Barry take next step on road to Barcelona

Phil Shaw visits the League of Wales club hoping to shock the Dons tonight
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The Barry Town fanzine, 38 Hours From Vilnius, is unusual in that its title commemorates a 6-0 thrashing, sustained in the club's first European adventure. In the build-up to the latest episode, which brings Aberdeen to Jenner Park tonight, the League of Wales champions not only refuse to contemplate failure but are waxing miracle.

Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, Barry are rated at 18-1 in the town's bookmakers to win 2-0 and reach the second round of the Uefa Cup by virtue of the away goal. Their ebullient English manager, Gary Barnett, is not a gambling man. Nor, as befits one who enjoyed a modest career as a winger with Coventry, Oxford, Fulham and Huddersfield, is he given to bravado. But he says it looks "worth a flutter" to him.

Richard Jones, scorer of what might prove a crucial goal at Pittodrie, shares Barnett's buzz of anticipation. His mother has played and rewound the video of his long-range strike so much that the tape has "gone all wobbly", but Jones and his colleagues sat through a screening of the match on Friday and he sees "no reason" why Aberdeen should not be beaten.

To put Barry's confidence into context, their victory over a Latvian side in the qualifying round was the first in Europe by a League of Wales outfit. In the preliminary round - and this is the bit that must be nagging away at the Scots - they overturned a 3-1 deficit against Hungarian opposition before progressing on penalties.

For a town of 40,000 inhabitants, which is still suffering conspicuously from the recession, the impact has been remarkable. Near the seafront numerous shops and even chapels are boarded up. Barry Island Holiday Centre, all flaking paint and rusting metal, gives a new meaning to the expression "last resort". Jenner Park, however, is an oasis of optimism.

All morning, callers come to pick up some of the few remaining tickets. Capacity at this council-funded mini-Meadowbank is normally 2,500, with spectators housed in two identical new cantilever stands. For tonight's game, 4,000 temporary seats have been installed. (Aberdeen, incidentally, were allocated 666 tickets but sent one back because of the satanic connotations of that number.)

A shabby reception area, where a table piled up with yellow-and-blue replica shirts and rosettes passes for a club shop, gives no clue as to the hive of industry within. Builders work to finish both the players' lounge and directors' suite. Sprinklers bombard a near-pristine pitch, forcing the players to train in a nearby park before returning to shower and head out to local schools as part of the Football in the Community campaign.

The rebuilding of Barry was begun by Neil O'Halloran, a businessman who had played for Cardiff City and Newport County in the 1950s. Since his death nearly a year ago it has been carried on by his wife, Paula, with whom Barnett regularly discusses tactics and systems. "She's very knowledgeable," he says, comparing her more than favourably with the chairman of Oxford when he was there, one Robert Maxwell.

Mrs O'Halloran is so hands-on that she even does the team's laundry. Nevertheless, at a time when the myriad detractors of the League of Wales would substitute the word "Comical" for the name of its inaugural sponsors, Konica, she saw a supposedly shambolic collection of village sides as a route into Europe.

"The long-term goal is to try to progress further each year," says Barnett, who is approaching his first anniversary at Barry. "People ask where the satisfaction is in winning our league year after year. Well, next season Uefa is considering putting all the champions in a qualifying group for the Champions' League so we could end up against Manchester United, Juventus and Barcelona, which wouldn't be at all boring."

Jones the goal, who became Barry's first full-timer when he signed from Swansea three years ago, maintains that the chairman's "vision and ambition" has attracted a squad capable of further progress in the Uefa Cup. "Aberdeen are only human," he reasons. "They didn't really get behind us or hurt us at their place."

His only reservation is that in the previous round, Aberdeen won 4-1 at Zalgiris Vilnius, the very side immortalised in Barry's fanzine. There again, the Lithuanians almost turned the tables in the second leg, so an early home goal could well throw Roy Aitken's team into turmoil.

Barnett certainly believes everything is in place for another upset. They have studied the video and formulated their tactics. They will be at full strength, having been allowed to cancel Saturday's game against Rhyl, and will be backed by a full house. Moreover, Barry's Welsh players trounced their English counterparts at five-a-side yesterday, although Welshmen seeking omens ought to be aware that any self-respecting Scot will have shared their satisfaction at such an outcome.

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