Newtown brought down the curtain on the 2014/15 Welsh Premier League season on Sunday as they lifted the Play-Off trophy aloft at Park Avenue. After successfully overcoming top-seed’s Aberystwyth Town in the final, the Robins’ return to Europe is one of the league’s success stories in recent years.
It’s taken 17 years but anybody associated with Newtown AFC will tell you that the return of continental football to Latham Park this summer will be worth the wait.
Matthew Hearsey’s curling finish past Mike Lewis minutes before half-time would prove to be the goal that rubber-stamped the mid-Wales side’s place into next season’s Europa League qualifying rounds. But it was Geoff Kellaway’s needless dismissal late in the second-half which all but ended Aberystwyth’s hopes of forcing their way back into the game.
And while Aberystwyth were left wounded to nurse the cruel blow of an unenviable play-off final defeat, the realisation of European qualification and the rewards that go with it began to sink in amongst the visiting Newtown contingent.
Newtown’s last involvement in European football on Welsh soil resulted in a hard-fought goalless draw with Wisla Krakow at Latham Park. A less-credible 7-0 defeat followed in the return leg and although you also fear for Newtown’s chances against European opposition this time around, the club deserve immense credit just for the manner in which they’ve qualified.
Indeed, Newtown’s respective success this season stands up against the achievements of any other WPL club, and the manner in which that they’ve achieved it is refreshing and a boost to the league itself.
In many ways, Newtown’s model of success can be considered as a blueprint for other sides striving for prosperity. Over the summer rival clubs from the WPL and below will no doubt be looking to replicate their achievements and Newtown have given us a timely reminder that sustainability and success can go hand-in-hand.
The club have been resourceful in assembling a competitive squad with a strong nucleus of locally-based players which has been built by Chris Hughes and his predecessor Bernard McNally. What’s more, is that this has been achieved on one of the lower-end budgets within the WPL.
Hughes is an up-and-coming young manager in the league, who served time as assistant to Neil Gibson in a four-year spell at Prestatyn Town, as well as roles at Buckley Town, Rhyl and Caersws. Upon arriving at Newtown in November 2013, Hughes inherited a well-balanced squad from McNally but has ensured that the squad have improved gradually over time with the additions of the likes of a much-needed goalscorer in Jason Oswell and gutsy, young midfielder Matty Owen. It is clear that the squad are benefiting from longevity and stability, going against the trends of modern-day competitive football.
The average age of side that won the Play-Off final was just 24 and collectively, you feel there is still more to come from the group with the right coaching and development.
Off the pitch (in a sense!) the introduction of a 3G playing surface at the start of this season has given the club greater pull within its community and an untapped income stream which can help offset the running of the club.
Given the steady foundations that Newtown have quietly gone about building in recent years, the unforecast €200,000 windfall from reaching Europe will give the Robins another nudge in the right direction. Newtown’s progress over the summer months and new season will be followed with interest by many clubs striving for success within similar boundaries.