Haverfordwest County Association Football Club / Clwb Pêl-Droed Sir Hwlffordd
- Town: Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire / Hwlffordd, Sir Benfro
- Founded: 1899 (as Haverfordwest FC)
- Ground: Bridge Meadow Stadium (2,100)
- Nicknames: The Bluebirds
- Colours: All blue kit with white trim.
- 2022-23 League: Cymru Premier
- Club Website: https://haverfordwestcountyafc.com/
- Club Twitter: @HaverfordwestFC
- Club Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/haverfordwestfc
- Club Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/haverfordwestafc/
- Best League Finish: 3rd in the Welsh Premier League / Cymru Premier (2003-04)
- Best Welsh Cup Finish: Semi-Finals (2004-05)
- Welsh Football League Division 1 / Premier Division / National Division (Step 1)
- Champions (3): 1956–57, 1980–81, 1989–90
- Welsh Football League Division 1 (Step 2)
- Champions (2): 1979–80, 1996–97
- Welsh Football League Division 2 West (Step 2)
- Champions (1): 1955–56
- Welsh Football League Cup
- Winners (2): 1960–61, 1988–89
- West Wales Senior Cup
- Winners (7): 1981–82, 1988–89, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1997–98, 1998–99, 2005–06
Haverfordwest County Association Football Club / Clwb Pêl-Droed Sir Hwlffordd is a West Welsh club that currently plays in the Cymru Premier, the national top-tier league in the Welsh football pyramid. They are based in the market town and infrastructural network hub of Haverfordwest / Hwlffordd, the county town and most populous settlement (with a population of approximately 14,600) in the southwestern coastal county of Pembrokeshire / Sir Benfro. The town is situated roughly in the centre of the old county, with Haverfordwest being at the lowest bridging point of the Western Cleddau / Cleddau Wen before it merges with the Eastern Cleddau / Cleddau Ddu to form the Daugleddau estuary. Haverfordwest County currently plays its home games at the 2,100-capacity Bridge Meadow Stadium (currently known by its sponsored name of the Ogi Bridge Meadow Stadium) which is located in the north of the town, sandwiched between the Western Cleddau to the west and the main A40 road to the east. The Bluebirds have been playing at the ground since it was constructed in the mid-1990s.
The club’s foundations hark back to 1899 when Haverfordwest Football Club was founded in the town, before changing its name to Haverfordwest Town two years later. After playing in the local Pembrokeshire League throughout their early history, they would enact another name change, this time to Haverfordwest Athletic as the first team switched to the (South) Welsh Football League in 1936, leaving their reserve side in the Pembrokeshire League. It would be within the Welsh Football League system that Haverfordwest spent the majority of their history, more often than not playing in the top tier of the WFL pyramid. The Bluebirds won their first league title in 1956-57 after gaining promotion from Division 2 West the previous season. They added a further two titles by bookending the 1980s after clinching the 1980-81 and 1989-90 titles. It was also during their first league victory in the mid-50s that the club adopted its current “County” suffix to their name.
Because of their previous form in the Welsh Football League, Haverfordwest County became founding members of the League of Wales in 1992. They competed in the first two seasons of the national league, finishing in tenth position in the inaugural season and then fifteenth the following season. Sadly for the club, Haverfordwest had to resign from the LoW in 1994 as they could not find a suitable alternative ground of LoW standard where they could play home games as their Bridge Meadow ground was being redeveloped. The club returned to the Welsh Football League and were instantly one of the strongest teams within South Wales by finishing as runners-up in two consecutive seasons before returning to the top flight in 1997 as the 1996-97 WFL Division 1 champions.
Haverfordwest County became a mainstay of the Welsh Premier League throughout the late 1990s and 2000s by playing fourteen seasons in a row in the top flight. Their best period during that time came in the early 2000s when the club achieved their highest league finish of third place in the 2003-04 season and qualified for European competition for the very first time. Despite being one the lowest scorers in the league with just 40 goals in 32 games, their defence was their key strength as the Bluebirds only conceded 23 goals (the league’s best that season). County achieved a historic 1-0 home victory over FH of Iceland in the first leg of the UEFA Cup First Qualifying Round, but a 1-3 defeat in the second leg meant their European journey was a brief one. Haverfordwest continued their success of the previous season by finishing in fourth position in the 2004-05 campaign, again utilising their strong defence by conceding just 28 goals in 34 games, but missed out on Europe by just four points. In addition, the club managed to reach the Welsh Cup semi-finals for the first time, beating Troedyrhiw, Glantraeth, UWIC Inter Cardiff, and Aberystwyth Town to reach the final four. Sadly, a first final appearance alluded them as they lost to fierce rivals Carmarthen Town 0-1 in the semi-final match played at Llanelli.
After finishing in mid-table for a number of seasons throughout the late 2000s, Haverfordwest’s tenure in the Welsh Premier League concluded in the 2010-11 season (the first season with the current twelve teams format) by finishing bottom of the table after just winning five league games all season. The club returned back to the Welsh League Division 1 and stayed there for four seasons, finishing no lower than fourth position. They regained their top-flight status in blockbuster fashion by overcoming their promotion rival Cardiff Met’s superior goal difference to win their final game of the season and finish as runners-up in the league and thus earn promotion after champions Caerau Ely were denied a Tier 1 licence. Alas, their return back to the WPL was only a season’s stay after finishing bottom of the table again and just winning five games all throughout the 2015-16 campaign.
Another three-year stint followed in the Welsh League Division 1 / Cymru South, again finishing no lower than fourth place during their time in the second tier. History would repeat itself once again in the COVID-affected 2019-20 season as Haverfordwest earned another promotion to the now-Cymru Premier as runners-up of the southern league. This time taking advantage of Swansea University’s failure to obtain a licence to earn a return to the top tier of Welsh football. The 2020-21 season saw the club finish in a comfortable ninth position, and just five points from seventh place, whilst the following season was more of a relegation battle but a late surge allowed Haverfordwest to just avoid the drop by finishing in tenth place and eventually seven points ahead of eleventh-placed Barry Town United. This season has been the Bluebirds‘ best season since the late 2000s with the club enjoying a successful second part of the season to finish in seventh place and qualify for the end-of-season European playoffs. Haverfordwest managed to overcome Cardiff Met University in the semi-finals via a penalty shootout before taking on Newtown in the final. Despite playing at Latham Park, the Pembrokeshire club were successful from the spot-kicks once again, overcoming the Robins 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. It’ll mean that Haverfordwest County will compete in next season’s UEFA Europa Conference League – only the second time the club has qualified for European competition in their long history.
To answer questions on a side that overcame the odds to win the European playoffs and qualify for next season’s UEFA Europa Conference League, we spoke to the excellent Ryan Evans. Ryan is an Aspire 2Be partner for Google, the creator of IncludEdu, a trainer, coach, and an important member of the media team at Haverfordwest County. He was the creator of the superb “You Can Have It All” video series which was an “All Or Nothing” style series that looked behind the scenes at Haverfordwest County as the season progressed, and is the host of the regular vodcast series #TheBluebirdsNest, where he interviews people involved with the club. To find out more about Ryan, you can find his social media channels in the links below:
- Twitter: @Rufio99
Q. Firstly, how did you decide to start following and supporting Haverfordwest County?
I was doing my coaching badges after I was advised to finish playing competitively myself due to a back injury. In around 2012, Wayne Jones and Sean Cresser were in charge of Newcastle Emlyn FC in the Welsh League Division 2 and gave me my first opportunity to get involved. When Wayne then took up the manager’s job at Haverfordwest, Sean and I soon followed. Having spent a number of years as a member of the backroom staff during seasons competing in the Cymru South and Cymru Premier, I relinquished my role when my eldest was born. After a two-year break, I then returned to the club in another off-field capacity – developing video content for the club’s documentary and hosting the weekly podcast.
Q. From your time following the club, who has been your favourite player, and what is the reasoning behind your choice?
There’s been so many over the years, many of whom I would class as good friends. Having played junior football with former captain Sean Pemberton [former centre-back who played for the club throughout the majority of the 2010s and then briefly managed the club as a caretaker manager during the 2021-22 season], to see the career he has had, all the way from local football to leading the team in the highest league in the country, has been great to see. He epitomised for many years what being a Bluebird was all about. He’s hung up his boots nowadays and we’ve started playing golf together regularly now. He’s quickly taken to it, lowering his handicap on a weekly basis – he’s one of those naturally gifted sportsmen, unfortunately!
Q. Of the current squad, who would you say is the best player at the club and why?
It is the strongest squad I have seen assembled at the Ogi Bridge Meadow. There is strength in every position. Only across Phase 2 of the season has [22-year-old New Zealander] keeper Zac Jones really started to showcase his full potential, Skipper Dylan Rees [26-year-old centre-back] is consistently 8+ out of 10 every week. There’s a plethora of midfielders and attackers who you could argue are the best too and that doesn’t even mention former Wales international, Jazz Richards [32-year-old right-back/midfielder who won 14 caps for Wales and was part of the legendary Euro 2016 squad]! But for me, former Wales age-grade [who won 3 caps for the under-21s] left-back Rhys Abbruzzese has been phenomenal this season. Defensively solid and an attacking threat with a wand of a left foot.
Q. Who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent at the club?
The academy has always offered a conveyor belt of emerging players but I would say it is currently in the strongest position I’ve seen. There have been five development squad players who’ve made their debut this season following a similar number last season too. They all look like they will develop into first-team regulars in years to come but for me, 16-year-old central midfielder Harri John is one of the most exciting I have seen in about a decade of working in Cymru Leagues football. Pembrokeshire’s Joe Allen v2.0
April 2022: Wins the Pembrokeshire under-16s cup final at the @OgiWales Bridge Meadow 🏆— Haverfordwest County AFC (Q) 🏴 (@HaverfordwestFC) May 16, 2023
May 2023: Wins the #JDCymruPremier European play-off final and qualifies for Europe 🏆
An incredible 12 months or so for Harri! 😲 pic.twitter.com/1HoN7rkkHW
Q. Who would you regard as Haverfordwest’s biggest or historical rivals?
Historically it would probably be Carmarthen Town with the ‘A40 Derby‘ having been a regular contest in the Cymru Premier, but more recently, it has been more likely Aberystwyth Town.
Q. What would you say has been the best game, result, or performance from your time following the club,?
The European Play-Off semi-final and final will forever be remembered by every Bluebird supporter and are certainly both in my top 3 games, but in 2014/15, whilst the club were competing in the Cymru South, we pulled off a bit of a miracle. Caerau Ely had won the division comfortably but their ground didn’t meet the requirements for the Tier 1 licence, so it was a battle for 2nd place against Cardiff Met for which team would gain promotion instead [NOTE: In Welsh football, if the league champions are unable to get promoted, the runners-up can take the spot instead providing they have been granted a licence to play in the higher league]. We arrived at Aberdare Town in November of that season only to hear that the referee had called the fixture off prior to kick-off (I am not sure why), but the rearranged game could only eventually be booked in for the Monday night after the regular season had finished. So at a slight advantage, we knew that we needed to go to Aberdare and win by five clear goals to overtake Met on goal difference and claim the second spot. We had every ambition to give it a go but with many of the squad unable to travel due to work commitments, deep down, I don’t think many thought it could happen as Aberdare were certainly no pushovers. The home side actually nearly took the lead but somehow we went in at half-time 3-0 up and went all-out attack for the second half. We almost conceded a 91st-minute Nayim-esque lob but held on to win 5-0 and gain promotion to the Welsh Premier League in the most incredible way.
Q. What do you think of the situation in Welsh league football currently? Are there any improvements you would like to see happen?
It is becoming a bit of a joke at how little coverage the Cymru Leagues get in the national media. There are great things being done at nearly all clubs. The game is certainly growing but with more exposure to sports enthusiasts who may not currently engage in the league structure, the increase in followers would drastically increase – resulting in club finances being better, therefore being able to improve facilities, coaching, and all-around outcomes.
Q. How would you describe the current performance or state of the club? How do you think this season has gone so far?
When the club invited me to produce an ‘All or Nothing’ style documentary in late Summer 2021, I ended up capturing one of the most emotional seasons I have been a part of. Manager resignations and a very serious relegation threat ended up with a Belgian [Nicky Hayen, now the assistant manager of the first team and formally the manager of Club NXT, Club Brugge’s u23 team] coming in to take the reigns and transforming performances, concluding in a final day shootout for a place in the playoffs. After the documentary was released I didn’t think the season could be topped but this year has certainly gone nose to nose with it all the way and the drama throughout the playoffs has just completely blown my mind. There’s been highs and lows like with any season but reaching the UEFA Europa Conference League through the Playoffs, and ending a 19-year absence from European football is a phenomenal success. It will prove to be huge for the whole club community – players, staff, directors, supporters, families and friends. The second season of the documentary will be out soon and having access to all areas of the club, I’ve been lucky to capture all of this year’s drama – the challenges and successes!
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the club?
The club has always been well run but with the new leadership team that have taken the club on over the last few years, it has gone from strength to strength. How many other Cymru Leagues clubs could say that they have spent over £90k in community projects, have a wide range of community projects with over 250 participants, have had a club shop in the local town, produce a weekly vodcast, and an annual documentary – to name just a few initiatives. The transformation of the club has also brought a wave of new followers, many of who can be seen singing their hearts out to the Bluebirds Ultras’ drum for 90 minutes every week. It is a really exciting journey that is on a really positive trajectory.
Pembrokeshire, however, is so far away from the big cities and more ‘urban’ populations that the playing talent pool is far more limited than opponents in the league who have a much wider range of players to choose from. It’s frustrating but with the Academy and local clubs being so successful, it ensures that the club look locally for new recruits.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Haverfordwest County?
The progression over the last few years at Haverfordwest has been simply incredible – and it has needed to be. Aside from the full-time team, the league is so so competitive – Flint Town United have gone from a top 6 finish to relegation from the Cymru Premier inside 12 months. I believe that the first few years after promotion for any club should be about simply maintaining league status, but in years to come, if on and off-field improvements continue with us, it would be incredible to see the club establish itself as one who is regularly competing at the top table of Welsh football. Hopefully, our upcoming European adventure will help to push us all in the right direction.
A massive thank you to Ryan for answering our questions on the Cymru Premier side Haverfordwest County. Remember you can find his social media accounts in the links towards the top of the blogpage.
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