RECENTLY, I’ve been brushing up on my knowledge of Welsh football.
Arsenal’s tendency to annoy me has seen me turn my attentions more towards local football in recent times and I’m glad it has, because honestly there are some decent footballers and standard of play closer to home.
If, like me a season or two ago, you don’t know much about the Premier Division of Wales and the teams within it, but you want to find out more about it, then this article is for you!
Here, AFEFootballNews gives you the lowdown on all 12 of the clubs that are set to compete in the Welsh Premier League during 2017/18.
Nickname: Black & Green’s/Seasiders
Kit colour: Green and Black
Did you know?: Tom Bradshaw, who currently plays for Barnsley in the Championship and has represented Wales at international level, started his career at Aber’s academy.
Home Ground: Park Avenue (2,500 capacity)
Aberystwyth Town were one of the founding members of the League of Wales in 1992/93 and to date their highest ever finish in the top tier is third place.
Their known for being a team that mostly lingers around the middle of the table, but they do have a fairly large fan base in comparison to most but not all other Welsh Prem clubs.
The clubs main man appears to be midfielder Geoff Kellaway who is considered to be a club legend having made well over 100 appearances for the Seasiders since joining them back in 2013.
Prediction for 2017/18: In the relegation zone, their squad depth worries me.
Kit Colours: White and Black.
Manager: Colin Caton
Did you know?: Since 2013-14, Bala have competed in Europe on four occasions, winning two matches (1-0 vs Estonia’s Levadia Tallinn and 2-1 vs Differdange of Luxembourg) but have always lost the away leg.
Home Ground: Maes Tegid (2,000 capacity)
In recent times, Bala Town have risen out of nowhere to become one of the best teams in Wales.
They achieved their highest WPL finish in consecutive seasons (14/15, 15/16) and last season they stunned Welsh football fans by beating full-time club TNS to win the Welsh Cup for the first time in their history.
They have qualified for the Europa League by finishing third last season too and are set to take on FC Vaduz of Switzerland over the next two weeks.
Star men include reliable defender, Ryan Valentine, top shot-stopper Ashley Morris and experienced hitman, Les Davies, who has just been bought in from Connah’s Quay.
Prediction for 2017/18: They’ll challenge in the top half and should finish in second, third or fourth.
Nickname: The Citizens
Kit Colours: Royal Blue with a bit of white
Manager: Kevin Nicholson
Did you know?: Bangor City’s most famous night in their history came in the European Cup Winners’ Cup in the 1961-62 season. They were drawn against Napoli and in the first leg, played at home, Bangor won 2–0; three weeks later, in front of a crowd of 80,000 in Naples, the result was 3–1 in Napoli’s favour. Under modern rules, Bangor would have progressed under the “away goals” rule, but at the time the tie was drawn 3–3 and a playoff had to be played, at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium. This time AS Napoli won 2–1, scoring the winner seven minutes from the end of the match.
Home Ground: Nantporth (A.K.A. Bangor University Stadium, 3,000 capacity)
Historically one of the most famous clubs in Wales, Bangor City have fallen off the map a little in recent years, but their are hops both within the club and amongst the fans that they are slowly finding a way back to the top.
The Citizens brought in Pros Daniel Nardiello and Gary Taylor-Fletcher last season and their experience of playing in the English Leagues for many years seemed to prove vital in the end. They have now signed an extra one-year contract each.
The club have returned to the Europa League qualifying rounds via the play-offs and will now play Lyngby BK of Denmark over the next two weeks.
As well as all that, the three time Champions of the WPL (1994, 1995 and 2011), have been busy adding even more pros to their squad over the summer, including the addition of Brayden Shaw from Accrington Stanley for a reported club record fee.
Fans are full of optimism for the season ahead and feel that the club, for the first time in nearly a decade, may be able to truly push champions TNS to the limit this time around.
Prediction for 2017/18: They’ll be stronger than they have been for a long time if their squad is anything to go by. Second or third place.
Nickname: The Dragons.
Kit Colours: Yellow and Blue
Manager: Gavin Chesterfield
Did you know?: Since their existence, Barry Town have had over 50 full internationals play for their side, including Swansea City legend Alan Curtis. This is more than any other Welsh Premier League club.
Home Ground: Jenner Park (2,000 capacity)
Barry Town will be returning to the Welsh Premier League for the first time since their relegation back in 2005.
The Dragons were Wales’ original top dogs before they fell on to some serious hard times. During the 90’s they had a formidable side in a time that has now become known as the “decade of dominance”. They lifted the title seven times (1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2000-01, 2001-02 and 2002-03) during this period and enjoyed a 51 game unbeaten run between 1997 and 1998.
As well as that, many a European night at Jenner Park saw the likes of Andriy Shevchenko and Sergei Rebrov (who were both at Dynamo Kiev) visit the ground. Then, in the 2000/2001 season, Barry notably became the first League of Wales team to win a European Champions League tie, when they defeated Azerbaijani champions FC Shamkir to set up a now famous tie with Portuguese giants FC Porto. Barry lost the first leg in Portugal by an emphatic 8–0 margin, in front of a partisan 55,000 crowd. A certain man called Deco scored a hat-trick that day (wonder what became of him?)
However, the Town pulled off their most famous win to date in the home leg a 3-1 result that has grown in legend with the career success of Porto’s the likes of Ricardo Carvalho and Helder Postiga (who both played that night) amongst others.
Whilst of course, nowadays the situation is more than a country mile away from those glory days, fans of the club will be glad to see them back where they belong (particularly because they bought the club).
The champions of Wales Division One for 2016/17 will be looking to prove that they can once again hack it with the big boys of Wales when they return this season.
Prediction for 2017/18: I reckon they could have a fairly decent season. They’ll be a far cry away from that 90’s squad but they could most definitely upset a few, especially at Jenner Park.
Cardiff Metropolitan University
Founded: Current club was founded as a merger between Inter Cardiff and UWIC in 2000.
Nickname: The Archers
Kit Colours: Maroon and Black.
Manager: Wayne Allison
Did you know?: In May 2016, Cardiff Met confirmed their place in the Welsh Premier League on merit.
Home Ground: Cyncoed Campus (1,600 capacity)
Cardiff Met Uni enjoyed a sixth place finish in Welsh Prem debut last year, narrowly missing out on a Europa League spot (losing 1-0 to Bangor in the play-off final).
The team, made up of students who are studying at the university, impressed many last season, in particular winger Jordan Lam who bamboozled defenders with his dribbling at times.
Now, with players such as striker John Littlemore for example, being unable to return for the 2017/18 due to the fact that they have graduated it means that a few changes will be made.
Confidence will be with them from last season and they should survive the drop.
Prediction for 2017/18: Tough one to call, however if they can retain their starting eleven then they should be alright.
Nickname: Old Gold
Kit Colours: Gold and Black
Manager: Mark Aizlewood
Did you know?: Mark Delaney was captain of Carmarthen in the late 90’s. He went on to play for Cardiff City and made over 150 appearances in the Premier League with Aston Villa. He also earned 36 international caps for Wales so he is by far their most notable player.
Home Ground: Richmond Park (2,300 capacity)
Carmarthen Town are a side that have been around for quite some time now, 1996-96 in fact and usually finish in the top six, but have never won the title.
The clubs highest ever finish in the WPL is third in both 2001 and 2014 and they were crowned Welsh Cup winners in 2006/07. They last played in Europe in 2007-08 when they lost 14-3 on aggregate to SK Brann of Norway.
The Old Gold’s stand out player is their classy midfielder, Liam Thomas, who has never failed to score less than nine goals in a season for the club since joining them in 2012-13. Striker Mark Jones was a threat in front of goal, notching seven in total last season but he has now gone to Afan Lido.
Prediction for 2017/18: Somewhere between top and bottom six, it could be close for them. I’m going for fifth.
Nickname: The Druids/Ancients
Kit Colours: Black and White
Manager: Huw Griffiths
Did you know?: Druids can claim to originate from the oldest existing team located in Wales, thus making it also the oldest football club in the world outside of England.
Home Ground: The Rock (2,000 capacity)
The oldest club in Wales, the Druids were formed as a merger between Cefn Albion and Druids United way back in 1872.
They’re kind of the equivalent of Wales’ West Brom (and not just because of the kit!) because of the fact that they have been used to bouncing up and down between the first and second divisions much like the Baggies used to.
Relegated from the WPL in 2010, Druids moved to a new stadium, reached the Welsh Cup final and played in the Europa League before returning to the top flight in 2014. They were relegated just 12 months later but bounced back again in 2016 as Alliance runners-up and avoided the drop last year.
Their key player is 32-year-old striker Ashley Ruane, who scored 11 goals in 20 appearances for the club last season.
Prediction for 2017/18: They will be in the relegation fight and might just go down this time around. If they survive, it’s likely to be thanks to Ruane’s goals.
Nickname: The Nomads
Kit Colours: Red
Manager: Andy Morrison
Did you know?: Way back in 1929, the Nomads won the prestigious Welsh Cup beating First Division outfit Cardiff City 3–0 in the final at Wrexham’s racecourse Ground. It was a famous win as that particular Cardiff side contained several players who had beaten Arsenal in the 1927 FA Cup Final.
Home Ground: Deeside Stadium (3,500 capacity)
The Nomads enjoyed their highest ever finish last season in second place securing a Europa League qualifying round space in the process as they are now preparing to play Finnish giants, HJK Helsinki.
Another club that was one of the founding members of the League of Wales, Quay have bounced back from their relegation from the top flight in 2010 to become one of the best teams that the Welsh Prem has to offer, having now played in Europe two seasons in a row.
The loss of Les Davies to Bala Town looks like it could be a hammer blow to the club, however veteran striker, Mike Wilde has over 150 WPL goals to his name (mainly during his time at TNS) and fellow forward Matty Williams scored six goals last season, so they won’t be lacking a decent goalscorer in his absence.
Prediction for 2017/18: Top four for sure, probably third.
Nickname: The Seasiders
Kit Colours: Black and White
Manager: Alan Morgan
Did you know?: The club was originally formed for the purpose of providing activity for cricketers during their close season.
Home Ground: Maesdu Park (2,000 capacity)
A relatively new club in comparison to most of the teams in the league, Llandudno enjoyed an unforgettable debut season in 2015/16.
Upon promotion from the Huws Gray Alliance they finished third in the Welsh Premier League, qualifying for the Europa League in the process. As well as that, star man Marc Williams bagged the League’s Player of the Season awards in what was an impressive campaign for him.
Last season however, was probably more one to forget than to recall.
Marc Williams scored six goals and finished as the clubs top scorer, while his brother, Mike, finished as their second top scorer with four (and he’s a centre back!) so there’s no doubt in my eyes, that they’re in need of somebody to play up top alongside Marc. They have signed promising youngster Shaun Cavanagh from rivals Bangor city though so he could make a breakthrough for them this year.
Prediction for 2017/18: Things are still looking bleak for Llandudno and I do believe that they will be in the relegation fight once again. They SHOULD have enough experience in their ranks to stay up though.
Nickname: The Robins
Kit Colours: Red
Manager: Chris Hughes
Did you know?: In July of 2015 Newtown faced Malta’s Valletta FC in the first round of qualifying for the 2015/16 Europa League. A last minute winner in the 1st leg at Latham Park gave the club their first European win and was followed with an away victory. Newtown faced Danish giants Copenhagen in the second round and were defeated over both legs, losing 5 – 1 on aggregate.
Home Ground: Latham Park (3,400 capacity)
The Robins have just lost prolific forward and last seasons WPL top scorer Jason Oswell to National League side, Stockport County.
This will undoubtedly affect them in terms of goal getting but they have signed experienced target man Jamie Reed in his place and whilst he may not be as talented as Oswell was, he could still grab them a goal or two. They also still have Nicky Rushton who had eight goals to his name last season.
Newtown are one of the oldest clubs in Wales and were one of the founding members of the League of Wales, having been ever-present in the top flight since. They finished as runners-up in both 1995/96 and 1996/97.
Their excellently-appointed ground, Latham Park, is a frequent choice for major cup semi-finals and finals and European games due to its great condition and large capacity for crowds.
Prediction: Much like Carmarthen they will probably be in between the split. I’ll go for sixth.
Nickname: The Seasiders
Kit Colours: Red and Black
Manager: Neil Gibson
Did you know?: Prestatyn hero Lee Beattie’s wonderful overhead kick against Bangor City in the 2014/15 campaign in which the club was relegated gained over 100, 000 views online and was even shown on Sky Sports News.
Home Ground: Bastion Gardens (2,000 capacity)
Prestatyn Town will be making their return to the top flight this season after being crowned Cymru Alliance Champions during 2016/17.
Relegation during the 2014/15 saw their seven year stint in the WPL come to and end and they have found it hard to bounce back since then.
However, last season was a different story. Eventually, they won the league and finished 16 points clear of second placed Caernarfon Town. They scored 114 goals and conceded just 35 in the 30 matches that they played so they looked pretty irresistible at times.
Their standout player during their impressive campaign was former Wrexham striker, Jordan Davies. The 21-year-old scored 27 goals and finished as the Alliance’s top scorer. The main worry now for Prestatyn is that he has decided to leave the club after his contract expired so who do they get to try and replace him? Fellow striker, Jack Kenny scored 19 goals last season so it is likely that they will turn to him this season.
I think it will be a hard season ahead for the club and they will have to be at their very best to beat the drop.
Prediction for 2017/18: Going down I think. I just don’t believe that they have a strong enough squad to survive the WPL. They may have walked the Alliance, but the step up to the Premier Division is huge.
The New Saints
Nickname: The Saints/TNS
Kit Colours: Green and white stripes
Manager: Scott Ruscoe
Did you know?: TNS are the only fully professional club playing in the WPL and are a merger of Llansantffraid and Oswestry Town FC, making them half Welsh and half English (much to many Welsh fans anger).
Home Ground: Park Hall (2,000 capacity)
By today, TNS are by far the most superior and decorated side in Wales, being crowned champions an incredible 11 times, including their current haul of six on the bounce (1999/2000, 2004/5, 2005/6, 2006/7, 2009/10, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17).
Being the only professional, full time club in the league has meant that they have been able to break away from the other 11 sides and make it look fairly easy in the process.
Polish winger Adrian Cieslewicz who was previously at Wrexham is a real joy to watch as is their prolific frontman Greg Draper. With a number of talented players within their squad its not hard to see why they have become so dominant.
HOWEVER, the loss of their talented manager, Craig Harrison, to the National League’s Hartelpool will be a massive blow to them. Assistant coach, Scott Ruscoe has been appointed as the club’s new manager ahead of the 2017/18 season.
The fact that Bangor are doing their very best to turn professional and challenge them will be somewhat of a worry to TNS (after all they did lose 3-0 at Nantporth last season), but for the time being I think they are still safe.
Prediction for 2017/18: Make that seven titles on the bounce!
Predicted final table for 2017/18 WPL season:
- Bangor City
- Connah’s Quay
- Bala Town
- Carmarthen Town
- Newtown AFC
- Cefn Druids
- Cardiff Met Uni
- Barry Town
- Aberystwyth Town
- Prestatyn Town
So, there you have it, all you need to know about the current teams playing in the Welsh Premier League. Be sure to stick with AFEFootballNews throughout the season as we continue to cover the footballing world.
ALL pictures of stadiums and badges belong to http://welsh-premier.com/index.php/club-guides/stadia