Wales and the ECWC: The 1970s’ North-South Divide

For a sixth successive season, Welsh football has gone without representation in European competition beyond the month of July. The New Saints were the last survivors, going down 3-0 to Helsingborgs in the Champions League preliminaries. Earlier, Llanelli, Bangor, and Cefn Druids had been eliminated in the Europa League preliminaries.

In this series, Lost Boyos look back on happier times, with Welsh clubs more than holding their own against many of the continents’ finest in the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup. In Part I, we looked at the early successes enjoyed by Welsh sides in the competition; Cardiff City’s forays into the tournament’s latter stages, Bangor City upsetting Italy’s Napoli, and tiny Borough United becoming the first side to achieve success over two legs.

In Part II, we move into the 1970s, a decade in which CWC qualification was dominated by just two clubs: Cardiff City and Wrexham.

Part III – The 1970s

The decade began with Cardiff midway through their record five consecutive seasons in the Cup Winners Cup. The Bluebirds had enjoyed the competition in the previous decade, reaching the quarter-finals in 1965 and the semi-finals in 1968.

They started the 70s with a bang, beating Norway’s Mjøndalen IF 12-2 on aggregate. The first leg in Oslo gave Cardiff- and Wales- their biggest ever away win in European club football. Brian Clark (2), John Toshack (2), Leslie Lea, Mel Sutton, and Peter King all scored in a 7-1 victory. King got two more and Sandy Allan got the first hat-trick for a Welsh club in Europe in a 5-1 win at Ninian Park two weeks later.

Cardiff took on Turkish opposition for the first time in the second round. The first leg in Izmir saw Göztepe win 3-0. The Bluebirds won the return at Ninian Park, but the 1-0 win thanks to Ronnie Bird’s goal was not enough to take them through.

The fourth of five consecutive Welsh Cup triumphs in 1970 put Cardiff back in the Cup Winners Cup, and while they failed to make it as far as in 1968, the 1970-71 season produced probably the most iconic of all their great European matches.

The campaign began with Cardiff handing out another thrashing; this time Cyprus’ Pezoporikos Larnaca were humiliated 8-0 at Ninian Park. Toshack scored in Europe for the fourth consecutive season, netting a brace. Peter King, another regular scorer on the the Bluebirds’ European adventures, got one, with Ian Gibson, Bobby Woodruff, Mel Sutton, and Brian Clark the other scorers.

A 0-0 draw in the away leg took Cardiff through to face France’s FC Nantes. Nantes took an early lead at Ninian Park, but the Bluebirds responded in style to complete an emphatic 5-1 win. Toshack (2) and King were again in the goals with Gibson and Leighton Phillips getting the others. Toshack scored his fifth of the campaign in Brittany and Brian Clark added a second as Cardiff also won the second leg 2-1.

The quarter-final draw gave Cardiff their biggest European challenge so far: six times European Champions Real Madrid. Against all the odds, the Bluebirds won the first leg at a packed Ninian Park. 17 year-old Nigel Rees supplied the cross for Brian Clark to head in a winner. At the Santiago Bernabeu, however, Cardiff were unable to stop their hosts and Madrid won 2-0 to take the tie on aggregate.

In the final year of their record-breaking run, Cardiff added another to their growing lists of Welsh firsts in Europe: the first team to participate in- and lose- a penalty shoot-out. Cardiff led in both legs against East Germany’s Dynamo Berlin, but in both matches the Germans found an equaliser. In the first leg in Berlin, the leveller came as late as the 90th minute after Ian Gibson had given the Bluebirds the lead. At Ninian Park, hero of the last campaign Brian Clark put Cardiff ahead, but Dietmar Labes equalised just three minutes later and the game went to penalties. It was club legend Don Murray who missed the all-important penalty, while the East Germans, typically, scored all five spot-kicks.

Cardiff’s Welsh Cup hegemony was broken by Wrexham in 1972, so it was the Dragons of North Wales that got to represent Wales for their first time in the 1972-73 Cup Winners Cup. They began successfully with a 3-2 aggregate win over Switzerland’s FC Zurich. Albert Kinsey scored Wrexham’s first European goal, an equaliser in the 1-1 draw in Switzerland, then Mel Sutton and Billy Ashcroft scored as Wrexham came from behind for a 2-1 win that booked their place in the second round.

Next up was Hadjuk Split. Wrexham took a 3-0 lead with goals from Brian Tinnion, David Smallman, and a Hajduk own goal. However, a late goal for Split would prove to be more than a mere consolation, as a 2-0 win in the return-leg sent the Yugoslavs through on the away goals rule.

With Jimmy Scoular, architect of Cardiff previous European success, now gone, the  Bluebirds returned for the 1973-74 and 74-75 tournaments, but failed to make it past the first round in either competition. First, Sporting Lisbon gained revenge for being knocked out by the Bluebirds in 1964 with a 2-1 aggregate win, then Ferencvaros ended their participation in the following year’s tournament with a 6-1 aggregate win; the Hungarians 4-1 win at Ninian Park being first victory on Welsh soil for a foreign side since Hamburg’s 1968 win at the same ground, and the only defeat suffered in Wales throughout the 1970s.

In the 1975-76 season, Wrexham became the second team from Wales to reach the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners Cup. Gareth Davis’ 90th minute goal sealed a 2-1 at home to Djurgårdens, and their progress was secured with a 1-1 draw in Sweden. Ashcroft got both goals in the 2-0 win over Stal Rzezsow at the Racecourse Ground, then another 1-1 draw sealed a quarter-final berth.

Wrexham’s run was ended there, as eventual winners Anderlecht sealed a 2-1 aggregate win. Wrexham lost the first-leg in Belgium 1-0 to a team featuring Dutch World Cup finalists Arie Haan and Rob Rensenbrink. Stuart Lee gave them hope when he put them ahead at the Racecourse Ground, but it was Rensenbrink, the man who end  up as the Cup Winners Cup’s record goalscorer, who ended Wrexham’s hopes with a 76th minute winner.

Wales’ representation continued to yo-yo between Cardiff and Wrexham for the remainder of the 1970s. Cardiff were back for 1976-77 and 1977-78. Drawn into the preliminary round with Swiss side FC Servette, Cardiff booked their place in the first round on away goals after a 2-2 aggregate score. Derek Showers got the all important away goal in the 2-1 defeat in Switzerland.

Cardiff again faced eastern European opposition in the next round with the USSR’s Dinamo Tbilisi. Australian international forward Adrian Alston scored the only goal in the 1-0 win at Ninian Park, but Dinamo won 3-0 in the return.

Austria Vienna ended Cardiff’s 1977-78 run with a 1-0 aggregate win, thanks to victory in the Vienna leg of the tie.

Wrexham closed out the decade with an exciting tie against NK Rijeka of Yugoslavia. After losing 3-0 in the Balkan state, Wrexham came out fighting in the home leg and almost secured a turnaround. Dixie McNeil opened the scoring in the first half, and Les Cartwright added a second midway through the second half, but the comeback was not to be and the tie ended 3-2 on aggregate.

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

2 thoughts on “Wales and the ECWC: The 1970s’ North-South Divide

  1. Pingback: The 1980s – Success and Signs of Future Failure | Lost Boyos

  2. Pingback: Wales and the ECWC: The 1990s, a decade of decline | Lost Boyos

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