Swansea University FC have been enjoying a superb league campaign so far in Welsh Football League Division Three. They currently sit 2nd in the table and just one point behind leaders Trefelin BGC.
They are not just in the mix for promotion but are contenders to lift the Division Three trophy at the end of the season. All of this for a club in its first ever season in the Welsh League.
Although there is a history of clubs representing Swansea University in the Welsh League stretching back decades, the current club was formed in 2011. It has been a remarkable rise in such a short time. Last season Dafydd Evans took on the role of head coach, overseeing the club’s promotion to the Welsh League and the current challenge to reach the third tier of Welsh football.
Evans is employed as a coach at Swansea City’s Academy, where he began working in October 2015 and is director of football and head coach at the University which is in a partnership agreement with Swansea City.
Prior to this Evans worked as a coach in the USA as director and head coach at DeMatha for 14 years including six years as head coach of the Under 20’s and 23’s coaching the MLS franchise DC United.
“I started the process with the [FAW] a few years ago whilst still living and coaching in the USA, which was a logistical challenge, but recently completed it whilst based in Swansea. I had held a US Soccer USSF ‘A’ Licence for 10 ten years and a MSc Masters in coaching science but this UEFA ‘A’ was the main practical qualification target all along. Much thanks to the Welsh Football Trust for their help along the way.”
This pathway means Evans brings a unique combination of qualification and experience to managing in the Welsh League, as well as his prior experience as a player in what is now the Welsh Premier League. Although the USA is not traditionally thought of as a football powerhouse, exposure to a culture that takes a professional approach to sports coaching at all levels has been an influence:
“The US are very goal/success orientated in all their sports from youth to professional level. They truly value the coaching profession, maybe more than other countries. Experiencing coaching trends in other big US Sports and how those clubs were run form top to bottom was an eye opener and dealing daily with athletes from all over the world in different languages and different cultures was a great way of progressing teaching/coaching adaptability.”
The world of Welsh domestic football is obviously vastly different to coaching at Premier League or MLS clubs, yet Evans says he is enjoying his role at Swansea Uni. While Swansea University FC has amateur status, Evans insists the club are highly aspirational with work continuing to ensure as professional an approach as possible on and off the field.
“It has been very enjoyable. This is only the second full season so the first year was largely changing the culture and ambition on and off the field. The student athletes have been fantastic. They have bought into a completely new environment in university and domestic football and have literally double their commitment alongside their high level academic commitments at the university.”
“We are growing an excellent staff at the football club, including coaches Wyn Thomas, John Kennedy and Callum Rees, as well as experienced administrators in chairman Ceri Jones and Rhodri Mugford.”
“Sports Swansea, as the sporting umbrella of the university, is also evolving well with a great staff across the board. The recent appointment of Steve Joel, an experienced Olympic sports coach and administrator, as Head of Sports at the university is a big boost moving forward.”
On the pitch Swansea University have surprised many in their debut Welsh League season. While he is happy with the form and improvement from the side, Evans admits a promotion challenge wasn’t really part this season’s ‘main topic of discussion’:
“Our goals consisted of staying in the BUCS Premier League, where we have also just been promoted. We hoped we could also challenge for promotion in the Welsh League in year one but it has never been the main topic of discussion. The group and staff concentrate on each week and month on improving in both codes. The new club is still in its infancy so there has so many short terms goals and objectives still to be met before we function as needed in the long term.”
Looking at the Division Three table as it stands, it seems to be a three-way shootout for promotion between Swansea Uni, Trefelin BGC and Bridgend Street. While Evans praised his club’s rivals, he was cautious about whether fight for promotion is that narrow.
“Both [Trefelin and Bridgend Street] are having fantastic seasons and seem to be very strong; with their WL experience making them favourites for promotion. Things change quickly in this league with a few results so I’m not sure if it is only a 3 horse race. There seem to be a number of other strong clubs. We are new to the league so the players are just enjoying the experience and challenge. We will see where our endeavours take us.”
Swansea Uni travel to Bridgend Street on Saturday. Both sides are on long unbeaten runs and so close are the three sides at the top, who gets promoted could come down to who fairs best in the head to head mini-league involving the three sides. Evans said he is looking forward to “a good contest” against a side “doing extremely well”.
There is also a Cardiff-Swansea aspect to the match, but Evans doesn’t believe the football rivalry that exists between each of the city’s respective professional clubs trickles down to a game at this level – at least not from his team’s point of view.
“I’m not sure of the location rivalry; perhaps its something generated by others. We actually only have 1 player from Swansea and a number from Cardiff! The rest come from across the UK and world so it is probably more of a talking topic for others.”