Connah's Quay Nomads are no strangers to Scottish opposition following their exploits in the Irn-Bru Cup last season, and they now face Kilmarnock in the UEFA Europa League 1st Qualifying Round on Thursday, 11 July (7pm) at Belle Vue, Rhyl.
But while manager Andy Morrison prepares his team for another European campaign, there is also plenty of preparation happening off the field.
To find out more about what goes into organising European football at a JD Welsh Premier League club, FAW.cymru recently caught-up with the Nomads' Media Officer Nik Mesney on his return from the draw at UEFA HQ to find out more.
Q. Firstly Nik, just how exciting a time is this for you and everyone connected with the club, and just what does European football mean for the Nomads?
A. The European campaigns are always an exciting time of the season for everyone involved. They are challenging to pull off, but at the same time it’s great for everyone at the club to test themselves against top opposition from different countries. For the club it’s another fantastic achievement. We’ve now achieved four consecutive Europa League campaigns and we are always looking to improve and go one step further each time.
Q. Describe the emotion when you see the name Connah's Quay Nomads being pulled out of the bowl. How special is it for you personally to be representing your club at the draw?
A. It’s brilliant! The nervous energy is bubbling over when you are sitting there waiting to see which number comes out of the bowl. Obviously, there are always teams you are looking to avoid due to their reputation, quality and club co-efficient, so when you see one of those come out you're praying that you aren’t next!
On a personal level, I love it. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Geneva three times now, and if you’d have told a 15-year old me that I would be going to UEFA Headquarters to not just watch, but actually take part in a top level UEFA competition draw, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Q. Drawing Kilmarnock brings a whole host of new challenges with it. What has been the most testing part of organising this particular match?
A. The toughest aspect of this game has to be the requirement for tickets. Unfortunately, we were unable to move the game to a larger ground. From a financial point of view it’s a shame as we could have done very well out of it had it been moved to a bigger location, but I know that Andy Morrison is also happy to keep it at Rhyl as it will play into our comfort zone more than Kilmarnock's, who are used to playing in big stadia with big crowds.
We’ve been inundated with ticket requests, but we can obviously only sell what is available at Rhyl, so we’ve had to go into a much more detailed ticketing setup than we have done in the past. We've had to specifically do home and away tickets to ensure that we keep safety at the highest possible level, and we will also be bringing in an external security firm for the game to again ensure that safety is the number one priority.
Q. The general public don't see what happens behind the scenes leading up to a game like this. Just give us some idea about the demands placed on the club between the draw and the two legs.
A. It's a huge challenge, people just think it’s just a game of football, but there is a lot that goes into the planning and production of a game like this. The first year we were in Europe, we played in Norway on the Thursday, won and qualified for the second round, and had to be in Serbia just six days later. Organising flights, accommodation and visas for almost 30 people in under six days was a massive challenge. We had a transfer in Frankfurt and then had to get buses from Belgrade to Novi Sad where the game was played, which was roughly 2 hours away.
Somewhat luckily this year we don’t have to play abroad because that obviously throws up massive requirements from the back room staff who do so much. This year we don’t have to worry about any of that with going back to Scotland where we visited a few times last season, it seems almost simple from that aspect this season. The home game is going to be a much bigger challenge based on the number of fans we expect to be at the game, but it’s a challenge we are all looking forward to.
Q. Football is a team game, but I guess that applies off the pitch too. Just how valuable and important are the club's staff and volunteers at this time?
A. Absolutely, it’s all about the team on the pitch at the end of the day getting the results, but without the team off the pitch the games would never be able to go ahead. Volunteers have been priceless to the club in terms of getting things setup already and they will be invaluable on the matchday as well.
There is so much that goes in to making sure a match runs smoothly, and there are so many moving parts, so it’s great to have the staff and volunteers involved so heavily from selling tickets, meeting with police, meeting with opposition representatives etc.
Q. On that note, as someone who has worked in this environment over the last couple of seasons, what would you say to people thinking about volunteering at their local club, and maybe one day being a part of this whole European experience?
A. Get involved! That’s the bottom line. Being involved in football is something I absolutely love and I’m fairly certain I could say that of everyone at the club.
Everyone loves football and everyone loves the club, and the rewards are fantastic when they do come after all of the hard work. Standing in the cold and wet on a horrible December night is all worth it when you get to be part of European football and enjoy the buzz of a European night under the lights in early July.