In a small seaside town behind a range of obscenely large hills on the west coast of Wales a football pitch has been relayed at Park Avenue. Ravaged by the stormy weather in seasons past, Aberystwyth Town have finally put plans into action for a third generation artificial surface at Park Avenue which are five years in the making.
The positive effects of the national side’s performances in qualification for and at Euro 2016 are arguably being felt all over Wales with two Welsh Premier League sides in Aberystwyth Town and Bala Town seeing 3G pitches installed this summer.
The installation of the artificial surface in Aberystwyth will not only help prevent the postponement of games (five home games were called off last year) but will help the Seasiders become a real community club. The women’s side, youth teams, locals and university students will all benefit. The Black and Greens will be hoping the new surface will aid their on-pitch performances as well after finishing disappointingly in the bottom half of the Welsh Premier League last season.
If the first game on the new 3G surface (a 4-0 win against Rhyl) is anything to go by, this could be an exciting season ahead. The first goal on the new surface at Park Avenue came from a 60-yard chip from goalkeeper Chris Mullock. Club legend Geoff Kellaway added a header and a late brace from new signing, Luke Borrelli completed the rout in front of a record crowd of 1,168.
The Welsh Premier League is set up similar to its Scottish equivalent with twelve teams splitting into two groups of six halfway through the season. All clubs race for those top six spots in the first half of the season, knowing that if they make it into the top group come the split they qualify into the Welsh European place play-offs. The respectively huge financial windfall of more than £200,000 from European competition for a semi-professional side means anything less than a top six finish can be seen as a disappointment.
With the Irn-Bru Challenge Cup in Scotland inviting the top two Welsh and Northern Irish teams for the first time this year, there is even more of an incentive for Welsh sides to perform well in the league. Despite this being an exciting step forward for the standard of Welsh football and undoubtedly a sign of good progress to improve the links between Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish football—we won’t be seeing Rodgers‘ Celtic line up to face Bala Town on the edge of Snowdonia just yet as the teams from the Scottish top flight aren’t involved.
Whilst TNS (the only Welsh Premier League side based in England) are the bookmakers heavy favourites to lift the Welsh Premier League title for the sixth successive time, their competitors aren’t as far behind as you might assume. Impressive European displays by Connah’s Quay and Bala Town this summer (against Stabaek and AIK respectively), and an impressive debut season from fans’ favourite Llandudno Town last year makes for a tight group of teams competing at the top of the Welsh Premier League. Add to that the recently promoted university side from the capital, Cardiff Met and this uniquely loveable league promises a lot more than first meets the eye.
And then you have Aberystwyth Town. An unknown quantity assembled from a selection of players from around Wales by the new manager at the helm, Matthew Bishop. Bish, as he is fondly known comes to Aber off of a very successful season as Assistant Manager with Hereford FC (Hereford United’s phoenix club) where the 8th tier side completed a treble as well as reaching the FA Vase Final at Wembley.
The departure of three-time WPL Golden Boot winner and club legend Chris Venables to Bala Town, who rivalled Messi and Ronaldo’s goalscoring records in 2014, will take some getting used to for the Black and Greens faithful. However a change of personnel might be just what the side needs to get back to the level of performance that saw them play Derry City in the Europa League two summers ago.
With twelve completed transfers this summer (at the time of writing), including a number of youngsters, this team are an unknown quantity—but their hunger for success is undeniable. What this team of unproven players can achieve this year, next year or even in the couple next years to come is a complete mystery, but as long as the fans have patience and belief then anything could be possible. It might not be long before we see some Glaswegians, Croats or even Portuguese struggle with the spelling of Aberystwyth as they come to these windy shores.