A campaign of more lows than highs, but ultimately one of instability for the Wellmen. The key now is to build. In this review, Taffs Well FC supporter Kevin Francis provides a view from the Rhiw on a turbulent season.
It feels a bit cliched to start an end of season review by calling it 'a season to remember', but in light of a global pandemic it does seem fitting. The 2019/20 season was a time of change and reinvention for the Taffs Well squad, both in terms of players and management. In this review I shall provide a fans perspective of how the season went, key moments and a look to a relatively unknown future.
The summer of 2019 saw a number of changes to the squad, seeing regular starters Warren Jones, Christian Davies and Glyn Garner leave the club. In their place we welcomed the exciting additions of the talented Jack Fox in midfield and Tomos Bodger between the sticks, along with a number of prospects from the extremely successful youth team who had won the FAW Youth Cup the season before, including the likes of Dylan Jones, Jordan Carey and Ethan Cann who went on to become regular first team players. Taffs Well had previously avoided relegation thanks to a technicality which saw Port Talbot unable to achieve the Tier 2 status needed to remain in the JD Cymru South. This season presented an opportunity for the club to consolidate our place within the league. The squad needed work and whilst those brought in were not guaranteed to improve the squad, the club had an air of cautious optimism around it.
Following yet another successful friendly match hosting Cardiff City F.C. in the summer, the first match proper was a disappointing loss away to Briton Ferry in the first round of the Welsh League Cup. Immediately putting the defeat behind us, we began our regular season on the 17th August 2019 at home to Ammanford, a club known for their fantastic vocal support filling the stadium with booming voices and drums. Despite this support, it was the Wellmen who showed early season confidence and won the match 3-1, with quality finishes from Richard French and Jordan Carey sealing the win. A defeat to eventual league winners Swansea University followed, but Taffs regrouped and managed a comprehensive win again Cwmamman United (video below), with a hat-trick from Jordan Carey, demonstrating his qualities as a player.
With two wins from the first three league games, optimism spread amongst the terraces as the fans begun to believe this season may see the club strengthen our position in the league. It wasn't to last as the team succumbed to a couple of losses in the matches that followed, to Undy Athletic and Briton Ferry Llansawel respectively. A timely match away to Cardiff rivals Caerau Ely helped to stabilise results slightly, with Richard French managing to secure a point on a day when in all honesty, three were definitely obtainable.
Our form picked up in the next match, resulting in my highlight of the season; the Wellmen beating our closest rivals Pontypridd Town in the A470 derby. A 5-2 win gave real hope for success for the rest of the season. The match also delivered what I consider to be our goal of the season, with Jack Fox scoring an spectacular effort from outside the area (see 3:28 in the video below). Things were on the up!
A 3-1 loss to Llanelli Town followed, with Tim Parker causing havoc against the Taffs Well defence. The match was marred by a nasty injury to keeper Tom Bodger, who had been in great form in his debut season with the club. Striker Jason Bertorelli had to take his place in goal following the injury and despite a valiant effort, Llanelli ran out victors.
As we headed into autumn, things began to sour off and on the pitch. An off-field incident saw the departure of two key players, including the club captain. I am not going to dwell on this as I everything I know is second or third hand information. Needless to say it rocked the squad and, coupled with the loss of our first team keeper to injury for a number of months, results begun to head in the wrong direction. Our next game was a heavy 7-1 loss away to Haverfordwest County, which saw one of the most difficult of halves of football the club has faced in recent memory. A second half rally from the team avoided the scoreline becoming overly embarrassing, but issues were becoming apparent. The following week the club were knocked out of the Welsh FA Cup away to Chepstow Town, two leagues below, with the Wellmen losing the game to a last minute winner to cap off a rather depressing month.
Whether it was potentially fortunate or unnecessarily disruptive, the weather took a turn for the worse and October saw a number of matches postponed. Sadly, the break in play did little to improve results when play resumed in November as Taffs went on to lose 5-2 to Goytre United and 2-0 to Cwmbran Celtic in the following matches.
These results resulted in popular manager Steve Williams losing his role and Lawrence Badman stepping up in to the position. As often happens with a change in personnel, the new manager bounce yielded a positive response from the squad, resulting in a comprehensive 3-0 win away to Ammanford, the only team we managed to secure a double against this season. It was an enjoyable away day experience and I would give special mention to the performance of Harry Gidman in that match, our young centre-back, who was asked to man-mark the vastly experienced Lee Trundle. The Taffs Well fans visiting the Rec remarked on the impressive job he made of keeping the ex-Swansea City player quiet. Jordan Carey grabbed a brace, which begun a streak of five goals in three games, further enhancing his reputation as a real talent.
The rest of the matches over the festive period did not yield positive results. A trio of defeats followed, losing away to Swansea Uni and a double-header against Llantwit Major, including a heart-breaking last minute goal in the away leg. Conceding last minute goals became a frustrating characteristic that really hurt the team at key points in the season. It was also over New Year that the squad lost key midfielders Jack Fox and Kieron Proctor, both moving to Australia, which was a huge blow to our midfield. The club managed to bring in a number of new players during the transfer window, including Thomas Gameson and Liam Hutchinson who helped to bolster the midfield and Cael Jones in goal. However, these changes meant consistency was a reoccurring issue for the squad.
Following the back-to-back losses to Llantwit, Taffs had a fantastic opportunity to improve its fortunes when Caerau Ely visited Rhiw'r Ddar, a team sitting at the foot of the table who had yet to manage a win. The match would become known for its infamous kit clash, which saw a lime green Caerau Ely paired against a yellow Taffs Well home kit. Regardless of the potential kit controversy, the result was very one-sided as Caerau Ely ran out deserved 3-0 winners and Taffs Well were sadly sliding down the table towards the drop zone.
If winning against Pontypridd Town earlier in the season was the highlight, the low-light was definitely the return leg. A short trip north up the A470 on a bitterly cold night saw the Wellmen defeated 6-0. Pontypridd were in the middle of a fantastic run that saw them flying up the league, and our depleted team could not handle them in that form. A further 1-0 loss followed to Goytre United shortly after. However, the Goytre match did show that the new players were beginning to bed in with the wider squad and the number of chances were definitely improving. If Taffs Well had any chance of escaping the drop, it was clear the group needed to galvanise as a team as a matter of urgency.
The last day of January saw Taffs Well play Afan Lido at home. It was a tough game which saw a spirited Taffs team work hard for the 3-2 win, one they richly deserved. The celebrations spoke volumes and the team picked up their first three points since the end of November. A hard fought draw at Stebo against a strong Llanelli Town side followed and it looked to all as though we may be witnessing a change in fortune. This optimism was cemented by a win at home in contested circumstances against an Undy Athletic side also facing the threat of relegation. Taffs had now avoided defeat in their past three games and relegation was not an inevitability it once seemed.
Sadly the run couldn't be continued as the Wellmen travelled to Afan Lido in late February. Despite Carey once again getting on the scoresheet, Lido ran out 2-1 winners on the night. A draw away to Cambrian & Clydach followed, before the Wellmen faced arguably their most important game of the season against Cwmamman United. Cwmamman came into the game one place below Taffs Well in the league, with both teams in the relegation zone. A cold, tough night in west Wales saw a game of little quality. Taffs had managed to hold Cwmamman and the game looked destined for the first goalless match of the season. Then, in the 93rd minute, Taffs conceded a penalty which was inevitably put away. I've had some miserable nights driving home from football matches, but this has to be up there with one ofthe worst.
A defeat at home was to follow against Cambrian & Clydach, which turned out to be the last match played this season. With a handful of matches left to play, including against relegation rivals Cwmbran Celtic at home, we'll never know whether the players would have been able to muster a great escape. Yet the coronavirus spread meant the end of football as we know it.
The FAW determined the final position of teams based on points per games and as it stands, Taffs Well occupy one of the relegation positions. Yet relegation is not guaranteed. Nothing has yet been confirmed at the time of writing, but due to the unfortunate circumstances of STM Sports not achieving Tier 2 status, our final league position may see us remain in the JD Cymru South for another year. If this is the case, it provides a vital lifeline. Every team wishes to stay up on their own merit, but survival would be a major consolation and must not be squandered.
Reliving these moments has reminded me of what an array of emotions we fans have experienced this season. Although our final league position may spell doom and gloom, there were a number of positives to take away. At the beginning of the campaign, we managed wins that were not just comprehensive, they were exciting. The emergence of players such as Jordan Carey, who would easily win my player of the season award if I had one to give, and the talent of Jack Fox prior to him leaving, brought a level of skill and youthful enthusiasm to the club. Jordan previously played for the Taffs Well Academy, which has been doing remarkable work to professionalise the approach taken to youth football in the area and the club is committed to see this developed further. In one match alone, eleven of the fourteen players in the squad had played in the successful youth team in the past two years, demonstrating the commitment to bringing through local talent. Whilst youth cannot replaced the experience needed at this level to succeed, it provides a sustainable approach to help bring through quality youngsters with an affiliation for the club the team sorely needs.
In addition to the academy, the club has also made great strides to improve its digital approach with its new website and presence on all major social media. All signs are pointing in the right direction, the club simply needs to build on its current circumstances and be bold to create an exciting club that people want to be a part of.
The areas we need to work on seem relatively simple. This season the number of players who wore a Taffs Well shirt was considerable, far too high for any cohesion or consistency. We need a core group of players who want to play for each other and the club. We do not know when and in what form football will return, but we as a club need to be ready for it, with a squad ready to learn and filled with players willing to fight for the shirt. If we can blend experience and youth and if a handful of players excel in leadership roles, there is no reason for us to find ourselves in this position again.