Cefn Druids set for historic European night

By Aled WilliamsBBC Sport Wales
Huw Griffiths at Wrexham's Racecourse Ground

When his Cefn Druids players step out on to the pitch for the club's first European tie on Thursday, manager Huw Griffiths will look on enviously.

The club from north east Wales face MyPa of Finland in the Europa League first qualifying round first leg at Wrexham's Racecourse.

It will be a historic night for a club with historic ties.

The original Druids FC were eight-times winners of the Welsh Cup and six Druids players were in the first Welsh international side against Scotland in 1876.

Present-day Druids, members of the Cymru Alliance, will be the first team from Welsh football's second tier to play in Europe since the formation of the League of Wales in 1992.

They find themselves representing Wales in the Europa League despite losing 2-0 to Welsh Champions The New Saints in the Welsh Cup final in May.

With the Saints having already qualified for the Champions League, Druids were awarded a special licence by Uefa to represent Wales in Europe.

"I'm very jealous of them playing in the Europa League," joked Griffiths.

"They tell me management is the next best thing but I'm sure come the day I'll be very disappointed I'm not out on that field.

"But I'll be a very proud person in terms of what those have achieved and they deserve absolutely everything they get."

Griffiths has his own fond memories of European competition, and it was at Wrexham's Racecourse in 2002 that he enjoyed one of the highlights of his career.

Then a Bangor City player, the defender was part of Peter Davenport's side who defeated the then Yugoslavian side FK Sartid 1-0 in a Uefa Cup qualifying round first leg tie.

"It was a remarkable thing at the time," recalls Griffiths. "They had four Yugoslavian internationals in their side.

"But we had a really strong squad. We had Clayton Blackmore, Simon Davies - who was a Wales international - and Owain Tudur Jones went on to play for Wales.

"We defended for long periods of the game and Paul [Roberts] pinched the goal.

"I'm not saying we played better than Sartid but we certainly competed.

"It was a fantastic achievement and experience. There's not many Welsh teams that have won in Europe. It's special."

Bangor lost the second leg 2-0 but Griffiths recalls those performances with a sense of pride and he will pass on the experience to his players before they face MyPa.

He hopes those players will enjoy a night to remember.

"I'll just tell them about the experiences and how to relax before the game," he said.

"I don't expect us to win but we're going to have a right good go at it.

"I've spoken to some experienced managers on how to approach the game and I've got my own thoughts.

"For me it's [important] not to freeze on the day and to remember and treasure the memories.

Cefn Druids (black and white shirts) lost to The New Saints in the Welsh Cup final
Cefn Druids (black and white shirts) lost to The New Saints in the Welsh Cup final in May

"As long as they perform to the best of their abilities, I can't ask any more of my players and that's what they've got to do on the day."

At 35-years-old, Griffiths could still be playing and winding down a career that saw him play for Gresford, Newtown, Cefn Druids and Bangor.

But injury curtailed the defender's playing career at 25, prompting a move into coaching as Davenport's assistant at Bangor.

Griffiths also assisted the former England striker during spells at Colwyn Bay and Southport and he joined the coaching staff at Chester City.

A Uefa Pro Licence holder, Griffiths took his first steps in management at Welshpool Town before accepting the offer to join former club Cefn Druids in May 2010.

Cefn Druids were formed in 1992 following the amalgamation of two clubs, Druids United and Cefn Albion, and within seven years achieved promotion to the League of Wales.

They maintained their Welsh Premier League status until the end of the 2009-10 season, when they were relegated to the Cymru Alliance.

But having moved to a new home ground in 2010 and after last season's Welsh Cup final appearance, Griffiths is targeting a return to Welsh football's top-flight.

"My main aim at this football club is to achieve Welsh Premier [status]," he said.

"We've got a good up-and-coming team and I think a lot of players could play in the Welsh Premier and compete.

"My personal opinion is that a team from Wrexham should be represented in the Welsh Premier. I would love it to be Cefn Druids.

"There's lots of Wrexham-based players playing for the top three and four teams in the Welsh Premier now.

"I would love to be able to afford and attract those players to Cefn and I think a Wrexham club then would be able to compete at the very top of the Welsh Premier.

"People are now starting to talk about Cefn Druids positively."