Lockdown and the cancelation of all leisure activity across the UK brought a headache for sporting bodies. As Premier league and Championship football returned, many of us had our sporting fix but at a local level, the fields remain un-cut with little sign of a return.
The WRU were hasty in their action. A blanket ‘null and void’ season throughout their league structure. Liverpool fans feared the Premier League could follow suit…. They did not. But Welsh football did.
Each Premier League club payed out £11,000 a week in coronavirus testing to abide by safety measures. This is clearly something which no grassroot sporting club can consider. I looked at what this means for our local football and rugby sides.
Trebanos RFC have in recent years been the stand-out performer in the Swansea Valley. Punching well above their weight with a disciplined non-paying structure. This has led to a handful of players catching the eye of spending clubs each summer.
“We have been a victim of our own success” Club Secretary Adrian Lewis tells me. “A lot of players in the shop window. We lost 2 players to Neath last Summer and 2 others to TATA Steel and they were good players. Hard to recover from that.”
It told. Trebanos were in the relegation zone and ten points from safety as the season ended abruptly. “We were up against it. We would have fought right up until the end, but relegation looked likely in honesty. We aren’t as good as when we got promoted into the Championship and so it was a no-brainer that we were going to be struggling”.
Trebanos finished an incredible third placed in their debut season, Adrian reminds me that they should have finished second. But the player losses, year on year has hurt a club that will continue to play Championship Rugby next year thanks to the season’s cancelation.
Good news for the club. Longer term, it could prove even greater. All sporting clubs are being hit by the financial loss of the virus but those rival Championship clubs paying big money to attract players, clearly have greater losses. It would seem unlikely that the likes of Neath or TATA will have the financial resources to be able to alure ‘Banos players as easily as they have in the past.
The club have already been buoyed in recent weeks by the announcement of a couple of returning players. If spending clubs have less to spend it seems only likely that the gap between spending clubs and non-spending clubs will diminish.
Adrian and everyone at Trebanos are desperate to get back to playing rugby. I am sure that they would prefer to be preparing for Division 1 rugby and for normality to return. But ‘Banos, with their deep junior squads look in a great position to bounce back, when rugby eventually returns.
Vardre narrowly missed out on promotion from Division 3A in the 18/19 season. This year, they had achieved a position where it was becoming all but certain they would play in Division 2 next season.
They won’t be. I wondered how much of a hammer blow it was to the club and spoke with Club Secretary Wayne Griffiths.
“Obviously we ended up second but no promotion. It is what it is at the end of the day, nothing that we can do about it. We’ve taken the opportunity to tidy the club up a bit and hope that we can put ourselves in the same position on the pitch next season.”
The Summer would usually be a time where players come in and out of a club, but the clock has not moved since March. “We have no news at all really. No transfers in or out. The players are all keeping in touch with one-another through whats-app or whatever they use. But we are still waiting for some direction from the WRU, Welsh Assembly or UK Government. Nobody really knows when anything can or will start back”.
It must be immensely frustrating to put in all the hard work throughout a season to achieve a position which you have aimed for and then for it to be taken away. I think initial thought for everyone was simply safety and controlling the virus. No doubt that this is still the priority but as time goes on, it seems likely that some resentment to the decision will kick in.
GLAIS RFC & ALLTWEN RFC
Glais RFC were less effected on the pitch with the abrupt season finale. Regrouping and stabilising was a tremendous achievement for a club who had a torrid campaign in 18/19. There was little chance of promotion or relegation but it was a different story for fellow rivals and Division 3B compatriots Alltwen.
“We were struggling to make a side all season” Club Fixture Secretary, Brian Thomas told me. The final league table read; played 6; minus 6 points. To put it into context, Glais had played 15 at this point. It was a season which Alltwen will be only too happy to wipe off, forget and move on from.
And plans for a better time are not far away “Next season will be our centenary at Alltwen” Brian says. “We have appointed two new coaches and are optimistic for numbers. There are a few players who couldn’t play last year but I think everyone wants to play in our centenary season and do the club proud.”
Nobody knows when the Centenary season will begin. We will look forward to it though and produce a special feature in this magazine looking back at the history of Alltwen RFC. If you have played for, against or have any memories of ‘the olden days’ of Alltwen RFC then please get in touch with us at the magazine. We would love to hear your stories.
Pontardawe had a late promotion charge in the 18/19 season but, they had left themselves with too much to do once again this campaign. They will remain in Division 3C.
Football was hit in the same way as the rugby with Pontardawe Town feeling the pinch financially. I spoke wth a concerned Gary Thomas who told me:-
“Sponsors gone, golf day gone. The biggest event we have each season sees 2,000 players from across the valley come for a tournament which we put on. It is a huge shame to have to cancel it as the kids all love it but we also usually raise about £10,000 for the club. With the event being cancelled, the club won’t get that now.”
“This money goes towards kit, hiring the astro-turf and it is difficult to see where that money can be replaced from. The local businesses have been really affected and so we cannot really knock on their doors. The financial aspect has been hard. Obviously, the camaraderie, getting together, missing out on the presentation evening is also a really big blow”.
Pontardawe were hoping to get an extra team for next season but this seems in doubt with no start date. There is also concerns to all sporting teams about life changes. With footballers and football coaches being forced out of the game for a prolonged period, will all return?
There is some good news for the future though. The infrastructure of the club is now set-out and certified to a play at a higher level. Put simply, there are no obstacles in promotion anymore. Welsh football has had a league structure re-jig and the sky is the limit for the club……. When football returns.
NEATH PREMIER LEAGUE
In the Neath Premier League, Rhos FC ended with a respectable lower mid-table finish in their first season in the topflight after promotion last year. FC Clydach managed just 7 league matches all season due to our wonderful weather and a couple of good cup runs. Both will look forward to returning to Premier League action at some stage.
NEATH DIVISION ONE
Clydach Cricket Club were in a decent position to join rivals FC Clydach in the Premier League when the season was cancelled. Their frustration is likely to turn towards cricket shortly though.
2019/20 season saw the merger of Pontardawe and Alltwen United. The biggest complexity to the merger appeared to be a new name: ‘Pontardawe United’ being agreed on… eventually.
I spoke with first team manager Nigel Steele to see how they were affected.
“Promotion was unlikely for the firsts, still possible but the second team looked like they would definitely go up and a great chance of winning the league. We had two cup-finals to look forward to and I’m still hopeful that they can facilitate it at some stage, but it would be a real shame if not.”
“Players are all trying to keep fit and itching to get back into training. Realistically I think it will be 2021 before we play any competitive matches. We are in a better position now that everyone has got used to the merger. The first six weeks, it was difficult to know the best team but we have managed to get a third team and everything is looking positive”
NEATH DIVISION TWO
AFC Glais & Ynysmeudwy topped Division 2 when the season was cancelled with Clydach Sports in third. Promotion technically ruled out although with only 6 sides finishing the bottom flight, it seems more than likely that a league re-structure could see just 2 Neath Leagues next year.
Like so many, our local sports clubs are currently in limbo and for all ages. As this magazine heads to print, small training sessions seem on the horizon but we are certainly nowhere near playing matches again. Getting both adults and kids back into the routine of sport and teamwork could be a bigger and more important hurdle than we first thought.