Come to Bangor City and see the European Champions.
This is the story of when Bangor City, from North Wales, helped out European Cup holders, Liverpool with some much needed match practice.
Boxing Day 1978 and Liverpool went to Old Trafford for a league match. Goals from Ray Kennedy, Jimmy Case and David Fairclough gave them a comfortable 3-0 win and they moved to the top of the table.
What they didn’t know is, it would be another 39 days before they’d play another league match.
The winter in early 1979 was a severe one with much of the country covered in snow. It played havoc with the football fixtures. Some clubs had to take drastic action to try and give their players a game. These days undersoil heating and the advancements in pitch technology means few matches are ever called off in England, but forty years ago this wasn’t the case.
The FA Cup was particularly under threat. In those days all the Third Round fixtures were scheduled for the same day. But the first Saturday in January saw just four matches go ahead.
One match was played on the Monday and then 15 went ahead on the Tuesday. Liverpool were drawn away to Southend United and this was put back to the Wednesday 10th January. After a goalless draw at Roots Hall, Liverpool were able to see off the Third Division side at Anfield a week later.
A measure of how disruptive the weather was for some clubs was how Wrexham and Stockport didn’t fulfil their Third Round fixture until 1st February – 26 days late. By then many clubs had been able to play their Fourth Round ties.
The Fourth Round was scheduled for Saturday 27th January. Only six fixtures were played. Liverpool had been drawn at home to Second Division Blackburn Rovers. But in the month since their Old Trafford trip, they’d played just those two ties against Southend United.
No flying off to Dubai or other warm climes for these boys, they had to try and find some place to practice free from snow.
They put a call out to find some competition. Bangor City put their hand up. The club from North Wales were competing in non-league Northern Premier League. The year before they were runners-up to Wrexham in the Welsh Cup. They were up for promotion to the Football League too, but after an election, Wigan Athletic got the nod instead.
At short notice a game was arranged. Bangor had remained relatively snow-free during this period, yet ironically there was a heavy fall the night before the game. Liverpool manager Bob Paisley was initially reluctant, fearing the Farrar Road pitch would not be ready. But after much persuasion, the game went ahead.
2,500 people packed into the small ground on a cold Saturday afternoon. The pitch was covered in snow with only the white lines being cleared to be visible.
Almost nine months after retaining their European Cup title at Wembley, Liverpool lined up at non-League Bangor City with just one change from that historic side. Alan Kennedy, newly purchased from Newcastle United, played instead of Phil Thompson.
In the home team was one Ray Stubbs. Yes, the very same Ray Stubbs familiar to BT Sport viewers and former presenter of BBC Match of the Day and Football Focus.
The home side kept the First Division league leaders at bay for 18 minutes before Kenny Dalglish opened the scoring. They were still only a goal up after half an hour when Liverpool were awarded a penalty. Terry McDermott stepped up and scored. Within the next seven minutes David Fairclough and Dalglish, with his second of the game, added to the score.
Bangor City did get a goal back through Pat Olney but the 4-1 scoreline flattered the visitors. It was a useful run out for Liverpool, who escaped from the frozen pitch without injuries. The match was officiated by Gwyn Pierce Owen, club President of Bangor and FIFA referee.
The extra playing time obviously helped as Liverpool met Blackburn Rovers the following Tuesday and Dalglish was again on target with the only goal of the game.
Liverpool eventually reached the semi-finals, losing to Manchester United in a replay.
The following Saturday Liverpool finally resumed their league season when they beat West Brom at Anfield to return to the top of the table.
Liverpool went onto win their 11th league title, thwarting Nottingham Forest’s hopes of retaining their title. Bangor City finished mid-table in the Northern Premier League and were then one of the clubs invited to compete in the Alliance Premier League, which ultimately has become English football’s fifth division.
The man responsible for the game was Bangor City President, Gwyn Pierce Owen. GPO, as he was known, passed away in July this year aged 85. The club moved from Farrar Road to Nantporth Stadium on January 2012, and the main stand was named in honour of him on his 80th birthday, paying him back for the 70 years service and support towards the club.
GPO refereed many games at home and in Europe. As a Football League referee, he was best known for officiating the hugely entertaining Manchester United 3-5 West Brom game on December 1978.