Port Talbot Town looking to find their steel in bid to halt dramatic demise
It’s safe to say Port Talbot’s not exactly been a place full of cheer over the past year or so.
The survival of the town’s steelworks following the latest threat of closure was greeted by relief rather than jubilation from locals last month, with the saga casting a shadow over a proud working community that may take years to fully shake off.
The latest threat to an industry that defines this town means relief has become an all too familiar feeling for many people in this part of the world, and was in abundant supply again at Victoria Road on Tuesday night.
A four-goal haul from Jonathan Hood helped Port Talbot Town to a vital 4-2 win over fellow Welsh League Division One strugglers Risca United, in a game that many had dubbed as a relegation six-pointer.
But the celebrations at full-time are likely to give way to an inquest from the everyone associated with the club, which has emerged from one of the most football-mad communities in Wales.
Having long sat in the shadow of neighbouring Swansea, Port Talbot has rightly or wrongly earned a reputation as an industrial outpost. It is a rough and ready type of place, where pride and dignity remain at the core of everyday life. It is, for many people, a reminder of the industrial history that helped build Britain, and many here are not prepared to see it fade away without a fight.
Many outsiders used to modern post-Thatcherite Britain might not find it too endearing, but Port Talbot is built on the same sort of working class pride that has time and time again provided a fertile breeding ground for some of British football’s most famous names.
While it may not carry the same clout as Liverpool or Manchester, it is nevertheless an instantly recognisable name within Welsh football, carrying one of the most passionate fanbases in the country, who have proudly rejected the lures of the English Premier League up the road at the Liberty Stadium to loudly and proudly support the representatives of a community they hold so dear.
FT – Port Talbot 4-2 Risca United: What a MASSIVE win. Four goals from the outstanding Jonathan Hood secures a crucial three points.
— Port Talbot Town FC (@PortTalbotTown) March 14, 2017
And yet, the tough times of the town are now filtering down to the football pitch.
A 16-year stay in the Welsh Premier League, which even included an appearance in Europe, evaporated at the end of last season, with the club failing to earn its domestic licence from the FAW, all amid the unenviable backdrop of match-fixing allegations that conspired to create a toxic summer.
The current campaign has provided little respite, with a rotten run of form in 2017 placing the club in very real danger of relegation to Division Two.
Many of those celebrating on Tuesday night will have deemed such a scenario unthinkable just 12 months ago, but the reality points to a club in desperate need of rebuilding.
— Port Talbot Town FC (@PortTalbotTown) March 13, 2017
Relegation to Welsh football’s second tier predictably sparked an exodus, with Joe Clarke, Chris Jones, Kurtis March and Kostya Georgievsky all choosing to stay in the Welsh Premier League with Aberystwyth Town, while former Swansea City star Alan Tate decided to hang up his boots.
Finding replacements proved a difficult task for boss Paul Evans, who says the likes of Llanelli Town and even bitter rivals Afan Lido, are providing stiff competition in a transfer market uninterested in Port Talbot’s stature.
“The squad’s been threadbare for a lot of games this season,” he said.
“For the club it’s about rebuilding off the field and on the field too. Patience is wearing thin because a club of our stature shouldn’t be dropping down into the Division Two but that’s football and if you’re not prepared for it, you will find yourselves down there.”
But despite those difficulties, Evans admits his side’s struggles have come as something of an alarming surprise for himself and the fans.
“If you’d asked me at Christmas time where we were I’d say we were two or three players away from being there or thereabouts at the top.
“This season’s been difficult for the fans to watch, and it’s difficult for them to understand that we are where are as a club.
“The supporters are great and they give us everything every weekend and that’s got to continue. The players are going out there and giving it their best, but sometimes it isn’t good enough. But we need their support.”
Togetherness is always a big part of any relegation battle, and there is little doubt that Port Talbot’s fans will have a role to play in helping the club to bounce back.
Biggest win of the season, huge result. Roll on next Saturday when we welcome Pen-y-bont to Victoria Road. 2.30pm kick off. pic.twitter.com/3FCoKbH5zj
— Port Talbot Town FC (@PortTalbotTown) March 14, 2017
However, there is little point in trying to paint the picture of a club that is anything other than troubled, although the Steelmen may well take heart from the way similar big sides, such as Llanelli and Barry Town United have bounced back from their own recent difficulties.
“Barry have a squad that have been together a few years now and are already challenging at the top of the table,” Evans added.
“So, if we can get some stability in our squad and add a few new faces, we can be competitive, but we need to stay in this division right now. It’s about what’s in front of us now, not what’s in the future.”
With Tuesday’s win pulling the Blues out of the Division One relegation zone, the here and now looks a little better.