As another football ground prepares to pass into history, Mark Pitman remembers the European nights that Farrar Road enjoyed & should never be forgotten for.
Bangor City and Napoli are both currently challenging for the championship in their contrasting domestic competitions of the Welsh Premier League and Serie A respectively. While the two clubs appear to have little else in common other than their tradition of playing in blue, their one and only meeting on Welsh soil 49-years-ago has been brought back into the spotlight this week as the ground that hosted that famous Bangor City win is now set to be replaced by a leading supermarket.
Farrar Road has been the home ground of Bangor City since the 1920’s but its finest hour arrived in 1962 when the non-league side, a team of part-timers playing in the English pyramid system, qualified for European competition for the first time. The football giants from Naples also qualified as domestic cup winners and the pair were drawn together with the predicted result nothing more than a formality for the Italian side. The 1st leg would take place in North Wales and in front of an estimated capacity crowd of 8,000 people who had packed themselves into Farrar Road, goals from Roy Matthews and captain Ray Birch, the latter a penalty, earned Bangor City an incredible advantage for the second leg.
Bangor City qualified for the competition by defeating Wrexham in the Welsh Cup Final the season before. In manager Tommy G. Jones, Bangor were boosted by the experience of the former Everton and Wales star, but few expected the side to offer the Italian giants any sort of competition despite it also being the side from Naples first game in Europe. The Italians attempted to play their typical passing game but faced a resilient home side that fought for every ball and were eventually rewarded for their direct approach with a goal in each half. Farrar Road had witnessed European history in the making as Bangor City took a two-goal lead into the 2nd leg.
Almost fifty-years after the famous tie, Gwynedd County Council granted planning permission on the 11th April 2011 for developers to begin work on the construction of a leading supermarket on the land occupied by Farrar Road and with it put into motion the long-standing plans for Bangor City to move into a new stadium in Nantporth, on the banks of the Menai Straits. Concerns over the original plans for the new stadium have been a well-debated topic for supporters and officials of the club but recent amendments mean that the club will be able once again to play European games at their home ground when the move to the new stadium is eventually made.
Unfortunately there was no fairytale ending to the Napoli tie. With a two-goal advantage, Bangor City went into the cauldron of an 80,000 crowd in Naples who expected nothing less than their side comfortably overturning the deficit and progressing into the next round with a convincing win. Despite their familiarity with the non-league surrounds of the English pyramid, the occasion did not intimidate the North Wales side, although having their plane make an emergency landing in Switzerland after being struck by lightening on their way to Italy would have put the game in perspective for the part-time team.
Bangor City started the 2nd leg without fear but as Napoli settled into the match they took the lead through Mariani on 29 minutes. A rare mistake by Len Davies in the Bangor City goal allowed Ronzon to level the tie five minutes later. The heroics of Farrar Road three weeks before now appeared nothing more than a distant memory, but a rousing team-talk from Jones at the break saw Bangor City take the game to their illustrious opponents in the second half, and after a period of pressure that was compensated by the strong defence of the Italians as Jimmy McAllister latched onto a long throw from Ken Birch to put the visitors ahead on aggregate. Napoli would not face elimination on their own patch however and Pornella settled the irate home crowd with just six minutes remaining to again level the tie. With the away goal rule not implemented at the time, the two sides would meet for a third time to settle the match.
Napoli were not the only illustrious opponents to visit Farrar Road in European competition. Memories of the famous victory over the Italians in the 1960’s were remembered in 1985 when another European football giant in Atletico Madrid made the journey from Spain to North Wales. Welsh Cup winners Bangor City had defeated Norwegian side Fredrikstad in the opening round after building on a 0-0 draw at Farrar Road with a 1-1 draw away from home. With the away goal now part of UEFA rules and working to the advantage of Bangor City, a goal from Everton Williams proved enough to bring Atletico Madrid to Farrar Road in the next round.
One of the biggest clubs in Europe, Atletico Madrid did not make the same mistakes as Napoli and claimed a 2-0 victory through goals from Uruguayan International Jorge Da Silva and Setien. Significant work had been carried out to enable the match to be played at Farrar Road and a crowd of 6,000 enjoyed a first half display from the Spanish side that was followed by a sustained period of pressure from Bangor City in the second half, but it would not be enough to reduce the deficit ahead of their visit to the famous Estadio Vicente Calderon.
In front of a home crowd of around 8,000, Atletico claimed a 1-0 victory to add to their two-goal lead through a goal from Jesus Landaburu in the opening half. Bangor City goalkeeper Dai Davies had made a penalty save just before half-time and while they also created chances at the other end, Atletico had too much class and quality for the part-timers of Bangor City and comfortably progressed to the next round. European football would again return to Farrar Road a decade later as the club swapped the English non-league pyramid for the newly formed League of Wales but there would be no more European giants taking the place of Napoli or Atletico Madrid in the away dressing room at the famous old ground.
Farrar Road has also witnessed its share of domestic success in addition to its famous European fixtures. The club won back-to-back League of Wales championships in 1994 and 1995 under the guidance of current Southampton manager Nigel Adkins. The club also enjoyed league title success in the Northern Premier League in 1982 and have lifted the Welsh Cup six times since moving to Farrar Road in the 1920’s. European campaigns with relative success from opening round progression have followed on from the club winning the Welsh Cup for the last three seasons, but the club have been unable to play their ties at Farrar Road, and the famous old ground must now pay the price of progress.
The third and final match against Napoli would take place at a neutral venue and Highbury, the home of Arsenal, was chosen. A crowd of 21,000 were in attendance as the Argentinean Rosa put Napoli ahead on 36 minutes but Bangor City again showed the spirit that had forced a third game against the Italian giants and it was Jimmy McAllister, goalscorer in Naples, who levelled the score. With just seven minutes remaining however Rosa scored his and Napoli’s second goal of the game to put the Azzurri through. A series of unexpected games that had began at Farrar Road with one of European football’s most famous results had come to close, and now it is Farrar Road itself that is set to be condemned to the annuls of history.
Although dated and no longer suitable for European competition, Farrar Road remains a popular ground in the Principality Welsh Premier League. Maintaining its feel of a bygone era of football, the large deep stand behind the goal offers an intimidating welcome for the opposition while the concrete steps and barriers that surround the ground bring back happy memories for football fans who remember the traditional kops and terraces in this modern era of cold identi-kit stadiums. The playing surface slopes heavily towards the main stand and is traditionally heavy throughout the year. Cosmetic improvements have literally painted over the cracks in recent seasons, but as Bangor City establish themselves as regular European competitors from the progressive Welsh Premier League, the new Nantporth home appears set to host the next generation of domestic and European campaigns.
In addition to setting the scene for the clubs domestic and European occasions of the past, Farrar Road has also had its share of memorable players represent the club over the years. Former Welsh Internationals to have played for the club include Clayton Blackmore and Neville Southall while former Manchester United and England striker Bobby Charlton played one game for the club in an Anglo-Italian tournament in the 1970’s. Scottish striker Greame Sharp, like Blackmore, played for and managed the club during the 1990’s, as did another former Manchester United and England striker Peter Davenport. The illustrious names to make their mark at Farrar Road were not just restricted to the clubs opponents.
The man leading the club in this seasons title challenge and also to their fourth consecutive Welsh Cup Final is Nev Powell. A well-respected Welsh football figure, Powell played for Bangor City in the European campaign against Atletico Madrid and returned to the club as manager in 2007, incredibly remaining undefeated in the Welsh Cup since taking charge. His side have been compared to Nigel Adkins’s title-winning heroes of the 1990’s with their emphasis on attacking football, and the local community have supported their clubs success with the biggest crowds in the league. A new stadium on the outskirts of the City will now witness the next generation of success, and while the demolition of Farrar Road and its football memories will sadden the most forward-thinking of fans, the development can also cement a strong future for one of the Welsh Premier League’s most established clubs.
Like Napoli and their current home of the Stadio San Paulo, the new stadium will be a multi-purpose one. The initial plans are basic but the potential for expansion and development offer Bangor City the opportunity to stay ahead of the game as the stringent criteria for both the required FAW and UEFA licensing continues to set new standards on and off the field each season. What Farrar Road offered by comparison however was a strong identity and history for the club that will be initially lost when they make the eventual move. The club and its fans must now work together to make the transition as smooth as possible in order to keep the spirit that made Farrar Road the intimidating fortress that it is today.
From welcoming European giants in Napoli in the 1960’s and Atletico Madrid in 1980’s, the land just down the road from Bangor train station will soon only welcome shoppers and cheaper petrol hunters. If Bangor City can make the move to Nantporth a successful one however, a new era of memorable European nights could soon return to North Wales, with the ability of the club to once again host their own UEFA games as much as a success as any European result they can once again achieve on the field.
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