The Welsh football pyramid is preparing to wave goodbye to another busy 12 months, and as clubs get ready for the business end of the season in 2018, there is plenty to look back on in 2017.
Victories against top European opposition, promotion fights and cup shocks have been just some of the achievements for Welsh clubs this year – and here at Y Clwb Pel Droed, we’ve chosen ten teams who have impressed us the most.
One: Bala Town
Although Bala Town didn’t emulate their previous 2nd placed finish in the JD Welsh Premier, 2017 will go down as their most successful year and for good reason. They pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the JD Welsh Cup’s history with a 2-1 win (from 1-0 down) against TNS, who were going for an unprecedented third consecutive treble.
There was more to Bala’s win than just the luck of the day, as Colin Caton finally lifted a major trophy at the club after 16 years in the Bala hot seat, which makes him one of the longest serving managers in Britain.
Caton is unsurprisingly a club legend at the Lakesiders, as he has led them from the lower leagues to JD Welsh Cup champions and regular European competitors.
Bala haven’t hit the pinnacles they target so far this campaign, but they look sure to qualify for the top six and will be looking to cause problems for the likes of Bangor, Cardiff Met and Connah’s Quay.
Two: Connah’s Quay
Connah’s Quay’s remarkable rise under Andy Morrison’s management hit new heights in 2017, as they secured their highest ever league finish as runners up to TNS.
Their biggest achievement came in Europe, as they recorded a stunning 1-0 victory over HJK Helsinki, the current Finnish champions, in the first round qualifiers of the Europa League. What makes the result historic is the tie was very much alive – and the last time HJK had played a Welsh Premier League side, Bangor in 2012, they won 13-0 on aggregate.
Nomads were eventually undone in the second leg as HJK went on to win 3-1 on aggregate, but the first leg showed more evidence of a growing capability to compete in Europe amongst Welsh teams.
Three: Swansea University
This university side are in their first season in the Welsh Football League having dominated the lower South Wales leagues in 2017.
Coming up from the Swansea Senior League having won their play-offs., they also swept away the regional cup competitions available as they were crowned West Wales Cup champions.
They currently sit second in Division Three as they prepare for a title scrap amongst the likes of first placed Trefelin.
Four: Barry Town
The historic giants of Welsh football finally made their return to the top flight in 2017. They romped to the Welsh Football League Division One title, and have got off to a great start in the JD Welsh Premier as they’re on the verge of qualifying for the top six.
They also reached the Nathaniel MG Cup final, in which they more than matched opponents TNS for more than 70 minutes before the Saints eventually broke through and won 4-0.
Barry’s return to the top flight was a welcome boost for the league which along with TNS has two of Wales’ most successful teams competing at the same level.
Five: Chirk AAA
As FAW Trophy champions, Chirk AAA are rightfully one of the best lower league teams in Wales. Having competed in the third tier Welsh National League Premier Division for many years, they have a reputation for being a solid and organised outfit.
And they proved their image last season with a great run to lift their first FAW Trophy since 1963. Their opponents were Swansea-based side Penlan Club, who took them into extra time before man of the moment Chris Bennion scored the winning goal.
The game was Chirk’s second FAW Trophy final in four seasons, and as they sit second in the Premier Division as it stands, they may be one to watch in 2018.
Six: Cardiff Metropolitan University
At the start of the year Cardiff Met were looked on as a plucky group of students, fresh into their first ever season of JD Welsh Premier League football. Now, they’re recognised as one Wales’ top teams as they are on course for a second consecutive top six qualification.
The likes of Jordan Lam, Adam Roscrow and goalkeeper Will Fuller have helped Met set the league alight, and they gained national attention as they went on the verge of Europe only to narrowly lose to Bangor City in the play off final.
The Students have performed well in phase one and go into the second half of the season well poised to challenge for Europe. They also have the Nathaniel MG Cup final in January, where they will go against TNS to try and claim their first major trophy.
Seven: Queens Park FC
Queens Park may be at the wrong end of the Huws Gray Alliance as it stands, but their achievement to get promoted to the second tier cannot be understated.
Battling sides with bigger budgets than their own, Martin Ford and his side dominated the league, winning 22 games from 26. Off field they also prospered, as they secured a ground share deal with Lex Glyndwr to ensure eligibility in the second tier.
In a time where budgets usually prosper in football, Queens Park showed Leicester-esque desire and determination to win the title.
Eight: Llanelli Town
Another sleeping giant of Welsh football awoken in 2017 was Llanelli. They cruised to the Welsh Football League Division Two title, to reach the second tier and get ever closer to the top flight in which they were once giants.
They’ve again made a name for themselves down South, winning the Welsh Football League Cup after defeated Bridgend Street in the final.
With help from their legendary forward Lee Trundle, they have stormed into Division One and currently top the table. The club’s ambition to reach the JD Welsh Premier League is clear and off their current form, they may well achieve it in the near future.
Nine: Cardiff Draconians
They may be one of the smallest teams in Cardiff, but Cardiff Draconians have plenty, if not more to boast out then some of their city counter parts.
This year they won the South Wales Alliance League Division One, and won the John Owen Cup having come out runners up in the South Wales FA Intermediate Cup.
Now, they’re top of the Premier Division, meaning the Welsh Football League could see a Cardiff North representative sides after many years of absence.
Ten: Penydarren BGC
Few Welsh football fans may have heard of fifth-tier Penydarren until this month, as they burst onto the national picture with a stunning 4-0 defeat of Huws Gray Alliance side Llandudno Junction in the JD Welsh Cup third round.
But Penydarren’s exploits go beyond the Welsh Cup, as they are undefeated in the South Wales Alliance League Premier Division, with many games in hand thanks to postponements.
They remain in the FAW Trophy fifth round, having beaten Division two side STM Sports on the way, who they also defeated in their current JD Welsh Cup campaign.
Penydarren are being tipped as a team for the future, but their ability to compete at a higher level is looking likely with their upcoming fourth round tie against Pontypridd Town one to watch.
Featured Image: Niomi Fflur / Bala Town FC