With an extended break from football for Port Talbot Town FC and the rest of the country, Mark Pike returns to Talking Port to reflect on the season so far, how he and the squad are coping amidst Covid-19 and the setup of the club for the future.
Hi Mark, thanks once again for the interview. With a bit of time to reflect on the season so far, is it going as expected?
I would say that it is largely going to plan. On the field, consistency has been our achilles heel this season, which is pretty similar to the last campaign. But on reflection to date, losing just three league games and having two cup exits on penalties, along with a very good defensive record places us in good health and we are more than ready to kick on.
Of course, things were halted abruptly following the rapid outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent FAW suspension of fixtures. How was that to react to?
At the moment, football is not a priority. The current Covid-19 pandemic that is hitting the world is the priority and it’s important we all stay safe and listen to national guidelines to protect not only ourselves, but everyone else. When the pandemic hit the UK, we were very cautious of what to do next and we very quickly stopped everything at the club pending an announcement from the FAW which shortly followed. Players and staff are continuously encouraged to follow national guidelines and at the moment that is all we can do.
When do you foresee that the league may be able to resume, if at all?
I am continuously asked when I think the season will restart and what I think the FAW will do next. My response is quite simple. Our responsibility in this pandemic is to listen the guidelines and implement them. If and when the FAW restart the season I am sure we will be ready. On a personal note with everything going on it will be extremely difficult to restart, particularly in the short term. Only the FAW in collaboration with governing bodies including the Welsh League will know what will happen next.
How are you coping with the football season being on hold?
Now the season is on hold, obviously we have no idea what will happen next. Only the powers that be have the answer and I am sure they already know. There are the options to resume, null and void the season, or something else, but all we know is that it is on hold until the end of April and we will await further instructions. Social media is going crazy as of late with lots of discussion up and down the county and to be honest, it’s not really that important at the moment. I am sure we will all know in due course.
What are you focused on during the absence of regular football?
To be honest my focus is no longer on the season. The focus is staying safe and keeping the family safe and I will say the same to our playing and management group and everyone else. That has to be the priority. Football will still be there at the end of this, even if it’s not for a few months now.
How important have the last two games been for the club as six points on the road saw Port Talbot Town move back into the Top 2?
Two great back to back victories in the previous two games have put us back where we belonged and where we deserve to be. Equally, Trefelin deserve to be where they are also as they are flying at the moment. They are the team that are showing great consistency and it’s that consistency that we need to show week in week out.
How much of a positive was it to see Blake Morgan play a full game for the first time in nearly a year?
Seeing Blake return at Caldicot and play his first ninety minutes since the horrific injury he sustained last April was such a pleasing moment, not only for us but more so for himself. He was close at one point to finishing playing altogether, but to be fair to him he kept going. He kept as positive as he could, and the ninety minutes came in which he and the rest of the squad away on cold and wet Wednesday night were superb.
Are you happy with the squad at this moment in time?
The squad as whole is taking great shape. Seeing young Rhys Jones, Bailey Embling-Jones, Callum Lovatt and Tom Evans all coming through the youth setup is a fantastic achievement for them and the club. Bailey scoring his first senior goal shortly after coming on at Llwydcoed was also a great moment for the young 18-year-old.
Have you been pleased with some of the signings made mid-season?
New signings Tom Blizzard and Jordan Edwards have given more strength in depth to the squad. Tom with his physical attributes is strong and dynamic, whereas Jordan is and can be a goal machine. I know these two very well, Jordan from his academy days and is very familiar to me and Dai and the club, whereas Tom played for the regional schools’ squad again with myself and Dai.
Does the management team have their eyes on any potential signings to recruit for next season?
As for new players for the future, I love working with this group of players. They are very honest and want to be here. I will always look to strengthen, but to be honest we are almost there. I always said I would have a team of local lads and find a way to make it work on and off the field and it certainly is working at the moment. To date we have over 80% of the squad from within the Neath and Port Talbot area and that alone breeds success that will be sustainable for the future.
You were able to take a step back from the dugout in the 7-2 mid-season friendly victory over Sandfields. What was that experience like for you?
We played a development game of with a mix of youth and senior players coming back from injury and watching this from afar gave me a good insight into the younger players at the club. Even though the youth team train alongside the senior side it is harder to play in a senior game than train. It’s a completely different ball game. We are now in a better position to know and trust the youngsters and prior to the pandemic we were creating a greater link and trying to give more opportunities to develop the senior side of our young players by adding the development games into our portfolio.
What is the position of the club like behind the scenes?
Behind the scenes is now looking so different to what it once was. We are still transitioning and learning as we go along. Some great things are happening off the field which the whole club has to buy into, and I am sure we will. It’s important for the survival of the club that full linkage of every section from top to bottom is fully aligned and in time, this club will prosper.