The New Kings of Henllys Way

Ground: Celtic Park (home of Cwmbran Celtic)
Date of visit: Saturday 5th May 2018
Fixture: Cwmbran Celtic v Haverfordwest County
Welsh Football League Division One
Admission: £5 (programme £1)
Attendance: c. 70 (h/c)

Between my last post on Newport Stadium and this one, there was another new Welsh pyramid ground ticked off. The last weekend of April I had in mind a trip to Windmill Lane to watch Llantwit Major play Pontypridd Town in a crunch Division Two promotion clash. Due to more bad weather that game was moved to Jenner Park in Barry. Since this isn’t really a Welsh League ground anymore and because Llantwit Major will continue to be based permanently at Windmill Lane I haven’t done a write-up for this. Instead, I plan to make the trip to Windmill Lane later in the season.

The latest ‘new’ Welsh League ground took me back into Gwent to the Torfaen County town Cwmbran; a town that provided the first ever champions of Wales’ national league. That distinction belongs to Cwmbran Town, who have since faded from their glory days in the 1990s and are currently a Gwent County League club. As Cwmbran Town plummeted through the Welsh pyramid amidst a financial crisis, the town’s other eponymous club – Cwmbran Celtic – have risen to become the top side in Crow Valley.

Strictly speaking this trip to Celtic Park was a re-visit, but as the goal is to visit every Welsh League ground in 2018 some re-visits are required. Fortunately, any visit to Celtic Park is a positive. It’s an improving, comfortable ground; I’ve always had good interactions with the club; my uncle lives up the road in Pontypool so I get to have the day out with him. On this day that meant a trip to Goytre to check out the Mad Dog Brewing Company before the game, then drinks afterwards (in this instance it was the Castell-Y-Bwch with its splendid views over Henllys Vale).

On top of this games involving Cwmbran Celtic always turn out very entertaining. A good attacking outfit that have their shortcomings at the back; goals are a guarantee. Goals, beer, good company and a stunning spring day – all the ingredients you want for a superb day out at Welsh League football.

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Cwmbran is a town in the valley of the Afon Llwyd, situated approximately 6 miles north of Newport and roughly equidistant south of Torfaen’s most historically significant town, Pontypool. Prior to the 1960s the area that is the modern-day Cwmbran was a series of disconnected villages. Designation of the area as a ‘New Town’ in 1949 saw significant investment and development of both housing and industry from the late 1950s onwards. The largely rural ‘Crow Valley’ (a translation of ‘Cwmbran’ into English) – historically important as the area that connected the two arms of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal – became a sprawling secondary town to Newport that is nowadays the sixth largest urban area in Wales.

The history of Cwmbran Celtic FC pre-dates the development of the modern town. According the programme, the football club was founded in the 1920s as CYMS (Catholic Young Men’s Society) and competed largely the Newport District leagues until the society was disbanded in the 1950s due to national service call-ups.

The modern club’s origins are in the reformation of the football club as Cwmbran Catholic in the mid 1960s. At that time competing at Gwent County level, early honours included winning the Gwent Senior Cup in 1971 and, following a change of policy to allow members of all denominations, Cwmbran Catholic changed their name to Cwmbran Celtic. A Gwent Amateur Cup was added in 1973 and Cwmbran Celtic finished as runners-up in the Gwent County League Premier Division in the 1972/73 season.

The end of the 1970s saw the club purchase it’s own premises on Oak Street, where the Cwmbran Celtic headquarters and social club remains to this day. The next two decades saw Celtic continue to compete at Gwent County Level, winning the Division Two title in 1986/87 and the Challenge Cup in 2001, in between these successes completing a move from their old ground at Cwmbran Park to their present home in the playing fields next to Cwmbran Stadium in 1995. Having obtained the lease from the council (they used to share with Cwmbran Cricket Club), Celtic Park has been developed by the club to it’s present state.

Cwmbran Celtic reached the Welsh Football League at the end of the 2004/05 season, finishing runners-up in Gwent County Division One. After a difficult debut season in the Welsh League, Celtic won the Division Three title in 2006/07 and it has been steady progress ever since. Their first promotion to Division One was earned in 2009/10, finishing runners-up to Penrhiwceiber Rangers. Four seasons of struggle at that level eventually led to relegation back into Division Two for the 2014/15 season, but after a season of consolidation Cwmbran Celtic were promoted again in 2015/16 as Division Two runners-up behind Caldicot Town.

Last season Cwmbran Celtic finished 6th in Welsh League Division One, the highest league finish in the club’s history. This campaign has been disjointed due to cup commitments and poor weather, Celtic occupying positions lower down the table for much of the season. However, as the fixture backlog has began to clear Cwmbran Celtic have started to rise the table. Mathematically, Cwmbran Celtic could finish as high as 5th, but it is more realistic to expect a final position in the top-half of Division One.

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Cwmbran Celtic’s home ground is Celtic Park, situated just off Henllys Way and the boundary of the ground isn’t much more than a stone’s throw from the boundary of the Cwmbran Stadium (home of Cwmbran Town); the grounds share the same car park.

With Tier 2 ground regulations coming into force from the start of next season there has been a lot of work done at Celtic Park to improve facilities. The changing rooms have been refurbished and a 250 seater stand was installed for this season. The traditional covered ‘terrace’ remains on the side of the ground opposite the grandstand, located behind the dugouts.

Despite the progress – and hard work required to get there – there is an issue with the length of the pitch at Celtic Park; it’s 7m short. Unfortunately, Cwmbran Celtic are now required to move grounds for the start of next season and they will groundshare with fellow Division One outfit Goytre (roughly 10 miles north of Cwmbran) until the work to extend the pitch is completed. It seems to require some serious work though. There is very little room between the end of the pitch and the ground boundary at the end where the pitch will be extended. Beyond the fence is a grass bank, on top of which is the car park. Some of this will need to be removed and the whole ground extended into the car park by the required 7m. I look forward to seeing the ground when it’s finished.

Inside the ground facilities are fair for the level. Celtic Park’s cafe offers the usual fare of hot drinks and confectionery. On my first visit (last October) I picked up a club pin badge for £2.50, a high quality addition to my collection.

On both my visits Celtic Park has had a really nice vibe to it. I’ve been fortunate to have nice weather both times, the combination of sunshine and the verdant setting creates a lovely ambience. It is a very friendly club too, the club officials happy to have a chat and from previous conversations I have learnt this is a club with strong community ties and a proven record of providing a pathway from the youth set-up to the senior teams.

Celtic Park is a work in progress, but the improvements that are ongoing illustrate the ambition and determination of the club. The ground certainly provides an interesting juxtaposition to its decaying neighbour.

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Some notes on the programme. Regular readers will know I have commented on the diversity in quality in Welsh League programmes. It wouldn’t be fair to say the better programmes are found in the higher divisions because there are examples I have seen from Division Three that are outstanding. What I do recognise is that the better programmes exist at clubs where there are individuals involved with the club who are passionate about producing a good quality publication. Cwmbran Celtic certainly fall into this category.

The Celtic programme is crammed with information and it is fantastic to see a club dedicated to good in-house record keeping with a range of stats to ingest. It can be difficult extracting even basic information such goal scorers and team information from some Welsh League clubs, but Cwmbran Celtic provide a lot of this information ready and waiting in the programme.

One feature outside the norm I particularly appreciated was about the history of the fixture and previous meetings. The previous programme also included a good ‘player in profile’ feature; a bit of fun really, but it is always nice to learn something about the personalities of the players you are watching.

Cwmbran Celtic have a club photographer in Steve Roberts and the programme benefits from his work, with a good quality photo on the cover and further shots inside. Regarding the interior photos it is a shame they aren’t in colour or higher definition, but ultimately I appreciate there are costs to consider at this level.

Steve Roberts’ photos can be viewed here.

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Cwmbran Celtic 2
Haverfordwest County 3

For the home side there was little riding on this game except the pride of finishing as high as possible in the final standings. Celtic have enjoyed a decent season in the cups, reaching the semi-finals of the Welsh Football League Cup and the third round of the Welsh Cup, when they lost away to Welsh Premier League outfit, and eventual winners of the Welsh Cup, Connah’s Quay Nomads. In the league things have been rather more disjointed and the mid-table finish that looks likely is probably slightly below-par for the calibre of the side based on the three matches I have watched Cwmbran Celtic this season. Haverfordwest County had their eyes on a second-placed finish behind champions Llanelli Town, needing four points from their final two fixtures to guarantee that.

The early going clearly suggested this difference in mentality, Cwmbran starting the game very sluggishly and far too slack in their defensive third. The first half saw wave after wave of Haverfordwest attack, the runs of Greg Walters unchecked and causing all manner of problems.

The breakthrough came in the 22nd second minute, a free kick wide left of the ‘D’ beating the Cwmbran Celtic keeper at his near post. Danny Williams hit the post shortly after and the ensuing scramble required a Cwmbran Celtic defender to head a goalbound effort off the line. Walters was in again in the 28th minute, this time squaring for Steffan Williams to finish with aplomb. Two minutes it looked like the points were wrapped up and a cricket score was on the cards, Walters’ scuffed effort taking a deflection and rolling into the far corner.

Chris Ham generally tends to be Cwmbran Celtic’s source of inspiration and he forced a save with a long-range strike before scoring a penalty (awarded for handball) five minutes before the break. A lifeline then for the home side.

The second-half was almost the complete opposite of the first half with Cwmbran Celtic (possibly given a half-time rocket) the dominant side. Ham reduced the arrears with a delicate free-kick, lifting over the wall and into the top corner. With twenty minutes or more still to play Haverfordwest County faced a tough task trying to hold on.

The threat seemed to be eased within a couple of minutes of Ham’s second when a Cwmbran Celtic player was sent off for a wild two-footed lunge in midfield. That should have been the game done and dusted. Not quite though.

Cwmbran Celtic continued to press and in the final stages created several clear cut chances, but they were unable to take any and Haverfordwest held on to secure three points that means, barring a massive upset in their final game at already relegated Caerau Ely, they will certainly claim second-place this season.

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