BALA Town are looking to give manager Colin Caton a fitting 50th birthday celebration when they take on Valletta FC of Malta in the Uefa Europa League on Thursday evening (ko 7pm).
The Lakesiders are hoping to make it through to the second qualifying round for the first time when they fly the flag for Wales in their one-legged encounter at the Centenary Stadium, Ta’Qali.
It will be the sixth time that Bala has played in Europe under Caton, after aggregate defeats to Levadia Tallinn of Estonia in 2013; Differdange of Luxembourg in 2015; AIK of Sweden in 2016; Vaduz of Switzerland in 2017 and Tre Fiori of San Marino in 2018.
“Huge congratulations go to our long-standing manager Colin Caton on reaching the significant milestone of 50 years of age,” commented a Bala Town spokesperson on Saturday.
“Colin has spent the last 18 years as the manager of Bala Town, and everyone involved with the club would like to pass on their very best wishes to him, as he embarks on his sixth European campaign this week, whilst celebrating his special birthday.”
Bala qualified for Europe after finishing in third position in the curtailed Cymru Premier campaign, behind new champions Connah’s Quay Nomads, and runners-up The New Saints.
It is Caton’s latest achievement in his remarkable tenure as manager, which has included winning the Welsh Cup in 2017, and being runners-up in the Cymru Premier twice in 2015 and 2016.
He has also taken them to two Cymru Premier Cup finals, in 2014 and 2015, having won the Cymru Alliance title in 2009 and the Welsh (Wrexham Area) Premier Division in 2004 - but Caton’s sights are now set on achieving success in Europe.
“We are focused on being ready for the European trip,” Lakesiders’ manager Colin Caton told the club’s website.
“It’s six out of the last eight years that we’ve made it into European competition, which is magnificent. I don’t think there’s many teams who can compete with that.
“We aren’t just a team on the field, but we are a team off it, with the committee, the team of supporters, and everybody who wears the Bala Town badge. We are all one.
“I’d like to thank everyone involved with the Club for their time and effort over the last season, and I’m glad that we’ve had our just rewards with Euro qualification.”The Lakesiders flew out to Malta from Manchester on Wednesday morning, ahead of their first round qualifying match at the Ta'Qali National Stadium on Thursday (7pm kick-off BST). Opponents Valletta have a long history in European competition, having taken on giants such as Inter Milan, Leeds United, Juventus and Rangers in previous decades.
They have also faced Welsh opposition before, beating Barry Town on aggregate in the Uefa Champions League in 1999, but losing against Newtown in the Europa League qualifiers in 2015.After friendly fixtures away against Crewe, Shrewsbury and The New Saints, Caton is hopeful that his side will be prepared, as they look to notch their first ever away win in Europe.During the summer months, Bala have signed Antony Kay from Chorley; Raul Correia from Southport, along with Nathan Peate from Cefn Druids, Alex Ramsey from Caernarfon, Will Evans from Cardiff Met and Llyr Morris from Ruthin.
Mike Hayes and Josh Tibbetts have joined Caernarfon, Louis Robles has joined The New Saints, Nathan Burke has signed for FC United of Manchester, Stuart Jones has joined Airbus UK and Ashley Morris has been released.