Like most League of Wales clubs, Barry Town have discovered that the supposedly glamorous and lucrative world of European football tends to involve expensive trips to the back of beyond, normally with a spanking at the end of it. That has, mostly, been the way of it since their first such venture, in the 1994 Cup-Winners' Cup: Zalgiris Vilnius (Lithuania) 6, Barry 0.
Greatly preferable opponents are either weak enough to allow the possibility of progressing to another round or famous enough to attract some limelight and money, and this season Barry's luck appears to have changed at last. Qualifying for the European Cup as Welsh champions for the fifth time in six seasons, they survived, in every sense, a trip to Azerbaijan, beating Shamkir 1-0 to add to a 2-0 lead from the first leg and setting up a second qualifying round tie this week against the 1987 European and world club champions, Porto. "It's the game we wanted," said Peter Nicholas, the former Crystal Palace and Wales midfielder, who returned to his native land last year from a coaching job with Palace. "It means we get the cash from television and it will be the biggest game in our history."
There is also a financial reward for having come through even one round of Europe's main club competition – Barry being the first team from the Principality to do so – though the club secretary, Alan Whelan, warns that it would be unwise to think in terms of bidding for Ryan Giggs on the proceeds.
"There's a payment of about 120,000 Swiss francs [£50,000] for reaching this round, but you don't get it until next June, after the whole competition's over," he said. "At the moment, the money's all going out in air fares and accommodation. We had to go to Azerbaijan on a Saturday and stay for five days, because the flights are so limited, and we've done the same for Portugal. As for the television, we don't know how things will work out. Porto hold all the rights for the first leg and we have to hope we can hold it to a goal or two over there so there'll be a bit of interest in the home game." BBC Wales would only confirm yesterday that coverage is "under discussion".
Nor can the club expect huge gate receipts. They will receive nothing from Porto, however many people are in the Estadio Das Antas tomorrow and, having come through the previous round only last week, there was insufficient time to consider switching the second leg to nearby Cardiff. With temporary seating not allowed, the capacity at Jenner Park will be only 2,500.
For the best part of 75 years Barry were a Southern League team, who then underwent an uneasy transition while the League of Wales was founded without them in the early Nineties, playing for one season in exile at Worcester. The transformation into the League's most successful club was achieved with the financial backing of a local businessman and part-time footballer, Neil "Hat-Trick" O'Halloran, whose sobriquet derived from having scored three times on his debut for Cardiff City in the old First Division some 45 years ago. After his death, his wife, Paula, took over as chair of the club before selling her controlling interest to Kevin Green, a man less well known locally, who was previously associated with Scarborough and Hull City.
Distinguished visitors to Barry Island on European nights have included Dynamo Kiev (after Sergei Rebrov scored four and Andrei Shevchenko two in an 8-0 win in Ukraine) and Aberdeen, during the club's most successful run, the Uefa Cup of 1996. Holding the Scots to 3-1 at Pittodrie, Barry scored first in the return before losing 6-4 on aggregate. Now they must take on Porto with a team including a goalkeeper on loan from Halesowen Town.
It is a level of football at which an optimistic nature is a prime requirement, as well as willing workers like Peter Wilson, who describes himself as "a dogsbody, who's been helping out for about 25 years" and could be found this week manning the Jenner Park telephones. "After we've beaten Porto, and Grasshoppers in the next round, then for the Champions' League group matches we'll play at the Millennium Stadium," he said with a guffaw. Watch out, Real Madrid.Reuse content