RHYL manager John Hulse has revealed the extent of the problems faced by Welsh clubs in preparing properly for the early rounds of Uefa Cup competition after the Lilywhites were yesterday paired with Finnish club FC Haka.
The first qualifying-round match against Haka, who have won their domestic title on 12 occasions, are being staged on July 19 and August 2 – midway through the Scandinavian season.
“My lads have been training three times a week for the last three weeks,” said Hulse, who was at Uefa headquarters in Switzerland for the draw.
“But our secretary has contacted no fewer than 67 clubs in a bid to set up friendly matches, which are an essential part of any preparation, only to find that most of them have not reported back for pre-season training just yet.
“The lads have been working very hard, nevertheless, and their attitude has been fantastic”
The Rhyl boss is pinning his hopes on a side from Surrey agreeing to visit Belle Vue next Saturday and there will be one further outing, against opposition from the West Cheshire League, before Haka travel to North Wales for the first leg next month.
The Finnish side, based in Valkeakoski, a town 150km north of the capital Helsinki, were drawn to host the first leg, but have agreed to switch and Hulse is hoping to make the most of home advantage in a first-ever meeting between the two clubs.
“It’s going to be a tough match – they always are,” he said. “But we are just pleased to be playing in Europe once again and I’m looking forward to pitting my wits against another foreign coach.
“In addition, we have not faced Finnish opposition before so it will be an interesting and enjoyable experience for the players and our supporters to visit another new country.”
Hulse said he had not yet given up hope of signing former Chester striker Cortez Belle in time for the European clash, but is resigned to missing out on Haverfordwest goalkeeper Lee Kendall.
A somewhat chequered career for Belle, who has also played for Merthyr Tydfil and Newport County, appeared to have stabilised with 38 Welsh Premier appearances for Llanelli last year, but he was released by Reds' boss Peter Nicholas last month amid rumours of dressing room unrest.
“We have made Cortez an offer and we are still waiting for him to get back to us, but it seems that Haverfordwest are not interested in letting Kendall leave, so it looks as though that deal is dead in the water,” said Hulse.
Striker Chris Sharp, who broke a leg in last season's Uefa Cup tie against Lithuanian side, Suduva, faces a race against time to be fit for the Haka matches. But the Belle Vue club have been boosted by the news that last season’s leading scorer Lee Hunt has agreed a new contract after waiting to see whether he would attract interest from a Football League club following a trial with Chester last year.
After 10 league matches to date, FC Haka are third in the Finnish League, having qualified for European competition every year since 1998. In all they have played 68 European ties, winning 18 and losing 36.
Their current coach is ex-club goalkeeper Olli Huttinen, who was appointed in 2002, and former players include striker Marlon Harewood, who had a spell on loan when he was with Nottingham Forest, and former Bolton striker Mixu Paatelainen.