Why Llanelli can dream of a return to the top flight
It has been a whirlwind few seasons for Llanelli Town AFC over the last few years, with the club’s reformation seeing the club forced to start back in Division Three, but under the leadership of Andy Hill they look set for a return to the big time.
Alongside Barry Town, Llanelli went into administration and in 2013 the club ceased to exist. The newly formed club were forced to start again from the bottom. A massive challenge for Bob Jeffries’ management team, as they were tasked with stabilising the club, whilst building a side capable of guiding the club up the divisions
In a season of transition, they failed to win promotion first time round but led the charge in a strong and exciting season, as the Reds pipped fellow Carmarthenshire rivals Ammanford and Cwmamman United to the title.
Division Two was a totally different kettle of fish for the former Welsh Premier League winners. The promoted three from the previous season occupied three consecutive spots in reverse order, as Gruff Harrison’s Ammanford finished 5th, with Llanelli 6th and rivals Cwmamman 7th.
But, this summer saw change at Stebonheath. Bob Jeffries departed the club to coach in America, and the search for a new manager begun. Eventually, former Reds player and Goytre manager at the time Andy Hill was tasked with continuing the progress Jeffries had made. But, he’s gone one step further than that.
Llanelli currently sit top of Welsh League Division Two, with a remarkable progress in the club’s performances. The club have been consistently strong on the playing field this season, and after 20 league matches, the club have bagged themselves 16 wins. Not only have they got a healthy win record, but they boast a five point lead atop the table, with three games in hand over second placed Briton Ferry Llansawel, who are also looking for a return to Division One.
However, one of the most remarkable feats of the progress the club have made during the season has been the high profile signings Hill has managed to make.
The stand out signing has clearly been Swansea City fan favourite Lee Trundle. The former Rhyl and Neath striker, at the ripe old age of 40, hasn’t been a fleeting signing for the club, but has been a key cog in the Llanelli promotion charge. With 40 goals in 20 games, Trundle leads the goal scoring charts. His healthy goal return, has seen the crowds return to the ground as they flocked to see his three minute and seven minute hattricks already made this season.
However, Trundle is just one of many impressive signings made this term.
Hill has also managed to lure Welsh Premier League players and former Swansea City players Kurtis March and James Loveridge to the club. In addition, Aberystwyth’s Joe Clark has also joined their ranks as they seek the Division Two title.
Whilst promotion looks certain for the club, just how far can Hill take the side?
Promotion from Division Two and then Division One is an unprecedented achievement. And a difficult task at that. Just ask the Barry Town United side, who nearly went the whole Division Two season unbeaten, before they came up short in Division One against the might of Cardiff Met.
Division One already has some strong outfits. With Barry Town seemingly set to be promoted on current form, the division will still boast the likes of Haverfordwest, Penybont, Goytre, Caerau Ely Afan Lido, and even the sleeping giants Port Talbot Town. Finishing in the top six will be an enormous challenge let alone a title challenge.
However, this isn’t a Division Two outfit. Llanelli’s starting eleven already boasts Welsh Premier League experience and a manager with experience in Division One.
On paper, it will be a tough ask and it is a club that has notoriously taken a season of transition to adapt to a new league in recent years.
Either way, Hill is successfully leading the Llanelli revolution and whilst an immediate return to the top flight may not be on the cards, progress most definitely is.
Photography from Stevie A.