Aberdare and football – and the Torquay link
You might not realise it, but Aberdare Athletic is a significant name in the history of Welsh and Devonian football. It is significant for Welsh football because Aberdare Athletic were one of 6 Welsh clubs in the Football League in the 1920s, after joining in 1921 from the Southern League. In their first seasdon in the Third Division South, they finished 8th, but it was largely downhill from there. Despite a 9th-placed finish in 1925-26, they sunk to the bottom the following season.
Back then, of course, re-election was the order of the day at the end of every season. The winners of the Southern League Western Division, one Torquay United FC (funny, that), applied for membership, and outvoted and replaced the Welsh side. Hence why it’s significant for Devonian football as well.
After exiting the Football League, Aberdare Athletic largely disappeared off the scene. Through numerous reincarnations, they became Aberaman Athletic, playing in the village of the same name just a few miles down the road from the market town of Aberdare.
However, for the 2012-13 season, there is movement. Aberaman Athletic are renaming themselves Aberdare Town, the club’s original name when it was formed in 1892. This returns the Aberdare name to Welsh football for the first time since 1947. As with Cardiff, the club is being completely rebranded, trading blue for yellow and black, the original colours of Aberdare. Former Cardiff City players Lee Jarman and Lee Phillips are currently joint-managers. They currently play in the Welsh Football League Division One, the second tier of Welsh football in South Wales, which they won in 2008-09. However, on that occasion they were denied promotion to the Premier League due to their ground, Aberaman Park, failing to meet the league’s standards – this is now being corrected with the addition of a new 300-seater stand.
Clearly, as with the
Bluebirds Dragons just down the road, this is Project Promotion, with a different Premier League in mind. But with a club that has had so many identity changes down the years, it’s not exactly as controversial – apparently there has been “no opposition from die-hard Aberaman fans” according to the local paper, so it’s all good.
In some ways, the demise of Aberdare via the crude mechanism that was re-election (sunny Torquay survived, isolated northern industrial towns Barrow and Workington didn’t – convenient, eh?) does make you wonder what might have been for Welsh football had Aberdare got the votes needed to stave off relegation. The same goes for Merthyr Town, who folded in 1934, were refounded in 1945 as Merthyr Tydfil, and then became Merthyr Town again in 2010 after liquidation, but still stuck way down the English non-league pyramid. Newport County were also a solid Football League club for many years until they went under, while Wrexham were dragged into the Conference by financial troubles.
The obvious conclusion is that Welsh clubs have clearly suffered enormously from financial issues over the years, and the reducing Welsh presence has reinforced the Englishness of the FL, hence all the complaints about Swansea’s promotion into the Premier League from bigoted and presumably younger English fans. Had Wales been able to retain its initial set of clubs, things might have been quite different.
In particular, I’m thinking of the Welsh Valleys, a predominantly rugby area with a smattering of football support. In the space of 7 years, the Valleys lost both their Football League clubs. These days, my local area, the central area of the Valleys, tends to back Cardiff, while the Western Valleys tends to lean towards Swansea. It’s not quite the same. Even rugby has suffered in recent years with the franchising – the only true Valleys franchise, the Celtic Warriors, was dismantled by the WRU after just a season, while the Welsh Premier Division (of rugby union – including famous names like Cardiff, Llanelli, Pontypridd, Neath etc) is a shadow of its former self.
The Welsh Premier League of football doesn’t have any Valleys sides at the moment. Aberdare’s bid for the top could change this. A successful Welsh Valleys football team would be such a boost to the area and if Aberdare pick up that mantle, it would be great. Even if from a selfish point of view, it would be nice simply to watch a local team do well at a reasonably competitive level.