midgeley (St Asaph), but found West Wales’ ‘keeper Dale Hulland in top form.
After another Parry effort was kept out however, a break away from West just before the half led to the opening goal from the excellent Chakkri Phromchantha to put Coast on the back foot in a game they needed to win.
Coast regrouped at half-time and a bright start saw them rewarded when a smart finish from Sharpe brought them level on 48 minutes.
The game was on a knife edge with chances galore at both ends, as Coast pushed on and West countered with only heroic defending from skipper David Evans (St Asaph) and Tom Taylor (Glantraeth), some top saves from keeper Mike Doutch (Trearddur Bay) and a brilliant display by West’s glovesman Hulland keeping the score level.
But a change of shape and the introduction of Ryan Jones (Trearddur Bay), Darren Ishmael (Beaumaris Town) and Matthew Jones for the Coast brought its rewards in the final minute.
Matthew Jones cut in from the left and smashed a 20-yard strike into the top corner.
That goal sent the Coast into raptures with a second European trip secured.
2014/15 UEFA Regions Cup Finals reports
North Wales Coast 3 (Duncan Midgley, Anthony Parry, Ryan Jones) Northern Estonia 1
Dostyk 1 North Wales Coast 0
IV Vestergotland 2 North Wales Coast 1 (Midgley)
History was to be made as in their first group match, NWCFA claimed Wales’ first-ever win in the tournament, beating Northern Estonia 3-1 thanks to goals from Duncan Midgley, Anthony Parry and Ryan Jones.
Their next two matches ended in narrow losses, 1-0 to Dostyk of Kazakhstan and 2-1 against IV Vastergotland of Sweden, Midgley again on target.
NWCFA were later awarded another three points as the Kazakhs fielded an ineligible player.
NORTH WALES COAST SQUAD: Daniel Thomas, Gavin Sharpe, Dewi Thomas, Matthew Jones (all Llannerchymedd), Duncan Midgley, Jordan Owen, David Evans, Paul Fleming (all St Asaph), Tom Taylor (Glantraeth), Mike Doutch, Ryan Booth, Ant Parry, Ryan Jones (all Trearddur Bay United), Darren Ishmael, Rob Jones, David Clarke (all Beaumaris Town), Kieron Hilditch, Owain Roberts.
UEFA REGIONS CUP – WALES REPRESENTATION
1999 – None
2001 – None
2003 – None
2005 – None
2007 – None
2009 – Gwent
2011 – Gwent County FA
2013 – North Wales Coast
2015 – North Wales Coast
2017 – South Wales
2019 – South Wales
UEFA REGIONAL CUP LIST OF WINNERS
2018/19: Dolny Śląsk (POL)/Lower Silesia
2016/17: Zagreb (CRO)
2014/15: Eastern Region (IRL)*
2012/13: Veneto (ITA)*
2010/11: Braga (POR)*
2008/09: Castilla y León (ESP)
2006/07: Dolny Śląsk (POL)
2004/05: Basque Country (ESP)
2002/03: C. R. Piemonte Valle d’Aosta (ITA)
2000/01: Moravia (CZE)*
1999: Veneto (ITA)*