ABERYSTWYTH TOWN’s assistant coach, Wyn Thomas, this week described the club as the ‘sleeping giants’ of Welsh football.
The draw for the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League certainly didn’t set the heart racing for many Derry City fans as they were paired with the Welsh minnows.
However, Thomas has warned the ‘Candy Stripes’ that they underestimate his club at their peril.
Thomas (35) who plays a key role in the playing and coaching staff, provided an interesting insight into the club from the sleepy Welsh coastal town.
And it became clear that ‘Aber’ are regarded as an ambitious, progressive club very much on the rise in the Welsh Premier League.
Located in the picturesque town of Aberystwyth on the West coast of Wales, the ‘Green and Blacks’ are backed heavily by Life President, Neville Evans ,the owner of Cambrian Tyres - the largest motorcycle tyre wholesaler in the UK.
The first team squad, which qualified for this season’s Europa League as runners-up to TNS in the Welsh Cup Final, boasts some quality young talent.
Made up of part-time footballers from the locality, it’s very much a family orientated club which plays its home matches at a stadium not too dissimilar to the Brandywell Stadium.
Indeed, Park Avenue has a capacity of 5,000 - just 1,000 for European ties - but it’s currently undergoing some much needed restoration with its Aberystwyth Stand to be demolished to make way for new development.
Many of the squad members make a five hour round trip to the remote part of the country for training sessions and play in front of an average attendance of just 400 on Saturday afternoons.
However, it’s clearly an ambitious club, one with big plans for its future and Thomas believes this Thursday’s Europa League tie will signal the beginning of something better.
Thomas, who has played in Europe for three different clubs during his playing career, was delighted to see ‘Aber’ back in European action for the first time in 10 years.
Having experienced European football with Carmarthen, Haverfordwest and in 2006 with his home village of Llanelli, Thomas has never come up against Irish opposition.
Therefore, when the draw was made last Monday afternoon, Thomas was rubbing his hands in delight at the prospect of travelling the short distance to Foyleside as he prepares for Europe for the fourth time in his career.
As bottom seeds in the draw, ‘Aber’ could so easily have been drawn against Norwegian giants, Rosenborg but Thomas is just as excited about discovering what Irish football is all about.
“From the club’s point of view, we are quite happy with the draw because it’s financially better and they don’t have to spend much on travel and things like that,” said Thomas.
“As a player, I played in Europe on three occasions but never played in Ireland. So it’s always nice to visit, even though I’ve been to Ireland before, experiencing a different culture, different footballing beliefs is always good.
“I come from the playing and coaching side of things,” he explained. “I’m coming to an end of my playing days and I’m doing my ‘A’ Licence for the coaching side of things.
“I don’t think I’ll be playing against Derry but I’ll be part of the squad. It’ll be nice to see what way Derry City play. I look at football in a different light now.
“As a player you look at matches from a selfish point of view. But as a coach you have to look at the wider picture and sympathise with the manager and the players and try and meet in the middle.
“We know of Rosenborg because they’ve played in the Champions League but nobody actually knows who plays for them so in a way it’s very similar.
“The Brandywell isn’t a 40,000 seater stadium and there’s not the big financial background to the club. Obviously Derry still has a rich history in the game but we don’t know as much about Derry than we would know about a club like Rosenborg.
“For us it’s just a club where we will be going to try and win a game. From a player’s point of view everybody has their eye on the big names but when you draw Derry City you look forward to the game because there’s a close relationship between the Irish and the Welsh.
“I know Derry’s goalkeeper played for TNS for maybe seven years, so there’s always a relationship between the Welsh and the Irish.
“While we don’t know much about Derry City, the players know Derry are going to be a good team because they’re in Europe.
“The minnows or the lower seeds are all going to be tough games. Because of the passion and commitment of the players it should be a good, enjoyable football game.
“We want it to be a close exciting game to keep the supporters on the edge of their seats. A match which will bring the supporters back to the stadium when we play our league football on a Saturday.”
Since Aberystwyth manager, Ian Hughes and Thomas took the reigns of the club at the start of the 2013/14 season, the club has witnessed a revival.
The onus is very much on attractive, attacking football and that’s been evident in the results and the growing attendances at Park Avenue.
In fact the ‘Green and Blacks’ attendance figures for 2012/13 season are the highest they’ve been for 10 years.
With talents like Chris Venebles - the league’s top goalscorer with 24 goals from midfield - and the promising youngster, Steffan Williams within its ranks, Thomas believes they have the makings of a title challenging side next season.
“Aberystywth has always been a sleeping giant,” he said. “It’s a big club in the Welsh Premier. They always have been and they always will be.
“They have good financial backing from Cambrian Tyres - (Evans) he’s the money man behind Aber Town and he’s the main sponsor.
“The club have financial backing where we have three or four very good players like Chris Venebles who won the golden boot this season and we have match winners. But we also have a good defence.
“We can counter attack and defend as well. At home especially. We’ve scored a lot of goals at home and have had a lot of joy with 400 or 500 people watching. And hopefully, we’ll have 1,000 out watching us in the return leg.
“With the crowd behind us there will be a good atmosphere because it’s a nice ground. I think we had 20 per cent extra attendance last season but that’s because we play, good, attractive attacking football.
“We also concede goals as well but we score lots of goals at home. So people read about us and people are watching on us on our website where we have live matches.
“We have a good balance between defence and attack and are well organised and are never really over-run.
“This European experience will be excellent,” he maintained. “In the pre-season campaign everyone is giving 100 per cent and talking about this match.
“It’s all about looking forward to this trip and flying out to Derry. We’re looking forward to training on the pitch to see what it’s like and looking forward to see what the ground and the atmosphere is going to be like on the night.
“Some of us have played in Europe and played in front of a crowd before. We know the Irish fans are passionate so it should be a great occasion.
“A few players have had success in Europe before. We’ve tried to bring this winning mentality to the club. There’s a lot of things changed, behind the scenes and there’s a lot more professionalism at the club now.
“We’re semi-professional footballers and we’ve got a day job also. A lot of players travel two hours 30 minutes for training and that’s just one way. So a five hour round trip just to go to training!
“There’s a lot of things that have changed and hopefully with the team we have now, after a very successful season, so we’re looking to build on that and get into Europe next season again and the following season and that’s what we’re trying to do .
“The club is a sleeping giant in the Welsh league and I think in three years we can challenge the likes of TNS, the Bangors for the top three spots.”
Derry City are an unknown quantity for the Aber coaches and players, however, one of the backroom staff, Ballymena man, Neil Lemon was in the attendance for the ‘Candy Stripes’ 2-2 draw with Dundalk on Friday night and Thomas will study DVDs of recent games to give himself a better idea of what he can expect on Thursday.
“Hopefully I’ll get a few DVDs of Derry City and see what they’re about and hopefully I can pick a few faults,” he laughed.
“If Peter Hutton is a legend at the club, a centre half, then that tells me he’s a winner.
“I’m a very similar character. I’m a centre half and would run through brick walls for my team and that’s brought a lot of respect in the dressing room.
“I’m sure the manager commands that same respect from his playing staff. When I first started out in football I played with the Aberystwyth youth team so I’ve gone back to my roots. It’s my local village and where my family are from and they come to watch all my games.
“We’ve brought a lot of new things into the club and we play exciting football . The players all want to be on the ball and be involved.”
in the action.
“We’re not a club which can go and spend stupid money on a player. We’ve picked a team which is local and players who can travel to training and who have got the hunger and desire and a winning mentality
“The players weren’t used to winning games but now they have that. More often than not we’re on the winning side. We don’t suffer too many defeats.
“And that changes the habits and attitudes of players when you start winning matches. So hopefully this European tie is that start of something special for this club,” he concluded.