Wales and the ECWC: success and signs of future failures in the 1980s

Many a pleasant July evening has been ruined for modern Welsh football fans, as they sit and watch their favoured teams make early exits from European competition. In Parts I and II of the Lost Boyos‘ look at Welsh club sides in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, we saw how Welsh football fans of the past were regularly watching their clubs- particularly those at Cardiff City and Wrexham- into the dark, cold nights of winter and even into the spring.

In Part III, we move into the 1980s. The beginning of the decade saw that success continue as Wales got it’s third European club football quarter-finalist, but the latter part of the decade gave an insight into the difficult times that lay ahead.

Part III – The 1980s

Wrexham began the eighties where they had ended the seventies: a first round European tie against eastern European opposition. East Germany’s FC Magdeburg were the opposition this time, and the Dragons won 3-2 in the first leg at the Racecourse Ground. Dixie McNeil put Wrexham ahead, but the East Germans led 2-1 at the break. Two late goals from Steve Fox and Steve Buxton gave Wrexham a slender lead to take to East Germany.

In Magdeburg, Wrexham looked set to advance after goals from Mick Vinter and Alan Hill had put the Dragons 2-1 up, but Siegmund Mewes scored late to take the game to extra-time. Joachim Streich and Wolfgang Steinbach, scorers at the Racecourse Ground, both got their second goals of the tie and Wrexham were eliminated 7-5 on aggregate.

The Cardiff-Wrexham duopoly was finally ended by Newport County. County won the Welsh Cup for the first and only time in their history in 1980, thus securing entry to the Cup Winners’ Cup, where they would become only the third Welsh side to reach a European quarter-final.

Things began excellently when Dave Gwyther scored five minutes into the first game against Northern Ireland’s Crusaders FC. Just minutes later Kevin Moore doubled the lead. In the second half, John Aldridge and David Bruton scored to give County an almost unassailable lead for the second leg in Belfast.

That game ended 0-0 and Newport moved on to face Norway’s FC Haugar. Newport got another 0-0 away from home before dishing out another beating back in South Wales. Gwyther again opened the scoring and youngster Steven Lowndes got the second. Aldridge scored a third and Moore also got his second of the European campaign, either side of a Tommy Tynan brace. Newport won the match and the tie 6-0.

It was Carl Zeiss Jena, 20 years on since they had conquered Wales’ first CWC entrants, Swansea Town, who ended Newport’s run at the quarter final stage. In Jena, Jurgen Raab twice put the East Germans ahead, but twice Tommy Tynan levelled, the second equaliser coming in the game’s final minute. At Somerton Park, East German legend Lothar Kurbjuweit’s free-kick was the game’s only goal and it was Jena who progressed, eventually reaching the final before losing to Dinamo Tbilisi.

In the 1981-82 season, Swansea, now suffixed with City, not Town, saw their European disappointment continue. Again it was East German opposition, again they failed to win either a match or an overall tie. Locomotive Leipzig were their conquerors, winning both legs of the first round tie: 1-0 in the first leg at the Vetch, then 2-1 back in Leipzig.

Swansea City did not have to wait long for the next chance at ending their 20-year European winless streak, securing their first European victories in the subsequent 1982-83 season. Portugal’s SC Braga were defeated in the preliminary round with goals from Jeremy Charles (2) and Džemal Hadžiabdić at the Vetch. Chris Marustik’s own goal was all the Portuguese could muster in the return, and Swansea marched on to the first round.

There, they crushed Malta’s Silema Wanderers in the most emphatic of all Welsh club sides’ performances in Europe. Charles again scored twice and there were also goals for Jimmy Loveridge (2), Bob Latchford, Irwin, Habziabdic, Ante Rajković, Nigel Stevenson, and a hat-trick for Ian Walsh in a 12-0 win. Swansea eased up a little in the return, netting five times in Malta. Alan Curtis and Gale each scored a brace and finally John Toshack, almost 20 years after his first European goal in the blue of Cardiff, completed the 5-0 rout.

Paris St. Germain were the second round opposition and the jump up in class was too much for the Swans. After hitting 20 goals in their previous four CWC matches, Swansea did not manage a single goal against the French and lost the tie 3-0 on aggregate.

It was a third straight Cup Winners Cup appearance for the Swans in the 1983-84 season, but again they were felled by a team from east of the Iron Curtain. FC Magdeburg, conquerors of Wrexham at the start of the decade, scored late at the Vetch to cancel out Ian Walsh’s 80th minute opener, then won the second leg 1-0 in Magdeburg.

Wrexham were back for the 1984-85 season and they produced probably the most famous of all their European triumphs. Few would have given the Dragons hope when they were drawn to play FC Porto in the first round, but, in an exciting game that saw both teams hit the woodwork on several occasions, Jim Steel’s near-post header gave them an unexpected lead to take to Porto for the second leg. With less than forty minutes played in that game, Wrexham found themselves 3-0 down in the Estadio das Antas. Fernando Gomes, who would end the 1984-85 season with the European Golden Boot, got two and Jaime Fernandes Magalhães added the third.

However, even before the half-time whistle was blown, the greatest comeback by a Welsh club in Europe was already well underway. Jake King got two goals before the interval to give Wrexham the advantage on away goals. Paulo Futre restored Porto’s aggregate lead near the hour-mark, but Barry Horne popped up to scored a late third that ensured that Wrexham knocked out the team that just three years later would win Europe’s most coveted prize: the European Cup.

Wrexham were handed a tie against another big European name in the second round in the shape of previous season’s beaten European Cup finalists AS Roma. Wrexham were unable to repeat their first round heroics, going down 2-0 to Sven Goran-Eriksson’s team in the Eternal City and 1-0 at the Racecourse Ground.

Wrexham were back the following year and started off with a big win over Malta’s FC Zurrieq. Steve Charles, and Mike Conroy were the scorers in Valletta

In 1985-86, Bangor City became the first Welsh League team to represent Wales in the Cup Winners Cup since Borough United had done so 22 years earlier. Bangor’s only previous Cup Winners Cup appearance had begun with a win over Napoli, before losing a third game play-off to the Italians. Had the away-goal rule existed at the time, the Welsh club would have knocked out the Italians. However, with the rule now in place, Everton Williams’ goal in Norway was enough to take them past SK Fredrikstad on away goals as the tie ended 1-1.

In the second round, the Citizens played Spain’s Atletico Madrid. Atletico were too good for the Welsh league side though, winning both legs to knock Bangor out with a 3-0 aggregate victory.

Wrexham were back for the 1986-87 season and started off with a big win over Malta’s FC Zurrieq. Steve Massey, Steve Charles, and Mike Conroy were the scorers in Valletta as the Dragons won 3-0. Massey got a further two goals at the Racecourse Ground and heroes of the 1984-85 campaign Jim Steel and Barry Horne got the other two goals, as Wrexham completed a comfortable 7-0 aggregate victory.

It was Spanish opposition that ended Wales’ European involvement for the second consecutive season. Wrexham held Zaragoza to a 0-0 draw in Spain, and that was also the score at the Racecourse Ground when the final whistle sounded. In extra-time, twice Zaragoza’s Chilean substitute Patricio Yanez put the Spaniards ahead, but twice Wrexham equalised; first Steve Massey, then substitute Steve Buxton. The draw, however, was not enough, and Wrexham were out on away goals.

Merthyr Tydfil were Wales’ second Cup Winners Cup debutants of the 1980s after beating Newport County in a replay to win the 1987 Welsh Cup. They were handed a tough first round draw against Italian side Atalanta, runners-up in the Coppa Italia to Diego Maradona’s double-winning Napoli.

Like Bangor City in the 1962-63 CWC, Merthyr began life in European football with a home win over Italian opposition. At Penydarren Park, Merthyr-born Kevin Rogers, who had helped Wrexham know out FC Porto in 1984, got the game’s first goal from a deflected indirect free-kick after the Atalanta goalkeeper Piotti had taken too many steps with the ball in-hand (remember that rule?). Domenico Progna equalised after Gary Wager had saved from Gaudini before half-time, but, from a very tight angle, Ceri Williams’ scored a powerful late free-kick to seal the Martyrs’ famous win.

Sadly, back in Bergamo, Atalanta, whose side featured current Italian national team manager Cesare Prandelli, got the two-goal victory they needed to progress. Their 2-0 win meant Lyn Jones’ men went out 3-2 on aggregate.

Cardiff City made their first Cup Winners’ Cup appearance in eleven years to round off the decade. At Ninian Park, a goal from current Reading manager Brian McDermott and a hat-trick from Jimmy Gilligan helped the Bluebirds defeat Ireland’s Derry City 4-0 on aggregate, after the first leg had ended in a 0-0 draw in Ireland.

In the second round, they faced Denmark’s Aarhus GF. In Cardiff, Bjorn Kristensen, who would later play for Newcastle United and Portsmouth, opened the scoring, but Gilligan equalised before half-time. Kristensen scored the game’s winner in the second half to give Aarhus the advantage heading to Denmark. However, that single goal cushion proved more than enough as the Danes won the second leg 4-0.

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

2 thoughts on “Wales and the ECWC: success and signs of future failures in the 1980s

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

  2. Pingback: (Not) Lost in…Merthyr | Lost Boyos

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