Few players can claim to have had the experiences in European football that Mike Wilde has had when representing JD Cymru Premier clubs UEFA competition, and ahead of the Nomads’ latest European encounter at home to Dinamo Tbilisi, we caught up with the veteran forward to reflect on his European journeys to date.
“Playing in Europe for me does feel like second nature to be honest because I’ve been lucky enough to play in so many different European ties throughout my career.” The 37-year-old Wilde said. “But it is always a very special experience, because playing at that level is what we strive for throughout the season.
“We want this limelight and this exposure every year, and you do feel a different set of emotions and a different pride when playing in Europe compared to other competitions, because it is so prestigious.
“My first 10 games or so were probably more like ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ but now, I do make sure I take it all in, because you never know when your next opportunity at this level is going to be, so you want to try and hold onto the experience as much as possible.”
“I never would have believed I could have these experiences.”
A boyhood Liverpool fan, one of the standout memories of Wilde’s career came in 2005 as he walked out at Anfield to play the then-European Champions themselves in the UEFA Champions League for TNS, and since then he has sampled a number of other incredible moments in Europe.
As a young boy growing up in Merseyside, Wilde played football out of love for the game, not signing up with any academies and following the now more conventional route for young players looking to make a name for themselves in the game, so he admits as a youngster he would never have thought these opportunities he’s had in the game would have been possible.
“If someone would have told me when I was a kid that I’d go on to play against Manchester City and Liverpool and knocked Kilmarnock out and so on in Europe when I grew up I never would have believed them, really, because I was a very late developer as a player.
“I had very little coaching as a young player, I didn’t go through the academy systems, I didn’t sign my first full-time contract until I was 18, so I just wouldn’t have believed this was possible.
“It’s been an amazing journey and I’m very lucky to have had the career I’ve had and to have played for so many successful teams who have enabled me to have these experiences in my career.”
“I love sharing these experiences with my boy.”
Having played in so many European ties, Wilde knows better than most how big a draw that exposure and opportunity is to players at this level, and how it can inspire players of all ages to want to progress and develop in the game.
Wilde’s own son fits that mould, and the veteran forward confesses he hopes that seeing him playing in Europe will inspire his young boy to want to go on and achieve his own goals in whatever career lays in front of him in years to come – possibly football, as he is just as keen on the game as his dad!
“European football is such a big draw for players looking at the JD Cymru Premier. I missed European preparations and game time massively when I went over to the English league and when I came back I had to make sure I was going to be in Europe regularly because I wanted to experience those moments and have the memories and face off against the best.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of a lot of huge European games and to have had success in a lot of them too. Just look back to last year, beating Kilmarnock away from home in the second leg to progress … that was one of our club and our league’s biggest moments in Europe, and just amazing to be a part of.
“I don’t really do it now, but I can definitely see myself looking back on the memories I’ve had in Europe once I’ve finished my playing career. The experiences I have now, I just love sharing them with my little lad – it’s great that he’s so interested in football, and I hope I can inspire him to go and achieve what he wants to do in his life as well.”
“We’ve always managed to go a step further every year.”
Helping the Nomads develop into a consistent European force was one of Wilde’s core aims when he signed for the Deeside club four years ago, and it is fair to say he has helped Andy Morrison’s side achieve that aim in the years since as they’ve secured some fantastic results in the Europa League in particular.
The next test comes on Thursday against Georgian side Dinamo Tbilisi, and securing a result the club can be proud of is the aim for Wilde.
“We worked so hard last season to win the title and earn our place in the UEFA Champions League and the experience of that competition was certainly everything we expected it to be and we all enjoyed it.
“We certainly put the club and the league on the map, which we’ve continued to do over the years since I’ve been here, and helping this club grow and progress was my biggest aim when I came here a few years ago, and we’ve always managed to go a step further every season in our development.
“We turn our attentions now to the UEFA Europa League where hopefully we can get another result we can be proud of, but also take us further in the competition too. We feel like we can win any game we go into, and we expect to win, which shows how far we’ve come over the years.”
You can watch the Nomads take on Dinamo Tibilisi live on their Facebook Page on Thursday evening, and you can also find our full 'Getting to Know' podcast with Mike below which was recorded back in lockdown, where we talk about his European experiences and career to date in much more detail.