IN BETWEEN all these Stars of the 2019/20 Season articles I’ve been writing, I recently had the opportunity to interview one of the Welsh top-flight’s true legends.
Graham Evans, now 41 years old, will go down in history as one of Caersws’ greatest ever players, particularly for his exploits in the League of Wales (now JD Cymru Premier) with the Bluebirds.
That is because the forward scooped no less than three Golden Boot prizes. His first came in 2000/01 when he netted 25 goals in 32 matches for Caersws, before ending up as top scorer once more with the club in 2002/03 with 24 goals in 34 matches and completing the hat-trick of awards a season later having scored 24 goals again in 30 matches that time.
He is also the youngest ever top-flight player and goalscorer to this day, having played and scored his first goal when he was just 15 years old back in the 1995/96 season. A record that is very unlikely to be beaten any time soon!
Asked about what it meant to him to have represented his home village over the years, Evans said: “Football has always been the heartbeat of the village and I grew up watching and being very closely involved with the first team week in week out from as young as I can remember.
“I always felt proud donning the Bluebirds shirt from the successful junior football club upwards, and was such an amazing moment when I made my first team debut in the League of Wales (1995/96 season) as a 15 year old. I vividly remember my first goal which came a few games later at home against Inter Cardiff, cutting inside Terry Boyle and finishing past George Wood. These are two Welsh top flight records I still hold to this day I believe – youngest player and youngest goal scorer in Welsh top flight.
“Thankfully that was the first of a few goals and as a goal scorer it’s something you thrive on. I think everyone who has played for the Club knows how well it’s run and how much it meant locally. For a side made up predominantly of local players who were mates on and off the pitch, that togetherness was always brought on to the pitch with performances.
“Not many enjoyed coming to the Rec that’s for sure, and away trips were very good for team building even when we lost. It’s just a shame it doesn’t last forever!“
At one point, Evans was the player with the most top-flight Golden Boots to his name (between 2004-2009) and his record of three is only bettered to this day by current Bala Town skipper Chris Venables (who earned his fourth by scoring 22 goals last season) and Llanelli legend and current Penybont manager Rhys Griffiths (pictured in his playing days below) who holds the record with seven (which were actually in seven consecutive seasons which is very impressive).
Asked about Venables and Griffiths and where he keeps his Golden Boots to this day, Evans said: “To be mentioned in the same sentence as them both is an honour in itself. Having played with both, particularly Venners for a good few years, there’s no wonder both have achieved what they have with their dedication and application to the game.
“My three Golden Boots are equally cherished, but I do look at each of them with a different sense of achievement. The first as a 20 year old was probably the proudest feeling, which then provided an even bigger hunger for more. I think Marc Lloyd-Williams won it the following season scoring a freakish number of goals. (He did – a record-breaking 47 goals for Bangor City), but I managed to secure my second Golden Boot the season after that and third followed the following season; becoming the first player to achieve that honour.
“The first Golden Boot and League Player of the Year award are in display in my parents house, (albeit in the shadow of a some of Dads achievements!) and I have the other awards too of course.”
Asked about how he felt when Griffiths eventually surpassed his Golden Boot tally in 2009, Evans added: “There was no disappointment whatsoever. Rhys is a true Welsh Prem/Cymru Leagues legend and was more than just a prolific goalscorer too. It was a massive honour for me to be the first player in the leagues history to reach a hat-trick of Golden Boots, but records are there to be broken and I’m sure Venners has his sights on his good mate Rhys Griff’s record now too.”
Evans’ career with Caersws also saw him play in Europe. In 2002, the club from the village of around 1,500 people qualified as Wales’ representatives in the Inter-Toto Cup and gave a brilliant account of themselves against Bulgarian side FC Marek Dupnitsa. In the first leg, at the Bonchuk Stadium, the Bluebirds fell to a 2-0 loss thanks to two goals form Vladislav Vladov in front of a crowd of 1,500 – the same size as their whole village!
However, it was the home leg that will go down in history for Caersws and for the then-22-year-old Evans in particular. In the game played at Aberystwyth Town’s Park Avenue, 1,200 supporters turned out to watch Caersws hold their professional level opponents to a 1-1- draw. Evans, whose father Mickey was manager of the club at the time, headed the hosts in front early on but Rumen Shankulov doubled the visitors advantage with a volley to send them through.
Recalling that famous night for the club, Evans, who was Man of the Match and also had another goal disallowed that night, said: “For Caersws to be representing Wales in the 2002 Intertoto Cup was certainly the biggest achievement in a Bluebirds shirt. I think we missed out qualifying by a point the previous season and had a terrible start to the 2001/02 season, being bottom of the league in the November.
“We knew we were playing better than the league position suggested and then suddenly it clicked; we went on an unbelievable run and held on to the qualification place in a very tense and wind affected final game of the season away to Connahs Quay, winning 2-1, defending for out lives against the wind second half after being ahead 2-0 at half time.
“To play against the Bulgarian side FK Marek Dupnitsa was a surreal experience for everyone involved, including our travelling supporters. They had a few internationals in their ranks and having been 2-0 down from the away leg, we were very close to upsetting them at Park Avenue in the return leg. I headed us in to first half lead and going in half time we felt we had them on the ropes, but it wasn’t to be in the end. They scored a tie winning breakaway away goal which killed the tie and the antics that followed (fighting at the end of the game) were an embarrassment which has sadly crept in to the game we see now. The performance epitomised the squad we had at that time though and was such a proud moment being part of it.“
Evans said that, as well as winning the three top-flight Golden Boots and playing in Europe, other career highlights for him included playing for Wales at schoolboy level and going on to be the record appearance maker and goal scorer for the Wales semi-pro team (now called Wales C).
He also says signing professionally for Aston Villa was another standout moment, and although he admits ‘it didn’t work out’, he added that the ‘insight and experience’ he earned whilst with the club is ‘something I’ll always remember’.
Later on in life, when his playing days were over, Evans went on to manager his beloved Caersws – just as his father had done for several years. He says it was something ‘everyone always assumed’ he would do at some point in his career and spoke of the influence that dad Mickey had had on his footballing journey.
Evans said: “After Dad had an accident, I took over as a temporary measure while he recovered which eventually turned into the permanent role for the next five years. Dad was still always there though either at games or training to pick his footballing brains, and the lads still didn’t escape being told if performances weren’t good enough. In hindsight, I should probably have picked myself in a few more games as you kick every ball from the dugout.
“From as young as I remember Dad had a massive influence on my football and I have so much respect for him and what he achieved in the game too. He was always very supportive and I wouldn’t like to think how many miles my parents have clocked up taking me to games or watching me play.
“People always ask was it difficult having your dad as manager, but to be honest, no. Come training and match day he was the gaffer and there was certainly never any preferential treatment which is how it should be. He was and still is so passionate about the game, winning and giving 100% is everything to him, and he certainly wasn’t shy in letting me and the dressing room know if performances weren’t good enough.
“In terms of other idols, Alan Shearer and a Sgorio introduced Ronaldo (the Brazilian, who appeared on the S4C show when they used to show highlights of Italian football matches) were the main two, both very different but both unbelievable players and goalscorers.”
Evans says that, as a player, he always looked forward to training and playing every week and enjoyed the local derbies, saying that Caersws always did well against Aberystwyth who he says the Bluebirds were a real ‘bogey team’ for for years, as well as Llanidloes. He adds that the Boxing Day fixtures against Newtown were ‘always ones that everyone in the area looked forward to’ with regular annual crowds of 7/8000 turning up for those fixtures.
he says the most important goals he ever scored were the ones in 2001/02 to help Caersws onto Intertoto Cup qualification – ‘given the magnitude of that achievement’. But, in terms of his best goal, he remembers a solo effort from the halfway line for Caersws away at Llansantffraid as a standout – adding that he gave his ‘old mate’ Andy Mulliner who was in goal ‘no chance with that finish’. But Evans is also keen to add that he could get ‘as much satisfaction’ from getting into good positions to score form inside the six-yard box as he did from 25-yard screamers.
Having stepped down from being player-manager at Caersws in May 2018, nowadays, Evans is a Councillor for the Football Association of Wales (FAW) representing the Central Wales area, having been re-elected for another four years in August 2019. It’s a job, he says, has been a ‘real eye-opener’ and one he hopes he has done much in to provide assistance and ‘a much-needed voice for clubs in the area’ particularly through these very challenging times due to Covid-19.
But, of course, he still keeps an eye on Caersws FC and the top-flight to this day. Asked about who has stood out for him during the 2020/21 JD Cymru Premier campaign (before it was put on hold due to lockdown), Evans said: “I mainly watch the televised games JD Cymru Premier games and highlights these days as I tended to go around the local Tier two and below games each weekend pre-Covid.
“In the top flight though, if I was to pick one who has impressed me the most this season, it would be an ex-team mate and player of mine from when he started at Caersws, and that’s Will Evans (above). He’s been in sensational form for Bala Town since his switch from Cardiff Met and there’s more to come from him too, especially with his attitude and work rate.“