Ground: Jubilee Way (home of Caldicot Town AFC)
Date of visit: Saturday 24th February 2018
Fixture: Caldicot Town v Llantwit Major
Welsh Football League Division Two
Admission: £5 (programme £1)
Attendance: c. 40-50
If you are a follower of Welsh domestic football you may be in some way aware of the Tier 2 ground regulations that will effect clubs wanting to play at that level of Welsh football from next season. At present – in a Welsh League context – this immediately concerns sides currently playing in Division One and those vying for promotion from Division Two. However, ambitious clubs below Tier 2 will need to plan for the incoming regulations and with Tier 3 regulations expected in the not very distant future, ultimately every current Welsh League club and those applying for promotion from regional leagues this season need to start giving serious consideration to the facilities at their ground.
Along with infrastructure changes in the Welsh football pyramid effective from the start of the 2019/20 season, the issue of ground regulations has been the source of a quite a stir recently among Welsh League clubs. There are concerns about how changes to the infrastructure will effect the status of clubs as the Welsh League will cease to exist, with many clubs likely to be forced back into regional and recreational football. Another concern is about the financial burden the new regulations will impose on clubs that wish to be in a position to remain at tier 3 and above, as the tiers below this will be downgraded to regional FA jurisdiction.
As somebody new to the Welsh League scene I haven’t really formed concrete views on the incoming changes. I appreciate the position of the FAW who want to drive up standards at the top end of the pyramid and to an extent agree with this in principle. However, on the other hand I have seen the reality at a lot of Welsh League grounds. Aside from the handful of well-established clubs towards the west, clubs struggle to attract more than the same hardcore group of 40-50 fans at home games. The requirement to provide 250 covered seats is nice in principle and means club have grounds that are some way towards being WPL-compliant, but it appears absurd when you consider the actual state of affairs at most Welsh League clubs.
Nevertheless, the regulations are being applied and there is no amount of complaining or questioning from Welsh League clubs that will produce a different outcome. The FAW are not going to grant any concessions, clubs have to accept change is coming and, if they want to ensure a status within the top three tiers, find a way to meet the regulations. If that cannot be achieved or they are not prepared to co-operate, then the reality that their future lies at regional level – as tragic and unfortunate as that will be for some proud clubs with long histories – has to be accepted.
The foreground to this background tangent is because my latest Welsh League visit was to a club that historically would be at potential risk from the incoming re-structure/ground regulations, but rather than making and huff and a puff about it, has got on with the job of developing a set-up that provides the club with a sustainable future compatible with the incoming regulations.
When I say ‘historically at potentially risk’ I refer to Caldicot Town AFC’s recent Welsh League heritage, which is of a club that has largely bounced between Division Two and Division Three (Tiers 3-4), with a couple of brief ventures into Division One.
Despite being formed in the early 1950s, Caldicot Town AFC didn’t join the Welsh Football League until the 1986/87 season, entering Division One (the equivalent of today’s Division Two). Caldicot Town enjoyed early success in the Welsh League, gaining promotion to the Premier Division in 1990 (which was re-named Division One for the 1990/91 season) and a year later finished runners up in the Welsh League on goal difference and were granted promotion to the National Division (I believe this was the predecessor of the League of Wales). When the FAW re-organised Welsh football and introduced the League of Wales for the 1992/93 season, Caldicot Town were placed back into Welsh League Division One.
It was a slow decline for the club over the next few seasons, eventually being relegated from Division One at the end of the 1996/97 season and spending the next decade between Divisions Two and Three before a return to Division One for the 2007/8 season. A finish of 4th in Division One in the 2009/10 season was Caldicot Town’s best league finish since those glory days in the early 1990s, but the following season the club slipped back into Division Two where they remained until promotion to Division One was earned by winning Division Two a couple of seasons ago. Caldicot Town’s most recent stay in the Division One was restricted to a single campaign; last season they were relegated after finishing 15th (out of 16 clubs).
Historically then, Caldicot Town are not a Welsh League heavyweight but through the hard-work of the club’s committee and volunteers they are very close to having a ground that should satisfy the Tier 2 ground regulations and presently have a set-up that some of their Division Two rivals should be envious of and arguably bettered only by some of the bigger or more famous Division One clubs.
From a facilities point of view Jubilee Way ticks so many boxes: easy to access, excellent clubhouse, floodlights, seating and a really high standard playing field. Let’s elaborate on some of these.
Jubilee Way is located in the heart of Caldicot town centre, less than 10 minutes from the M4. There’s plenty of (free) parking opposite the ground. Inside the ground you are immediately presented with the clubhouse, which offers a good range of facilities including booze on draught, hot drinks, a large TV screen, a pool table and a darts board.
The football ground offers everything the FAW are looking for and more, well it will do before too long. Caldicot Town have recently obtained a grant from the Welsh Football Trust to enable them to upgrade one of their stands to meet the 250 covered seats regulation. By my (very rough) count there is around 150 covered seats at present. On top of this there are floodlights (which for me are more essential than seats) and one of the best playing surfaces I have seen in the Welsh League (in light of the winter we’ve had to endure).
It’s not just facilities though, the club’s approach on matchday aspires towards a professional standard. Having a PA means teams are announced to spectators and even more helpfully, for somebody like me who is there to report on the match as well as spectate, the teams are fixed to the entrance to the football ground and visible to all. There is even a well-produced programme on offer.
These facilities are good for players and spectators, but what I really admire about clubs like Caldicot Town is the vision and ambition to be more than a football-playing club. With their clubhouse there is clearly a focus on Jubilee Way being a community hub rather than just being a place where football is played or watched.
The set-up is not unique to Caldicot Town obviously, but it is usually found at clubs with greater heritage or status in Welsh football. The great success of Caldicot Town is the infrastructure came from land that was purchased through local fund-raising and over decades has evolved from a couple of playing fields into a fantastic Welsh League football ground. Caldicot do not have the support of hundreds of regulars and no prestige as such to call upon, what they have built is a testament to the vision and hard-work of those who have worked behind the scenes at Caldicot Town over the decades of its existence. It is a club that is a genuine community project.
What you learn from clubs like Caldicot Town is the limit of what you can achieve as a club in terms of facilities may come down to the limit of your ambition. Somebody (apologies, I forget who) said to me not so long ago regarding the regulations, Welsh League clubs need to stop believing what they currently have is the best they will ever get. This may be true, clubs like Caldicot Town and Trefelin BGC (who I recently visited) are proof of what can be done with the right amount of commitment, hard-work and ambition.
Caldicot Town 1-0 Llantwit Major
On to the game then. The context of this fixture was Caldicot Town sat 3rd in Division Two with 34 points and Llantwit Major 7th on 28 points. The big difference between the sides though is in the number of games played: this was Caldicot’s 22nd game of the season, Llantwit Major were playing their 14th. In this respect, Major are the more realistic promotion contenders (the top three go up). Apart from Risca United, every team around and below Caldicot has played fewer games so they are massively reliant on other teams failing to capitalise on games in hand. In addition, the maximum points total Caldicot can attain this season (61) could be enough for promotion but there is little margin for error.
I was hopeful the high standard of the pitch and bright sunshine would promote some good football, even if the biting wind might present the occasional problem. Sadly, the game didn’t quite deliver that and what was offered instead was a scrappy affair between two teams that cancelled each other and failed to produce much quality in the final third.
The main story of the game was that Caldicot Town had to play 70 minutes with 10-men following a red card for Ashley Palmer for, what I believe, were two unnecessary yellow cards inside the first 20 minutes. The first came after a wild lunge at his opposite number, Jamie Millar, which was lucky to be punished with just a yellow card. Ten minutes later Palmer accidentally kicked Jonathan Fletcher in the head as they competed for a loose ball. No malice, but considering there was no real danger to his side and having already been booked, was it a challenge Palmer needed to make?
It forced Caldicot into a rearguard effort, but they are well-organised and physical outfit and Llantwit Major, on the day, lacked the guile and the energy to overcome that, even with a man advantage for more than three quarters of the match.
Major’s best efforts at goal, the three or four they managed, came from range, which tells you everything you need to know about Caldicot’s solidity. In the second-half, with growing confidence, the home side even ventured forward and created the better chances.
The only goal came twenty minutes from time. Good play down the right involving Richard Sharrat and Garin Withers saw Connah Hughes – a former Torquay United trainee – profit in the middle when he diverted a cross home from six yards. It was the physical foward’s first goal for Caldicot Town after joining recently and from his celebrations it was obvious he enjoyed it.
There was even a chance for Caldicot Town to double their lead when Richard Sharrat was judged to have been victim of a foul inside the penalty area. Interestingly, I was told at half-time by one of the Caldicot supporters they were ‘rubbish’ at penalties and missed a few. Garin Withers stepped up and took a penalty that lacked any real confidence and it was an easy save for Major keeper Jack Lansdown to make with his legs.
It didn’t matter though because Caldicot held out in the final stages without any real threat on their goal. On the day they probably deserved to nick the win, but it wasn’t a very memorable game.
Good trip this. Fantastic set-up at Caldicot Town, it has everything I’m looking from a Welsh League club in terms of facilities and amenities. Jubilee Way is a credit to Caldicot and the progressive thinking of those running the club. If they can find the right formula on the field and get the team to a level that matches the facilities, there is potentially a very bright future for Caldicot Town AFC.