The origin of this domestic football series comes from a very straightforward question that was asked to me on Twitter by Aled Roberts (@capaled on Twitter):
“Who are the best Welsh clubs from each county?”
Not knowing the answer off-hand, I decided to do some research to discover who are currently the best performing clubs from each county in Wales in terms of their respective league position and placement during the 2021-22 season, whilst also making some references to which teams were the most historically successful clubs in that county also.
I have decided to split the country up into several parts to make it more manageable for me to write up, especially considering I have been struggling with “writer’s block” recently. Therefore in this sixth part, I will only focus on the three counties of Wales’ southern valleys, with the other counties of Wales coming in later blogs. To see the other parts of the County By County series, the links can be found below:
- Part 1 – The northeastern counties of Flintshire, Wrexham, Denbighshire, and Conwy.
- Part 2 – The northwestern counties of Ynys Môn and Gwynedd.
- Part 3 – The central counties of Powys and Ceredigion.
- Part 4 – The southwestern counties of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea, and Neath Port Talbot.
- Part 5 – The southern counties of Bridgend, Vale of Glamorgan, and Cardiff.
[NOTE: All positions mentioned below are defined as of 24th May 2022]
Rhondda Cynon Taf – Pontypridd Town
The county of Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) is an important heartland for Welsh sport with many of the country’s best sportspeople originating from the Valleys, and football is no exception with many national team players originating from the county. Historically, the coal-rich valleys had some of the best Welsh league teams with money from the monumental mining industry funding the football clubs. Therefore, it is no surprise that clubs from this area were the first from South Wales to appear in Welsh Cup finals and break the initial northern dominance of the competition. Aberaman Athletic became the first southern team to appear in the final in a losing effort to Wrexham in the 1903 final, before Aberdare Athletic appeared in the next two finals although losing to Druids and Wrexham respectively. Pontypridd would play in a number of Welsh Cup finals either side of World War 1, taking part in the first all-southern final against Cardiff City in 1912, with Ton Pentre also reaching the final in 1922. Alas, none of these clubs would ever win the national cup competition with Aberdare Athletic failing on four occasions, meaning the county has surprisingly never had a Welsh Cup winner. However, Aberdare did achieve something few Welsh clubs managed and were elected as an English Football League member, joining Swansea Town, Merthyr Town, and Newport County in the newly-created league. Having been accepted for the 1921-22 season, they played in the Division 3 South for six seasons and finished as high as eighth in their debut season, before finishing bottom of the table at the end of the 1926-27 season and failing to be re-elected as a member.
Heartbreakingly, as the mining industry slowly declined in the South Welsh Valleys, the results and performances of clubs within the area followed a similar curve downwards. So much so that when the League of Wales was founded in 1992, there were no clubs from the county that were founding members of the league. In fact, there has only been one club from the county that has played in the Welsh top flight in its history, Ton Pentre, who were the first club to be promoted into the League of Wales from the Welsh League Division One. The Rhondda Bulldogs spent four seasons in the League of Wales from the 1993-94 season to the 1996-97 season. During that period, Ton Pentre finished in third position for the first two seasons in the top tier, where they also qualified for the Intertoto Cup in the 1994-95 season. Alas, their fall would be as rapid as their rise, as they finished in 19th position the following season before getting relegated in the 1996-97 season despite ending the season in 18th spot, never to return back to the highest level of Welsh football (at the time of writing).
RCT’s best performing teams for the 2021-22 season were competing in the second-tier Cymru South, with Pontypridd Town and Cambrian & Clydach Vale some of the clubs attempting to achieve promotion from the fiercely competitive league. Ultimately, Pontypridd Town had the superior season of the two RCT-based clubs as they finished in second position with a total of 69 points, just five points adrift of the league champions Llantwit Major. However, because the champions failed to obtain a Tier 1 licence for the following season, and Pontypridd Town were successful in their appeal for a licence, it means the county will have representation in the top flight for the first time since 1997 with Pontypridd earning promotion to the Cymru Premier.
Cambrian & Clydach had a decent season themselves by finishing in fourth position, although 23 points adrift of the league champions. They managed to accumulate 51 points in total from their campaign and were able to finish above both Carmarthen Town and Goytre United, who both had the same points tally, due to Cambrian’s superior goal difference of +31. They will be joined in the 2022-23 Cymru South by Ynyshir Albions, who finished as runners-up in the Ardal South West league but won the Ardal Southern promotion playoff match when they beat Abertillery Bluebirds 3-0. Perhaps, football in the region is starting to rise once more…
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough – Penydarren BGC
Football in the former mining county borough of Merthyr Tydfil / Merthyr Tudful has historically been dominated by a club of the same name. Merthyr Tydfil FC is the only club from the county borough to have won the Welsh Cup, winning the old trophy on three occasions in 1949, 1951, and 1987. The latter cup victory gave the Martyrs an opportunity to compete in the European Cup Winners’ Cup when they historically beat Atalanta 2-1 at Penydarren Park, but lost the second leg 0-2 to give the club a memorable campaign. However, despite success in Welsh Cups, the club spent the vast majority of its history competing in the English lower leagues, especially in the Southern League, where they were champions on six occasions. They resisted the edict from the FAW to return back to the Welsh leagues and continued to play in England before the club was dissolved in 2010 due to financial problems.
The phoenix club, Merthyr Town, continues to play in the English leagues, albeit they experienced relegation to the Southern League Division One South (eighth-tier of English football) at the end of the 2021-22 season. Partially as a result of this performance, there are calls from some supporters to follow the path of Colwyn Bay and leave to lower rungs of English football and return back to Welsh football. Only time will tell regarding that decision for the Martyrs and which country will be more beneficial for the club long term.
Within the Welsh leagues, there wasn’t a team from Merthyr Tydfil County Borough in any of the top two tiers for the 2021-22 season, with the best performing teams playing in the third-tier Ardal South West league. In the Ardal SW, there were two Merthyr Tydfil-based clubs, Penydarren BGC and Treharris Athletic, with the former finishing higher in the league than the latter team. Penydarren Boys & Girls Club famously reached the quarter-finals of the Welsh Cup in the 2017-18 competition as a fifth-tier club, and looked to be upwardly mobile in their ascent up the pyramid, although that rise seems to have temporarily halted with the club being stuck at the third-tier for a number of seasons now. For the 2021-22 season, the Pen finished in fifth position in the league having accumulated 55 points from their 30-game schedule. It meant they just missed out on fourth position by two points but finished ahead of sixth-placed Penrhiwceiber Rangers by four points.
The next best performing team from the county borough is the aforementioned Treharris Athletic Western, who are based in the neighbouring village of Trelewis, which is located towards the southern tip of the county borough. The Lillywhites, who were founded in 1889, completed their season by being placed in tenth spot having earned 35 points from their 30-game campaign. They were just three points adrift of a top-half finish, but managed to stay a point ahead of eleventh-placed side Garden Village. Despite their bottom-half finish, the club did enjoy a decent defensive display and managed to conclude their season with a positive goal difference of +1, in comparison to Caerau (Ely) and Dinas Powys directly above them who had goal differences of -12 and -13 respectively.
Caerphilly County Borough – Risca United
Despite the county borough being the home of one of Wales’ best players in Aaron Ramsey, there were no clubs from Caerphilly County Borough / Bwrdeistref Sirol Caerffili in the Cymru Premier during the 2021-22 season, and sadly there will be none in the top two tiers of Welsh football for the following season. This is because the county borough’s only representative in Cymru South, Risca United, was relegated at the end of the 2021-22 season. The Cuckoos suffered a difficult season in the second-tier league when they only managed to win seven of their 30 league games to end the season in fourteenth position and endure relegation to the Ardal Leagues. However, Risca could have potentially stayed in the league going into the final game of the season. Thirteenth-placed side Cwmbran Celtic lost 0-5 to the league champions Llantwit Major, meaning a win for Risca United against Afan Lido would have kept them in the league due to their vastly superior goal difference. However, despite taking the lead after just six minutes, two goals conceded within ten minutes in the middle of the second half condemned the Cuckoos to relegation. Risca ended their season with 31 points, and just three points adrift of safety. In addition, they had a vastly superior goal difference of -8 in comparison with Cwmbran’s goal difference of -31, and scored the same amount of goals (43 goals), but luck just wasn’t on their side on the day.
No doubt, Risca will be joining the Ardal South East for the 2022-23 season and joining a number of other Caerphilly-based clubs who will be competing in the league after confirming their berths during the 2021-22 season. Of the three Caerphilly-based clubs playing in the league, Trethomas Bluebirds were the best performing of them all with a fourth-place finish. The Bluebirds won 18 of their 30 league games and earned 59 points from their schedule, but just missed out on promotion by seven points, and the Ardal Southern play-off game by five points. However, they did enjoy the second-best attack and goal difference in the league having scored a superb 77 goals (an average of 2.57 goals per game) and enjoying a goal difference of +42.
The next performing sides in the Ardal South East were Treowen Stars and Aberbargoed Buds who finished in seventh and twelfth spots respectively. Treowen ended their season on 44 points and a goal difference of +2, finishing just ahead of Llandrindod Wells by a single goal in GD despite having the same points total, and just two points behind sixth-placed side Monmouth Town. Aberbargoed were towards the wrong end of the table with their 31 points accumulated and GD of -23, although placed a clear 11 points above the relegation zone. They endured the joint third-worst defence in the league by having conceded 71 goals through their campaign, but enjoyed a healthy attack of 48 goals scored – the best in the bottom half. This meant the Buds avoided relegation by finishing just a point ahead of thirteenth-positioned side Tredegar Town, and two points behind Newport City in twelfth place.
So that completes the initial delve into finding out which clubs are currently the best teams from each of the three Valleys counties of Wales. The final part of the series will look at the southeastern counties of Wales to find out which clubs are currently the most successful in those counties.