Grassroots Guardians: Darren Meredith (Saltney Town FC chairman)

Darren Meredith is chairman of Saltney Town FC

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your football background

Although I was born in Wrexham, I was raised in Anglesey from age 3 so very much consider myself from the island (we’re very precious of that fact). I moved up the coast 10 years ago though for work. I’m married to Jo, and we have 3 children, Becca (15), Tomos (6) and Owain (4).

In terms of my football background, I was a neat and tidy as a player, but very much the stereotypical Sunday League. Too much ale, big belly and did nothing about it. If the ball was at my feet I was ok, the rest….not so much.

My weekends consisted of watching as many games as I could, and I didn’t realise at the time it was giving me a good grounding in going forward to become a manager eventually, and being involved with amateur football.

Growing up in Llangefni, I was spoilt getting to watch likes of Emrys Jones, Bob Parry, Alec James, and then later Daron Wyn Jones etc. Then being around Wil Daddy at Gwalchmai (what a character) before getting involved fully at Gaerwen.

I started off as the secretary, but only the treasurer’s job evaded me or I would have had the set! I loved being manager of the club. With the set of players I had in the first spell, but especially the second, I worked hard to make myself better, and I think I did some good work with the lads that went through the club, many to a higher level. I miss that time period a lot.

How did you become a part of Saltney Town?

I’d arranged a pre-season friendly with Saltney when I was involved in the down days at Llangefni Town before Chris Roberts resurrected the club’s fortunes.

It was eventually cancelled, but the Town manager Mike Cunningham knew I actually was living in Saltney at the time, so invited me to be his assistant, so it’s basically his fault!

How do you feel the 2019-20 season has started for Saltney Town?

Paul Johnson is one of Saltney’s top players

I’d say it’s been pretty Saltney Town like. We usually lose a couple of players in the close season, and add a couple, but this pre-season has seemed extra difficult. There’s some really big clubs at our level in the WNL so we’re usually behind in the pecking order for anyone looking to sign on.

A lot of our players say once you’ve had a couple of weeks here, you’re Town through and through, it’s just not always that easy getting new players down for the two weeks! We’ve played really well in games, and had a good kick up the backside at times too.

This is easily the best squad in my time though, so I’m pretty confident once holidays and festivals etc are out of the way and we get a settled 16, we’ll do well. We’ve got good management in Andy Dutton and Jake Gibbons, and some great lads, I won’t single any out though, as it wouldn’t be right.

What plans do you have for the club as chairman?

I am a romanticist so I have all kinds of grand ideas all the time. Funds and support are getting harder and harder to come by though, so lots end up as pipe dreams.

I think my biggest plan is I want to help establish the club and facilities as somewhere where you can see something laid down for the future. I firmly believe that if you create the right environment, it will bring success, and it’s up to you to determine what success means to you.

Marc Edwards and I are especially proud of the Juniors established 3 years ago. It’s the fanciful dream of both of us to be sat in our regular seats in the stand with a brew watching our kids and their friends playing senior football. I’m not going to lie though – I’d love a trophy on the mantelpiece!

The WNL Premier Division looks very strong this season, the final one before the structure of Welsh football from tier three downwards changes in 2020-21. Who do you see as potential champions? Also, how do you rate the league?

Darren sees Ben Kearney as a massive asset for Brymbo

I think the league is very strong, and it’s shown at times already.

There are no real weaker teams which you can almost put 6 points in the bag. Queen’s Park will be there, they always are as it’s just an incredible community group who fight and scrap for each other, but they have some star quality as well.

You can’t ignore the budget power and level of Penycae and Mold, their facilities etc are just way above. Holywell will get stronger as the season goes on I think with their disrupted start and the adapting back to a lower level, but I think are favourites.

For me though, I fancy Brymbo. They are a settled group, good management team and have such firepower. Ben Kearney is as good as I’ve seen since being involved in football, and that’s saying something just considering the likes of Geraint Hughes, Daron Wyn Jones, Tom Wyn Roberts and Jake Gibbons who’ve all played for me. He’s very, very good.

You have strong past connections with Gaerwen FC. The team has started brilliantly in Welsh Alliance Division Two – probably their best start ever. You must be delighted about this. What do you feel are the club’s strengths this season?

Gaerwen’s management team includes Lee Jones (second left)

Yes I’m made up for them, and long may it continue. It’s the first result I look for without doubt.

Lee Jones is a pretty good footballer, but I’ve no doubt he is/going to be an even better manager. From watching him as a junior, to having him play for me, we’ve had a pretty good relationship, so nobody will be happier than me if he brings them success.

In terms of strengths, I feel he’s got a great staff with him, and bringing in Sean Brett could be a masterstroke. It’s good to see some old friends such as Shaun Monument and Gwyndaf Owen still there. Having a warhorse like Paul Bryant still to call on will be vital too. I’ve always seen him as the pantomime villain, but always known if he’s at your club and playing for you, you’re much the better for it, he’s been a great player over the years.

The title chairman of a football club is a well known one, but not everyone knows what he or she does. What might be a typical week for a chairman of a Welsh third tier club?

To be honest, I’m not sure what it entails at other clubs, but here it’s just a title. To say we are a few is putting it mildly.

The players will muck in on any ground works that need doing, and fundraising etc, and it’s the same for us off the pitch.

I suppose my usual week will involve cutting the pitch, continuing to find funding and develop sponsorships, maintenance, and Marc and I will support each other in whatever else needs doing. I had to do the Cafe on Saturday as my wife wasn’t with me and nobody bought anything! I must be a put off, so she can have that job back.

I do most of the Social Media and Website stuff, but I’m not the greatest at it, although I do try. A teacher once told me I have a great command of the English language…..

Other than that it will be the dirty work, chasing up fines of players, yearly subs, and being a support to the gaffers and players if they want some advice etc, and sometimes when they don’t want it! We’re very much an all-in-together kind of club on and off the pitch.

Are you still in regular touch with your Anglesey football contacts? How do you feel football on the island is shaping up? You must have been chuffed at the Island Games success for the men and women

Ynys Mon celebrate winning the Inter-Island Games

It was fantastic wasn’t it? The exposure to the hard work done on the island, it seemed from afar to be a great success.

I feel there always has and still is some exceptional footballers on the island. I’m a big fan of Dean Garmey at Holyhead. I’ve got a lot of admiration for Bodedern. They are just a massive pain in the backside for everyone aren’t they! They don’t get enough credit for what they achieve and have re-built there. I’m excited to see how Dean Redmond gets on there. He played for me at Beaumaris, he’s absolutely crackers but boy can he tear you to shreds when he wants to.

And of course, it makes me smile seeing Llangefni go back up through the leagues. I’m the same as most I suppose who move away from home, I try keep in touch and interact through Twitter etc with a few lads, and always try and get an Anglesey-based team for pre-season so I can catch up with a few.

How do you feel Ryan Giggs is faring as Wales manager? Will the loss of Osian Roberts to Morocco be a major blow to the national side?

I do think Osian leaving is a blow, especially as it feels like Giggs is having to fast track so many younger players in, possibly too soon in my opinion.

Osian would have been a great bridge to support that transition. It’s where we are as a country though. You can see tons of potential with some real stars in the making like Harry Wilson and Dan James. I just hope Giggs doesn’t suffer from so many changes and a few fall by the wayside. Stick with him, hopefully we’ll get to another tournament soon.

Chairpersons are leaders. Are you a natural leader? Do you take a laid-back approach or are you quite forthright and hands-on?

Definitely. I’m a very loyal person, and happy to say I’ve got big shoulders, but I want the same attitude in return.

I like to think I know the game, and analysing it is a strong point. If you use Saltney as the prime example of my thinking – these lads don’t know how good they actually are, and I am quite forthright in that opinion.

Are you optimistic about the future of North Wales football? What would you like to see more of so we can create a strong future? What do you feel might go against us?

I think it’s in a strong position, if not maybe a bit diluted. New ground criteria is very challenging, but the idea I agree with. Upping standards has to be the way to go, but it can’t be a half measure. As always, investment needs to increase, and stronger clubs to help continue player standards.

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