After 3 years of no Football Manager I am back on it. For the first save I have decided to eschew the usual ‘take the Football League club I support to Champions League glory’ narrative and head into the non-professional leagues. It is a challenge I have never really taken up in previous editions, but I’ve come to the conclusion it has to be the most challenging, most fun, most rewarding FM experience. Managing a team with little budget in a world you will have little knowledge of.
I could choose a Premier League or Championship club and I would know who to sign. I’m not saying it’s easy, but a lot of the work is already done for you. Taking on a club and trying to build it from the bottom up – that’s what it has to be all about, surely? I’m also excited about immersing myself in a world which is largely unknown in terms of player base. I have this romantic notion it will make scouting and recruitment a much more rewarding experience, as well as providing a genuine motivation to bring players through from the youth team.
As I wrote in the thread I erroneously placed in the FM17 forum, this save is based in Welsh domestic football. I’ve got into the Welsh domestic football in a big way of late, especially the Welsh Football League, groundhopping, getting to know some of the people who make it tick – it is a great scene; grassroots football at its best.
I’ve selected Pontypridd Town because a) it’s a team I have watched a few times and I enjoy the football they play and have some familiarity with their squad; b) they meet the profile I am looking for – an ambitious club but with plenty of room to grow.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of the story, here is some background on the real club and the town.
Pontypridd is town in south Wales on the confluence of two rivers that are synonymous with Wales – the Rhondda and the Taff – and is more or less a junction point of three of Wales former industrial valleys. Its population of 33,000 means the Pontypridd area is Wales' 13th largest urban area.
Pontypridd (Ponty) owes its historical growth to the iron and coal mining industries that dominated this part of Wales after the industrial revolution. Prior to the 1830s, Pontypridd was merely a crossing point over the Taff and the famous ‘new bridge’ that was built in 1756 for this purpose still stands and is Ponty’s most famous landmark.
With the iron and coal long gone from the area, in modern times Ponty has evolved into a commuter town for predominantly the Welsh capital Cardiff. It’s recent fame is generated by being the birth place of singer Tom Jones and for the exploits of the town’s rugby union team.
Pontypridd Town AFC were formed in 1992 as a merger between Ynysybwl FC and Pontypridd Sports & Social Club. After some initial success in the Welsh Football League, they fell into a period of decline, their fortunes only turning around in this decade when businessman Phil Gibb became involved in the club and the fraternal management duo – Dominic and Damien Broad – have overseen the club’s rise from near relegation from the Welsh Football League (WFL) to being many people’s favourites to gain promotion to the WFL Division One this season.
Welsh Football League comprises tiers 2-4 of the Welsh domestic football pyramid, covering the whole of south Wales. It is the highest level of domestic football in south Wales outside the nationalised Welsh Premier League. In north and mid Wales the Cymru Alliance is tier 2 with four regionalised leagues at tier 3 and 4. Within the Welsh pyramid, WFL Division One is the equivalent of the English Championship, Division Two is League One, Division Three equivalent to League Two. Below the Welsh Football League is further regionalisation.
Ponty Town are equivalent to an English League Two side, except with a tiny fraction of the resources available to them. In real life the club are ambitious and I believe there is a long-term goal to reach the Welsh Premier League (WPL). For this save I thought it would be interesting to take on that challenge; setting myself the goal of not just reaching the WPL, but taking Pontypridd Town into Europe for the first time in their history.
My initial look over the preliminaries reveals a decent squad, but there are expectations that go with that.
Both the bookies and the board expect promotion, the former making Ponty 2-1 favourites ahead of Pontardawe Town. There’s no room for error because only the league champions promote – no pressure then.
No club philosophies in place but I opt to add ‘promote youth players’ because I think this is an important goal for any club that has its community at the heart of its interests; having that as part of the club’s ‘DNA’ will also ensure I follow through. Developing young players is going to be a key thing going forward because there are not a lot of resources; although I have to admit it is not something I have been particularly strong at in the past. Finding the staff seems like it will be key, but not easy for a Welsh tier 3 club.
Finances are tight. The transfer budget is a mere £1600 and weekly wage budget is £83. I immediately adjust the budget, taking the transfer kitty down to £300 and this allows me a £30 increase on my weekly wage budget. This should allow me to make some staffing additions and as non-contract is the norm at this level, players get paid in bonuses rather than a weekly wage. In theory that should allow me to add to the squad without overly burdening the club’s finances. I quickly discover we receive a boost to the coffers with an annual sponsorship deal worth £6000 and a whopping 25 season tickets are sold.
Looking at the squad there is a mixture of actual players and newgens as I ticked the option for the game to fill squads at the start of the game. My knowledge of Welsh League squads is not extensive, but I am familiar with Pontypridd’s squad and I would say it seems a bit of out of date, although I am pleased to see some of Ponty’s best real-life players in the squad, in particular forward Luke Gullick and full backs Dan Hooper and Scott Hillman. Craig Bellamy’s son Ellis Bellamy is also part of the squad and looks a very good player for the level.
There are some good newgens in the youth and reserve squads, there are two exceptional youngsters and two more I earmark for the first team this season. Ashley Morris an attacking midfielder who prefers to play central, but can also operate out wide is one of the academy players; the other is Dane Glassey, a 16-year-old forward.
There is no transfer window and as players are not tied down by contracts I am expecting a lot of fluidity in the market. Initially, I don’t feel much need to add to what I’ve got but inevitably a raft of players are taken on trial to assess whether they would be suitable.
The only player I nail down before the season starts is Liam Bond, a 17-year old defensive midfielder poached from Division One outfit Afan Lido. With high attribute ratings for tackling, teamwork, work rate and decisions he looks the perfect player to sit at the base of my midfield and his current ability of 4 stars means he is already among the best players in my squad (with the potential to become a star player).
Despite a number of overtures from other clubs I only lose one player in pre-season, Matthew Hibbs dropping a division to play for Swansea University. As Hibbs was only likely to be a backup option I’m not too fussed and made little effort to retain his services.
Let’s begin the story then...
Rhondda Rollercoaster – Part One – Pre-season
6 August 2017
Pontypridd Town begin their Welsh Football League Division Two campaign next week when they travel to Cynon valley to play Aberdare Town. The Dragons boast a new management team this season with unknown quantity Abstract Jones taking the helms after Dominic Broad stepped aside in the summer due to external forces. However, Broad remains at the club as assistant manager after Jones convinced him to continue on a reduced workload.
Local pundits and the bookmakers have installed Ponty as favourites for the Division Two title and promotion to the Welsh League Division One, with BoyoBet offering odds of 2-1. Noises from the club also indicate they expect to challenge for promotion this season after narrowly missing out by a single point in the last campaign.
Jones has opted to work with the squad left by the Broad’s with Luke Gullick expected to lead the attack and the likes of Bobby Brier and Scott Hillman serving the backline. Ellis Bellamy – the son of former Wales international captain Craig – has also joined from Division One outfit Penybont – a considerable coup for Ponty.
There have been a number of trialists involved during pre-season, but the only player to have committed so far is Liam Bond – a midfielder that our sources indicate has a very promising career ahead of him. He arrives from Division One Afan Lido; it is another home run for Ponty as they attract players from a higher level.
After the Rhondda Cynon Taf council denied The Dragons permission to redevelop their traditional home at the football ground in Ynysangharad Park, the club have moved 3 miles down the road to Treforest Industrial Estate and will now play home matches at the University of South Wales Sports Park. It is believed this is a long term partnership with Ponty Town given room to develop their own football ground, as well as using existing facilities that regularly attract world class outfits and is the current home of Cardiff City’s Academy.
Abstract Jones’ preparations for the new season began with a behind closed match between Ponty’s senior and under 19 squads, with the seniors believed to have edged the contest 3-2. For the under 19s striker Andrew Taylor scored twice and he may be a player worth keeping an eye on in the future, especially as Jones has promised to make extensive use of the club’s academy as he looks to build firm ties between the club and the local community.
In the first official friendly Ponty travelled to the Blackwood area to play South Wales Alliance outfit Cefn Fforest. Approximately seven Ponty loyalists made the journey to get a glimpse of the new-look Ponty and a keen sense of anticipation of the style and system the new boss would employ. There was no great departure on show as Jones continued the short passing tradition developed by the Broad brothers and Ponty played with the ubiquitous 4-2-3-1: Kyle Carnell the lone forward, supported by Jamal Easter, with Gullick and Bellamy on the wings.
Ponty fell behind early on to a goal from local lad Connor Rees and despite controlling most of the game the Dragons lacked any sort of fluency in attack and failed to create the number of chances you would expect against an outfit playing three tiers lower. The home side defended vigilantly and despite offering little in attack they secured a surprise win with their only shot on target.
For their second pre-season match Ponty Town made a long journey to Bedfordshire to play Langford – a curious decision that had more than a few questioning who was bankrolling or the motivation for the trip. Six hardy souls did make that trip (with a stopover in Milton Keynes I’m led to believe) and witnessed a 5-0 Ponty win. An impressive win that was given even more lustre by reports of a bold attacking approach.
Jones went with three designated strikers and eschewed the short passing build-up play in favour of launching long, direct passes forward as quickly as possible. This gave the likes of Bellamy and James Hill ample opportunity to run in behind a static home defence and cause a myriad of problems. There were goals for Hill, Carnell (2), captain Jordan Forster, and 16-year old academy prospect Dane Glassey scored a goal within three minutes of his introduction.
More miles clocked as Ponty made the trip to Penybont United of the Mid Wales First Division in their next match. Using the same high tempo, direct attacking approach Ponty raced out of the blocks and were 2-0 up inside 4 minutes through Glassey and Bellamy goals. The home side did pull a goal back but in an evenly balanced contest Ponty held on for a narrow win.
To round off pre-season Ponty travelled for a weekend in West Wales, routing Newcastle Emlyn 8-1 in the best declaration of their capability thus far. Dane Glassey bagged an 11-minute first half hat-trick to further enhance his credentials with the senior team this season and he looks a fine prospect.
After the match Abstract Jones told the handful of Ponty ultras who made the trip he was happy with the progress the squad had made during pre-season and urged patience as he tries to bed in his method and his style.
On the evidence of the pre-season fixtures, there is every reason for all Ponty followers to anticipate an exciting and action-packed season ahead.
Rhondda Rollercoaster – Part Two – August Review
1 September 2017
Pontypridd Town have made a steady start to their Welsh League Division Two campaign, sitting 2nd in the table as summer turns to autumn.
On the opening day Ponty travelled north to play Aberdare Town of the Cynon Valley. Having scored fifteen goals in three pre-season fixtures The Dragons’ faithful were expecting an entertaining encounter, but instead were witness to a stodgy goalless draw as the home side succeeded in frustrating Ponty’s ambitions.
New boss Abstract Jones went with the 4-1-2-3 set-up that seemed like manna during the friendly season, but here Ponty failed to penetrate Aberdare’s deep lying defence and neither side managed a shot on target in a match that this writer will have forgotten once he’s finished this report.
One positive that did stand out for Ponty was the debut of 17-year old full back Ashleigh Thomas whose marauding runs were a rare source of creativity. He looks a fit and hard-working lad and if he can add that bit of nous to his game he should become a Ponty mainstay this season.
Ponty’s first ever game at the their home in the USW Sports Park was a midweek encounter in the Welsh Football League Cup against Division Three side Trefelin Boys and Girls Club of the Swansea area.
Despite making a number of changes to the starting eleven, Ponty ran out comfortable winners with a James Hill double and a Michael Thomas strike putting The Dragons 3-0 ahead at half-time. Luke Gullick added a fourth shortly after half time to put the tie beyond doubt and although Ponty’s standards dropped and they conceded a couple of second half goals, the result was never in doubt.
Four days later Risca United became the first team to play Ponty Town in a league match at their new home. In a breathtaking opening 15 minutes the game saw five goals. Dane Glassey opened the scoring on 3 minutes, but Risca were level inside a minute through Matt Smothers. Kyle Carnell and a Dan Hooper penalty looked to have put Ponty well on the way to victory, but Risca were back in it on 15 minutes through a penalty of their own. Before half time there was still time for one more goal as Glassey scored his second.
The second half wasn’t quite the same whirlwind affair but after Matt Smothers scored a second to make it 4-3 to Ponty the game was on a knife edge. In the end Glassey made it a day to remember by completing his hat-trick and the scoring with seven minutes to play, the final score being 5-3 to Pontypridd Town.
A week later Ponty made another trip up the Cynon valley, this time to play AFC Llwydcoed. At the final whistle the stats suggested an even contest with shots on goal 14-10 in Ponty’s favour but possession 55-45 to Llwydcoed. However the all important stat read:
AFC Llwydcoed 1-5 Pontypridd Town
Two apiece for Luke Gullick and Dane Glassey and some injury time polish from Jamal Easter. The Dragons could even afford the luxury of missing a fourth minute Dan Hooper penalty.
On the transfer front, Abstract Jones added four new players to the squad. All four have spent time at the club on trial and have been signed as development players, rather than immediately for the first team. They are:
Karl Wellington – 17 – striker – signed from Swansea University of Welsh League Division Three, Wellington comes with a pedigree as a superb finisher and player of tremendous bravery in the penalty area, willing to put a head or a put anywhere in pursuit of goals.
George Deniz – 21 – goalkeeper – formerly of Connah’s Quay, free agent Deniz has been snapped up as cover for first team goalkeepers Mark Abraham and Dave Burnett. A tall goalkeeper with a good shot stopping ability.
Jack Chambers – 20 – central defender – Another ex-Connah’s Quay player who was looking for a club, Chambers impressed on trial with his pace something that caught the management’s eyes.
Tomas Walters – 17 – striker – arrived from Division Two rivals West End. A giant of a young man at 195cm, a natural successor for Kyle Carnell?
Player of the Month
Dane Glassey – five goals in three appearances, the 16-year old has made a blistering start to his Ponty career.
Rhondda Rollercoaster – Part Four – Set Back and Recovery
Pontypridd Town website
2 September 2017
BREAKING NEWS – the club can confirm today that Dan Hooper has left Pontypridd Town to join Welsh League Division One side Haverfordwest County.
Hooper joined Ponty in 2014 and has been a fantastic servant club as we have risen from the basement of Division Three to our current situation, earning a reputation for being one of the best left backs in Welsh football outside the Welsh Premier League. His ability from dead ball situations is legendary among Ponty supporters.
The board and management of Pontypridd Town AFC would like to thank Dan for his effort during his time with The Dragons and wish him well on his new venture.
3 September 2017
Pontypridd Town took the spoils in the first ‘Rhondda Derby’ with a 3-1 victory over AFC Porth at USW Sports Park yesterday, courtesy of a double from target man Kyle Carnell and superb free kick from Jamal Easter...
It was new Ponty boss Abstract Jones’ first derby and he was delighted with his side’s performance, commending their ‘desire and commitment against a very physical and motivated team’...
Despite the loss of Dan Hooper just 24 hours before the match Ponty showed no signs of disappointment and teenager Alex Jones slotted in at left back and produced a performance of great accomplishment...
The win means Pontypridd move to the top of Welsh League Division Two with 10 points from their first four matches...
Abstract Jones on Twitter
9 September 2017
The boys gave everything today, can’t fault the effort, the ball just wouldn’t go in for them. #wegoagain #uppatown
12 September 2017
Sion-Dafydd Williams struck the only goal as 10-man Abergavenny Town pulled off a smash and grab win against title favourites Pontypridd Town at the Penypound Stadium last weekend...
Pontypridd’s dominance was demonstrated by the shots tally, 18-7 in their favour...
Despite the loss of Jake Dibble for a second bookable offence just past the hour, Town held on valiantly with Barnard and Turner huge bulwarks in the middle of defence, heading and kicking everything away, while Wookey behind them was simply an impassable force in goal...
Pontypridd Town website
14 September 2017
Last week’s shock defeat away to Abergavenny Town was the first major set-back on the field for Ponty this season, but the boss isn’t too concerned and believes the boys are ready to get back to winning ways this weekend against another fancied side, Cardiff-based STM Sports
“Sometimes you lose a football match on bad luck, like a toss of the coin. I don’t think the boys could have done much more to win that match last week. There are times you when you just have to accept it’s not going to be your day and accept the opposition have fought tooth and nail for what they have got hold of. Abergavenny got an early goal and their commitment was to their credit.
“If you keep playing like that we are going to win many more games than we lose; I’m not worried about one defeat.”
17 September 2017
Abstract Jones’ Pontypridd Town put in their finest display yet this season, blowing away fellow promotion contenders STM Sports with a scintillating second half display at the USW Sports Park...
Ponty struggled in the first half as Jones oddly opted to play with a midfield diamond and two strikers. The visitors thought they might be in the spoil the day when the dangerous Owen Greeno opened the scoring after 25 minutes and they held out to take a lead into the half time interval. However, the introduction for the second half of Luke Gullick, in place of Ashley Morris who struggled at the tip of the midfield diamond, and a return to the 4-1-2-3 that has proved so successful this season turned the game.
Within two minutes of his arrival on the field Gullick had levelled the match, from that point on it was all one way traffic as Ponty bombarded the STM goal and racked up and impressive 14 efforts on goal in the second half...
Another substitute, Ellis Bellamy, finally made the breakthrough on 74 minutes, doubling his tally ten minutes later to seal the points for Ponty. Luke Gullick added some gloss in injury time with his second goal...
The win keeps Pontypridd in 3rd position behind Llantwit Major and Ammanford.
Pontypridd Town 3-1 AFC Porth (Welsh League D2)
Abergavenny Town 1-0 Pontypridd Town (Welsh League D2)
Pontypridd Town 4-1 STM Sports (Welsh League D2)
How did you get the Welsh leagues beyond the WPL to your database? Was it a download?
You are reading "Rhondda Rollercoaster - Can Pontypridd Town Reach Europe in Five Years?".