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The League of Wales 1996-97

THE LEAGUE OF WALES 1996-97

Barry Thomas was a great servant to the Club and he was deservedly awarded a benefit match before the new season kicked-off. Tranmere Rovers provided the opposition at the Halfway Ground on 24th August 1996 and, under the care of former Everton-legend Kevin Sheedy, provided stern opposition. The Rovers' side featured Eric Nixon, Dave Higgins, Dave Challinor, Gary Jones, Ian Moore and Alan Mahon all of whom were to play a big part in the club's successes around the turn of the century. Current Llandudno boss, and later a Nomad, Alan Morgan, also played and scored Rovers' first goal in a 3-0 win, with Gary Jones and Billy Woods adding further strikes in the last three minutes.

Our league campaign began at Llansantffraid with a 2-2 draw but, in a brutal game - Neville Powell suffered a broken leg which ended his playing days. In the next game, Stuart Rain scored twice in a 4-1 home win over Rhyl but successive defeats followed at Conwy United (0-3 thanks to a Ken McKenna hat-trick) and Ton Pentre (3-4) where we scored after 28 seconds only to concede three in the next quarter of an hour!

Our league results continued in this 'yo-yo' fashion with a big win over Aberystwyth Town at the Halfway and a hard-earned 1-0 success away to Briton Ferry Athletic followed by a 1-5 thumping at the hands of Cwmbran Town, whom we had beaten by the same score the previous season. Still, a 1-1 draw away to Bangor City and a 3-1 win against our visitors from Carmarthen Town four days later put us safely in mid-table as successive cup-ties loomed.

As holders of the League of Wales League Cup, we might have hoped to defend our trophy against lesser opposition than Bangor City and after losing the first leg at Farrar Road by five goals we didn't hold out much hope of progress. The following weekend, the players travelled to South Wales to face an unknown quantity, Porthcawl Town, in the Welsh Cup. We had beaten Rhyl 1-0 at Belle Vue in the previous round so spirits remained high despite the result of the Bangor game. Fortunately for us, only 65 people watched as Porthcawl handed out a 3-0 defeat so the embarrassment was kept to a minimum and was 'glossed over' as several other League of Wales teams suffered Cup defeats at the hands of 'minnows' that same afternoon.

Those two Cup games were followed by league defeats against Ebbw Vale and Porthmadog, The Nomads scoring in neither, so that when Cemaes Bay came to Deeside on 7th December 1996, we hadn't netted a goal for a month. The 'Bay were above us in the league table, but that counted for little as two goals for Rain and a Chris Davies hat-trick ended our goal drought in a 5-3 victory. It's funny how football can change so quickly, for we almost overturned the League Cup deficit by beating Bangor City 4-1 in the second leg before gaining successive league victories at Caersws (2-0) and at home to Newtown (4-0) before Christmas.

Well over 300 turned up for the Boxing Day visit of Llansantffraid but The Nomads lost 1-0 and then suffered further defeats on the road at Caernarfon Town and Rhyl. It seemed that every time things were looking up for the players, it all came crashing down again but the team was still comfortably placed in mid-table. By now, news had spread about the £500,000 granted by the Sports Lottery for the construction of a new stadium adjacent to Deeside College, just a few hundred yards along the road from the Halfway Ground. At least that gave the faithful supporters something to look forward to, for there was to be little success on the field in 1996/97.

Cemaes Bay is a difficult place to reach and once there the undulating pitch hardly makes for quality football. Yet against the odds, The Nomads recorded a league double, winning 2-1 and that started an unbeaten run that made us all believe the team had found the right formula at last. The following week, Ton Pentre were defeated 1-0 at the Halfway, then it was off to Aberystwyth where two late goals earned a 3-3 draw. We entertained Briton Ferry on a Sunday in February 1997 and won 2-0, gained a creditable point in a goalless draw at Newtown then won at Cwmbran Town for the first time. With three successive home games to come, the first a Derby with Flint, talk of a top six finish was rife.

But - this is Connah's Quay Nomads we're talking about - those three games produced no goals and, more importantly, no points. Stuck in the bottom six and 20 points behind us, Flint struck late through Steve Jones to take the points in a poor game. Conwy United won 3-0 just three days later and high flying Inter Cable-Tel did the same on 8th March, so we found ourselves pretty much back where we started with just ten games left. Furthermore, it was already clear that the new ground was not going to be ready for the following season and there was talk of a ground-share with Flint Town United.

The dying embers of a disappointing season followed exactly the same pattern that had been set throughout. Another Chris Davies 'treble' gained The Nomads a 4-3 win away to strugglers Holywell Town and he bagged a brace in the following 3-0 win over Welshpool Town on his way to ending the campaign as our top scorer in the league with 18 goals. Needless to say, three more losses followed to champions-elect Barry Town, Bangor City (2-4 at home) and down at Carmarthen and then a 2-0 defeat at Porthmadog that ended any hopes of winning the North Wales Coast F.A. Cup.

By mid-April, we faced our final quartet of league fixtures with little to play for other than pride. Stuart Rain scored twice in a 3-1 win at Ebbw Vale, his first goals since December, and then followed a bizarre match at the Halfway against Porthmadog. In addition to gaining a 3-0 first half lead (Chris Davies is seen scoring in the picture) we had many other chances to add to the tally. Porth's goalkeeper, Kenny Dixon refused to come out for the second-half leaving them with no choice but to put midfielder Steve Pugh 'between the sticks'. Perhaps that was a clever ploy for The Nomads sat back and watched as Porthmadog slowly clawed their way back and gained a 3-3 draw when Robert Williams scored in the 87th minute.

Our last two fixtures were at home to Caersws with whom we shared the points in a 1-1 draw, Rain scoring on 62 minutes only for Rob Hamer to equalise 56 seconds later, and finally Caernarfon Town. The Canaries arrived on Deeside ready to celebrate - all they needed was a single point to gain entry into European competition, pipping Ebbw Vale, and with top striker Eifion Williams in their ranks their raucous supporters were full of confidence. A crowd of 507 gathered on a lovely spring evening but a 17th minute goal from our own top striker, Chris Davies, settled an enthralling game and brought a very strange season to a close.

Click here to see the final league table

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