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Can big money investment transform Cefn Druids?

Tuesday 12th November 2019
Wales oldest club feels the pinch.
Wales oldest club feels the pinch.

Background image: Jonny Keen

It’d be hard to find a more literal example of a club between a rock and a hard place than Cefn Druids. The Cymru Premier outfit’s small ground, appropriately named The Rock, was built in a disused quarry and is dominated by an exposed rock face.

It’s a humble venue, consisting of a 500-seat stand and a television gantry used on occasion by a Welsh language TV channel. It’s home to a part-time team with a habit of overachieving in recent years. Brief forays into European qualifying in 2012 and 2018 ended in defeats at the first hurdle. Still, ties against clubs from Finland and Lithuania represent pinnacles conquered for a little club from a small village near Wrexham who recently had a match postponed due to a kit mix-up.

All that could be about to change. Local businessmen Des Williams and Jamie Digwood announced plans to invest heavily in the club. An initial six-figure cash injection may be a harbinger of change for the Ancients. An expanded stadium, more money for players, a broader academy system and full-time staff are all included in the proposal.

The new owners are also promising to revolutionise Cefn’s income streams, adding a hotel, pub and fitness suite to The Rock. The club would function as the centrepiece of a small retail park rather than relying on bingo nights in the clubhouse to cover their running costs. It’s hard to see where the money would come from for such extravagances and how sustainable they would be in a village like Cefn Mawr, a dormitory settlement with a population just the right side of 7,000. It's a bit like Luke Skywalker leaving Tatooine to fight the Empire.

Plans to increase the stadium’s capacity could be the real game changer. It’s not as if The Rock, with its record league attendance of 662 is exactly bursting at the seams. But in the only two European home games Druids played, they used Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground and TNS’s Park Hall as temporary venues. UEFA requires at least 1,000-seat capacity for continental matches. Not only did Cefn lose out on vital revenue, they missed a chance to capture the imagination of the area. It might take a lot to make the average fan take an interest in their local village team but seeing them compete in Europe must surely be worth a shot.

Even modest investment could mean huge progress for the Ancients, whose average attendance hovers around the 200 mark. There are only two full-time outfits in the Welsh top flight. One of those, Connah’s Quay, supplement a core of professionals with part-timers and college youngsters. The league leaders may be worlds away now, but the Cymru Premier is so impoverished, enough money to bring in a handful of seasoned pros from the lower rungs of the EFL could see Cefn transformed over the course of a summer.

Both club and investors have the potential for great success but they must tread carefully. Small clubs like Cefn are delicate ecosystems. One wrong move can send them spiralling into oblivion. It’s happened before and could certainly happen again. Developing the club’s academy, facilities and investing enough in the first team for consistent European qualification is all well and good. Outlandish publicity stunts should be avoided. So too a white elephant of a hotel lying forlorn and purposeless on club property.

Football Fixtures
Jonny Keen

Glasgow based writer keen (geddit?) on the cultural elements of football. More interested in the fortunes of Cefn Druids or HJK Helsinki than the latest goings on at Manchester City or Real Madrid.

Once played 10 minutes of a game in the 17th tier of English football. He thinks the best food in football is to be found at Forest Green Rovers and Rayo Vallecano are the only club in Madrid. 

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