There will be fewer teams with better support than Aber Valley in the 2nd round of the JD Welsh Cup on Saturday as the Tier 4 side head to JD Cymru Premier outfit and 2018 finalists Aberystwyth Town with the whole village in their corner.
“It's been mad,” explained joint-manager Dean Wood to FAW.cymru. “We're not far off taking six buses. It's a small valley, but over the last the last few years we've really tried to engage with the local community. We work closely with the local rugby club and we bounce off each other to really involve everyone. Everything we do is aimed at being community based, and this Welsh Cup run has really raised the profile of our club as well.”
The side from the Highadmit South Wales Alliance League Premier Division has already made history by progressing further in the JD Welsh Cup than ever before, and having defeated higher division teams in Tredegar Town and Treowen Stars in the qualifying rounds, the club from Caerphilly booked the biggest match in their history with a 2-0 win over Porthcawl Town Athletic through goals from Shane Reynolds and Nathan Radzimierski.
“The stand-out match of the cup run for me has to be Porthcawl,” added joint-manager Neil Lloyd-Meek, who arrived at the club in the summer. “We were making history and the fans who came to support us were amazing. The noise in the stand meant I couldn't even communicate with Dean, and it really made it a special occasion. The team went out and played with a smile on their face, and that's something we always say to them, go out and enjoy it. So to then go out there and get a result was massive.
“We're all absolutely over the moon with the draw. This is the first time we've reached this stage of the competition and the buzz has been tremendous, especially amongst the players. It's great to be a part of it. There's always been something special about the team spirit here compared to other clubs. The people here have gone above and beyond in the local community and now we're riding the crest of a wave, and I think that will continue throughout the season with the mentality that we have.”
Recognised for their community efforts by McDonalds and the FAW Trust, Aber Valley were recently named South Wales Community Club of the Year due to their work in helping those less fortunate. From setting up and maintaining a food bank to help local people during the pandemic to their own 'boot room' initiative that allows the donation of surplus kit for youngsters in the village to be able to play football, the dedication and commitment of the club to its local community has been rewarded in the support they have received since the draw was made.
“Everyone in the village comments on how well we are doing and it's nice to hear,” added Wood. “Success helps, but going back about six years ago we had a couple of junior teams and we were struggling for a senior side, and now we've got so many players coming through from the youth teams. The Aber Hotel, our clubhouse which I own with one of our players, really helps keep the boys together. They socialise together before and after games, and players want to join us because of the atmosphere they create amongst themselves.
“I'm an Aber boy. We reformed this club in 2000 when I was about 17 or 18, and there's a few of us still involved today. When we reformed it was just for a group of us to have a kickabout. We ended up getting promotion, and it's been years of hard work and rebuilding since then. We had a dip, but we've worked extremely hard to get where we are now, and a lot of local people have been involved in that. We want people to enjoy themselves and feel welcome. They work all week and this is their outlet, their release.”
Aberystwyth Town will pose a formidable challenge at Park Avenue at the weekend, but Aber Valley have reached this stage of the competition on merit, and the final words before they step out onto the field will be the same as always. “The only thing I will ask of the players is to go out there and give it their all,” explained Lloyd-Meek. “That includes what we do behind the scenes as well in terms of how we prepare the players leading up to the match. Of course, we want this journey to continue, but as players and coaches, let's just not leave anything behind, have no regrets and enjoy the experience - Win, lose or draw.
“It's great for me as a newcomer to the club to see the faces of those that have been involved for so long really enjoying the attention that the club is getting now. To see their excitement is bigger for me than anything that we will achieve on the pitch because of the years of hard work that they have put in. We have an ambition to get promotion, and we've got a really talented squad and a number of teenagers who are knocking on the door of the senior team.
"We want this to be a regular experience in the future and not a one-off, and the players and the people involved really deserve that.”
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