Wales and the ECWC: The 1990s, a decade of decline

Six seasons have passed since a Welsh club last progressed over two legs in a European football tie. In Parts I, II, and III of the Lost Boyos’ look at Welsh clubs’ performances in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, we saw how Welsh sides enjoyed success on the continent during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

Part IV takes us into the 1990s, where we find that the current trend of European failure goes back further than perhaps expected.

Part IV – The 1990s

Panathiakos of Greece were the first opposition for Welsh clubs in the 1990s, taking on Swansea City. Despite being 3-0 down shortly after half-time in Athens, the Swans gave themselves a fighting chance of progressing in the tie with two second-half goals. Paul Raynor got the first and loanee John Salako added a third from close-range in the final ten minutes as the first leg finished 3-2.

Back at the Vetch Field, it was the Swans who took control of the tie with goals from first Robbie James and later Andy Melville. Panathaniakos pulled one back, but Melville restored the Swans’ two-goal lead and aggregate lead. Dimitris Saravakos reduced the arrears with a penalty and the game looked to be heading for extra-time, but Saravakos snatched an 89th minute equaliser to break Swansea’s hearts and send the Greeks through.

In the 1990-91 season, Wrexham became the last Welsh team to succeed in a two-legged tie in the Cup Winners’ Cup. After a 0-0 draw at the Racecourse Ground, Denmark’s Lyngby were the favourites to go through from the second leg in Denmark. However, future £5million striker Chris Armstrong’s early goal was enough to send the Dragons through.

The second round draw produced the competition’s first Wales versus England clash as Wrexham took on FA Cup holders Manchester United. The tie was as good as over after United’s three-goal win at Old Trafford, Brian McClair, Steve Bruce, and Gary Pallister with the goals. United ended up winning the competition that season, thanks to two goals in the final from Wrexham-born Mark Hughes, and their progress to the third round was sealed with a 2-0 win at Racecourse Ground, Mark Robins and Steve Bruce the scorers this time.

Swansea City’s European campaign had never been able to match those of Wales’ other English league clubs, and their last appearance in the Cup Winners’ Cup was no different, ending in humiliation; the club added the record for Wales’ heaviest defeat in the competition to their record for the largest winning margin (12-0 versus Malta’s Silema Wanderers in 1982).

Arsene Wenger managed competitively on British soil for the first time when his AS Monaco side came to the Vetch in the first round of the 1991-92 Cup Winners’ Cup. Wenger’s team featured future World Cup winners Youri Djorkaeff and Emmanuel Petit, as well as 1995 World Footballer of the Year George Weah, and within 30 they minutes found themselves 2-0 up. A third goal was not forthcoming and Andy Legg scored a 71st minute goal to put the Swans back in the tie.

The return in Monte Carlo, however, ended in embarrassment. Weah and Djorkaeff were among the scorers in an 8-0 thrashing that sent Wenger’s team through 10-1 on aggregate on their way to losing the final.

Cardiff City had been Wales’ most successful team in the Cup Winners’ Cup during the competitions’ early decades, reaching two quarter finals and a semi final. Their final appearances came in the 1992-93 and 1993-94 tournaments, but the Bluebirds were unable to win a single match.  First, they were knocked out 3-1 on aggregate by Austria’s Admira Wacker, then 8-3 the following season in an exciting tie with Standard Liege. Tony Bird’s second goal of the night had put Cardiff 2-1 ahead in the tie’s first leg in Belgium, but Standard scored four to earn a 5-2 win. Standard were 3-0 ahead and out of sight with an hour played at Ninian Park, but Robbie James did get a consolation becoming the second man to score for both Cardiff and Swansea in Europe.

Barry Town upset the odds to defeat Cardiff City in the 1994 Welsh Cup Final and book their place in Europe for the first time in their history. It was, however, a disappointing campaign going out in the first round to Lithuania’s Zalgiris Vilnius. A 1-0 defeat in the first leg at Ninian Park kept Barry in the tie, but they conceded six in Vilnius to crash out 7-0 on aggregate.

Wrexham were the last of Wales’ exile clubs to represent their country in Europe in the 1995-1996 season, before the six English league clubs were banned from playing in the Welsh Cup. Romania’s Petrolul Ploesti were the Dragons final European opponents. In a close tie, the Romanians progressed 1-0 on aggregate, winning their home leg after a 0-0 draw at the Racecourse Ground.

Wales were again represented by European debutants in the next two seasons. Llansantfraidd, forerunners to current Welsh champions The New Saints, were the 1996-97 season representatives. They got a draw with Poland’s Ruch Chorzow in the first leg played at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground, Polish international Dariusz Gęsior scoring at both ends in a 1-1 draw. In the return leg in Poland, the mid-Wales side became the latest Welsh team to suffer a heavy defeat on the continent, going down 5-0.

Cwmbran Town faired no better in the 1997-98 season. They lost 5-2 at Cwmbran Stadium, Englishman Richard Townsend’s goal being the last scored in the competition by a Welsh team, before a heavy 7-0 loss in the Romanian capital to National Bucharest.

Wales’ involvement in the Cup Winners’ Cup ended with a little symmetry, with last tie to be played in Wales taking place at the same ground as the first: Bangor City’s Farrar Road. In that first game, Bangor had produced Wales’ first big European giantkilling when they defeated Italy’s Napoli in 1962, but, sadly, were unable to repeat that achievement in the final 1998-99 season of the Cup Winners’ Cup. Finland’s FC Haka, featuring loanee Marlon Harewood, won the game at Farrar Road by the same 2-0 scoreline that Bangor had defeated the Italians. The second leg in Finland also ended in defeat, the Citizens going down 1-0.

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