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Wale of a time

Though tomorrow’s friendly with Bala Town will be Cliftonville’s first ever meeting with the Welsh Premier League outfit, we must turn the clock back some 132 years to find the Club’s first scheduled tie with a team from Wales – one which didn’t actually proceed as planned.

However, Rhosllanerchrugog’s withdrawal from an 1890 FA Cup contest meant that it was, in fact, Cardiff City who provided our first Welsh opposition; the Reds winning 1-0 at Ninian Park courtesy of an unknown goalscorer in April 1924.

In 1995, Marty Tabb was on the scoresheet in a 3-1 friendly defeat by Bangor City at Farrar Road, with a further 11 years passing until Cliftonville drew 0-0 with Wrexham in Newcastle, County Down.

The same venue would stage another contest between the sides exactly 12 months later, when The Red Dragons recovered from an early Francis Murphy strike to record a 2-1 win.

Our next encounter with a Welsh representative – albeit one whose home ground is actually across the border in England – would come in a 2011 friendly with The New Saints at Park Hall, where a stunning injury-time effort from new signing Joe Gormley secured a 2-1 success – and where Cliftonville would return on Europa League duty just 12 days later; drawing 1-1 courtesy of an eye-catching Barry Johnston equaliser.

TNS, who sealed an aggregate success with a 1-0 win at Solitude the following week, would become regular foes in the years that followed and will also provide Sunday’s pre-season opposition, however Swansea City were Wales’ next visitors to north Belfast, going down to a solitary Liam Boyce goal in August 2012.

The following year, TNS banked another 1-0 victory at Solitude and repeated the feat twice inside three days during the summer of 2014.

Cliftonville ended that particular sequence in a 0-0 draw at Park Hall the following season before Daniel Hughes registered the only goal of a 2016 friendly – six years ago today, in fact – with Connah’s Quay Nomads, who exacted revenge of sorts with a 1-0 win of their own in Broughton in 2019.

In between times, Swansea were once again overcome at Solitude, where Jay Donnelly and Garry Breen found the net after the visitors had taken an early lead in a 2017 friendly tie.

The Reds’ most recent tangle with Welsh opposition came three years ago, when Barry Town United were dispatched from the Europa League on a record-breaking night in Belfast, where a 4-0 success was chalked up following a goalless encounter at Leckwith Stadium in Cardiff.

This weekend will, of course, further add to Cliftonville’s links with the country and, while the encounter at Maes Tegid will be our first ever clash with Bala, the Clubs – who will both be competing in the first qualifying round of this season’s Europa Conference League – do share some continental history.

Both have, for example, met Differdange on the UEFA stage; Cliftonville overcoming the Luxembourgish side 12 months after The Lakesiders had suffered a 4-2 aggregate defeat, while Belgian giants Standard Liege (who beat the Reds 3-0 on Intertoto Cup duty 26 years ago this week) saw off Bala 2-0 when the teams locked horns in the Europa League two years ago.

Colin Caton’s side’s most recent Euro mission came last summer when they went down 2-0 on aggregate to Larne, whose goals in the respective legs of the tie were scored by former Cliftonville striker Davy McDaid and recent Solitude recruit Ronan Hale, but they will be hoping for better fortunes as they continue preparations for next month’s encounter with a Sligo Rovers side who are themselves not short of ex-Red representation.

History with Welsh opposition
October 25, 1890: FA Cup: Cliftonville v Rhosllanerchrugog [opposition withdrew]
April 22, 1924: Friendly: Cardiff City 0-1 Cliftonville (Scorer unknown)
July 29, 1995: Friendly: Bangor City 3-1 Cliftonville (Marty Tabb)
July 25 2006: Friendly: Cliftonville 0-0 Wrexham
July 25, 2007: Friendly: Cliftonville 1-2 Wrexham (Francis Murphy)
June 18, 2011: Friendly: The New Saints 1-2 Cliftonville (Martin Donnelly, Joe Gormley)
June 30, 2011: Europa League: The New Saints 1-1 Cliftonville (Barry Johnston)
July 7, 2011: Europa League: Cliftonville 0-1 The New Saints
August 8, 2012: Friendly: Cliftonville 1-0 Swansea City (Liam Boyce)
July 6, 2013: Friendly: Cliftonville 0-1 The New Saints
July 5, 2014: Friendly: Cliftonville 0-1 The New Saints
July 8, 2014: Friendly: Cliftonville 0-1 The New Saints
August 1, 2015: Friendly: The New Saints 0-0 Cliftonville
June 24, 2016: Friendly: Cliftonville 1-0 Connah’s Quay Nomads (Daniel Hughes)
July 15, 2017: Friendly: Cliftonville 2-1 Swansea City (Jay Donnelly, Garry Breen)
June 22, 2019: Friendly: Connah’s Quay Nomads 1-0 Cliftonville
June 27, 2019: Europa League: Barry Town United 0-0 Cliftonville
July 4, 2019: Europa League: Cliftonville 4-0 Barry Town United (Conor McMenamin, Joe Gormley, Conor McDermott, Ruaidhri Donnelly)