Less than a month removed from one of the most famous nights in Bala Town Football Club’s history, one of its heroes – goalkeeper, Alex Ramsay – is fully focussed on the next milestone for the Lakesiders as they get set to take on Belgian giants, Standard Liege, in the UEFA Europa League Second Qualifying Round.
In a career of thriving in the big games, the 27-year-old goalkeeper is set for his and Bala’s biggest game yet as they head to Liege today ahead of a showpiece tie on Thursday – live on S4C’s Sgorio – but he says he’ll never forget the best moment of his career that came just three weeks prior.
“Valletta was a surreal experience.” Ramsay said. “We knew we were in for a really tough game in difficult conditions, and we had a game plan in line with that which we executed very well.
“I knew I was going to be busy, I knew I would have a lot to do and that concentration would be key for 90 minutes or longer, so I had prepared myself to be as busy as possible, and it always helps when you make a penalty save on your debut!
“Winning that game is the best moment I’ve had in my career so far … just the feeling after the game, knowing we were underdogs and the rewards that awaited us, it was unbelievable and I’ll never forget that feeling and those memories we all had together after the match.”
“It’s a one-off game and anything can happen.”
The potential for a historic UEFA Europa League Second Qualifying Round tie wasn’t lost on the Lakesiders as they returned from Malta after their triumph in Valletta, as the plane home was littered with conversation about who could be next up to face Colin Caton’s side.
Some of the biggest sides in the history of the game, including perennial European heavyweights AC Milan, were lined up as potential opponents for a team from a village of less than 2,000 people as the Bala hierarchy discussed at length their potential next opponents, which Ramsay details.
“On the journey home we were talking about who we’d like to play and AC Milan away was the first pick, but when the smaller groups came out to give us a better idea of who we might play we definitely wanted Standard Liege away.
“The stadium, the location, the history of the team in European competitions, we wanted the challenge and experience of playing against that calibre of a team. We wanted AC Milan but we’ll settle for Standard Liege(!).
“I’ve had to beg my boss for time off work to be able to play in the game, which thankfully I’ve been allowed to do. We know the game is going to be incredibly tough, but we’re not going there to make the numbers up. We’re going there to win. We’re going to give a good account of ourselves and our league and we’re really looking forward to it.
“It’s a one-off game and stranger things have happened than Bala beating Standard Liege, but we’re fully focussed on going there to give it everything on a night that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.“
“I was nervous about moving to a new club.”
Nerves aren’t something we normally associate with Bala’s 27-year-old stopper, who is one of the more vocal presences in the JD Cymru Premier and a good commander of his box and backline, but that was the overriding emotion for him as he moved on from The Oval where he spent many successful years with Caernarfon Town.
The club’s hierarchy have remarked how Ramsay and his fellow new signings have added significantly to the club on and off the pitch, but the stopper confessed that coming in as a replacement to one of last season’s top ‘keepers in Josh Tibbetts left him feeling some pressure.
“I’d like to think I’ve brought something to the team on and off the pitch, and I certainly think my qualities suit the way the team plays. Everybody has been brilliant with me at the club, from the Chairman to the volunteers to the players and staff, I can’t thank them enough for the welcome I’ve had.
“I thought the transition to the club would be tougher than it has been, to be honest, but it has gone so smoothly and I feel I’ve settled in very quickly. Thankfully, I managed to persuade Will Evans to join me at the club – who is one of my best mates as well – and I think we’ve both settled in very well.
“I’ll be honest and say I was nervous about moving to a new club, because that transition can be difficult, and I came in after Josh Tibbetts did such a good job for the team last year as well so I knew I would have pressure on me straight away, but I need that pressure and I feel I’ve fit in here really well.”
“I’d be disappointed if we’re not in the top three.”
On Saturday, Ramsay and co. got back to JD Cymru Premier action as they faced off against the newly-crowned champions Connah’s Quay Nomads in the first live Sgorio fixture of the season.
A tight affair with good chances for both sides eventually finished 1-1 after a debut goal from Bala’s Nathan Peate was cancelled out by a goal-of-the-season contender by Connah’s Quay’s Sameron Dool, but the performance reaffirmed to Ramsay that this Bala side can achieve big things this year.
“We’ve got quite a small squad but we have a lot of quality. I’ve always looked at our squad and fancied us to have a strong season. We’ve got a good squad with a lot of variety in our play and some great individual players.
“Most importantly though, we’ve got a great team spirit and I think that takes you a long way in a league like the JD Cymru Premier. Saturday gave us a good gauge of where we’re at, and I think we’ll certainly be pushing for automatic European qualification, whether that be from second or third.
“I think we’d be disappointed to fall outside the top three, and I only say that because I firmly believe in the quality we have in the club to go out there and deliver against whoever we face, whether it be the champions away or the newly-promoted Flint at home – we’ve certainly got the players to go and achieve our aims this season.”
You can watch Bala Town take on Standard Liege live on Sgorio's Facebook and YouTube channels on Thursday evening! Good luck to all at Maes Tegid for the game.