Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dreams Can Come True

This is a story of a local football team that ten years ago began a remarkable run.

A village in the heart of North Wales called Bala. I had the pleasure of visiting a few years back. In terms of location I guess you would find it somewhere between Wrexham and Snowdonia to name a couple of places that everyone would recognise. The area is a place of natural beauty and Bala sits on the edge of a lake.

Their home ground, Maes Tegid, was no different back then to your local football team. A clubhouse and a pitch, nothing more. But their rise through the Welsh leagues has been meteoric. Consistent promotion campaigns through the divisions until they finally achieved promotion to the Welsh Premier League in 2008/09. A truly remarkable feat for such a small club. It was going to be a challenge for a town with a population of less than 2000 but after a difficult first season, they soon got used to it.

The club came of age last season. Missing out on the top half of the table at the part of season when it split was a blow but this did not deter Bala. They ended the season on an unbeaten run including the Europa League play offs. They faced Port Talbot in the final with a place in Europe at stake. A goal in the dying minutes of the game saw Bala achieve something very special indeed. A chance to mix it with Europe's elite.

The long awaited draw pitched Bala against Lavadia Tallin, the champions of Estonia. The first leg of the Europe League first qualifying round took place last night. Due to UEFA regulations the game had to be played away from Bala but this did nothing to dampen the spirits. The match took place at Rhyl and before everyone had even settled down for the match, Ian Sheridan had put them into a fourth minute lead. This turned out to be the only goal of the game and Bala's debut in European competition ended in a win. An absolutely fantastic achievement. The return leg is on the 11 July and I will be keeping a close eye on the game just as I did last night. The top story on Sky Sports News was the game and post match interviews.

My first visit to Bala took place a couple of years ago. The lake is the main attraction with a backdrop to die for. I have no doubt times are hard in the winter with the weather that time of year brings. But I found the place to be a home away from home. A small town with extremely friendly people who speak the native tongue. An ideal location to use as a base to explore the rest of North Wales which I took distinct advantage of.

The week I was there Bala Town just happened to be playing Llanelli. Most will recognise the latter who were managed at the time by Andy Legg. It was an ideal chance for me to catch a game so I took my son. A minimal fee on entry, everyone spoke to you. We grabbed some refreshments and took our place in one of the stands near a group of youth players. The game was compelling on what was a soggy pitch. A true honest game of football was witnessed that day and my interest in the club grew further. The attendance was something the 180 mark, all counted individually by one of the many volunteers at the club. The game ended 1-0 to the visitors but I had not enjoyed a game of football as much in a long time.

Interestingly enough, the Welsh Premier League has more connections with Palace than you think. Former full back Craig Harrison is manager of New Saints while former striker Andy Preece manages Airbus.

Like me, keep an eye on their progress and follow them on Twitter @BalaTownFC. Check out their website here and for information on the league they play in click here.

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