Despite finishing 6th last season in their first campaign back in the Welsh Football League, there are a number of challenges facing Cwmbran Celtic this season, both on and off the field, as they try to ensure they remain a competitive club at this level.
This week Celtic player-manager Lee Challenger spoke about the Torfaen club’s ambitions on the field as well as the dramatic changes that have taken place at their home, Celtic Park, over the summer.
By the end of next season (2018/19) all clubs at Division One level need to meet the criteria for the FAW’s new Tier 2 licence. Cwmbran Celtic were one club acutely affected by the new rules due to a lack of infrastructure at their ground. Challenger said the club has been making moves to ensure they are not penalised.
“The club have made significant strides over the summer: a 250 seat stand has been erected at Celtic Park to meet the tier 2 licence criteria. Meeting the criteria has obviously tested the club financially, but it is essential for us to meet the desired criteria in order for us to continue to compete at this level.
Last season’s top six finish was surprising given it was the Cwmbran Celtic’s first season back at Division One level. Challenger was keen to praise the efforts of his players during that campaign.
To finish in the top six last season after promotion has to be deemed a success, the club’s highest ever finish. [We have a] brilliant bunch of boys here and they deserved a good first season back in division 1 after being relegated 2 seasons prior. It was tough in patches, it has to be said. Credit must go to the players who stuck by each other through some difficult and testing times, they learned a lot about themselves and one another along the way.
After such a good campaign, there will be questions about whether Cwmbran Celtic have reached the limit of their potential. However, Challenger is ambitious and while managing expectations around the club is something he must consider, he believes his squad can achieve their target. He said:
“Expectations for this season, in and around the club, vary depending on who you speak to. But all of us involved with the first team know where we want to be. For me, the aim has to be to improve every season, which in our case means finishing higher than last season’s position of 6th. It’s not going to be easy, but we will take it one game at a time and see where it takes us.”
When asked about whether he believes his side are close to a title challenge in the near future, Challenger was keen to stress the importance of focus on short-term goals:
“The aim for this season is to improve upon last season’s campaign. We are under no illusions as to how difficult it’s going to be, but it’s a challenge that the players have willingly accepted; one that all of us will relish.
As well as the improvements to the ground, Challenger has had to manage changes to his squad. There were six new additions during pre-season, including a few returning old boys:
“We lost a couple from the squad that finished last season. Since then we have been lucky enough to bring in 6 players who have no doubt bolstered the squad. Josh Bull, Chrissy Ham, Luke Jones and Simon Prangley all return to the club after spells away. The 4 of them know the club and the division well, and have settled back in really well with the rest of the squad.”
As well as those four experienced senior players, Challenger praised two young players Celtic have brought through this season.
“Iolo Jones and Jordan Dibble have also impressed and settled in really well. Both are young lads in their first season at senior level. It’s good to be able to give them opportunity to play and progress at a decent level. Every club feels a great sense of pride when young local lads come through the ranks, no more so than here at Celtic.”
Cwmbran Celtic currently sit 10th in the Division One table with 8 points to their name. After a slow start in which Celtic failed to win any of their opening five league games, they have won the last two league matches, as well as beating Caerau Ely last week in the Welsh Cup, scoring 10 goals in the process and conceding one. This weekend, Undy Athletic visit Celtic Park and despite their lowly position, Challenger expects a tough game.
“Undy will be another good test for us, They have kept a good core of players together for a few seasons now, it’s always a tough fixture for us and games between the 2 sides over the last couple of seasons have normally come down to who wants it more on the day; I expect Saturday to be no different.”
Progress in the first round of the Welsh Cup last weekend meant Celtic were in the draw for round 2 and the reward is a home tie against Division One title favourites Llanelli Town next month. It is a big challenge for Challenger’s side, but he is looking forward to the tie.
“A very tasty draw in the Welsh Cup. [It’s] the biggest competition in the country and you want to be involved in big ties against the big sides; that’s why we are all here, it’s something that we will look forward to. Make no mistake about it, Llanelli will come as clear favourites, and rightly so given the good start they have made, but we are used to being the underdog here; nothing changes for us in that respect. That tie goes on the back burner for us at the moment though, as all our focus is on Undy this coming Saturday and getting a positive result.”
(Featured Image: Steve Roberts)