Barry Town United will mark another significant milestone in their journey back to former glory this week when they return to the European stage against Cliftonville in the UEFA Europa League.
The 1st leg of the Preliminary Round tie will take place at the Leckwith Stadium in Cardiff on Thursday, 27 June (7pm). It has been 16 years since the name of Barry Town last competed in European competition, but the memories of that previous era have remained one of the key factors in pushing the club back from lower reaches of the pyramid system to qualify for Europe once again.
“Since we returned from the draw and we know our opponents, we've been in build-up mode,” explained manager Gavin Chesterfield to the club's social media channels. “It's nothing but excitement and we're looking forward to what we hope will be a special occasion. Cliftonville are an established team in this competition, but there's a lot similarities between us, so it will be a competitive fixture. Our supporters will get behind us, and we'll give our best on and off the field.”
This will be the tenth European campaign that the club have entered into which started with a 7-0 aggregate defeat against Zalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania in the UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup back in 1994/95. Since that time, famous names such as Aberdeen, Dynamo Kiev and Porto have provided the European opposition, with a 3-1 win over the Portuguese giants in UEFA Champions League in 2002/03 remaining a defining moment in the club's history, despite the 8-0 reverse in the away leg.
Gary Lloyd, who scored against Porto, was a key player for Barry Town in that era of former glory, and spoke to FAW.cymru in 2016 about those famous European ties. “I had some fantastic nights in Europe with Barry,” he explained. “Winning two rounds before playing against Aberdeen in the UEFA Cup (in 1996/97) was particularly special. Jenner Park was full and it was absolutely brilliant. It was also great to play against Porto and Dynamo Kiev. They had some absolutely brilliant players, but until you go out there, you don't realise how good they really are.”
Once the dominant club in the Welsh domestic game, Barry Town United have evolved from the financial problems that resulted in the club having to regroup in the lower reaches of the pyramid in 2013. However, the spirit and desire to bring the glory days back to Jenner Park has seen the club achieve three promotions, and they returned to the JD Welsh Premier League in 2017. Chesterfield has been at the helm throughout the journey, and will become the latest name to lead the club into Europe when he takes his place in the dugout on Thursday night.
Kenny Brown was one of those figures of the previous era to experience European football at the club, and he spoke to FAW.cymru in 2017 about his memories of representing the club as a player, a coach and as manager in the early 2000's. “To have the chance to continue as a professional player, and to gain European experience, was a huge incentive for me to join,” the former West Ham United player explained. “Beating FC Shamkir (in 2001/02) was an incredible experience for everyone concerned at the club. It was great to celebrate the victory after the return match in Azerbaijan with the owners and the supporters who had made the trip over. It was a huge achievement.
“Better players than me never get the opportunity to play in Europe, let alone the Champions League, so for me it was a really positive and memorable time in my career. The following season I went to the Champions League draw as manager, and because we were regular participants in Europe, everyone knew who Barry Town were. We were rubbing shoulders with the big names, and it shows where the club was at the time, which is all credit to the people who made it possible.”
Now Chesterfield and his current squad have the opportunity to write another famous chapter in the club's European story. The clubhouse at Jenner Park pays homage to the heroes that established Barry Town on the European stage, but those days are no longer consigned to history. While their Irish opponents will prove a difficult challenge on Thursday, Barry Town United have come through far greater adversity to find themselves in this position, and another memorable European occasion appears to be on the cards.
Nathan is the Operations Director and one half of Vale Breakfast on Bro Radio. You'll hear him reading local news, hosting at local events and presenting our facebook live videos.