Afan United will look to turn another dream into reality on Saturday as the club from Port Talbot take on Tier 6 rivals Llangeinor in the JD Welsh Cup 2nd qualifying round (2pm).
Formed just three years ago, the club has achieved nothing but success on and off the field, and a run in the JD Welsh Cup would be another significant milestone in their unique story. “It was going to be for one year and one year only,” explained club founder and team captain Remi Whitelock to FAW.cymru. “I said we would win the lot and then we would be done. We designed the badge and registered with the local league, but then it just grew.”
The idea behind the formation of Afan United was to bring back together the players from one of Afan Lido’s most successful junior teams, and original managers Vince Lewis and Sean McCreesh returned to take charge of the newly-formed senior side as the plan became a reality. “It was a dream come true to bring in Vince and Sean,” Whitelock added. “It was like getting the band back together.”
“Remi’s a dreamer, he always dreams big,” explained Tom Davies, who looks after the administrative side of the club. “When he suggested it I thought to myself this isn’t going to work. I thought it might be a step too far, but it’s just grown and grown and grown, year on year. We’ve just started a junior section, and for us there’s no limit to where we want to go. The spirit that we have in the team is priceless and it’s something not many other clubs have.”
But with Whitelock’s vision for the new club in place, the start of the pandemic in March 2020 meant that they would have to make a different type of first impression. “We had our first training session and then Covid came around,” explained goalkeeper and club director Rory McCreesh. “We had to keep the momentum going, so we decided to raise money for charity. We’re from Port Talbot and we’re community people, and we wanted to give something back. It galvanised us and we had a lot of media attention because of it. We’ve now raised nearly £40,000 for different charities in the last three years.”
Sadly, Sean McCreesh passed away in April 2021, but for son Rory his legacy continues in what Afan United achieve both on and off the field. “For me and my family, the success of Afan is exciting as it means that his legacy will continue and that makes me proud,” he explained. “We’re on an upwards trajectory because people in Port Talbot know who we are. The football is the driving force and there’s a pathway that’s opening up for us. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, we understand there are bigger clubs than us in the town, but I want us to have the biggest junior section in this town and have a team in every age-group in the next three years. I think it’s achievable.”
With former Port Talbot Town striker and Afan Lido manager Vince Lewis in charge, Afan United dominated matters in the Port Talbot & District League and achieved promotion to the South Wales Alliance last season with a 4-0 play-off final victory over Cardiff Hibernian at Penybont. Star striker Jack Underwood scored all four goals for the side on a memorable afternoon, and they have continued where they left off with a 3-2 win over Neath Town in the 1st qualifying round of the JD Welsh Cup before starting their league campaign with a 1-0 win over Holton Road last weekend, with Underwood again on target in both games.
Incredibly, the side have never lost a single league game since their formation, but immediate attentions now turn to the JD Welsh Cup. “We’re a good footballing team and a run in the Welsh Cup would give us an opportunity to show people what we can do against teams of a higher level,” Davies added. “There are no old heads on the committee. None of us has ever done anything like this before and we’ve done it all from scratch. We decide on everything together and we’re really proud of what we have achieved so far. We’re on a high at the moment, and we all stick together.”
But while these are early days for Afan United, they do not need to look too far for inspiration. The town is a hot-bed of football with Port Talbot Town and Afan Lido both spending a number of years in the top-flight and qualifying for Europe, while Trefelin BGC and Baglan Dragons have recently joined Afan Lido and Goytre United in the JD Cymru South. Emulating the success of their neighbours will require Afan United to achieve their longer-term ambition of moving to their own ground and progress is being made behind the scenes, but it is fitting that they currently play their home games at Afan Lido.
“We’re so grateful to Mark Robinson and the committee at Afan Lido for letting us play at what is our spiritual home as it’s where we all played growing up,” said Whitelock. “We used to look up to the 1st team players like they were superstars back then and that’s what I want our junior players to think when they come and watch us. I don’t think a single player isn’t happy playing here. We’ve had players drop down from a higher level to play for us because they want to play with a smile on their face.”
A win on Saturday would certainly bring a few more smiles, and with it add another page to a story that still has many more chapters yet to be written.