With the football season over prematurely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I’m in the unusual position of actually having this blog up to date! So to keep the content coming, and for something to do, I’ll do some old grounds and games where there’s a story to tell.
Thursday 13th July 2006 ko 19.30
UEFA Cup First Qualifying Round, First Leg
RHYL FC 0
FK SŪDOVA 0
I write this with Rhyl FC looking like being an early victim of the Coronavirus crisis. The 141-year-old club currently playing in Wales’ second tier, the Cymru North stated that with all football suspended, and no funds forthcoming for the foreseeable future, they have had little option but to initiate the winding-up of the company. Now a rather unhelpful landlord has clearly not helped, and the resignation is clearly aimed at producing a phoenix club, but the sadness of the piece is obvious.
Rhyl’s recent history is nothing if not interesting. From the 1930’s to 1992 the club played in English Leagues, most notably the North West Counties League, and the Northern Premier League. When the League of Wales was formed in 1992 there were no lack of “Anglo” clubs on the North Wales coast, and their modus operandi was to look along the A55 towards Liverpool for player recruitment rather than within Wales itself.
The FAW’s attempts to pull all Welsh “Anglo” clubs bar Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham and into the new League of Wales created the “Irate Eight” – Bangor City, Barry Town, Caernarfon Town, Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Tydfil , Newtown, Newport, and Rhyl. They all were Welsh clubs playing in English leagues and were all told they had to either join the new league or play their games in England. Of course it was restraint of trade, and Newport ended up winning their case in the High Court to remain an “Anglo” club, but in the there and then quick decisions needed to be made.
Merthyr were quickly exempted, but Rhyl reluctantly decided to return to domestic football, but their entry came too late to enter the new LoW so they were placed in the now second tier Cymru Alliance which they promptly won. A question, who won that inaugural League of Wales, and which league are they in now? Answer after the photos.
It took time, but by the 2000’s Rhyl became won of the stronger members of the League of Wales, then the Welsh Premier. I caught them on one of their fairly regular forays into European football, in this case a reward for finishing third the previous season.
Now let’s put a groundhopper’s perspective on this. 15 years ago, Welsh clubs’ participation in European competitions tended to be early, brief, and on borrowed grounds. I’d seen no end of games played at Newtown as UEFA rules mean that all games must be played in all-seater stadia. Now the way that worked out in Wales in the mid-2000’s was that the capacity was the number of seats, rather like in the Republic of Ireland.
At Belle Vue the impact was that a reasonably well-appointed 3,000 capacity Northern Premier League ground was made all-seater. It felt full with a shade under 1,500 supporters in there, but the arrangement was less than ideal in terms of both sightlines and cover but at least Rhyl were able to play in Europe at home. Remember there was no domestic licencing back then.
But the Lithuanian side from Marijampolė came to Wales with a plan. Here at Belle Vue they frustrated their hosts, and despite two late chances for Rhyl the stalemate was as inevitable as it was dull to watch. The Lithuanians were happy enough and won the second leg 2-1, to add to Welsh domestic football’s frustrations in European competitions.
Rhyl carried on as a major force in the Welsh Premier, but were shocked in 2010 when their application for a domestic licence was turned down on financial grounds. They were relegated back to the Cymru Alliance but two runners-up finishes then a championship saw them return to the Welsh Premier in 2013.
But the financial issues were always in the background; the club finished second-bottom in 2016 and 2017 then returned to the Cymru Alliance. They’ve not looked like promotion contenders since.
You have think there’s room for a Rhyl side in the higher echelons of the Welsh game, the town is too big not to support it. Clearly the situation is desperate, and lockdown making a bar position worse, but where there’s life there’s hope. And since this is football, even when everything else is extinguished there’s always the phoenix club.
All the best to all involved.
My thanks to Scott Struthers for finding out the attendance for this game.
The first winners of the League of Wales were Cwmbran Town, who now play in the Gwent County League.