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The Ultimate Disney Adventure Story . . . As Connah’s Quay Nomad John Says: “When We’re Old And Grey, We Can Say We Played In The Champions League”

John Disney and his Connah’s Quay Nomads teammates will run their hearts out tonight in a bid for European glory – but the defender will sit very still if he is substituted.

The experienced Disney will be a key figure for the Nomads as they carry the nation’s flag into the Champions League against FK Sarajevo in the first qualifying round at Cardiff City Stadium.

It will be the Nomads’ first appearance in European football’s premier tournament and the fact that the tie consists of only one leg gives them a far greater chance of upsetting the odds.

But the Deeside club already have pedigree in Europe from their achievements in the Europa League – which include an impressive victory over two legs against Kilmarnock last year – and it was whilst playing in that tournament that Disney learned his harsh lesson.

“We were playing away in Norway against Stabaek in 2016 and were 1-0 up,” he recalls.

“It was a good position to be in, but then I got booked and so the manager brought me off, just to be on the safe side.

“After I came off, I went for a warm-down in the corner in my training bib and then next thing I knew the referee was showing me the red card.

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“That’s the rule, once you’ve been substituted, you can’t walk down the touchline. But then when Cristiano Ronaldo was substituted in the final of the Euros that same year, he pretty much coached the team standing on the touchline, so maybe there’s a different rule that applies to him!

“He is Cristiano Ronaldo, after all. And he was playing for Portugal in the final of the Euros. I was playing for Connah’s Quay Nomads, so maybe that’s the difference, I don’t know!”

Disney is in his third season with the Nomads and brings the know-how of previous spells at Chester, Telford, Northwich and Stockport County.

He played in both legs of last season’s eye-catching Nomads’ triumph over Scottish Premiership club Kilmarnock and reckons that particular tie should stand the newly-crowned Welsh champions in good stead this evening.

“As a team, we work really hard and we’ve become difficult to beat. We also tend to stay in matches, even when we have been under pressure as happened at Kilmarnock.

“We will be confident, because our manager, Andy Morrison, prepares us so professionally. Within 48 hours of drawing Sarajevo he had viewed all their footage and was talking about different areas in their game which we would be looking to exploit.

 

“Everyone will know their role and responsibility because that’s how meticulous the manager is, whether we are playing Barry Town or Sarajevo.”

Connah’s Quay were declared Welsh champions for the first time in the club’s history back in May, but the oddity of only receiving the trophy last weekend was just one aspect of an unfamiliar few months.

The tie against the Bosnian champions may be far from the Nomads’ own Deeside Stadium, due to the need for a venue that could comply with current protocols surrounding coronavirus, but that will not be the most surreal aspect.

Neither will the fact there will be no fans in the stadium. It is more to do with the strangeness of a tournament starting its 2020-21 campaign, while last season’s tournament has still only reached its semi-final stage.

At the same as Connah’s Quay and Sarajevo go head-to-head, Lyon and Bayern Munich will face off to see who plays Paris St Germain in this year’s final.

But none of that will bother Disney or his teammates, who have an opportunity to show their qualities, both individually and as a team.

 

“I think everyone in football can relate to our players, their background, and the challenges they have faced to get to play in the Champions League,” says the player who works as a sales manager in the mobile phone industry.

“Some of our players are full-time and others like me, also work in other professions. It’s a hybrid model.

“But what we all have in common is the fact that we were all at one time part of a professional academy, or a school of excellence, or played in the Football League, or the Conference, or at whatever level, and somewhere along the line they were released.

“We have all overcome those setbacks and now we are all about to play in the Champions League. A lot of Premier League players never get to do that.

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“So, it will be a proud moment for us and one everyone is determined to make the most of.

“Playing at a place like Cardiff City Stadium should give us all that extra buzz and make us that yard quicker and we are already a team that has a core strength based on being resolute and strong.

“It’s going to be a great occasion, even without fans, and when we are all old and grey and tired, we can say, ‘we played football in the Champions League.”

 

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