After the fairytale experience of hosting Cardiff City in a friendly at their Rhiw’r Ddar ground during pre-season, Taffs Well FC are aiming for a successful domestic season.
The Wellmen currently sit mid table in the Welsh Football League Division One but manager Lee Bridgeman believes the club can compete for the league title.
This week Bridgeman took time out to speak about the season ahead as well as that unforgettable evening in July when Taffs Well competed admirably against Neil Warnock’s star-studded Bluebirds.
Taffs Well’s start to the season includes a record of 3 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats in the league and they sit 8th in the table. They remain unbeaten at Rhiw’r Ddar with wins over Goytre FC (3-1) and Cambrian & Clydach Vale (4-0) particular highlights, while defeats on the road to title-chasing sides Llanelli Town (5-2) and Pen-y-bont (3-1) have curbed their progress.
The Wellmen were also on the end of an upset in the League Cup, exiting at Pontypridd Town in the second round. Bridgeman, however, believes it has been a solid start with some circumstances going against them.
“We have had quite a good start; we are disappointed with the two defeats though. We went to Llanelli (5-2 defeat on the opening weekend) with eight players out after a good pre-season and against Pen-Y-Bont we lost our goalkeeper to illness the night before, so had to play an outfield player in goal. There is a long way to go, though, with lots of twists and turns; it could be an exciting season this year.”
The Wellmen finished 9th last season and lost a couple of influential players in the summer as Mike Murphy and Leon Jeanne moved on; nevertheless, Bridgeman has lofty ambitions for the squad.
“The ambition is always the same: to win the league. There are some quality sides about this season but on our day we can beat anyone. It would be nice to have a good Welsh Cup run too.”
On the departures Bridgeman remains philosophical and happy with the work done over the summer to bring in new players.
“Players come and go, that’s football I suppose. Looking for players and bringing them to the club is a part of the job I enjoy but it’s getting harder. We’ve been lucky this year to bring in some quality…I think we have a good mix of experienced and young players at the club.
We’re proud as a club that we have given so many young players an opportunity over the years. Some of those players have gone onto bigger and better things, which makes us proud as a club.”
The standout result so far is that home victory over Goytre FC (who finished 3rd last season and are expected to challenge for the title) and Bridgeman’s side put on a fantastic performance that day, moving the ball well on the renovated Rhiw’r Ddar pitch and looked an exciting attacking outfit. Bridgeman agreed that was a standout performance but also believes there is more to come from his team.
“In my 7 or 8 years at Taffs Well we’ve always been known as a side to get the ball down and play…the Goytre result was a benchmark for the season but I told the players after the game I know they can play a lot better. I’ve always believed in the side and sometimes wonder if they really know their potential. If they work hard for each other and listen to me, Bambi and Aidee, they won’t be far [away].”
One player who has stood out already this term has been forward Sam Johnson, who was signed in the summer from Division Three club Ely Rangers. He’s been a regular on the score sheet for The Wellmen and Bridgeman believes there is a big future ahead for Johnson.
“I watched Sam on numerous occasions last season; he’s a young player I’m really excited about. His dad played for Taffs Well so that helped when I approached him [and] he jumped at the chance [to join]. I really believe this boy has a big future in the game; he also has a lot to learn to become the real deal so that’s where we, as a club, have to continue the great work of Ely Rangers and help him develop further.”
In conversation with Bridgeman it would have been impossible not to talk about that fantastic occasion when Cardiff City visited and Bridgeman reflected on how that has helped the club.
“It was an unbelievable night with 3000 people watching; something the players and their families will remember forever. Cardiff City and Neil Warnock were amazing, the work [their] groundstaff did on our pitch was amazing, the exposure we had as a club was priceless. We were all invited to the Leeds game as guests on Tuesday and Doddsy [Taffs Well Chairman Liam Edwards] and Norma presented cheques to Velindre and Cancer Research [beneficiaries of 50% of the gate receipts from the Cardiff fixture], so that was amazing; the whole experience has been unreal. We are claiming we brought the feel good factor back to Cardiff City and you never know, we may welcome a Premier League club to the Well next season.”
Returning to matters on the pitch, while the Welsh national team are trying to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next Summer over the first weekend of October, for many domestic clubs attention turns to the Welsh Cup. Taffs Well have been drawn away to Division Two Llantwit Major and having exited the League cup early to a lower league side, Bridgeman wants his team to avoid a repeat.
“[The] League Cup was disappointing as we all know our record in that cup is second to none, so the Welsh Cup is huge as it’s the only one left for us. During my time at the club we’ve not done too well, so fingers crossed, we’re due a good run! Llantwit are a very good side who beat us in a friendly last season, we will have to be at our best to go through, something we have already been getting across to the players.”
Before that, however, The Wellmen welcome Ton Pentre to Rhiw’r Ddar this weekend in the league. The Rhondda Bulldogs have endured a difficult start to the season, remain winless in the league and this week parted company with manager Lee Phillips.
Nevertheless, Bridgeman is expecting a tough encounter and wished his counterpart, Ton Pentre’s interim manager Steve Williams, well.
“I’ve always found playing against Ton Pentre difficult in my time at Taffs Well and when I was playing, so it doesn’t really matter who the manager is. They have some quality players; it’s always going to be tough. I do wish Willow all the best, he’s a top player and most importantly a top fella with bags of knowledge and experience; he’d be the obvious choice for me.”
(Featured Image: Bluebirds Blog)