Manager Johnny Haseldin takes his Holywell Town side to Guilsfield in the 4th round of the JD Welsh Cup on Saturday (2pm) with a determination to deliver more special cup memories.
“We feel that we can be a good cup team,” said Haseldin to FAW.cymru. “We’ve got that strength in the squad and we want to get through to the next round. The players know what it means to the supporters. The league is our priority and it shows where we are at as a group of players, but I feel the cup is a reward for the supporters’ loyalty, and that’s something I will be emphasising to the players. We want them to have those great cup memories, and that’s what a cup run can create.”
Haseldin took over as player-manager of the north Wales club a decade ago and it was in 2014 that he guided Holywell Town to the semi-finals of the JD Welsh Cup. The club were in Tier 3 of the pyramid at the time, but now find themselves challenging at the top of the JD Cymru North having strengthened the squad during the summer. The experienced Kai Edwards headlined the new arrivals, while goals from David Forbes and Dan Sullivan have ensured that the club still have it all to play for in the second half of the season.
“The lads have been brilliant,” Haseldin explained. “It’s a journey that we started a few years ago following our relegation, so it was a proper rebuild. We wanted to get back in Tier 2 as quickly as possible and managed to do that at the first attempt, which was a really good achievement. We recruited lads who could come in and make a difference, some lads with a point to prove. We lost a bit of momentum through the pandemic and had a tough start to the following season, but I believed in the players and it clicked. The lads have shown great character and desire to get over a difficult start and the performances have been really pleasing, as is the togetherness in the squad.”
Holywell Town have defeated Llanuwchllyn and Hakin United to reach the 4th round, scoring five goals in each game, and their current winning run of league games started with a 2-1 win at Guilsfield back in early September. “Guilsfield will be difficult as it’s a really tough place to go,” Haseldin added. “They’re always close games between us and manager Nathan Leonard is someone I have a lot of respect for. He’s done a great job there. We will really have to be at our best as league form will go out of the window. Our players will know how difficult the game is going be and we have to prepare for what will be one really good cup tie and a battle. We will have to perform to our best level to get through to the next round.”
The JD Welsh Cup holds a special place in Haseldin’s heart after what his side achieved in 2014 when a 3-1 defeat against Aberystwyth Town denied them a place in the final. “It was amazing,” he said. “It’s something that I’m very proud of. Although we were the underdogs we always felt like we had a chance. We had such a close group of lads who wanted it so much, and that was what it came down to. It was an unbelievable experience with the fans that followed us. There was an excitement that football should be all about.
“I was emotionally drained on the bus on the way back and I was gutted that it had come to an end. I wanted just one more big day, one more upset, but in terms of the performance on the day I couldn’t be prouder. My assistant John James had been in football for 50 years or more, and when he told me that he had never experienced anything like that, it made me realise how special it was and how it may never happen again. When I look back now it’s with a great deal of pride, and those memories will live with myself and those players forever.”
Haseldin enjoyed cup glory the following season when Holywell Town claimed the FAW Trophy with a 4-2 win over Penrhyndeudraeth. “The club has come a long way since then,” he added. “The finances from that Welsh Cup run paid for a lot of what you see at the ground today. A decade ago the club was on its knees and just getting by. At one point what we were doing on the field was moving forward faster that what was happening off it, so there have been bumps in the road.”
Holywell Town were founder members of the national league in 1992, and the long-term ambition for Haseldin and the club now is to get back there. “We’ve punched above our weight on times,” he explained. “But we’re in a much better position off the field now with the Board of Directors we have in place and it’s a much more sustainable club moving forward. We want to get back to the Cymru Premier and that’s something that we are all buying into. The better we do on the pitch the more we have to do off it, so it’s about making sure those improvements happen side-by-side to reach that ultimate goal of getting back to the top level of Welsh football again.”