Welsh Cup: TV winner Nathan Craig in Caernarfon Town final push

Nathan Craig
Nathan Craig was 12 years old when he appeared on BBC's Football Focus

Nathan Craig's journey to Caernarfon Town's Welsh Cup semi-final started with a tape to BBC's Football Focus.

Caernarfon of the Cymru Alliance face Welsh Premier League side Bala in Saturday's semi-final at Rhyl's Corbett Sport Stadium bidding to reach the final for the first time.

And the 25-year-old midfielder will be hoping to achieve success with his hometown club - 13 years after first gaining national recognition for his footballing talent on TV.

Aged 12, he won a soccer skills competition on BBC's Football Focus in 2004, winning with tickets to that year's European Championship final in Portugal.

"I entered doing skills for about 30 to 45 seconds," Craig recalls.

"I got a phone call one Saturday telling me 'make sure you're watching BBC One in the next half hour and we'll call you back'.

"I was watching the TV and announced not only had I won my own under-12 category but had won overall and won two tickets to the Euro 2004 final between Portugal and Greece."

Five years later and by now a young player at Everton, Craig was a guest at another high-profile final.

He was part of the Toffees' official party for the FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley, which the David Moyes' side lost 2-1.

"That was a fantastic day and I can remember like it was yesterday," he added.

"Those experiences will always be with me and there's nothing better than being involved in a final."

Nathan Craig with then Everton manager David Moyes
Nathan Craig with David Moyes before coming on to make his senior Everton debut

Craig spent seven years at Everton having previously been on the books of Manchester City.

"Everton were doing well at the time and training alongside the likes of Steven Pienaar and Louis Saha was a great experience," he recalls.

"Ross Barkley was a year below but he was always stepping up to play with our age group or the year above, which included Jack Rodwell.

"There was a good bunch of lads growing up and I was involved in Seamus Coleman's first game for the club."

Craig made his one and only first team appearance as a substitute against BATE Borisov in a Europa League group game in December 2009.

He came on for the final nine minutes of a game which Everton lost 1-0 to the Belarussian side but cherishes the memory to this day.

"The day before on the Wednesday, because we were on a scholarship, we were in the local school doing our BTEC Sport and I got a phone call saying I was in the squad.

"I was a bit shocked and thought I'd miss out on being on the bench because there were so many players there.

"But to turn up at Goodison and to see my name on the shirt hanging on the wall is something I will never forget.

"Nobody can take away from me the fact I made my first team debut."

Craig was released by Everton in the summer of 2011 and had a stint with Caernarfon Town before eventually joining Torquay United.

He was with the Plainmoor for two years but the Devon club's relegation to the Conference resulted in wages being cut and Craig had his contract terminated.

"I decided to think about number one and came back home to enjoy playing football week in, week out," Craig said on leaving Torquay and signing once again for Caernarfon.

Nathan Craig
Nathan Craig left Everton in the summer of 2011

"Lucky I got that with Caernarfon and secured a job with Football in the Community as well.

"Caernarfon is very close to my heart. I grew up living about a minute's walk from the ground and remember being a ball boy there when I was a youngster."

Caernarfon won the second-tier Cymru Alliance title in 2015-16 but were denied promotion to the Welsh Premier League after being refused a Domestic Licence by the Football Association of Wales.

"It was a massive disappointment for everyone involved with the club and a big dampener on our season," Craig added.

"The most important thing was everyone staying together.

"It just shows the respect we have for the manager Iwan Williams because everyone decided to stay together and to try and build what we achieved last season.

"The thing that the supporters have loved with Iwan is that he brings that local feel to the club. He's brought the one club ethos to the club.

"You could see him on a random night where he turns up at the academy and helps out with the youngsters coming through and they can can see that the first team manager is there watching.

"Caernarfon is a footballing town and the club has always had a massive following."

Nathan Craig in action for Wales' Under-21 side
Nathan Craig has represented Wales at various youth levels including Under-21

Although they have missed out on this season's Cymru Alliance title - Prestatyn have already been crowned champions - Caernarfon are now chasing success in the Welsh Cup.

Caernarfon have reached their first Welsh Cup semi-final since 1988 and have accounted for Welsh Premier sides Carmarthen Town and Rhyl along the way.

"It's been a memorable cup run and hopefully turn two wins into three," the former Wales Under-21 international said.

"We've got to be ruthless because Bala will be another level, but we'll make sure that we do everything to make sure we have every chance to beat them."

Welsh Cup Semi-finals - Saturday, 1 April

Gap Connah's Quay v The New Saints (Bangor University Stadium; Kick-off: 14:30 BST)

Caernarfon Town v Bala Town (Corbett Sports Stadium, Rhyl; Kick-off: 17:15 BST)

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