‘The camaraderie is unbelievable’ – Mark Hughes on Bethesda Athletic’s season so far

PICTURE by Bethesda Athletic FC

AFTER a somewhat difficult start to the 21/22 season, Bethesda Athletic are now really starting to show the signs of what I had predicted for them.

After 3 defeats to start the season (including in the cup), Mark Hughes’ side are now unbeaten in 5 and currently sit sixth in the table having won 5 of their first 9 league matches.

Furthermore, the 37 goals Athletic have scored makes them the highest-scoring club in North Wales Coast West Division One.

Manager Mark Hughes took over last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and on the back of a season which saw the club struggle in the Gwynedd League in 2019/20, finishing second-bottom.

But in him, the club surely knew they had a man who could help turn their fortunes around.

Hughes has 13 years coaching experience, which first began when he and a friend formed Mynydd Tigers Juniors – which by now has more than 130 children of all ages on its books.

He later went on to be player-manager at Mynydd Llandegai in the Welsh Alliance before forming Mynydd Tigers Seniors side – a decision which proved to be the best of his career to date. That is because that youthful side went on to win the Anglesey League in its first and only season in it back in 2017/18.

Hughes (far left on back row) with the Tigers team of 2017/18.

Hughes departed soon after the club was promoted but two seasons in the Gwynedd League followed for the Tigers before they folded last year.

Playing for that side in that Anglesey League title-winning season were some players who are now on the books with Hughes at Bethesda Athletic, including Kieran Bullock, Adrian Roberts and Tomos Eames – who scored a goal in the game which won the Tigers that title v Bryngwran Bulls, a match which ended 4-2.

Hughes has always been a manager who has put his trust in young players and that has not changed at Pesda. The majority of their squad this season are teenagers, and talented one as that.

Speaking about putting faith in young players, Hughes told AFE: “Generally speaking my passion is in developing younger players and impacting on them in a positive way.

“Young players are easy to work with, they tend to be reliable, fit, willing to work hard and to learn and all want to try and play football ‘the right way’. Having said all that ideally you need 3 or 4 older heads too to help them along and at the start of the season we were missing that.

Since then though, the club has signed the likes of 38-year-old Mike Lundstram, who previously played for the likes of Bangor City and assistant manager and former Welsh Premier player Mark Thomas, 43, has also stepped back onto the pitch to add some steel and experience to the side.

It is a very similar scenario to when the Tigers won the Anglesey League in 17/18. Back then, Hughes himself took to the field to add some stability to the midfield and it worked very well.

Hughes gives instructions. PIC: Richard Gregson

Asked about the season to date for his side, Hughes added: “We had a bad start to the season, even though we dominated the 3 games we lost we gave away suicidal goals and missed loads of chances. When you do both of those you’ve no chance at any level of football.

“Since then, we’ve found our feet, and myself and the management team have also had to make some tough decisions. I’ve heard it said that we’re a team who will surprise a few people, in my mind we’re much better than that and therefore despite our start our aim has always been to achieve promotion this season.

“Unfortunately our main centre forward Dan (manager Mark’s son) suffered a broken ankle just as we were starting back and the experienced Mike Lundstrum who we signed to fill that void has himself been mostly injured since joining. Consequently we’ve had to share the goals around but we’ve probably 5 others who contribute significantly in that area so thus far we’ve been able to cope.

“As I know the boys really well none have really surprised me as I know full well what they are all capable of. Theres certainly a number who could play at a higher level already, probably 3 or 4 who could play Tier 2 now in my opinion.

The talent at Athletic is clear to see and the goals really have come from everywhere so far.

Leading the top scorer race at the club is 17-year-old talent Tomos Hughes who has netted 7 goals in just 8 appearances. But you also have the likes of Kyle Hartleb (6 goals in 9 apps), Joseph Todd (5 in 7) and Adrian Roberts (4 in 7).

Another player to keep an eye on is manager Hughes’ youngest son Noa – who just days after turning 16 last week scored in a 1-1 draw v title-chasing Caergybi and then followed that up with a brace in a 6-2 win over Bontnewydd.

Hughes’ other sons Osian – club captain – and Daniel are also in the squad this season.

The Hughes brothers – Osian, Noa and Dan. PIC: Bethesda Athletic FC

Commenting on that, dad Mark said: “I’m so proud of the 3 of them. I’ll sound like a typical father here and say that they should all even now be playing at a higher level, Osian for example has dropped from Tier 2 to play for us.

“But they want, as I do, to be part of something and the camaraderie in the team is unbelievable with them all being mates. Having said all that I want them to be playing to their full potential and hopefully they can fulfill that with us.

“So far the 3 havent been able to play together though, with Noa just turning 16 this week and Dan out until Christmas with his ankle.”

Pesda are a team who should finish high up that table in tier five this season and have a very exciting young squad indeed. All the best to them!

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