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 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 seventh and final part, I will only focus on the four counties of southeastern Wales, with the other counties of Wales having been mentioned in previous 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.
- Part 6 – The Valleys counties of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil, and Caerphilly.
[NOTE: All positions mentioned below are defined as of 1st June 2022]
Blaenau Gwent: Abertillery Bluebirds
Historically, Blaenau Gwent’s most successful team has been Ebbw Vale with the club being one of the strongest Welsh clubs during the interwar period as the town and club prospered from money produced from the intense coal mining and rapidly increasing steelworks in the locality. It was during this period that the club achieved its greatest achievement – a Welsh Cup win. The club became just the third southern-based team to win the old trophy, after Swansea Town/City and Cardiff City, when they defeated Swansea Town 3-2 at home in the 1926 final held in the town. To date, they are still the only club from the county to have won the cup competition. The Cowboys continued to be one of the stronger sides within the southern leagues throughout their history, so it was no surprise when they were chosen as one of the founding members of the League of Wales when it was founded in 1992. Ebbw Vale spent six seasons in the top flight, finishing in fourth position in the inaugural season in the 1992-93 season, and having two consecutive third-place finishes in 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons. Alas, the story of the Cowboys would come to a swift and sad conclusion when the club was expelled from the League of Wales before the start of the 1998-99 season due to financial problems and promptly went out of business. A phoenix club, Ebbw Vale Town, was founded in 2007, but it also folded eleven years later. However, another club, RTB Ebbw Vale, currently plays in the Gwent County League Premier Division and could reach the Ardal Leagues sooner rather than later having finished in fourth position in this season’s competition.
For the 2021-22 season, there were no clubs from one of Wales’ smallest counties in the top two tiers of the football pyramid, with representation from the county first appearing in the third-tier Ardal South East league. In the regional league, there were three Blaenau Gwent clubs competing – Tredegar Town, and the two Abertillery teams, Bluebirds and Excelsiors. Of the three teams, it was the Bluebirds who were clearly the best performing team as they finished as runners-up in the league having accumulated 64 points from their 30-game season. It would become a nervous wait for Abertillery Bluebirds if they would get automatically promoted to the Cymru South or not as they finished their season prior to their title rivals, Abergavenny Town. The Bluebirds won their last game 3-1 against Monmouth Town to move to the top of the league. Still, they had to wait a few days until Abergavenny played Trethomas Bluebirds in their final game before the league champions could be determined. Sadly for Abertillery, their Bluebirds namesakes couldn’t help them as Abergavenny managed to win their final game by a single goal to overtake them and win the Ardal SE title by two points.
Even though Abertillery agonisingly missed out on automatic promotion to the Cymru South, their second-place finish meant they qualified for the Ardal Southern Play-off match, with the winner gaining automatic promotion. In the play-off, they faced their Ardal South West equivalents Ynyshir Albions, but Abertillery were unable to capitalise on their opponents having a man dismissed and fell to a disappointing 0-3 defeat to ensure their promotion dreams were over for another season. Further information on that game can be found in Y Clwb Pêl-Droed‘s match report here:
Huge disappointment was also experienced on the other side of Abertillery as the Excelsiors endured a miserable season when they finished bottom of the table and suffered relegation to the fourth tier. Abertillery Excelsiors only earned 17 points from their season, had the worst defence in the league by conceding 85 goals, and possessed the second-worst attack with just 37 goals scored ensuring relegation was practically guaranteed. The final Blaenau Gwent team, Tredegar Town, was also situated at the wrong end of the table when they finished in thirteenth position with 30 points earned from their season, although they maintained their third-tier berth for the following season when they were a comfortable 10 points ahead of the relegation zone, whilst just being a single point behind Aberbargoed Buds in twelfth spot. There will be at least one Blaenau Gwent club in the Ardal SE next season!
Torfaen County Borough: Cwmbran Celtic
Torfaen was the centre of Welsh league football during the early 1990s when Cwmbran Town became the very first Welsh champions as they clinched the inaugural League of Wales title in the 1992-93 season. As founding members of the new national league, the Crows managed to win 26 of their 38-game schedule to accumulate 87 points from their campaign. Cwmbran’s defence was their main strength throughout the season as they conceded a league-best total of just 22 goals, and lost just 3 games, to ensure they finished 4 points ahead of runners-up Inter Cardiff to claim the first Welsh championship. Naturally, they became the first Welsh league team to play in the UEFA Champions League the following season as Welsh champions, and were unfortunate not to progress beyond the Preliminary Round when Cwmbran lost on away goals after drawing 4-4 on aggregate to the Irish champions Cork City.
Cwmbran Town also reached three Welsh Cup finals during their time in the top flight but were unable to lift the cup, losing 1-2 to Barry Town in the 1997 final, 0-1 to Bangor City in 2000, and to Barry Town again in the 2003, agonisingly losing in a penalty shootout after drawing 2-2 following extra time. Sadly, by the mid-2000s, the club was struggling with its finances and was eventually relegated from the top flight by finishing bottom of the 2006-07 table ending a 15-season stay in the highest tier. The club made a rapid descent down the leagues as financial problems intensified but they have since stabilised and continue to survive albeit playing in the regional Gwent County Leagues. Despite finishing in fourteenth position out of sixteen teams at the end of the 2021-22 season, the club maintains its position in the fourth tier of Welsh football and will continue to play in the Gwent County League Premier Division for the 2022-23 season.
The Crows position as Cwmbran’s top team has been usurped by their cross-town rivals Cwmbran Celtic, who have steadily risen up the pyramid since the turn of the millennium and overtook the former Welsh champions in the 2009-10 season. The Yellows have been regular competitors of the southern second-tier league (albeit for a two-season hiatus in the mid-2010s), and have continued to play at this level since 2016, often finishing in mid-table. For the 2021-22 season, Cwmbran Celtic was the only team from Torfaen competing in the top two steps of Welsh football, although that position was under severe threat towards the end of the season. As previously mentioned when talking about Risca United in the previous blog, Cwmbran Celtic were fortunate to stay in the Cymru South after they lost 0-5 to champions Llantwit Major in their final game of the season. However, with Risca losing 1-2 to Afan Lido, it ensured that the Yellows maintained their position for another season by finishing just three points ahead of the relegation zone despite having the third-worst defence in the league (conceding 74 goals).
The next best performing clubs from Torfaen were competing in the Ardal South East with both Croesyceiliog and Panteg playing in the third-tier league. The former team finished the highest of the two teams with Croesyceiliog ending their season in tenth position, having earned 36 points from their 30-game season. They finished 3 points ahead of Newport City in eleventh spot, and the same distance away from Chepstow Town who occupied the ninth spot. Alas, Panteg were less fortunate in their campaign and suffered relegation from the Ardal Leagues after finishing in the middle of the relegation zone in fifteenth position. The Black & Whites earned just 19 points from their league schedule, and conceded 83 goals (the second-worst defence in the league), ultimately ending up 11 points from safety.
Newport County Borough: Newport City
Football in the county borough of Newport / Casnewydd is naturally dominated by the English Football League side Newport County, who finished in 11th position in League Two for the 2021-22 season. Despite spending nearly all of its history in the English leagues, the club has surprisingly not been as successful as the other Anglo-Welsh clubs with County only winning a sole Welsh Cup. They initially lost 1-2 on aggregate to Borough United in the 1963 final, before claiming their first and only cup in 1980 when they defeated Shrewsbury Town 5-1 over two legs. Newport reached another final in 1987, but lost to Merthyr Tydfil 0-1 after a replay. Sadly, the late 1980s would be a traumatic time for the club as financial difficulties led to relegation from the English Football League in 1988, and going out of business completely in early 1989. The current iteration of Newport County was reformed in February 1989 and rejoined the English league system, albeit towards the bottom of the pyramid. It wouldn’t be until they defeated Wrexham in an all-Welsh-based National League playoff in 2013 when the Exiles returned back to the EFL.
Newport County is not the only club from the city to have won the Welsh Cup with Lovell’s Athletic also lifting the old trophy. The club was founded in 1918 as the works team for Lovell’s sweet factory that was based in Newport, and was very successful, especially in the late-1940s period. Naturally, it was during this period that the club lifted their only Welsh Cup when they beat Shrewsbury Town 3-0 at the Racecourse Ground. Lovell’s Athletic reached their second Welsh Cup final eleven years later when they faced Cardiff City in Newport, but they were unable to achieve a home victory by losing the tie 0-2. Sadly for Newport football, Lovell’s Athletic dissolved in 1969 and went into Welsh football folklore. For more about its history, you can read about it in this South Wales Argus article about the club:
There has never been a Newport-based club who have played in the top flight of Welsh football since the League of Wales was founded in 1992, and for the 2021-22 season in the Welsh football pyramid, there were no Newport-based clubs playing in the top two tiers. There is only one club from the city applying their trade in the third tier which is Newport City, and they were playing in the Ardal South East league for the 2021-22 season. From their 30-game schedule, the Steelmen accumulated 33 points to ensure an eleventh-place finish to the season, and would end up 3 points behind tenth-placed side Croesyceiliog, but 2 points ahead of Aberbargoed Buds in twelfth spot.
Next season, Newport City will be joined in the Ardal South East by another Newport-based club as the Gwent County League Premier Division champions, Lliswerry gained a tier 3 licence from the FAW allowing them promotion to the third tier. Lliswerry only just clinched the title on goal difference having a superior goal difference of +82 in comparison to Blaenavon Blues’ +77, with both teams tied on 76 points. An incredibly heartbreaking end to the season for Blaenavon who went through the season undefeated and scored the same number of goals as Lliswerry (99 goals).
Monmouthshire: Undy Athletic
Monmouthshire / Sir Fynwy has always had a collection of excellent teams over the decades, however the most successful of them was arguably Abergavenny Thursdays. They were one of the strongest teams within the southern leagues having won the Welsh League Division One title on four occasions. Certainly, their prime seemingly came at the best possible time as they were southern Welsh champions in both 1990 and 1991, and could have been considered as a potential national title challenger as they were named as one of the founding members of the League of Wales. However, before the start of the inaugural 1992-93 season, the saw experienced huge financial problems which saw a large exodus of players and staff prior to the season commencing. Naturally, it was catastrophic for the club as the defending southern Welsh champions experienced relegation from the League of Wales when they finished bottom of the table, albeit finishing eight points from safety. The relegation would just be the start of problems for the club as Abergavenny Thursdays entered into a decline that saw it suffer seven relegations in ten seasons, ending its playing days playing in the Gwent County League Division Three. The club eventually withdrew from the league in August 2013 after agreeing with local side Govilon FC to merge and form a new club Abergavenny Town FC.
For the 2021-22 season, there was only one Monmouthshire-based club competing in the top two tiers of Welsh football, with Undy Athletic playing in the second tier Cymru South. Alas, the Tigers will not be in the Cymru South for the following season as they finished in fifteenth position and suffered relegation to the Ardal Leagues. From their 30-game campaign, Undy only managed to acquire 17 points and finished the same amount of points adrift from safety, with only the pointless Port Talbot Town below them in the table. With their relegation, they will be joining a large collection of Monmouthshire-based clubs who are competing in the Ardal South East league.
The 2021-22 Ardal South East league had five teams from the county competing, and they all had decent seasons with four of them finishing in the top half of the table, and none of them finishing lower than ninth position. The highest-ranked of the Monmouthshire clubs was the aforementioned Abergavenny Town who managed to clinch the league title on the last day of the season when they beat Trethomas Bluebirds 1-0 to leapfrog Abertillery Bluebirds to top spot and earn promotion to the Cymru South, ensuring there will be Monmouthshire representation in the second tier after Undy’s relegation. However, Abergavenny was not the ‘best performing’ of the Monmouthshire clubs within the Ardal SE as that was Goytre AFC. Even though Goytre finished in fifth position with 57 points, they were by far the best team in the division having scored 105 goals and conceded just 20 goals (ensuring a ridiculous +85 goal difference) from their 30-game campaign. However, their dreams of promotion were eliminated as they were deducted 15 points for playing an ineligible player, meaning they could have finished the season with 72 points and top spot.
Caldicot Town was another Monmouthshire club to have had an excellent season by being in the title hunt towards the end of the season, but ultimately finishing in third position in the table. Their points tally of 62 points put them just 4 points behind Abergavenny, and agonisingly 2 points away from the Ardal Southern Play-off spot. As previously mentioned, Goytre finished in fifth position, whilst Monmouth Town were next in the table in sixth spot. The Kingfishers were 11 points behind Goytre in the end, but finished the “best of the rest” by accumulating 46 points to end up being 2 points ahead of Treowen Stars in seventh position. Finally, the lowest-ranked Monmouthshire side was Chepstow Town, who just finished outside of the top eight with a ninth-place spot in the table. Their points tally of 39 resulted in them finishing 5 points behind Llandrindod Wells in eighth position, and 3 points ahead of Croesyceiliog in tenth. All in all, a very decent season for Monmouthshire football in the Ardal South East table!
So that completes the final delve into finding out which clubs are currently the best teams from each of the four southeastern counties of Wales, and finally completing the whole of the country. Thank you very much for reading through the series, I hope you have enjoyed reading through the seven blogs, and thanks again to Aled Roberts for asking the initial question.