Cardiff City v Real Madrid, 1971
Cardiff City v Real Madrid was a famous night at Ninian Park in March 1971, as the Second Division side took on the Spanish giants in the first leg of a European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final tie. Cardiff, who knocked out French side Nantes in the previous round, had cup pedigree – their 1927 FA Cup win remains the only time the trophy has left England – and qualified for the competition as winners of the Welsh Cup. The European Cup Winners’ Cup ran between 1960 and 1999, after which it was incorporated into the new UEFA Europa League. Tottenham were the first British club to lift the trophy, in 1963; later winners included Chelsea (twice), Arsenal, Everton, Manchester City, Manchester United, West Ham, Aberdeen and Rangers. The 1970-71 competition was won by Chelsea for their first-ever European trophy, beating Real Madrid 2-1 in a replay after knocking out holders Manchester City in the semi-finals.
As well as losing the final, Real, already six-time European Cup winners at that date, finished the 1970-71 season in a disappointing fourth place behind champions Valencia in La Liga. Despite selling their star striker John Toshack to Liverpool in November, the season was a successful one for Cardiff City under manager Jimmy Scoular. They finished third in the Second Division, though only the top two were promoted at that time, long before the play-offs were introduced. Much-travelled English forward Brian Clark, the hero of this game, finished the season as the club’s top scorer. Clark later had the distinction of scoring the first Football League goal on a Sunday, for Millwall in 1974. Another Welsh Cup win in 1971 secured European football again for Cardiff the following season; they qualified for the Cup Winners’ Cup 14 times overall, a now-permanent record for any club in Europe.
From Bangor City beating Napoli 2-0 in 1962 to Merthyr Tydfil’s 2-1 victory over Atalanta in 1987, Welsh teams have provided many one-off upsets in the Cup Winners’ Cup. Cardiff’s best season was 1967-68, when they reached the semi-finals, which remains the furthest any Welsh side has gone in European competition. Wrexham made it to the quarter-finals in 1975-76, only beaten by eventual winners Anderlecht, an achievement matched by Newport County in 1980-81. Clubs competing in the English league system were allowed to enter the Welsh Cup up until 1995 but if an English side, such as Chester or Crewe, won, they could not enter European competition; the best-placed Welsh side entered instead. Cardiff City won the competition 22 times, second only to Wrexham with 23, while Shrewsbury Town hold the record for English teams, with six wins between 1891 and 1985. The last English winner of the Welsh Cup was Hereford United in 1990.