PICTURE by GARETH HUGHES
THE JD Cymru Premier kicks off in a little under two weeks time and I, like many others, am very excited to see football return to our pitches and our TV screens here in Wales.
The top-flight resumes on September 12 with some big clashes on day one – including current champions Connah’s Quay hosting Bala Town, who enjoyed a famous 1-0 victory over Valletta in Malta last week.
The Nomads won their first ever Cymru Premier title following a curtailed season in 2019-20, but who will come out on top this time around? In this new series, I focus on each individual JD Cymru Premier side and look at the changes they’ve made ahead of the 2020/21 season.
Starting with Bala Town.
Founded in: 1880
Home ground: Maes Tegid
Manager: Colin Caton
Captain: Chris Venables (below)
THE Lakesiders enjoyed another fine campaign during a curtailed 2019/20 season, finishing up third in the JD Cymru Premier League table.
And they’ve certainly picked up where they left off last season in the UEFA Europa League too. Their aforementioned 1-0 win over Valletta in Malta was the talk of several media outlets and for good reason.
A first half-goal from club captain Chris Venables (below) was enough for Colin Caton’s men to create history by both picking up their first ever away win in Europe (after five previous attempts) and progressing to qualifying round two of the tournament for the first time ever.
A huge tie at Belgian Pro League side Standard Liege’s Stade Maurice Dufrasne now awaits Bala in round two for what will be a historic night for the club regardless of the eventual outcome. Their European run so far should fill them with a bit of pride and confidence as they prepare for their huge JD Cymru Premier opener at champions Connah’s Quay. As starts go, they don’t get any tougher than that – but a decent result there will go a long way towards boosting the club’s chances of having a great campaign once more in 2020/21.
Six new additions have been made at Maes Tegid over the ‘summer’ period and four of them played, and looked sharp, in Malta. Goalkeeper Alex Ramsay, who arrived from Caernarfon Town, was the pick of the bunch of course – making a fine penalty save (below) to deny Valletta an equaliser and set the club onto victory.
Another shining star on the night was midfielder Will Evans. The former Cardiff Met Uni midfielder never stopped working hard on his debut and the same could be said for defender Antony Kay, 37, who arrived from Chorley and stood strong throughout in his first appearance in the final just days after signing. The fourth debutante – Raul Correia (Southport) – although starved of much action, looked like a player who can really use his strength up top and that will give Bala a different option up front this season. Fellow new signing Nathan Peate (Cefn Druids) didn’t feature but it’s no secret that he’s held in high regard by several people who follow the league and should be another quality addition.
The sixth and final signing is Llyr Morris, who after spending his whole career to date with hometown Ruthin, is now set for a shot at the top flight. The 24-year-old has been one of the most exciting goalscorers around for years now and so it will be interesting to see how he gets along in the Cymru Premier.
In terms of players leaving the club, their longest serving player Stuart Jones has departed. The defender made 259 appearances in all competitions during his nine years with Bala, scoring 19 times, and was instrumental in Town’s iconic Europa Playoff Final win over Port Talbot Town in 2013. Also departing is striker Louis Robles, who has joined and already scored for TNS in their impressive UEFA Europa League win over Slovakian side MSK Zilina last week. Other players to have left Maes Tegid are fan favourite goalkeeper Ashley Morris (unattached), fellow goalkeeper Josh Tibbetts (Caernarfon), midfielder Nathan Burke (FC United) and striker Mike Hayes (Caernarfon).
Bala Town manager Colin Caton (above) has been at the helm of the club for 18 years now in what has been a sensational story for the club to date, taking them from the Wrexham Leagues to Europa League victories. Caton, who turned 50 last week, has worked hard to bring in some new faces over summer but has also ensured that big names stay at the club.
Club captain Chris Venables has extended his stay, which will no doubt have been an important priority for the club this summer. The 34-year-old was the JD Cymru Premier top scorer last season, hitting 22 goals in just 26 matches and is undoubtedly one of the best in Wales’ top flight. Spanish midfielder Lassana Mendes (below) is another one who’s caught the eye at Maes Tegid, as has Swansea City youth product Henry Jones who is one of the most technically-gifted players in the country.
Another heartwarming story to emerge from the club over the last few months was the news that midfielder Danny Gosset had been offered a new contract with Bala Town, after beating Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. His return to the pitch will be an emotional one and will be a pleasing sight for so many.
The squad at Bala is shaping up very nicely indeed and a top four finish and qualification for Europe for a seventh time should be the least they’re expecting to achieve this season. Can they now go one step further and challenge the likes of Connah’s Quay and TNS for the title this season? The highest they’ve ever finished in the top flight to date is second (on two occasions) but I do think that if they gel quickly (which seemed to be the case in Valletta), we could witness some special moments from this group of players this season.
Full Bala Town squad announced for 2020/21