Atalanta are European Champions.

It’s not something you say often, or well, at all in their 116 year history.

But, much more importantly (well more importantly for us), Merthyr Tydfil FC (who are now known as to Merthyr Town), fans can say that they not just played Atalanta in a European knockout competition in their history, but they can now say they played the current European champions.

We continue down the time machine off to the 1987-1988 Cup Winners Cup, where Merthyr Town faced off against Atalanta, who said non-league can’t be glamourous?

With English clubs banned from the competition up until 1990 due to the Heysel Disaster, more spots began to open up for other countries, including Wales whose cup winners were allowed entry into the competition.

And in 1987, it was none other than Merthyr Town who beat Newport County in a replay 1-0 and snuck their way into the competition – but they didn’t just make up the numbers.

Their first tie in Europe put them up against Atalanta, who, at the time, were struggling themselves.

The year prior the club found themselves relegated down into Serie B and were destroyed in the Coppa Italia by a player you probably haven’t heard of Diego Maradona. In the end, they lost the final 4-0 over the two legs.

However, with Napoli also winning the league, qualifying them for the European Cup, their place in the Cup Winners Cup went down to Atalanta.

Atalanta had never won a game in a European competition, only qualifying for the Cup Winners Cup once before in 1963-1964, being knocked out by Sporting CP in their first ever game.

And their game against Merthyr Town started off in a similarly bad way.

Unsurprisingly, the Welsh team from the seventh level of British football were massive underdogs, and the fans ravenous to watch an Italian team play on Penydarren Park, with the official attendance being over 8,000 – and unofficial reports say it was even more with 14,000 crammed into the ground.

At the time, an Italian journalist said, “if it isn’t 5-1 at half time, it’s a farce.” Boy, was he disappointed.

Merthyr Town started the game on fire, going up in the first half thanks to a well worked set piece tucked home by Kevin Rodgers, who went on to play for Birmingham and Aston Villa in his career.

Sadly, the celebrations were short lived, and Atalanta did equalise before the end of the half, but it wasn’t over.

With Penydarren Park bouncing, Atalanta just couldn’t get a hold of the game on the rough surface in the second half and were soon again under threat.

In the 87th minute, with the fans on the edge of the seats, Merthyr got their 2nd of the day, leaving Atalanta no time to get back.

2-1 at Penydarren Park, Merthyr Town 2, Atalanta just 1.

It didn’t go quite to plan in the 2nd leg back in Bergamo and Merthyr Town lost 2-0, ultimately knocking them out of the competition.

However, that’s not what the Merthyr Town fans remember of that night. Instead, it’s the 11 players on that pitch who beat Atalanta.

The players in that team will never be forgotten and, the unlikely club in Wales has an exciting little page in the UEFA History books.

For more tales of European football and their links with non-league, click to find out about a European trophy for non-league clubs and the story of the man who commentated last nights Europa League final, and his journey from Non-League football.

Photo credit: @markwingnut1