Undefeated, top of the table with a game in hand and one of the best defensive records in the league – that’s a start to the season which the bigger clubs assemble costly squads to try and achieve.
Instead, it is the small but fast-growing club of Llantwit Major which has accomplished the incredible feat, as they lead the JD Cymru South after nine games so far this year. We caught up with their long-standing manager, Karl Lewis, to discuss it all.
“We didn’t expect to be in this position at this point at all. We’ve got basically the same squad as we had before the pandemic, although we’ve added one or two new faces."
“We’ve been very lucky to be able to put a squad like this together, who are all committed to playing football with their friends for free, and we’ve had a bit of luck on the pitch along the way as well, but we weren’t expecting this start at all however we’re excited to see where it takes us.
“Our togetherness has been so pleasing. Not having that financial incentive like other clubs, all the boys are in the same boat, playing for each other and for the enjoyment for it, with a lot of them having played together as youngsters as well. They’re prepared to run that little bit further and work that much harder, because they’re doing it for each other.”
“I expected to be around mid-table this season to be honest.”
Whilst the bigger clubs have surely sat up and taken notice of what Major have done to start the season, Lewis hopes that it is the smaller, growing clubs who can look at the early success of his team and follow their formula to deliver results.
A supporter of Welsh domestic football since a young age and also a Cardiff City fan, Lewis discusses how some of the club’s recent results have been particularly special to him, and what qualities in particular the players have demonstrated in the nine games thus far.
“Going to Carmarthen away … when I was growing up as a kid they were one of the biggest clubs in Wales, so to win there was massive. I’m a big Cardiff City fan so playing Llanelli last Friday and winning there against Andy Legg was very surreal, and all these experiences are huge for us.
“I like to think that we’re capturing the imagination of the smaller clubs like ourselves, and perhaps even some of the bigger clubs although I’ll expect they’ll be annoyed with us because we’re in this position right now and that’s where they all spent money to get to, whereas we’ve spent nothing.
“We’ve shown what you can do if you’re prepared to work hard and stick together. We’ve always been hard to beat and a decent team, so I expected to be around mid-table this season to be honest and we’d aimed to finish top of the bottom half, if you like, around 10th, so we’ve done well.”
"Nobody would have pictured this four or five years ago."
With much of the playing squad having come through the youth ranks at different clubs together, the camaraderie in the Llantwit dressing room is huge.
Lewis describes his recruitment pitch as simply recruiting friends of the current playing squad – everybody knows everybody somehow – and noted his biggest reflections on the club’s incredible journey, coming from Welsh Division Three to this point in just a few years.
“We were like the Dog and Duck league in the beginning, just mates pulling together, but we are progressing, we have a great media man who has brought sponsorship in, and we can now afford a camera to film games.
“We actually put a message in the team WhatsApp group because, I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and nobody is saying we’re going to go on and win this league, but we just have to embrace the fact that we are top of this league and it is just massive for us.
“We need to appreciate where we’ve come from and where we are. Nobody would have pictured this four or five years ago, not even at the start of this year, and I want us to embrace it, enjoy it, but not settle on it either because we’ve still got more to do.”
“I would be disappointed if we let this great start slip.”
We all know it is a very long season and, as Llantwit have proved with their incredible start, anything can happen in the JD Cymru South, so with their league-leading performances so far already under their belts, what does Lewis expect from his team for the rest of the year?
“We don’t have a crystal ball so we don’t know how the rest of the season is going to go, but the minimum we want is to compete in every game and if we continue to do that and be difficult to beat then we’ll be ok.
“Our only aim with the Board at the start of the season was to stay up, because we had discussed having a wage budget but decided to put it all towards improving the pitch instead, so staying up was genuinely the only aim, but I would be disappointed if we let this great start slip now, honestly.
“There is a long way to go, of course, but I think we can only get better and there is a lot of room for growth. We can be more clinical and have more players contributing in front of goal, we can still tighten up again at the back because unless the other team do something unbelievable then we shouldn’t be conceding because we should be organised enough to stop that.”
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