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The League of Wales 1997-98

THE LEAGUE OF WALES 1997-98

League champions, League Cup holders and Welsh Cup winners Barry Town came to Deeside for the opening game of the new season, having just progressed through two rounds of European competition. That would have made for a wonderful fixture at our new stadium but sadly its construction had not long begun. Instead the 323 supporters had to squeeze into the Halfway Ground stand to watch as the Dragons took a three goal lead whilst the referee dismissed two Nomads players "to even things up"! It was a day best forgotten as Barry ran out 4-1 victors.

The campaign begun with a 2-2 draw at Cwmbran Town where late goals inside three minutes from Darren Wynne and Vernon Keep earned us a point. Further drawn matches against Conwy United and Newtown kept us in the hunt before a first visit to newly-promoted Rhayader Town. That match was put back 24 hours and played on Sunday 7th September as the nation grieved over the sad loss of Diana, Princess of Wales whose funeral was held on the Saturday.

Neville Powell gave the former Tranmere Rovers striker Jamie Hughes a full debut and he responded with two goals in a 3-1 win for the Nomads, adding another as Welshpool Town were defeated 2-1 at the Halfway three days later after Carl Smyth, making his 100th appearance for the club, had given us an early lead. Hughes also scored the game's only goal when Aberystwyth Town called at the Halfway Ground on 20th September 1997. The Black n' Greens thus suffered a fifth successive loss on Deeside and departed empty-handed despite dominating the match. A week later a 2-2 draw with Bangor City ended the Citizens' 100% record since the start of the season and kept Nomads in the top six.

Rarely did we ever come away from Eugene Cross Park, the home base of Ebbw Vale FC, with anything to cheer about and a 2-0 defeat there ended our seven-game unbeaten run. At the start of October, the team was placed in mid-table but with home matches against Caersws and Haverfordwest County to start the month - our players were confident of success and so it proved. Caersws were beaten 3-1 and a Jamie Hughes hat-trick saw off Haverfordwest to the tune of 5-2, Hughes having scored nine goals in his first seven full appearances.

Those two victories were particularly necessary with games against four of the teams above us in the league table to follow. A crowd not far short of 400 witnessed a goalless draw with Inter Cable-Tel (formerly Inter Cardiff and runners-up in the previous season to Barry Town) and a midweek visit to Conwy United brought yet another draw (2-2) as Jamie Hughes scored twice in a game Nomads all but dominated. These 'stalemates' were holding the team back as in half of the 14 league games played up to November the points had been shared.

The brief match report for our home match with Cwmbran Town read Nomads Suffer a Dyer Performance, a play on words that referred to both a 5-1 loss and the fact that Simon Dyer scored four of their goals! It hardly helped that our next game was away to Barry Town, champions and current league leaders having only failed to win one of their 16 league games to date. That run was extended with a 2-1 win, yet Phil Collister 'had a blinder' in the Nomads' goal to keep the score down and after Chris Davies had pulled a goal back we had much the better of the latter stages. Thereafter, a 1-1 draw away to Newtown and a 2-1 home win over Rhayader Town kept us just inside the top half of the table. Christmas was approaching and in previous years the festive period had generally been anything but - in so far as the Nomads were concerned.

Thankfully Christmas 1997 proved to be a memorable holiday with a trio of away wins against Aberystwyth Town, Flint Town United and Rhyl that lifted Nomads up to 8th place in the league ahead of four successive home games that were to be our last at the Halfway Ground. The first saw Caernarfon Town beaten 2-0 and the second produced Nomads' biggest-ever win in the league. Nine different players scored as Cemaes Ynys Mon were thumped 10-nil on a cold Tuesday night in front of 151 hardy souls. A 2-2 draw with TNS on the following Friday was followed by an identical score-line in the last-ever game played at the Halfway.

Porthmadog were our opponents on Saturday 31st January 1998 as the curtain came down on more than half a century of football played by our club at the old ground. Geoff Thelwell's programme notes finished "Our past history belongs to you (the Halfway) but the future belongs to our new stadium". The fixtures had been worked so that we had only three home league games to play as tenants at Belle Vue, Rhyl until the end of the season. Ironically, our first 'home' game was against Rhyl and the 'Tenants vs. Landlords' fixture ended 1-1. Subsequently, we lost 2-3 to Ebbw Vale and then hosted Flint Town United on Easter Monday, 13th April, in a Deeside 'Derby' staged 23 miles from Deeside. With four teams to be relegated that season in order to reduce the size of the competition, Flint were perilously close to the 'trap door' and our 3-2 victory only served to push them closer to the Cymru Alliance from whence they have yet to return.

The fact that Nomads finished 1997/98 in a highly creditable seventh place in the final standings, having suffered only eight defeats all season, was completely overshadowed by our run to the Welsh Cup final. We began with a 4-1 home success against Porthmadog back in October 1997 and then scraped past Goytre United who gained a 1-1 draw on Deeside before Nomads won the replay on the following Wednesday afternoon by four goals to one. Our first 'home' match at Rhyl was a cup-tie against Llanwern when goals from Carl Smyth, Chris Davies and a brace from substitute Stuart Rain earned a 4-0 victory and a tilt at Cwmbran Town in the quarter-final.

Remember Cwmbran had already beaten us 5-1 at home in the league but the cup tie was a different story altogether. A near perfect three-man move over the length of the pitch resulted in Andy Thomas giving us the lead and further goals from Smyth and Neil Davies edged us 3-1 ahead late on. That man Dyer managed to pull one back but Nomads held on and soon discovered they had been drawn against the all-conquering Barry Town in the semi-final played, like this year, at Newtown.

Stuart Rain gave Nomads an early lead to stun the Dragons but they were soon back in the game and after just eight minutes the score stood at 1-1. The remainder of the first-half was evenly balanced but drama was to follow. Soon after the interval Nomads were awarded a free-kick about 25 yards from goal and up stepped Steve Futcher to unleash an unstoppable right-footed drive into the top corner. Of course Barry Town threw everything into attack but were repelled by Nomads' defence and against all the odds (which included Jon Kenworthy being sent off towards the end of the game) we held on to reach the Welsh Cup final.

That tale has been told time and again. Over 2,000 saw the final at the Racecourse, Wrexham and when Bangor City were reduced to ten men early in the game Nomads' tails were up. Once again Steve Futcher gave us the lead mid-way through the second half and only a late equaliser from Ken McKenna stopped Connah's Quay from earning a place in European competition inside the 90 minutes. Extra-time came and went and Bangor eventually triumphed in a penalty shoot-out with former Nomad Nicky Brookman scoring the decisive spot-kick to add salt to our wounds.

Click here to see the final league table

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