After a long wait, Port Talbot Town FC will return to action next week as the first team’s pre-season schedule gets underway. Ahead of this and following the recent 2021/22 JD Cymru South fixtures release, we caught up with the gaffer Mark Pike for an exclusive interview.

How has pre-season training been so far?

This has probably been the toughest pre-season ever. With us being out for so long, keeping players motivated and engaged has been very tough. But it’s great to be back out on the grass. Thankfully we have got a great bunch of committed players who are all looking forward to the season ahead. It’s also been great to have some youngsters in and to be fair they have done exceptional and will play a part in our game’s programme.

How much are you looking forward to friendlies starting next week?

As a collective group we can’t wait to get going, it’s been a long time and thankfully we are just a few days from seeing where we are and what we need to do next. These games are a vital piece of our planning, the hard horrible stuff has been done and now it’s all about game time.

What is your immediate reaction to the league fixtures?

What a fixture list! It’s a tough and competitive season to look forward to. As a group of players and staff we cannot wait to get going and test ourselves against what is going to be a tough season ahead. As a manager you are always excited for the season and look forward to receipt of the fixture list. Opening with a local derby against Trefelin, a team I previously steered to safety of the Welsh League, is a great one. They are a great club, they have a fantastic team and opening our league campaign against them is great and one both clubs and the league itself can look forward to.

Is it important to get off to a good start against Trefelin?

I think it’s always good to get off to a good start whether it Trefelin or anyone else in the league. However, the result of the first game does not dictate the outcome of the season. We will go into the game with confidence just like themselves, we will hope to compete well and see what happens after ninety minutes. Each game will be taken as it comes and that will be the same approach for all thirty games.

How excited are you for the return of the Christmas double header against Afan Lido? 

There is a lot of history between the clubs, with us both having previously played in the Cymru Premier and for many years the Christmas double header was one the town itself looked forward to. This will be my first Christmas double header as a manager of Port Talbot Town and I am pretty sure this year will be no different to previous years gone by and one we all, including supporters of both clubs, will be looking forward to. New Year’s Day and a 2.30 kick off will be tough for all I’m sure! 

Is there a buzz amongst the players that league football is close to a return?

The buzz is massive, it is getting closer and will soon be upon us. Players always want to play, and it’s been a long time since we last had a match. Holding them back has been difficult and the reigns will soon be left off. We’ve got a pre-season program and plan in place, and we have religiously kept to it. The boys are almost ready, there is some fine tuning to be done in the games program and I’m sure we will be ready for the league campaign.  

It seems likely that we’ll be able to have up to 100 supporters when the league returns, how good will that be? 

I can’t wait to see the supporters getting behind the lads again. It’s been a long time, the support in my time and that of others before me has been superb and I hope once we get started the support from our fans will be bigger than ever. We have got a fully committed squad of majority local lads who need your support. And I sincerely hope the return of supporters will encourage everyone to return and get behind this great group of players.

Are there any updates on the playing squad or coaching staff ahead of the new season?

For the playing group there have been no real changes of late. We have a couple of lads who we are looking at and a few decisions be made in the coming weeks. From a staff perspective, we lost our goalkeeping coach which is a big loss and one I never saw coming, but in the main it will be the same staff with one or two new additions hopefully in coming weeks.

Finally, do you have any preference when it comes to the Welsh Cup draw with the first-round set to kick off the season?

The Welsh Cup is a fantastic competition and we always want to do well in it, but in recent years it has not been that kind to us. A good cup run is what we want and is great for confidence. As for who, I really don’t mind who we pull out of the hat as every game in the cup is on the day and whoever we pull out we will always give a good go.

Port Talbot Town will return to action on Wednesday 23 July with an away friendly at Swansea University (7pm kick off). Under current FAW guidelines, spectators are not permitted to attend.