Merthyr Town Football Club’s journey from insolvency to thriving community facility with a turnover of more than £600,000 was described today at the official launch of its £3m worth of new facilities.
Opened by the Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales, the latest chapter in the club’s turbulent history was the result of a ‘totally unique’ project partnership with Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, guests heard.
The club was taken from ‘the brink of extinction’ with the help of almost £2m from the Welsh Government’s Viable and Vibrant Places (VVP) Programme to rebuild its Penydarren Park headquarters.
As well as an extension to the clubhouse to build a function hall/banqueting suite to accommodate 100-120 people, it now has a new sports bar, commercial kitchen, four hospitality boxes, fully refurbished dressing rooms, an IT suite, offices, free Wi-Fi throughout the stadium, increased parking and an improved entrance with new turnstiles.
The First Minister praised the local authority and football club for working closely together to deliver ‘a fantastic scheme which has also had a positive effect on the local economy’.
Treasurer John Strand told how the former club, Merthyr Tydfil FC, was liquidated in 2009 shortly after being thrown out of Penydarren Park because the administrator wanted to sell the lease for house building.
This resulted in the club spending a year playing at Taff’s Well and reforming as Merthyr Town FC, a name last used in the 1930s.
The County Borough Council invited it to return to Penydarren Park on a short lease.
“By this time, the grass was two foot high and the ground contained a derelict clubhouse,” said John Strand. “The building we are in now had reached an advanced state of dilapidation and the lack of security meant rough sleepers and drug users using the ground as their own.”
In 2011, the road ‘starts to get smoother when we discover the assistance available from the Merthyr Council’s Regeneration Team’, Mr Strand added.
“We succeed in obtaining a European Union grant which enabled us to arrest the worst of the deterioration at the ground and to appoint a Business Development Manager.”
Since then, the club had been awarded a £500,000 Ffos-y-fran and Football Foundation grant for a synthetic pitch – which meant an increase from three matches or training sessions per week to seven days a week usage – leading to an award from UEFA for the best grassroots football club in Europe.
“We now have seven permanent employees, who oversee a commercially successful operation,” said Mr Strand. “As well as providing playing facilities for over 400 hundred people per week, the new building is attracting a large number of users for community, business and leisure use.
“We also employ over 20 people in the first team football squad and a further dozen part-time coaches to supervise academy and community football. We’ve had three promotions in six years, since when our turnover has risen from £200,000 to over £600,000.
“If you arrived at Penydarren Park on a Monday morning in 2008 you would be met by closed gates and an empty, tired looking stadium. Now you are likely to find a full car park, with the excellent facilities at the ground in use throughout most of every day and evening.”
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council Leader Cllr Brendan Toomey said the authority had secured £12.8m from the VVP Programme to deliver a range of schemes in Merthyr, and the Penydarren Park Project was ‘totally unique to any other project we have delivered.
‘A key theme of the Merthyr Tydfil Housing and Regeneration Programme is Sustainable and Vibrant Communities,’ he added. ‘The aim of this theme is to reinforce Merthyr Tydfil as an attractive residential area, where high quality sustainable leisure facilities add to the quality of life and is essential to retain Merthyr’s future as a sustainable regional hub.’
The First Minister said the VVP framework set out the vision that everybody in Wales should live in well-connected vibrant, viable and sustainable communities with a strong local economies and good quality of life.
‘The Penydarren Park project links to the key aims of the programme revitalising and promoting the sustainable development of town centres, building a sustainable community, tackling poverty through encouraging jobs and encouraging skills development and creating a healthier Merthyr Tydfil.’