While traditional powerhouses The New Saints FC and Bangor City FC exhibit no signs of decline, an intriguing new narrative in Welsh football is the growing prominence of Prestatyn Town FC and their fledgling player-manager Neil Gibson.
The Seasiders have little history to speak about – at least for now. After gaining Welsh Premier League status as recently as 2008, the strides they have made in five years are a source of inspiration for similar-sized clubs where finances and the ability to attract players represent a perpetual challenge.
Prestatyn have been at the head of the 12 elite teams at different stages of the season and remain handily placed to qualify for Europe. That would be another first for the progressive north Wales outfit. "The club had never played at this level until five years ago so we never imagined competing in Europe," said Gibson. "Whoever you are, wherever you play, European football is a massive achievement and we are desperate to seize our chance."
The side's struggles in last term's Championship Conference – the Welsh Premier League splits in two after 22 games with the top six playing each other home and away – delivered the impetus to bring about the changes that have led to their current success. Defeat in all ten second phase fixtures was perversely helpful to the manager because "it made clear to the club and supporters that we needed to generate the funds to be more competitive. It enabled me to have conversations with a few former team-mates to see if we could get them on board."
The result was the arrival of experienced duo Andy Parkinson and Jason Price, whose goalscoring contributions have proved crucial. "We aren't the biggest when it comes to budgets so we have to try and sell ourselves in a different way," explained the former Sheffield Wednesday FC and Tranmere Rovers FC midfielder. "Fortunately the new signings have bought into what we are trying to do."
If such progress can be maintained there is no doubt the 33-year-old will be talked about in connection with bigger jobs, in England as well as in Wales. Not that he would sever ties with his home-town club lightly.
"When I dropped out of the [English] Football League I lost a little love for the game, but joining Prestatyn reignited that. I saw the potential in the club and, although I was only 27 when I was asked to take charge, I felt I had to do it. It's a family club, a community club and anything you achieve seems more worthwhile because the people are so grateful for it."
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