Crossing the border: Teams playing in leagues of other countries

Most club competitions are based on tournaments between teams from the same country. Some national tournaments, however, include teams from countries other than those represented in the league. In this article, we look at some of the clubs that play in leagues other than their own.

Swansea City, Cardiff City and Wrexham AFC

These three clubs are from Wales, yet they play in the English football league. Cardiff City is the only non-English team to have won the FA Cup, in 1927. Swansea City won the League Cup in 2013, making them the first Welsh team to compete in European competitions. 

On the other hand, Wrexham AFC has never gone beyond the second English division in its history. This year, the team has substantially improved since being purchased by Ryan Reynodls and Rob McElhenney, returning to the professional leagues for the first time in fifteen years.

Derry City FC

Derry City FC is based in Derry, Northern Ireland. However, the club visits the Republic of Ireland to play in the league competitions. Due to security concerns during the harshest years of the Troubles, the team was forced to leave the league, but returned to Irish professional tournaments in the 1985/1986 season.

Among its records, Derry City FC has won the Irish Football League title (the Northern Ireland main league) in the 1964/1965 season and two Leagues of Ireland Premier Division titles (1988/1989 and 1996/1997). Additionally, they have won the League of Ireland Cup 11 times, six FAI Cup and one President of Ireland’s Cup.

FC Andorra

Andorra is a tiny country in the Pyrenees, sandwiched between Spain and France. The team, known as Els Tricolors, joined the Spanish league system in 1963, but it wasn’t until 1994 that they achieved their biggest success: winning the Copa Catalunya after defeating FC Barcelona in the semifinals and RCD Espanyol in the final.

Gerard Piqué, a former Barcelona player, purchased the squad in 2018. The financial improvement of the team has led them to progress through lower divisions, until achieving promotion to the Second Division for the first time in their history in May 2022. They have almost certainly guaranteed their place in the league for another year.

FC Vaduz

Liechtenstein has a problem: it does not have its own football league. The principality’s clubs compete in the Liechtenstein Cup, with the winner qualifying for the Europa Conference League. As a result, FC Vaduz and the country’s other clubs are members of the Swiss system. However, only FC Vaduz has appeared on occasion in the Swiss League. FC Vaduz holds the global record for the most national cups, with 48 Liechtenstein Cups.

Intriguingly, if a Liechtenstein team wins the league, they will be unable to compete in the Champions League because they are registered in a federation from a different country than where they compete. To play in the premier European competition, a Liechtenstein team must first win the Liechtenstein Cup, then the Conference League, and finally the Europa League the following year. This is a pipe dream, especially given that FC Vaduz has only made it to the Conference League group stage once.

AS Mónaco FC

Monaco is the most well-known club that plays outside of its own country. Monaco, like Andorra and Liechtenstein, is a tiny country. Furthermore, the Monégasque Football Federation is not internationally recognized, which complicates matters even further within the country. 

Monaco plays in the French league, where they have won eight league titles and five French Cups. In addition, they reached the 2004 Champions League final, when they lost against Porto.

Albirex Niigata Singapore FC

The Singapore Premier League is a league known for inviting several foreign teams in order to improve the level of the competition.  Several of them, including the 2010 champion Étoile, have already left the league.

Albirex Niigata Singapore FC, which has been around the longest and still exists, has become one of the league’s strongest teams. This is a satellite squad of the Japanese Albirex Niigata, which competes in the J1 League and is largely made up of young Japanese players.

Honorable mentions

Perth Kangaroos and Darwin Cubs

Singapore’s league has included Albirex Niigata as a foreign team. The Perth Kangaroos and Darwin Cubs were two Australian clubs that played in the Singapore Premier League in 1994, finishing first and second, respectively.

In the case of the Perth Kangaroos, the club entered the Singaporean league due to the conflict with the National Soccer League. Back then, there weren’t any clubs from Western Australia, and the league administration was concerned of the economic impact it would have in the league, so they weren’t willing to accept a club like it. In the Singaporean league, they were unbeaten, but disappeared after the season. In 1996, a club from Perth debuted in the NSL: Perth Glory.

The Darwin Cubs attempted to survive a second season in Singapore, but a series of confrontations with the league’s management forced them to depart the competition before it concluded.

Sheriff Tiraspol

The Sheriff Tiraspol case is complicated, as it is both playing and not playing in its national league, depending on how you look at it. The club is located in Transnistria, a separatist territory that declared independence in 1991 but is internationally recognized as part of Moldova.

Returning to football, Sheriff Tiraspol has been a highly successful club in the Moldovan league, having won the Moldovan National Division 20 times and the Moldovan Cup 11 times. In Europe, their greatest success was their victory over Real Madrid in the Champions League during the 2021/2022 season. Sheriff was eventually eliminated, but their third-place finish earned them a spot in the Europa League, where they were knocked out in the first knockout round by Sporting Braga. They reached the round of 16 in the 2022/2023 Conference League before being eliminated by Nice.

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