On the latest edition of Talking Port, Mark Pike reflects on all things 2019 including his favourite moments, the dreaded demotion and what the future holds for Port Talbot Town Football Club.
Hi Mark, thank you for your time. How do you reflect on your time at the club in 2019 and what moments stand out?
Mark Pike: Firstly, I would just like to wish everyone connected to our club a belated Merry Christmas and a joyful New Year. 2019 has been a year of transition and development, but looking further back being offered the managerial role of this great club at the start of the 2018/19 season is up there.
Taking on the reigns so close to the start of that season and not having a single player signed on with four weeks to the start of the league campaign, but we then assembled a young squad who were very quickly written off by so many. On the back of that, coming away from an experienced Cwmbran Celtic with an opening day win in your first game in charge stays strong in the memory.
Q: It certainly does live in the memories of many a supporter who were lucky enough to be there that day. Moving forward, how has this calendar year been for you as the gaffer?
Mark: 2019 has been a year of transition and development. This time last year we started to turn the corner after multiple defeats on the bounce. A few new faces arrived and on the turn of the year we turned those losses into draws and put the draws into wins.
That came with hard work and dedication to remain in what is now the JD Cymru South in the newly formed FAW tier 2. All of this hard work on the field soon came to bite us on the backside due to some administration misjudgement and the FAW demoted us as a result.
However, some of the greatest moments from 2019 for me were those last ten games and the run in where we secured mathematical survival. We needed a further 19 points to remain in the league and against all of the odds, with the majority of the town saying we were doomed to relegation, we went and beat the Ferry and Goytre in style.
To summarise, it has been a year of transformation and sustainability. It has been frustrating with the admin errors that saw us demoted, but there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel now. There is still some way to go this season, but we are striving for something that could be just around the corner. As you know with this club, anything can happen but with everything now in place it’s going in the right direction for once.
Is there a particular moment from 2019 that sticks out?
Derbies always make for good memories and the best game to date was the 4-4 draw away to Afan Lido. Going 4-2 up with not long to go was fantastic and having them come back to draw in the last few moments of the game turned elation to disappointment. Our start to this season has been superb, but the goal of Owen Williams at Gorseinon in the FAW Trophy to win the game in the last moments was something else.
How do you feel the season has gone so far?
Going into the new season in Welsh League Division One in August we were in high spirits. A few new faces came in whilst three went out. An exceptional pre-season got us off to a very good start.
The league positions don’t lie. This time last year we were lying a lowly second from bottom, but now we are third with one of the best defensive records in the league. Again, this has come with continuous hard work throughout. We hope that this will continue and that we will continue to strengthen in the coming weeks.
The youth team have also started superbly in 2019 and we have seen a number of them make the step up in matches this season. Can we expect this to continue?
Our youth team now train alongside us and they are only benefitting from that experience. For such a young team they are producing some fantastic results and also producing some quality players. Tom Evans, Bailey Embling-Jones and Callum Lovatt have all benefitted from their first team experience. During the New Year we will be testing these young lads even further.
Looking ahead to 2020, what can we expect from the club?
Behind the scenes it is really starting to take off and we can see the benefits on the field. Whilst on the field we have been doing okay, behind the scenes is doing even better setting up the structure that will take us forward. When you combine behind the scenes, the youth development, women’s section, junior section and the senior setup together, we are starting to look extremely fit for the future. The aim is sustainability and a creation of a ‘one club philosophy’ where we are all in it together and pulling in the same direction. This isn’t too far away.
Just how important have the supporters been in contributing to this and as a whole throughout 2019?
Our supporters travel far and beyond and it certainly has not gone unnoticed amongst the playing group. Our fans and players are starting to create a fantastic relationship and I hope this grows and prospers during 2020. With you all, we will create a great club again. However, there will undoubtedly be some frustration and disappointments, but hopefully these will be less, and more happiness and joyfulness will be brought amongst us. To the fans I say thank you all for your continued support and long may it continue and grow.
Finally, how has it been to manage the players throughout 2019?
Working with this group of players week in week out is creating huge amounts of memories. They are such a committed group who all want to do well each and every week. They are a phenomenal bunch, they really are.