Meet the Manager: Gareth Rhys Roberts (Brickfield Rangers)

Gareth Rhys Roberts (left) with summer signing Junior Siyakholwa Fani

As a player he represented Crewe Alexandra, New Broughton, Brymbo, Castell Alun, Caersws, Cefn Druids, gap Queen’s Park, Flint Town United, Lex and Llay Welfare with much success, winning numerous league titles, cups and the national FAW Trophy.

He has played in the top three tiers of Welsh football – Welsh Premier, Cymru Alliance and Welsh National League (Wrexham Area).

And he had spells as player-manager with some of the above clubs, but for the 2019-20 season Gareth Rhys Roberts is the new boss at Brickfield Rangers.

Here he tells Grassroots North Wales about his eventful life in football.

Firstly, please tell us a bit about yourself and your background in football

I started off going to football at an early age by watching my dad Glyn Roberts (voo). He told me a story of when he was playing for Llay Legion I kept running onto the pitch to him so at half time he had to take me home, then had to rush back to make it for the second half.

I started playing for Broughton Villa and then New Broughton. It was at New Broughton where I was asked to go and have a trials at Crewe Alexandra at the age of 10. Things went well and I signed. During this period at Crewe I also played for Cholmondeley, Wrexham schoolboys, Wrexham and District and New Broughton.

Things were going brilliantly until I was 14 when I broke my ankle badly playing for Crewe against Rotherham which put me out of action for nearly a full year.

My leg was in plaster from hip to toe and I was in a wheelchair for the first few months. Crewe were excellent in helping me recover, but I didn’t want to go back (a decision that I regret).

I did continue to play for New Broughton and we had an extremely successful side where we won everything bar one trophy at Youth level.

I then moved on to adult football where I began my playing career at Brymbo FC in the Cymru Alliance at the age of 16.

This experience, aged 16, in football taught me a lesson as I found out that even though you are playing better than other players in the team, it was deemed easier to bench a 16 year old kid rather than a grown man who was playing shocking and this is one thing that has stuck with me, because I don’t care if you are 16 or 26 if you are good enough to play men’s football then it shouldn’t come down to age.

I then moved to Castell Alun to play in the same side as my dad. We went on to beat some top sides that season such as Gresford in the (Welsh National League) cup final on the Racecourse.

That season I finished top goalscorer. I enjoyed a good few seasons there in a strong team, then moved back to Brymbo but at this time I was involved in other sports such as boxing, freestyle wrestling and fighting professional MMA, I’m a lover of a lot of sports.

At Brymbo we won the league (WNL Premier Division), league cup and Welsh Trophy where I scored a hat-trick in the 2006/07 final. I still have the match ball at home.

After Brymbo I then went to play for Caersws in the Welsh Premier but I found it a bit too cliquey so I returned back to the Steelmen.

Gareth enjoyed playing under Wrexham legend Dixie McNeil at Cefn Druids. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

Next I played for Cefn Druids in the Welsh Premier under Wrexham FC legend Dixie McNeil and what a gentleman, best manager I have ever played under as he always got the best out of his players.

Looking back I was very silly as Cefn Druids would train on the same days that we had wrestling training so I would wrestle for an hour and a half then go train with Druids for another hour and a half (wouldn’t recommend that nowadays).

Waynne Phillips (another good manager) and Lee Jones took over after Dixie left, but after a while we parted ways and I then signed for gap Queen’s Park in the Cymru Alliance during the 2007/08 season.

During the 2008/09 season I ended up becoming player-manager at Lex where we won the North East Wales Cup at the Racecourse with a very young but very talented team.

The season after I joined Flint Town United – another great club.

My management career continued after my Flint experience as I went player-manager at Brymbo. I took over with 12 games gone and they had only one point on the board but we ended up finishing mid-table.

I then did a similar thing as player manager of Llay Welfare, but if I remember rightly they were even further adrift when I took over – again that side finished mid table.

I then finally went back to Brymbo during the 2013/14 season to challenge for the title only to come up short and finish third without a playing budget.

I left Brymbo after a couple of disagreements as I wanted petrol money for a player who was travelling 30 minutes to get to training and matches but I was refused it and I didn’t see the ambition at the club to go up so I left and was out of the game for three seasons and here I am now at Brickfield Rangers.

How did you taking on the Brickfield Rangers manager’s job come about?

Brickfield approached me at the end of my last season with Brymbo through Dave Norman, who was at Brickie at the time.

He wanted to work as a two, but personally I don’t think that works, but me and Andrew Ruscoe (Chopper) have kept in touch and with things not panning out for Brickfield I think he finally got his own way after three years of chasing and here I am (laugh).

Were you happy with how pre-season went? What was most encouraging about it?

It has been tough as we literally didn’t have a squad from last season so we started with nothing, but what I will say is my pre-seasons sort the men out from the boys and I can spot the players who are going to give their all for me and the players who are not.

Mentally you have to be strong, as well as physically. The group of players I have are a great bunch of lads and it’s a pleasure to be working with them.

Gareth with his children Jack and Jess

You have brought in a lot of players. Do you feel it will take time for the squad to gel, or have things settled down nice and early?

It will take time to gel but their attitudes and commitment are second to none.

In football you need individuals who are that bit more talented who can change a game so to say, but a lone wolf won’t catch anything and that’s why the pack (team) has to work as one and also work hard for each other.

What are Brickfield’s ambitions this season? Do you see yourself as potential title challengers?

In my mind we are going to win the league but that is how I have always been….if we work as hard as we can in every game and we come up short then my players can do no more.

I think we will get stronger and stronger as the season goes on. I have some very talented players who will go on to bigger and better things and that is what I’m looking for – developing players so they can make the most of their footballing careers.

Who do you view as the main contenders for the title?

Obviously Queen’s Park as they are the previous winners plus they look like they have also added to their squad.

Not sure what’s happening with Holywell but they will be a force if they don’t go back into the Cymru Alliance.

Mold are always tough, Cefn Albion can beat anyone on their day. Rhostyllen will be the dark horses tho.

Tell us about one or two Brickfield players we should look out for this season

We have that many good players it wouldn’t be fair to name just a few. What I will say is our average player age is probably about 20 so we will only get stronger and stronger throughout the season.

What sort of football do you like your teams to play? On the ground, or a more, direct aerial game?

Gareth Rhys Roberts addresses his Brickfield players in the changing room

I like my teams to be able to play but also don’t just be dependent on one way to play the game. It’s about controlling the game but not being too predictable at the same time.

What has impressed you most about Brickfield as a club so far?

Brickfield as a club is brilliant, it’s all laid out to produce and develop young players. Behind the scenes there are a number of people who work hard to push the club forward from the children’s coaches to the ladies serving the cups of tea. It’s a thankless task but every one of them are appreciated.

What are your footballing ambitions for the future?

My footballing ambitions are to try and improve every player that is around me and to get the very best out of them.

Through my years of boxing…fighting MMA professionally and even wrestling against Commonwealth medalists to playing in a Cefn Druids team surrounded by a wealth of talent alongside the likes of Lee Martin (who scored the winning goal in the 1990 FA Cup final for Manchester United) – even though they are different sports they all teach you the same principles…how to prepare to work hard, be calm under pressure, how to stick to a game plan and to never give up and if I can instill this culture and philosophy into my players then we will do okay.

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