On May 19th Pontypridd Town AFC won 3-1 at Ammanford to clinch promotion to Welsh League Division One. Less than 24 hours before a tweet was posted on Twitter by an account calling itself Pontypridd FC, claiming to be a phoenix of the original Pontypridd football club, which played in the Southern League and reached three Welsh Cup finals before going bust in 1926.
The tweet aroused interest, not least because Pontypridd Town’s success has been accompanied by the Welsh League club’s controversial decision to play their home fixtures next season miles outside Pontypridd at the Leckwith Stadium in Cardiff. With disenchantment among some Pontypridd Town supporters about a second ground move outside Pontypridd in as many seasons, there were naturally questions about who was behind the reformed club.
According to Nigel and Ryan Wheeler, father and son, forerunners of the new Pontypridd FC, the timing of their announcement in line with Pontypridd Town’s Leckwith bombshell was “purely coincidental” and had nothing to do with that decision.
Although the Wheelers were involved with Pontypridd Town for several years as part of the club’s ‘Development Section’ management committee (Nigel was secretary and safeguarding officer for 4 years, Ryan was secretary last season), the reasons behind the formation of a new football club had little to do with questions of identity at senior first team level, rather than feelings of frustration that as a group of players and management team, Pontypridd Town Development Section ‘firsts’ (i.e. Pontypridd Town’s reserve team) had hit a ceiling there was no way of breaking through if they retained the status quo.
As Nigel Wheeler explained when I met father and son this week in Pontypridd: “last season Ryan and Paul Dennis (assistant coach) set up the team and did really well. They came second in their league, which should mean promotion but because [the team] were part of Pontypridd Town – a Welsh League club – there is a league rule that says they couldn’t be promoted. Although we’re seven leagues below them we couldn’t get promoted.”
“We spoke to the team; it’s a young team, most of them are 19 or 20 years old, and they are quite ambitious and want to get on. We said you either stay in the league you’re in and just keep playing or set up our own club and we start from scratch. The boys wanted to start from scratch so that’s what we’ve done.”
As well as being frustrated with the Taff Ely Rhymney Valley League (TERVL – in which Pontypridd Town’s ‘reserves’ have been playing) rules preventing further progress, among the breakaway group there is a sense of disconnection in their relationship to the Welsh League side; a fresh start is believed to be the best way forward for the side to try and fulfil their ambitions.
“We’ve got a good bunch,” Ryan stated, “they are a better standard than the league we’re in. The problem we’ve had, one of the reasons we’re leaving, we were the reserve team but [we felt] there was no way to get into the [senior first team].”
Ryan feels contact between the side he has been managing and the Welsh League team (which, the Wheelers tell me, is run by a separate committee to the Development Section) has been limited, believing “there is no link and no reason for us to be a reserve team…we just want to give our boys a chance to do what they can.”
“We wouldn’t do this if we felt we didn’t have to. We wouldn’t mind if they didn’t get into that team as long as there was an opportunity [to try], but at the minute there is no opportunity to do it.”
Despite this feeling of estrangement Ryan and Nigel said they “have no [personal] issue with Pontypridd Town”, Nigel stating “it’s not that we’re up against them”, emphasising their move to separate was about giving “local boys a chance to play at a higher level”.
Why a new club? There are several clubs around the Pontypridd area already playing at a higher level, why not take the players to one of them? As Pontypridd “born and bred” Nigel and Ryan told me they wanted to represent the town in name, as well as retaining the spirit and rapport they have nurtured among their group of players.
“We did a bit of research”, Nigel effused, “Pontypridd FC was the original club from 1908, so we thought we’d bring that back to life…as the original club of the town…the players we’ve got are from Ponty or played through the ranks at Ponty and we wanted to give them that opportunity [to continue to do that]; that’s why we set it up.”
How does Pontypridd FC stand right now?
Since announcing the birth of the club, behind the scenes the Wheelers have been busy developing the structure of the club. All of the key roles have been filled with Nigel taking on the role of chairman and Ryan – a UEFA Coaching ‘B’ Licence holder – continuing his role as first team manager, with assistance from Paul Dennis. Positions on the committee have also been given to two players, a parent from the new club’s sole junior side, and a further position to be granted to an “independent person”, somebody Nigel says is “a fan or someone who is interested in the club who can offer something” as the club aims to be as “inclusive as possible”.
Pontypridd FC have applied to enter the TERVL and will most likely start in Division One (the 9th tier of Welsh football); they will play their home games next season at the Maritime Recreational Field in the south west corner of Pontypridd. The new club are ambitious though, Ryan declaring the aspiration is to reach the South Wales Alliance League in 3 years. Rules regarding new clubs mean promotion out of the TERVL cannot be gained during the first three years of a club’s existence, but based on last season’s performance Ryan is confident Pontypridd FC will be challenging for promotion to the Premier Division of the TERVL this season.
Among the foremost goals is the ambition to return a club bearing the town of Pontypridd’s name to the iconic ground in Ynysangharad Park in the heart of the town centre “as soon as it is available” for them to do so. Nigel and Ryan added they had explored the possibility of establishing a set-up at Taff Vale Park – the home of the original Pontypridd club – but for the foreseeable future this won’t happen as the ground is leased to Pontypridd mini rugby.
Pontypridd FC have brought along with them from Pontypridd Town Development Section the under 13 side that Ryan has coached since they were under 9s; all other development sides have decided to remain under the Pontypridd Town banner. However, the Wheelers want Pontypridd FC to be a community-focused club “built from the ground up” and this naturally lends itself to expanding the junior section. However, the immediate concern Ryan expresses is “about getting ourselves set up. Once we have that structure…and enough people to be able to do that, we will look to that as soon as we can.”
For matters on the field it’s about preparing for pre-season and building towards the club’s inaugural campaign. Pontypridd FC presently have a squad of around 20 but the aim is to build towards a total first team squad of 25. To this end pre-season will begin with an open trial/training session on the 5th July.
Beyond that, Ryan has been hard at work organising an extensive pre-season schedule of friendlies, which includes encounters with Welsh League clubs AFC Porth and Richard Ryan’s League Cup winning Trefelin BGC side. Ryan and Nigel expressed gratitude for the level of support clubs have offered already in arranging fixtures.
Despite some daunting looking matches, father and son are excited by the challenges their team will face, Nigel enthused: “We wanted the boys to play at a really high level, just to show them this is where we have to get to. We’re hoping playing at the higher level in pre-season will help when it comes to the start of the TERVL campaign. We purposely picked hard competition because we want them to develop and be comfortable playing against these teams.”
Pontypridd FC play their inaugural fixture against AFC Porth at Tonyrefail Leisure Centre 3G on Wednesday 11th July, kick-off 7.30pm.