Football comment: Not since 1988 — coincidentally the year I was born — have Wales’s four largest football clubs all turned out in the top four divisions of the English Football League.
In a mixed year for Welsh football, a typically clever finish from poacher Ian Rush gifted Wales a surprise away friendly win over Italy.
Cardiff and Swansea also won promotion in a season when all the Welsh teams competed in the Football League’s basement Division 4.
Wrexham were frustrated after finishing just four points off the play-off places.
But perhaps the most significant event for the game in Wales was Newport County’s relegation to the Conference.
Their drop down sparked a long crisis for County, while Wales’s other clubs continued to bounce around the lower leagues.
Little changed until the summer of 2008, exactly 20 years after Newport’s league exit, when Wrexham also lost league status.
The loss of Newport and Wrexham from the Football League has contributed to a drying-up of a once steady stream of young Welsh talent which flowed to the national team.
But recent progress for Premier League Swansea and Championship leaders Cardiff has stabilised the situation.
And last Friday night’s fiery Welsh derby between Newport and Wrexham may prove a decisive turning point in the future of the game in Wales.
Supporters packed the stands of Newport’s new Rodney Parade home to witness the promotion-chasing duo try to take a step closer to reuniting Wales’s top clubs in the Football League.
If the Exiles and the Dragons do go up they are determined to do it in style and Friday’s 1-1 draw was a reflection of the quality their squads possess.
Newport and Wrexham, currently third and first respectively in the Conference, share the accolade of scoring the most goals per game this season, netting more than twice in a league match on eight occasions.
Indeed it was Wrexham’s top-scoring target man Danny Wright who put the Reds one goal up in Friday’s clash.
The only surprise about County’s second-half equaliser is that it didn’t come from the league’s joint top scorer Aaron O’Connon, who boasts an impressive 15-goal haul in the league this term.
The clash was described as “a great advert for non-league football,” but neither club will, or should, be satisfied with that.
As well as showing progress on the pitch, both clubs are building firm foundations for bright futures off it.
Former director and assistant general manager of the Football Conference Dave Boddy was unveiled as Newport’s new chief executive last week.
And Wrexham are now controlled by their Supporters Trust, ensuring sustainable success which will be felt around their community.
Swansea and Cardiff may be hogging the headlines, but Wales’s future football fortunes also rest on the conclusion of this important story.
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