This has been a season that has seen unprecedented success in Welsh club football for a number of teams playing over the border. Yesterday’s play-off final saw Newport County find their way back into the Football League after beating Wrexham at Wembley. This followed an FA Trophy win for Wrexham, a League Cup win for Swansea City and Cardiff City’s promotion to the Premier League. Welsh club football, it would appear, is riding the crest of a wave of success.
However, the sweeping euphoria may overshadow the final of a competition which can lay claim to being the third oldest association football cup in the world. Today, Bangor City will take on Prestatyn Town in the 126th Welsh Cup final. The extravagance of the occasion may not match its English counterpart, but the Welsh Cup reigns as part of the very foundation of association football and it remains an integral part of Welsh football.
The Wynnstay Arms Hotel in Wrexham saw the foundation of the “Cambrian Football Association” in February 1876, a few months later this became the more recognisable “Football Association of Wales”. The year following their formation, the FAW oversaw the first Welsh Cup, competed by teams almost exclusively from north Wales and of which a significant number were from Wrexham and the surrounding areas. Wrexham went on to win that inaugural final, and to this day, remain the most successful team in this competition with twenty-three wins.
Today’s finalists, Bangor, also featured in that initial Welsh Cup, they may have made it to the final had it not been for a single goal scored in a replay by Druids – the team that had provided no less than six players for the very first Welsh national squad. It would be eleven years before Bangor were able to clinch their first Welsh Cup, beating Northwich Victoria in the final.
Bangor have gone on to claim the cup eight times, the majority of these wins coming in recent history. Both the 1896 and 1962 finals saw Bangor beat Wrexham. The 1962 final was the first to be competed over two legs, oddly these two games were competed on a points basis which meant a play-off was necessary as Bangor and Wrexham had won a game each. Had these two games been judged on aggregate score, Wrexham would’ve won. Their remaining wins came in 1998, 2000 and three successive seasons in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
In contrast, this will be Prestatyn Town’s first Welsh Cup final. After earning promotion in 2008, Prestatyn have settled well into life in the Welsh Premier League. The club has managed a top half finish every season since the league was reduced to 12 teams in 2010. Over the course of this season, neither Bangor or Prestatyn have managed to gain an advantage over the other – they have met four times, with a win each and two draws – so it would seem neither side has a distinct advantage going into the final.
Today’s final will take place at the Racecourse in Wrexham, which has been a matter of some contention amongst fans of both clubs. Although the stadium has hosted the majority of finals in this competition’s 135 years, it is considered too big with its 15,000 capacity when fully open. Many had suggested the more suitably located Belle Vue in Rhyl.
Since the clubs playing in England were excluded from the Welsh Cup in 1995, attendances have not quite reached the levels required to fill the Racecourse. However, this is no slight on the teams that take part in the competition as it is today, it is simply a matter of demographics. The clubs in the more populated areas of Wales have a bigger pool from which to attract supporters.
During the game, it will not matter where the game is played. Both sets of fans will cheer on their teams respectively, creating an atmosphere worthy of the occasion.
Bangor’s Les Davies – who many will remember for his nomination as UEFA Player of the Year – has already warned that today’s match could be a highly spirited affair, “I know that this is Prestatyn’s first Welsh Cup final, so it’s a big day for them but I’ve been to four finals and we know what to expect”. Bangor City have not met their own high standards this season in the league, and as such, they need to win this competition to avoid the play-offs for a Europa League spot. Prestatyn will not concede that easily though and the prize of a first Welsh Cup win, which will undoubtedly be the biggest prize in the club’s history, may be the motivation they need to overcome today’s opponents.
You can watch the final on S4/C, coverage starts at 14:30.
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