New Kids on the Block: Talking to New Clubs in the North East of Wales

Introduction

Obviously, this year has been a difficult one for all clubs involved within Welsh league football with the current COVID pandemic having a massive impact upon all our lives. As of the time of writing, the majority of the clubs playing within the Welsh leagues do not have a starting date for the season and have no inclination of when it would appear. Whilst the top-flight Cymru Premier has started albeit with no fans in attendance at the grounds, stringent protocols in place, and fixtures postponed when players or staff have sadly been tested positive for the coronavirus. Throw into the mix the proposed restructuring of the Welsh football pyramid throughout the country, with all new regional leagues being introduced, it has added to the confusion and frustration to the start of the 2020-21 season.

The situation is tough enough for established clubs within the league, especially when it comes to financing, but it surely must be even more difficult for newly created clubs who are waiting to make their debut within the Welsh league system. Within the North East Wales League Championship, the new fifth-tier league that roughly covers Flintshire, Wrexham and eastern Denbighshire, six new teams will be taking their bow when the 2020-21 season should ever start; AFC Bagillt, Connah’s Quay Town, Deeside United, Llanfarthin, Ruabon Rovers and Railway Rovers. Personally, it is always exciting to see new or returning names within the Welsh league system, but new clubs are always highly vulnerable to folding within the first season, and with the situation currently as it is, that risk must surely increase.

An example of this situation for new clubs can be taken from the recently defuncted fifth-tier league, the original North East Wales League (NEWL) that had covered the region of Flintshire, Wrexham and eastern Denbighshire. From the 2013-14 season to its final season of 2019-20, there were 35 different teams (excluding the youth and reserve teams which also appeared) who were scheduled to compete within the fifth-tier league. Of those 35 teams, only FIFTEEN of those clubs still exist today, with two of those clubs having folded and then been successfully resurrected, and a further two teams moving their location and thus changing their names. As a result, only ELEVEN teams who have competed within the NEWL continue to do so in their old format – around 31.4% of all clubs. A surprisingly low success rate!

Therefore TWENTY clubs have since folded after playing in the NEWL – 57.1% of all the clubs, with TEN of those clubs having to resign within the first year of their existence. Evidence that creating a club is one thing, but maintaining their situation season upon season is another problem entirely. An example in point is from the 2013-14 NEWL season, where only three teams from a league of eleven teams exist in their old format, with only Queen’s Park (who themselves had recovered from a restart that season), Mold Town United and Acton FC still scheduled to compete in the 2020-21 season. Another one of those teams, Flint Mountain, moved to Halkyn after years of a nomadic existence in Flint and Northhop Hall, to become Halkyn & Flint Mountain, whilst CPD Caerwys and CPD Sychdyn both resigned from the league in 2014 and 2017 respectively but were welcomed back into the system two years after their respective resignations.

Despite this potentially high attrition rate, I wanted to know what it takes to establish a new club within the Welsh leagues, and the reasons for their creation. In addition, I wanted to know what the hardest part of the process is, their future plans, and how the current environment has affected them currently. To attain this information, I asked a number of the aforementioned new NEWL Championship clubs these questions, as well as another new club, CPD Caer Clwyd, a Denbigh-based team who are scheduled to play in the new fifth-tier league, North Wales Coast East League Division One (which roughly covers western Denbighshire and Conwy), to see if there were similarities throughout the leagues.

CONNAH’S QUAY TOWN

I spoke to Rob Ross, one of the founders of the new Flintshire club Connah’s Quay Town, to see how the process is going for the Dock Road-based side. They are scheduled to play in the North East Wales League Championship for the 2020-21 season.

Firstly, why did you want to start and create Connah’s Quay Town?

I was previously reserve team manager at Rhydymwyn, and at the back end of last year, myself and the coach Stephen Sharples decided to leave. After a couple of months, we were both missing the football a lot so we discussed setting up something local to where we both live. My sister, Debi, who was the secretary at Rhydymwyn and who had left a little earlier, offered her assistance so we went for it.

What would you say has been the hardest part of the whole process so far? Was it difficult to find the ground, players, etc?

We approached the chairman of youth side Connah’s Quay Tigers (we were there for 10 years before we went to Rhydymwyn) and shared our plans with him, and asked whether we could set up as a senior set-up (albeit totally separate from their junior set-up) and play from Dock Road. After several meetings with the Tigers’ executive committee, it was agreed we would become a self-funded separate arm of the club with use of the Dock Road ground that was in need of much development!

Calls were then made and we brought others into the club who we knew had contacts. Within weeks we had secured sponsors for home, away and training kits but the biggest plus was securing a 3-year ground sponsor, which was also approved with CQ Tigers. This significant investment has allowed us to redevelop the Dock Road site. On the field, we didn’t want to coach/manage anymore, so we put it out there that we were looking for a coaching team, and we hit the jackpot again by securing the services of Ste Hughes, Gav Parry and Andy Hughes who were all part of the old FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay set-up, and their pulling power of bringing in quality players speaks for itself.

The club now has people in place looking after sponsorship and fundraising and they are really doing well to try and increase funds into the club. We have tried to apply for grants but unfortunately due to COVID, we are at the back of the queue as grants are only being given to clubs who were already set up but are finding it hard to keep up with their overheads.

It sounds as if you have nearly everything in place ready for the season to start (whenever that could be?) How did you come up with the team name, colours and badge? Also, did you gain advice from other clubs, the FAW, etc when setting up the club?

Setting up was all down to Debi our secretary who has heaps of experience with COMET and the rest that goes with it. She’s been secretary of Rhydymwyn FC and is also a very active member of the Junior Flintshire Executive committee, who she has been with for years.

We still have a lot of work to do and the whole team are working tirelessly to get the ground to as high a level as possible that we can with what we’ve got to work with. The pitch has been partly graded, rolled, reseeded, whilst a hard standing path has been put in halfway around the pitch and barriers are now being fitted behind one of the goals. New showers still need to be fitted in changing rooms, the dugouts need to be built (which the players will be doing as we have a few builders in the squad), and we’re also replacing the referee’s changing room, which was initially in the public disabled toilet!

The name was easy, with only one senior team in a massive town, we chose Connah’s Quay Town with our badge showing the recent and past history of the town, with the Flintshire Bridge and the Kathleen and May boat that was built here. The orange and black colours are to tie us to CQ Tigers with us playing from Dock Road.

I’d say ‘past experiences’ has helped in the way we have set ourselves up, and we have looked to do things a little differently. Furthermore, members of the club’s committee have experience from other local clubs, plus another who has never been involved in football but has been heavily involved in fundraising in another sport.

In carrying out ground improvements, we have cut into a lot of rough ground and turned the pitch around, which has allowed us to add 2 new mini-pitches for CQ Tigers to play from thus improving what they had. Our future aims off the pitch are to continue with the development of the ground and become financially viable. We will need the assistance of Welsh FA Grants though and continued help from our sponsors, who to date have been the ones to make all this happen:
TMC Hallcrest, the ground sponsor; ccexpress, Broad Oak Pub, The Big Estate Agency, your name onit, the kit sponsors; WBS and Jack Sargeant MS as dugouts sponsors, and a couple of others who wish to remain anonymous. On the pitch, with the calibre of players we have signed, the aim of promotion is top of the list. We also hope to set up either an under 19’s team or a reserves team in 2021 depending on the logistics.

One last question for you, has it been a help or a hindrance establishing a club in a town which already has a team? Are you hoping to offer an alternative to what the Nomads have to encourage a large fan base?

It’s been no hindrance at all. The Nomads, although based in Connah’s Quay, have only got a few local lads in their squad, and we are building a team with the majority being from the town, and will thus bring in an initial fan base of their family and friends. We’re also involved with the local pub (The Broad Oak) and will go there after matches, which I think may see some their locals coming down for a peak. In addition, we have a very healthy relationship with Connah’s Quay Cricket Club (who’s groundsman has helped us a lot) so there’s an avenue there also. The majority of our sponsors are Connah’s Quay based too. It’ll take time but I think we’ll have a good fan base in the near future.

Ruabon Rovers

Next, I spoke to Ruabon Rovers, another of the new clubs who are scheduled to play in the North East Wales League Championship for the 2020-21 season and based in the historical and football-significant village of Ruabon/Rhiwabon.

Firstly how did the founding of the club all come about?

It’s something we’ve spoken about for a while as the village has been without a men’s senior team for over a decade. A small group of us thought it was about time a village with such a footballing pedigree should have a team again. Ruabon was almost the anomaly on the local map, as a village without a team.

That’s true, the village does have a huge history in Welsh football, and it was unbelievable that it didn’t have a club. What has the process been of creating the club? Did you have the players first or the ground first?

Well, that’s an interesting one. We actually got a good solid committee together first and got the word out for local players. The ground has actually proved quite an ongoing issue. The village has been left behind somewhat in terms of sporting facilities so we planned to play on the school pitch, but local demand was that we play in the heart of the village on the Recreation Ground. So we’ve been working with the community council to bring this ground up to scratch over the summer.

Would you say that getting the ground up to the required standards has been the most difficult part of the process, or have other issues been problematic?

I’d certainly say the ground. We’ve had a lot of players interested and we haven’t struggled in that department. The red tape aspect with using a local council pitch is certainly a headache. The COVID issue has also proved challenging with some local lads deciding to stay at there current clubs because of the uncertainty at the moment, and training etc. has been difficult.

How has the impact been on getting sponsorship for the club? Has it been more difficult in the current COVID climate?

I think it’s because it’s our first season, but the local support has been fantastic, main sponsors and player sponsors have been filled really quickly. And we have had lots of positive responses for match day sponsors … whenever we get a fixture list! This team is really starting to unite the community, which is what it’s all about.

That’s brilliant to read that the club has managed to get the local community on board. Was that one of the aims of the club when creating it, to be the hub of the community? Also, did you get any advice from other clubs, North East Wales FA (NEWFA), FAW, etc. when setting up the club?

Yes, it was the real driving force in the formation of the team. The guys at NEWFA and the North East Wales League have been fantastic for help and advice.

In comparison with other clubs, your branding has been fantastic. Was that crucial for your aim of creating that community feel? Also, how did you come up with the club’s name and colours?

Firstly thank you! We wanted to hit the ground running and make a statement of professionalism. We wanted to attract attention and make people sit up and think, ‘this team is serious’ and we think it’s worked. We’ve had some many teams over the years Ruabon Druids, St Mary’s, Villa, Athletic. We wanted something different so we came up with Ruabon Rovers only to discover this had been a team way back in the 1860s and they merged with Plas Madoc to become Ruabon Druids in 1872 (the team would go on to become Cefn Druids) so I think the name speaks of the history and depth of connection this area has with football.

An example of the branding from Ruabon Rovers

The colours were mainly because the old Ruabon kit was this colour, and it avoided any arguments between blue or red and Liverpool/Everton rivalries locally.

So finally what are the ultimate plans for the future of the club? Are you hoping to create youth clubs, reserve teams, etc, and further integrate into the community?

Absolutely, we’ve had lots of people asking about a youth team, it was too much to ask In our first season where we felt we needed to focus on the first team. The plan is to grow and strengthen and become embedded in our community so a reserves team and youth set-up is on the cards!

CPD CAER CLWYD

Firstly, what was the driving force to create the new club?

The driving force behind creating CPD Caer Clwyd was that we had all coached a kids’ youth team up until under 16’s, where they then had nowhere really to go. We tried to set up a reserve team at the team we were playing for at the time, but that fell through for one reason or another, but overall that sparked the idea to create our own men’s team.

Did you get any advice from any other clubs, the North Wales Coast FA (NWCFA), the FAW, etc. when setting up the club?

Yes, we had advice and guidance off the NWCFA and had spoken to a couple of managers from other teams and ex-managers who were all really helpful in helping up set up what we have.

What has been the hardest part of the process so far? Has it been accessing the facilities, finding players, sponsorship, etc? Likewise has there been anything surprisingly easy in the process?

I’d say it’s all been pretty hard, looking back what we’ve accomplished in such a short time is a massive achievement for us, especially with what’s been going on at the moment. We have completely transformed our pitch from an overgrown field to a well-maintained football pitch with rope barriers, dugouts, storage facilities and a refreshments hut. In terms of things being surprisingly easy, it was actually a couple of meetings with Myddelton College and getting a successful pitch deal, and then, of course, they were kind enough to be our main kit sponsor, which we are extremely grateful for. They’re incredible people to work with and share our vision.

We are lucky as a group of 4 to know some very good football players who have decided to join us on this journey of creating a new team and we are delighted with the squad we’ve currently got.

How did you come up with the team name, team colours and badge, etc?

Now, this could have been the most challenging aspect of it all with 4 of us involved, Keiran, Andy, John & Lloyd deciding on a team name, the colour or theme and badge, and we had many, many discussions and debates surrounding this. In the end, we let our friend Jack, who runs Huntman Productions, decide as a mutual and designed our badge, colour etc.

How has the current climate with COVID affected your plans?

The current climate with COVID has put extreme pressure on the whole thing, it’s been very difficult especially with no set date in place to actually be able to competitively kick a football. The lads just want to get going, we’ve got everything in place and it’s hard to keep motivation sometimes, but as a footballing community we will all get through this and there will be some good times ahead.

What are your plans for the future with the club? Do you hope to set up a reserve team, youth teams, etc?

Our future plans are huge, we would eventually love to be a well-established team, with a youth system set up giving the opportunity for junior football to have a successful pathway to adult football, as we are extremely passionate about this and believe the community would get behind us in the future to help make this happen.

Is it a help or a hindrance to having Cymru North side Denbigh Town nearby? Do you have plans for co-operation in the future or do you hope to become an alternative option to establish a fan base for the future?

It’s neither help nor a hindrance if I’m honest! Obviously, they’re a well-established club that we can look up to in terms of how they’re set up, and how big they are and the quality of players they have, while also having a reserve and development squad. We haven’t had much contact really but it can only benefit the fans and community as we feel with us being so close, it has to be considered a derby, and when we can eventually play it will be a great footballing day for Denbigh town I’m sure.

We definitely hope to become an alternative team to support and follow in Denbigh yes – we believe this would only benefit us and Denbigh adding an extra competitive edge.

Finally, following on with the future plans, would you like to have the club to be an important part of the community and what plans have you got to help encourage a fan base?

Yes, we would love Caer Clwyd to be an important part of the community – we’ve built good facilities on an already beautiful site (Myddelton College) which has a fabulous view of the hills of Dyffryn Clwyd from pitchside.

We have plans to develop junior sides in the future and would hope to bring in local coaches or new people from the community that would love to get involved in coaching junior football. Along with the parents of juniors getting behind us also.

Nearly all of our players currently are from Denbigh and we hope that their friends and family will come and support us this season, along with hopefully getting some good results against some well-established sides will open their eyes to our football club.

We’ve approached a lot of local companies, and we’ve had some good response especially in these hard times but a lot of them are getting behind us, such as Diskos and Cllr Mark Young who have kindly donated towards the club.

We are really excited to get going!

SUMMARY

From the interviews from the three clubs, it’s clear that the common theme has been that clubs are created to become community hubs for the locations they are based, as well as becoming an outlet for the various local youth teams who don’t run a senior team. Certainly there needs to be more options for youngster who are ready to develop into the senior set-up, and having such clubs being created and providing them with that platform is crucial for their continued participation within football and/or coaching. Plus as we saw with the situation with Ruabon, it was a case of putting a village back on the Welsh footballing map after a long time away from the scene, which can only be beneficial for the locality.

However, as I expected, the main issue that has been highlighted by the teams I have interviewed has been acquiring facilities, and getting them to the required standards in preparation for the new season. Although this is a snapshot of what is happening in just northeastern Wales, I think this issue is applicable throughout the country. With more football pitches being lost to housing developments or fields falling into disrepair and misuse, the facilities that were once plentiful are becoming scarcer and making it harder to find new homes for clubs. Certainly for a new club to initially succeed, there needs to be a large group of volunteers and helpers who are willing to put in the hard graft into the facilities to ensure the club can at least start on a solid footing. Those improvements would continue to be maintained should the club progress through the pyramid. Gaining grants from the FAW Trust help in that aspect (although not guaranteed in this current COVID climate), but perhaps more help is needed for new clubs to enable more of them to be created, and for facilities throughout the country to generally improve. Maybe more public money could be acquired to help in this aspect to encourage local improvements, but with council budgets becoming more restricted on an annual basis, perhaps obtaining more private money is the only way forward for new clubs at this moment in time?

A big thank you to Connah’s Quay Town, Ruabon Rovers and CPD Caer Clwyd for taking the time and answering my questions. Whenever the season starts, I hope you have a superb season and will continue to have a successful future for many, many seasons to come. Should you live nearby to those clubs, please make the effort to visit them when the season starts up for the remainder of the Welsh football pyramid. In addition, I wish all the other new clubs aiming to start in the Welsh leagues this coming season all the very best also, and look forward to seeing new and old names appearing in the future!

Diolch!

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