Neuadd Wen set stall out for Welsh League survival
In 2009 Neuadd Wen were formed from a group of players largely playing reserve team football for Welsh League Aberbargoed.
After eight successful seasons their ninth now sees the side competing in the Welsh League themselves.
The side, based in the same valleys town as the more well-established Buds, started in North Gwent football with an ambition to get into the Gwent County league. Success soon meant they were re-assessing their plans.
Club Chairman Andrew Brooker explains. “I was managing the seconds at Aberbargoed when a number of the players suggested forming a new club,” said Brooker.
“It is tough in those early days, but we were lucky with a sponsor who helped us with the simple things like kits and balls. We had a four year plan to get into the Gwent County league, but we achieved that in just three. When then set ourselves a six year plan to get into the Welsh League, but we’ve achieved those three promotions two years ahead of schedule.”
Brooker had been Manager of that reserve team at Aberbargoed but, while still involved on the playing side, he installed Wayne Antoniazzi as first team manager so that Brooker himself could focus on the myriad of back room tasks required to make their Welsh League dream a reality.
Antoniazzi said, “I was delighted to get the chance to form a management team with Andrew and also with Billy Vaughn, someone I’ve worked with for a number of years. It was a tough start to last season, actually, but following our first win – a cup game – we went on a 19 game unbeaten run that really sent us up the table. It was tight at the top, though. One minute we had hit top spot, then all of a sudden we were down in fifth!”
Brooker reflects on the tough end to the season and the quest for promotion. He said, “We knew we had a shot at that important top two spot, which was vital as Malpas and Pontymister hadn’t applied for promotion. We had all the top teams to play twice during the end of the season and at one point we lost three games in a row and had a number of red cards. We had a huge game at Malpas that we won 1-0. It was a great performance, especially considering a number of the second team were playing.”
Antoniazzi was quick to praise the togetherness of his squad, including those second team players who often had to step up into the first XI and never let the side down. He said, “The players are local lads and we treat them fairly. There is a real togetherness and that was key to promotion. We stuck together, worked hard and believed that we could get the jobs done.”
When it comes to the future, the Wen manager is realistic, the primary task is survival at this level. With a team that has had such a quick rise through the leagues, however, the manager is taking a positive approach to that task.
“We’re not modelling ourselves on anyone in particular, we are a club with our own ambition and our own structures and that will determine how far we can go,” said Antoniazzi. “We do work closely with the Aberbargoed Buds and enjoy a positive relationship in the town. Both clubs want to see two quality teams in the town playing decent football week-in-week-out.”
You sense Antoniazzi and his team are looking forward to renewing some old rivalries, alongside the chance of taking on some new fixtures – including a tough start at promotion chasing Bridgend Street. “I’m looking forward to playing Treowen Stars, Trethomas and Treharris. We know a lot of the lads there and they should be good games.”
And who should you be looking out for if you get to a Wen game this year.
“This season in particular based on pre-season and potential the first player has to be young Lewis Golding who has all the ability and composure in the world and looks extremely focused,” said the Neuadd Wen manager.
“Also the likes of central defender Jason Brewer and midfielder Ryan Hawkins who are looking the fittest anybody has seen them. This pre-season I cannot fault anyones attitude so far and every player seems to have stepped it up a notch. There is a good buzz at the moment so I think we are in for another interesting season.”
(Featured Image: Neuadd Wen AFC)