The JD Welsh Cup is well known for pitting the big names of Welsh football against the small, and Saturday’s game at the Hollingsworth Group stadium is no exception as Huws Gray Alliance high-flyers Airbus host Welsh National League Premier Division side Saltney Town.
The game is not just as a cup tie but a derby too, as Saltney will make just a four minute journey to Airbus for the first competitive meeting between the two sides in many years.
The clubs are just two miles away from each other, but their histories are far apart, and this is what truly makes the game a David v Goliath encounter.
Airbus are in their own right a giant of Welsh Football. Formed in 1946, the factory-side has gone under many guises in keeping with name changes of the current Airbus Aerospace sight in Broughton. Having fought in the lower leagues throughout the 1990s, they were finally promoted to the top flight in the 2003-04 season.
A plight followed, as the club bore a label as relegation strugglers who just about avoided the drop many times. But this would all change in 2007-08 as current Hartlepool boss Craig Harrison took the Airbus hot seat and began stabilising the Wingmakers into a solid top flight outfit.
Such was Harrison’s success at Airbus, he was snapped up by TNS to go onto become one of the Welsh Premier’s most successful managers ever. But there was a silver lining at the Airfield as their own most successful period followed as dynamic duo Andy Preece and current Connah’s Quay Nomads boss Andy Morrison took the helm.
Under Preece and Morrison’s guidance, the club qualified for Europe three consecutive times, performing well despite not progressing against the likes of Latvian Ventspils and Norwegian side Haugesund.
But today the club finds itself in the second tier of the pyramid, after a dismal campaign in the JD Welsh Premier League saw them relegated after 13 straight seasons in the top flight.
— JD Welsh Premier (@WPL_Official) April 8, 2017
Whilst the Wingmakers may not be at their most powerful right now, they sit as one of the favourites for promotion back to the Welsh Premier League and will provide a daunting challenge for Saltney – whose story spans just seven years compared to Airbus’ seven decade history.
Saltney Town was the vision of one man, their current manager, Marc Edwards. As Airbus enjoyed success down the road, he wanted to make football a focus in his own community.
Borrowing a pitch and changing rooms from the local high school (and using a footbridge to get to one another), the side was set up and enjoyed some starting success, winning regional trophies before entering the Welsh National League in unorthodox fashion, as title rivals Borras were deducted points after the final fixture of the season.
Since entering the third tier the club have finished eighth or ninth each season, as the club looks to improve its facilities and grow – but there’s no committee, no funding and no budget, as the outfit exists with a do-it-yourself ethos. Manager Marc Edwards also runs the club’s U4-U8 sides, which Saltney sees as its biggest achievement to date.
The club has recently developed its ground and in keeping with their DIY spirit, it’s the playing squad who take responsibility for their home. A group of players ran a marathon to raise funds for a new 50-seater stand and assist with the distribution of five tonnes of top soil to maintain the pitch as well as watering the ground.
Look what's just arrived in time for this evening's game 😍 pic.twitter.com/X1JbB8wPBY
— Saltney Town Sports (@Saltneytownfc) August 16, 2017
What makes Saltney different from other clubs in their league is that it’s the players who pay for the pleasure – the squad covers costs for referees and their training facility, which is none other than one third of Airbus’ home 3G pitch once a week.
Although Airbus and Saltney have contrasting histories, Saltney Town’s current team might not have existed if not for Airbus. Nine of the Saltney squad are graduates of the Airbus academy, with another 15 having played for the Wingmaker’s reserves or U19s – with another group of players currently employed at the Airbus plant itself.
Saltney manager Marc Edwards said:
“The message to the lads on Saturday is they can’t lose. There’s no pressure and we want them to express themselves, but they’ve been told if they all do their individual jobs we will be able to give Airbus a game – there’s 11 one versus one’s out on the pitch so if we start winning them, the game will be on.
“Although we train on Airbus’ pitch there won’t be a massive advantage as Airbus are way more adept to using 3G – but our lads can play, and we see ourselves as a footballing side and play our best football when it’s on the floor”
“The support has been brilliant, even walking down the street we’ve had people saying about the match and I know people who are giving up their Saturday to come to the match which will be great for both clubs to get a good atmosphere”
Form won’t count for much when the two sides meet on Saturday, but it is Saltney who come in off the back of a victory over Coedpoeth United. They have endured a mixed bag in the Welsh National League Premier so far, winning four and losing four – with three of those wins coming against big opposition in FC Nomads, Mold and Buckley.
Airbus meanwhile will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing 3-1 loss at Rhyl FC.
The fixture will be a sign of progress for humble Saltney Town whilst Airbus will be looking for a cup run to once again compete with the big boys of Welsh Football.
A good atmosphere is expected for the derby which takes place at 2:30pm at the Hollingsworth Group Stadium on Saturday 4 November.
Featured Image: Saltney Town FC