Wales and the ECWC: Success in the 1960s

The New Saints’ recent 3-0 loss to Helsingborgs ended Welsh involvement in European club football for the 2012-13 season. It was one week before the start of August. This kind of performance is no longer viewed as either a surprise – Llanelli were the last Welsh team to make into the calendar’s eighth month in the 2006-07 UEFA Cup- or a tragedy. However, it was not ever thus.

For close to 40 years, Wales’ finest competed in one of club football’s greatest lost annual tournaments: the European Cup Winners’ Cup. Victory in the Welsh Cup allowed the winners (and occasionally the runners-up) to represent Wales in Europe the following season. For many of the 38 years that they participated in the CWC, Welsh teams not only took on some of the continent’s biggest footballing names, they often matched or beat them.

In Part 1 of a series looking at Welsh clubs’s involvement in the Cup Winners’ Cup, Lost Boyos guide you through the early successes of  Welsh clubs, in particular Cardiff City, during the 1960s.

Part I – The 1960s

On October 16th, 1961, Swansea Town became the first club to represent Wales in European competition when they hosted East Germany’s Motor Jena in, bizarrely, the Austrian city of Linz. Blackwood-born Brayley Reynolds, who had also opened the scoring in the 1961 Welsh Cup final win that granted the Swans entry to the Cup Winners’ Cup, became Wales’ first European goalscorer when he equalised Dieter Lange’s opener. Roland Drucke put Jena ahead, but Mel Nurse equalised with a penalty for Swansea, as the first-leg finished 2-2.

The second leg, remarkably played just two days later on the other side of the Iron Curtain in Jena, was a disaster for the Swans. Reynolds again put them ahead within the opening ten minutes, but when Lange’s second goal of the tie put Jena 3-1 ahead near the hour-mark, Swansea’s hopes of making it into the draw for the second round were ended. Jena scored twice more before the final whistle in a comprehensive 5-1 win.

Bangor City were Wales’ representatives in the 1962-63 competition and they were handed one of the toughest draws against Italy’s Napoli. European football finally arrived on Welsh soil with the first-leg taking places at Bangor’s Farrar Road, and the match also provided Welsh football’s first big European upset.

Roy Matthews put the Citizens in front just before half-time and a Ken Birch penalty put them two goals late in the second half, the first game ending in a 2-0 win for the Welsh part-timers that was as impressive as it was unexpected. In the return in Naples, the home side got the win they needed (3-1), which, in a time with neither away goals nor extra-time, meant a third game to decide who would progress from the tie.

That game took place at Arsenal’s Highbury stadium on October 9th, 1962. Napoli’s Humberto Rosa opened the scoring, but Bangor’s Jimmy McAllister equalised after 70 minutes. The Argentine-born Rosa ended the North Walians’ first European campaign with a second just five minutes before the final whistle. The winning goal, like victory in the tie, coming at the third attempt; Len Davies saved, but fumbled the first shot, the second was stopped on the line, but there was nothing that could have been done to stop Rosa scoring in the empty net.

For the next European campaign, Wales were represented by a third different side in as many seasons, and they were perhaps the country’s unlikeliest entrants of all: Borough United. The Llandudno-based team defeated Newport over two legs in the 1962-63 Welsh Cup final to the give the minnows a chance at European glory.

In the preliminary round, they became the first ever Welsh team to triumph over two legs in a European tie. Drawn with Malta’s Silema Wanderers, United tied 0-0 in Valetta before more than 17,000 attended the historic 2-0 victory in the return-leg at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground. Gerry Duffy and Mark Pritchard were the scorers.

In the first round-proper, Borough were faced with Czechoslovakia’s Slovan Bratislava. In December 1963, a much smaller crowd were in Wrexham for the 1-0 loss. Their exit was confirmed by a 3-0 loss in Bratislava, which was played out in extremely wintry conditions. Four years later, and just 15 years after their foundation Borough United ceased to exist.

Scotsman Jimmy Scoular arrived as Cardiff manager in 1964, and his nine years at the helm were among the most successful in the club’s history. European football also arrived in the Welsh capital for the first time that same year. Cardiff won the Welsh Cup in 1964 and 1965, giving them back-to-back appearances in the Cup Winners Cup. In October 1964, a Peter King goal at Ninian Park gave Cardiff a 1-0 aggregate win over Denmark’s Esjberg in the preliminary round.

In the first round, Cardiff met Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon and became the first Welsh club side to win on foreign soil in European competition. In Lisbon, Greg Farrell gave the Bluebirds the lead in the first half and veteran Derek Tapscott put them two goals to the good in the second. A late Figuereido goal proved nothing more than a consolation as on December 23rd, Cardiff gave their fans the perfect Christmas present with a 0-0 draw at Ninian Park to book their place in the quarter-finals.

There, it was back to the Iberian Peninsula to face Spain’s Real Zaragoza. In the city named after Julius Caesar, Cardiff again avoided an away defeat despite being two goals behind within the opening 15 minutes; Gareth Williams and King with the goals as the Bluebirds salvaged a 2-2 draw. However, back at Ninian Park, they were unable to score and it was the Spanish side who progressed thanks to a 1-0 win.

The capital-side were unable to repeat the heroics the following season, losing both preliminary round legs to Belgium’s Standard Liege.

In the 1966-67, Swansea Town briefly interrupted their great rivals’ near omnipresence in mid-60s and early-70s European club competition. However, Wales’ second-city team were again unable to progress in a tie against eastern European opposition, this time Bulgaria’s Slavia Sofia. Just as in their debut campaign, they tied the home-leg (1-1), before being humbled (4-0) in the away match.

Cardiff returned to the competition for the 1967-68 edition, the first of what would eventually become a record five consecutive Cup Winners Cup appearances (a record jointly-held with Finland’s FC Lahti), and 1968 was to be the most successful of their- indeed, of any Welsh clubs’- European campaigns.

Shamrock Rovers were the first victims in Cardiff’s quest for European success. Again it was Peter King who got the campaign’s first goal, the equaliser in Dublin. Back at Ninian Park, future two-time UEFA Cup winner John Toshack got his first European goal, and 1960 Olympian Bobby Brown got the second to secure a place in the second round.

Next, it was off to the Netherlands to take on NAC Breda and King scored again in another 1-1 draw away from home. At Ninian Park, Brown, whose performances in the Rome Olympics led to an offer from AC Milan, got his second of the campaign after just three minutes. Barrie Jones, Malcolm Clarke, and Toshack all scored as Cardiff secured their second Cup Winners Cup quarter-final spot in four seasons with a 4-1 win over the Dutch side.

The tie with Torpedo Moscow went to a third-game tie breaker. Cardiff were 1-0 victors at Ninian Park, while Torpedo won in the now Uzbek capital of Tashkent by the same scoreline. A play-off in the Bavarian city of Augsburg was won by Cardiff courtesy of Norman Dean’s late first-half goal.

The semi-final saw the Bluebirds pitted against German giants Hamburg SV. The northern German side featured two 1966 World Cup Final starters in defender Willi Schulz and legendary forward Uwe Seeler, as well as several others with caps for West Germany. At the Volksparkstadion, Dean scored to give Cardiff an early lead, but Helmut Sandmann’s goal meant yet another 1-1 draw away from home.

Back at Ninian Park, Dean scored for the third straight game, but Franz-Josef Hönig equalised just five minutes later. Seeler put Hamburg in front, but Brian Harris scored with twelve minutes remaining, and Cardiff looked set for another play-off to decide who would face either AC Milan or Bayern Munich in the final. Sadly, it was not to be. In the final minutes, Cardiff’s hopes were dashed by a second goal from Hönig, to send Hamburg through 4-3 on aggregate.

Cardiff were back the following season, but couldn’t match their previous 60s successes. Toshack and Ronnie Bird gave Cardiff a 2-0 first half lead against FC Porto at Ninian Park, only for Portuguese international forward Custodio Pinto to level things with two second half strikes. Porto took the lead in the return-leg, but Toshack scored again to give the scores parity. A Toshack missed penalty proved costly however, as Custodio Pinto’s third goal of tie brought Cardiff’s 1968-69 Cup Winners Cup run to a premature first round end.

Results and scorers were mainly sourced from the superb Welsh Football Data Archive.

8 thoughts on “Wales and the ECWC: Success in the 1960s

    • Thanks for commenting, Russell. It was quite an achievement by Cardiff.

      It’s been interesting researching this seeing just what big-name players appeared in Wales during the Cup Winners Cup years, and Seeler was certainly one of the biggest.

      • Having spoke to him earlier, found out that our Dad was actually signed by John Charles when he was Merthyr manager to replace Barrie Jones, one of the goalscorers against in 4-1 victory over NAC Breda

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