The origin of this domestic football series comes from a very straightforward question that was asked to me on Twitter by Aled Roberts (@capaled on Twitter):
“Who are the best Welsh clubs from each county?”
Not knowing the answer off-hand, I decided to do some research to discover who are currently the best performing clubs from each county in Wales in terms of their respective league position and placement during the current 2021-22 season, whilst also making some references into which teams were the most historically successful clubs in that county also.
I have decided to split the country up into several parts to make it more manageable for me to write up, especially considering I have been struggling with “writer’s block” recently. Therefore in this first part, I will only focus on the four northeastern counties of Wales, with the other counties of Wales coming in later blogs.
[NOTE: All positions mentioned below are defined as of 7th March 2022]
Flintshire: Flint Town United
Connah’s Quay Nomads’ recent history has been monumental for the club as it has made them the most successful team in Flintshire football history. They became just the third club from the county to win the Welsh Cup when they beat Aberystwyth Town 4-1 in the 2018 cup final, and further expanded their reputation with their regular European campaigns. The highlight of their multiple European travels was the 2-0 away defeat of Scottish club Kilmarnock, who had finished as Scotland’s third-best club the previous season. The Nomads confirmed the most successful period in their history when they became the first Flintshire club to be crowned as Welsh champions as they clinched the title in the abruptly-reduced 2019-20 season.
Although Connah’s Quay Nomads are the defending Welsh champions, having successfully defended their Cymru Premier title in the 2020-21 season, and are the current Welsh League Cup winners after beating Cardiff Met University in February 2022 after a monumental penalty shootout, they are not the highest-placed Flintshire club in the Welsh football pyramid. The honour of Flintshire’s best team goes to their local rivals Flint Town United, who themselves are the other existing Flintshire club to have won the Welsh Cup way back in 1954. The Silkmen, currently in their second consecutive season in the top-flight and enjoying one of their best seasons since the mid-1990s, are currently positioned in fifth position in the league and will be competing in the Championship Conference (the top six) of the league for the remainder of the season. The Nomads would have joined them in the top six but before the second phase of the Cymru Premier schedule commenced, they were found guilty of having played an ineligible player for six league matches and were subsequently deducted 18 points (a record deduction in Cymru Premier history) leaving the defending champions in the bottom two of the league and being forced to compete in the Play-Off Conference (the bottom six) of the Cymru Premier.
Should the Nomads avoid relegation, there is a strong chance the county could provide a quarter of the clubs in next season’s campaign with Airbus UK Broughton currently top of the second-tier Cymru North and the favourites to gain promotion back to the top-tier since getting relegated from the Cymru Premier in the 2019-20 season. The Wingmakers have an impressive recent history having finished as Welsh Premier League runners-up in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, and were the first club from the county to compete in European competitions when they played Latvian club Ventspils in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League. They also enjoy an impressive European record having lost only twice in their six European fixtures, despite playing Ventspils, Norwegian club Haugesund, and Croatian side NK Lokomotiva Zagreb.
With Holywell Town and Buckley Town securing their spots in the Cymru North this season, and the strong possibility of Mold Alexandra winning the third-tier Ardal North West League, we could potentially see three Flintshire clubs in each of the top two leagues for the 2022-23 season – that’s a third of the county’s clubs in the top two tiers!! It is worth noting that my home county is one of the most successful counties in Cymru Premier history having provided five clubs in the league’s history since its foundation in 1992 as the “League of Wales”.
Wrexham County Borough: Cefn Druids
Despite Wrexham AFC having made waves in English football circles for their Hollywood owners, and enjoying one of their best campaigns in the English National League for some years, as well as the region historically being the Welsh football cradle and heartland, and having its own regional league before the Welsh pyramid reorganisation, there is only one club from the Wrexham County Borough in the Welsh top-flight. In fact, it is the only Wrexham County-based side to have ever competed in Wales’ highest level – the Cefn-Mawr-based side Cefn Druids. After Wrexham, they are the most successful club from the county borough in terms of the Welsh Cup having won the national cup on eight occasions. Sadly, their last cup victory was in 1904 but they did reach the final in 2012 as a second-tier side only to lose 2-0 to The New Saints, but it allowed them a brief European adventure in the UEFA Europa League the following season where they played Finnish side MYPA. Druids returned to the Europa League for the 2018-19 season when they won the previous season’s WPL European playoffs, but were knocked out at the preliminary stage by Lithuanian side TK Trakai.
Alas, it is becoming increasingly likely they will be relegated to the Cymru North for next season with the Ancients rooted firmly to the bottom of the Cymru Premier table with just three points. Should Cefn Druids get relegated, they will be competing against fellow county team Gresford Athletic, who seemed to have secured their position in the second-tier for the following season having gained promotion back to the second-tier in 2015. Also, Chirk AAA are strong challengers to win the Ardal North East league, and could earn themselves promotion should they clinch the northeastern third-tier division title, which would raise the county borough’s representatives in next season’s Cymru North to three teams. Chirk AAA themselves have a huge history in the county borough having been the first dominant force in Welsh football, with their heyday coming during the 1880s and 1890s. During that period, the Colliers won the Welsh Cup on five occasions, but have yet to add to their Welsh Cup tally of five, with their last cup victory coming way back in 1894.
Denbighshire: Ruthin Town
Denbighshire football has seen a lot of success in recent times with Rhyl FC being crowned as Welsh champions in the 2003-04 and 2008-09 seasons, as well as winning the Welsh Cup in 2004 and 2006, adding to the two cups the Lilywhites won in the early 1950s. Sadly, financial mismanagement and issues with ground ownership lead to the demise of the club in 2020, and they have since been replaced by the phoenix club of CPD Y Rhyl 1879 who currently play in the fourth-tier North Wales Coast East Premier Division.
Rhyl’s local rivals, Prestatyn Town, have also seen some recent success when they clinched their first major piece of silverware by winning the 2013 Welsh Cup final when they beat Bangor City 3-1. They also are one of a small band of Welsh clubs to have actually won a European tie when they beat Latvian side Liepājas Metalurgs on a penalty shootout after a 3-3 aggregate draw in the 2013-14 UEFA Europa League, before being knocked out by Croatians Rijeka in the following qualifying round.
In addition, the historic club of Denbigh Town also achieved a modicum of success when they surprisingly reached the final of the 2016 Welsh League Cup but lost 2-0 to TNS in the final. However, none of the clubs previously mentioned are Denbighshire’s best performing club currently, with that honour going to Ruthin Town. At the time of writing, Y Gleision are currently situated in fifth position in the Cymru North and enjoying one of their best ever seasons in the second-tier, whilst the 2019-20 Cymru North champions Prestatyn Town are languishing in twelve position in the northern league and enduring a fractious season. Ruthin Town themselves have a huge history in Welsh football having reached the 1880 Welsh Cup final (losing 2-1 to Druids) and providing five international players for Welsh international squads between 1880 and 1895.
The previously mentioned Denbigh Town are currently fighting to win the Ardal North West title although they seem to have slipped away from contention recently and are seven points from first place, whilst Saint Asaph City is situated at the opposite end of the table attempting to avoid relegation from the league. Despite being located in the south of the county, Corwen currently plays in the Ardal North East league and they are comfortable in the mid-table.
Conwy County Borough: Llandudno FC
Despite having no teams in the top-flight, Conwy County Borough has three of its top teams competing in the Cymru North. Llandudno FC is currently the best team of the county borough’s three teams as they are challenging for the league title and promotion back to the top-flight with themselves and Airbus UK Broughton a clear distance ahead of the chasing pack in the top two spots in the league. Llandudno has recently experienced European football having finished as high as third place in their debut season in the Welsh Premier League, thus qualifying them for the UEFA Europa League. In the first qualifying round of the competition, they played Swedish giants IFK Göteborg and lost 1-7 on aggregate but gave a great account of themselves in their ‘David vs. Goliath’ encounter.
Another team from the county making waves are Colwyn Bay, who are currently fourth in the Cymru North, but have reached the semi-final stage of the national cup competition having beaten Connah’s Quay Nomads in the quarter-finals. The Seagulls are considered to be an upwardly mobile club in Welsh football and mooted as a potential Cymru Premier club in the near future confirming their switch over to the Welsh football system in 2019 was an initially successful decision.
The final club from the county is the aptly named Conwy Borough which is comfortably positioned in mid-table and has become an established second-tier club over recent years. This club emerged from the embers of Borough United, who folded in 1969 and were initially a merger of Llandudno Junction and the first iteration of Conwy Borough, and played at the latter’s home. This side achieved historic success when the part-times surprisingly won the 1963 Welsh Cup, beating the likes of Bangor City, Hereford United, and Newport County en route to the trophy. They subsequently played in the now-defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and beat Maltese side Sliema Wanderers 2-0 on aggregate, becoming the first Welsh side to have won a tie in European competition, before losing to the Czechoslovakian side ŠK Slovan Bratislava 0-4 on aggregate in the following round.
For further information about Borough United, an article was written about the club in When Saturday Comes here:
Outside of the Cymru North, the next highest performing club from the county borough is Llanrwst United who currently competes in the Ardal North West league and is positioned in fourth place. The Rwsters are considered one of the league’s strongest teams but have a slim chance of gaining promotion to the Cymru North as they are eight points adrift from the top spot and have played three more games than their promotion rivals.
So that completes the initial delve into finding out which clubs are currently the best teams from each of the four northeastern counties of Wales. The next part of the series will look at the northwestern counties of Wales in the form of Ynys Môn and Gwynedd to find out which clubs are currently the most successful in those counties.