Some of you may have noticed the nostalgia articles I write for the website about North Wales football matches from 5, 10, 15 and 20 years ago.
It is difficult to choose the greatest and most exciting era of my long sports reporting career, but the years from 2009-2013 take some beating.
At that time, the three main clubs I was asked to focus on were Bangor City, Rhyl and Prestatyn Town.
Connah’s Quay Nomads, Bala Town, Cefn Druids, Caernarfon Town….they were the responsibility of other writers.
That’s how it worked then. How it works now I have no idea whatsoever.
In that 2009-13 spell, both Rhyl and Bangor City won the Welsh Premier League title and Prestatyn stunned the nation by lifting the first Welsh Cup in their 103-year history.
They were all the North Wales back page kings!
City landed a third Welsh Cup in a row during that period.
Bangor and Prestatyn also had great success in Europe. Rhyl’s joys in that direction had occurred a few years earlier.
In 2009-10, all three clubs were in the Welsh Premier. The matches they played against one another were often thrillers.
Ten years on, that is today, none of them are in the top flight. What odds would you have got on that a decade ago?
Rhyl FC’s 141-year existence came to a heartbreaking end in April of this year.
Four-time Welsh Cup winners, three Cheshire County League titles and a pair of Welsh Premier championships, but one financial crisis too many and they were gone.
The ship looked to have totally sunk, but a phoenix club CPD Y Rhyl 1879 was born almost immediately with the aim of eventually reaching the level of their predecessor.
The new club has secured the lease on Belle Vue as its venue for the time being, but needs heavy investment to purchase the ground they crave.
There are good people involved and I wish them the best of luck, but Rhyl FC as we knew it for all our lives has gone – and that’s still very hard to take.
I reported on so many fantastic Lilywhites matches home and away going back to around 2000.
I saw them win the Welsh Cup twice, secure a magical quadruple under John Hulse in 2003-04 and witnessed the ‘dream team’ of 2008-09 land the Welsh Premier again, this time with Allan Bickerstaff and Osian Roberts at the helm.
Rhyl’s unparalleled triumphs in that 2001-02 to 2008-09 golden period had much to do with the investment of local businessman Peter Parry.
When Mr Parry left the club and withdrew his support in 2009-10, the Lilies were suddenly in trouble.
The season after winning the WPL title they were demoted from the top flight as their domestic licence application failed on financial grounds.
That was not the end of the good times though.
After two seasons in the tier 2 Cymru Alliance under Greg Strong, the former Bolton Wanderers defender who played for Rhyl’s 2008-09 champions, the Lilywhites bounced back in style in 2012-13.
Not only did they seal a return to the national league by topping the CAL, they became the only team ever to win that league without losing a game.
Rhyl lasted in the WPL for four more seasons before relegation struck in 2016-17, after which they were never in serious contention for the first tier again.
Added hardship caused through no ground income due to Covid-19 was the final straw for the Lilywhites.
After Bangor’s squad assembled with moderate resources stunned Welsh football by landing the WPL title in 2010-11, City’s triumphant manager Nev Powell predicted it would be some time before a part-time team achieved what the Citizens had again.
He was right. After pushing full-timers The New Saints to the final day in 2011-12 before the Oswestry outfit reclaimed the crown, TNS went on to lift seven more championships in a row – some by ridiculously big margins.
It was not until last season that the sequence was broken as Connah’s Quay Nomads were awarded the title on the unweighted points-per-game method, the campaign having been cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
That 2010-11 season was pure heaven for Bangor fans. It began in July with City winning only their second-ever European tie.
After a 1-1 draw in Finland against Honka Espoo, the Welsh Premier side won the return at Wrexham 2-1 to seal a famous victory.
In 1985-86, Powell was a player as City overcame Fredrikstad of Norway on away goals in the Cup Winners’ Cup to win their first Euro tie.
Twenty-five years on, Nev was the manager when his beloved all-blues did it again.
Then there was an astonishing league campaign.
Bangor won their first 15 matches – all of which I covered – thus setting a modern-day British record for most victories from the start of a season.
After that came a few slip-ups, and title hopes were wavering before massive away wins at Port Talbot and Neath handed Powell’s heroes a shot at the championship on the final day of the season.
The challenge? Beat TNS and you win the league!
And in front of a massive crowd at Farrar Road, the dream came true as Craig Garside’s goal clinched a 1-0 win for City and a third WPL crown.
Amazing times to be involved in as a reporter with the most fervent fans imaginable boosting the journey. What was not to like?
After finishing runners-up in 2011-12, then third the following season, City’s status as a top flight ‘superforce’ dipped and eventually led to Powell’s sacking in July 2016.
From this point, things were never quite the same at Bangor again.
Vaughan Sports Management took over the club and with that came regular managerial changes.
Andy Legg, Ian Dawes, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Kevin Nicholson came and went, and although City finished fourth in 2016-17 and second the following campaign, on the field successes were clouded by well-documented difficulties off it.
On 26 April 2018, the FAW Club Licensing Appeals Body decided to revoke the club’s Tier 1 and UEFA license due to not meeting financial criteria, meaning they would automatically drop down to the second level of Welsh football in 2018-19.
Craig Harrison, who has been a huge success in the WPL with The New Saints, took over as manager at Nantporth, but things didn’t work out.
Stephen Vaughan Jnr had a spell as caretaker-manager and the club ended the season with former chief Taylor-Fletcher in charge again, City finishing fourth in the Cymru Alliance.
In September 2019 the club announced that VSM had sold their shares in the club to an Italian-based consortium headed up by Argentine musician Domenico Serafino.
Serafino brought in Argentine World Cup winner Pedro Pasculli as the new manager and he was given the task of helping Bangor back into the top flight.
City ended the 2019-20 campaign, shortened because of Covid-19, fifth in the newly-named Cymru North.
They are now managed by former Barnsley midfielder, Argentine Hugo Colace.
Bangor’s squad currently comprises largely overseas players, although some North Wales signings have also been made.
With the feeling that City had lost its connection with the local area, many fans became involved with the newly-formed club Bangor 1876, who won the Gwynedd League last season and have been placed in tier 4 of the new-look Welsh pyramid for 2020-21.
Bangor City’s next aim is a return to the Cymru Premier, but the good days under Nev Powell seem a long way away.
City’s performances over the past 10 years have not been that bad overall, it is off-the-field events, mainly between 2016-19, that dragged the club down. It is still recovering.
My experiences reporting on Prestatyn Town date back to the early 1990s.
Although I fondly recall a Clwyd League treble in 1998-99 that got them moving in the right direction again, the club’s real rise to prominence started in 2005-06 when they won the Welsh Alliance title without losing a match.
Even so, there was no real indication yet of the amazing achievements to follow.
The first sign something special was really happening came in 2007-08, when the Seasiders stormed to the tier two Cymru Alliance title in player-manager Neil Gibson’s first season in charge.
Promotion was sealed, but to claim top flight Welsh Premier status, the club needed to complete challenging ground works in a short space of time to meet essential criteria. Remarkably, this was achieved and Town began 2008-09 as a Welsh Premier League club.
These were incredibly exciting times, with large crowds swamping Bastion Gardens, and a squad of young local lads giving as good as they got.
Although Town, competing against much more affluent clubs, were never to challenge for the title, they did manage three highly commendable top-six finishes in the total of eight seasons they spent in the WPL.
However, the real magic came in the cups.
In 2012-13, the Seasiders claimed their first-ever Welsh Cup, defeating Bangor City 3-1 in the final at the Racecourse, Wrexham.
They also lifted a first NWCFA Challenge Cup and qualified for Europe, where they celebrated a stunning victory over two legs on penalties against Liepajas Metalurgs of Latvia.
Unbelievable stuff for a club which had come so far in such a short time.
There was often talk of financial difficulties in the background, and at one stage fans raised enough money to pay off an imposing tax bill, but in general the club always pulled through, largely down to a family spirit which could not be broken.
Sadly, Town were relegated from the WPL in 2014-15 after seven seasons, but they scooped a second Cymru Alliance title – and promotion again – in 2016-17.
A second drop from the WPL followed in 2017-18, but last season they became just the second North Wales club to land three tier-two championships when finishing top of the newly-named Cymru North by a country mile.
It was looking good for Town, but in summer 2020 everything collapsed.
First, the club was denied promotion to the Cymru Premier as its TV gantry at Bastion Gardens was considered not good enough for modern broadcasting standards.
Prestatyn were adamant the matter would have been sorted but for a delay in Denbighshire County Council meeting to discuss the relevant planning application due to Covid-19.
A bit of compassion and understanding might have got Town the promotion they richly deserved, but they were instead consigned to another season in Cymru North.
In recent weeks, the situation at Bastion Gardens became much worse.
Manager Gibson left the club due to a difference of opinion with the new owner and almost the entire 2019-20 title-winning squad has departed, many to clubs in Cymru Premier where they belong.
Not only that, the academy set-up has been badly disrupted.
Fans are furious, with many insisting they will never set foot in the ground again.
What happens next no-one knows.
Former TNS and Colwyn Bay player John Lawless has been appointed the new Prestatyn manager with David Mannix. Lee Dickson and Ryan Turner as his backroom team.
For a club which has provided such fantastic entertainment against the odds over so many years and brought through 73 academy players to play in more than 2,000 first-team games to be in the position it is now is heartbreaking.
Rhyl FC have gone, Bangor City are unrecognisable from the Farrar Road glory days, but Prestatyn had overcome the setback of top flight relegation in 2017-18 and reached the promised land again….
Another chapter was being written in an enthralling book, but for now the cover seems to have been slammed firmly shut.
Ten years ago I expected Bangor City, Rhyl and Prestatyn Town to still be on the crest of a wave 10 years on, such were the fantastic people, emerging talent and unrivalled fan bases at the clubs.
But the current situation is grim….the lesson? Enjoy your successes when they come and savour them as the rug can be pulled from under your feet very quickly.
I wonder where North Wales football as a whole will be in 10 years’ time, given the Welsh Government and FAW’s brittle handling of the current Covid-19 crisis and all the problems it has brought our clubs.
Hopefully I’ll be retired by then….either that or long gone.