Gone and forgotten – Aberdare Athletic FC

High up in the Rhondda valley in South Wales is the small town of Aberdare. It was here in the 1920’s that Aberdare Athletic added to the strength of professional football in South Wales, along with their local rivals Merthyr Town. Their Football League life wasn’t spectacular, nor did it leave any lasting legacy, but it demonstrates the thoughts of the administrators of the game at the time to try and build following for the game in the region.

After enjoying success in the Welsh Cup a few years after they were formed in 1893, they joined the newly created Southern League, Welsh Division in 1920. With so many clubs in the region vying for a spot in the Football League, the new division was viewed as a feeder league to the national set up. In their first season they finished runners-up to Barry in the league of eleven teams and applied for election to the Football League at the end of the season. A total of eight teams applied for election and Aberdare, along with Charlton Athletic were accepted for the start of the 1921/22 season.

Aberdare was a boom town post World War One. The local landscape was dotted with mines, both in terms of coal and iron ore and employment was high. The football club played at the Aberdare Athletic Ground (also known as the Ynys Stadium) which had a capacity in its prime of around 23,000. However, with Rugby Union (and League) very strong in the area, the football club always had a challenge to attract the crowds, apart from the local derbies against Merthyr Town and Swansea Town. In their first season they finished in 8th place, which was the highest league position they ever reached. The following season they finished second from bottom and faced re-election, but survived although it was only a stay of execution.

After a few more seasons floating around in mid-table, they finished the 1926/27 season in bottom place, with just nine wins from their 42 games. They applied for re-election, and like all of those teams before them, assumed that they would be simply voted back in. But it was not to be. They became the first team from the Football League to not gain re-election and were replaced by Torquay United.

Despite the club trying to carry on as Aberdare & Aberaman Athletic in the Southern League but a year later they were no more. Aberaman Athletic continued to play in the local leagues, and can today be found in the Welsh Football League Division One. But for a short period in time the club were part of a potential revolution in South Wales, and will always have their place in footballing history as the first team to fail to be re-elected.

Coming soon – Glossup North End.

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7 thoughts on “Gone and forgotten – Aberdare Athletic FC

  1. Aberdare is not in the Rhondda valley its in the Cynon Valley and is the largest town in the unitary authority of Rhondda Cynon Taf the club survives today as Aberdare Town fc in welsh league one level 2 in wales has 1st reserve youth and complete mini and junior sections

  2. Hello my great uncle Joseph Milton Hindmarsh was supposed to have played for Aberdare in the early 1920`s. Can anyone confirm this, also if this is true would there be any photos or info. I could obtain Regards Derek Wilson.

  3. It was good to see your article on Aberdare Athletic which I have just read, however there are some points that need to be raised.

    It is a common misconception that football is not very popular in South Wales,and that if a football club folds then it is down to the popularity of rugby. This of course is a somewhat simplistic view of what really happens.

    In 1910 the Western Mail newspaper reported that rugby was virtually extinct in Merthyr and Aberdare and falling out of favour in the Rhondda.

    Northern Union (now known as rugby league) clubs in Aberdare, Barry and Mid Rhondda failed to survive more than a year. In Treherbert the club lasted two seasons, while the Merthyr club folded in 1911 and Ebbw Vale left the league in 1912.

    By 1922 there were 23 professional football clubs in South Wales: Aberaman Athletic, Aberdare Athletic,
    Bargoed, Barry, Bridgend Town, Caerau, Caerphilly, Cardiff City, Chepstow, Ebbw Vale, Llanbradach, Llanelly, Mardy, Merthyr Town, Mid Rhondda, Newport County, Pembroke, Pontypridd, Porth, Rhymney, Swansea Town and Ton Pentre. Five of these clubs were members of the Football League: Aberdare Athletic, Cardiff City, Merthyr Town, Newport County and Swansea Town. According to Vain Games of No Value? South Wales was the most dense area of professional football clubs to be found anywhere in the British Isles.

    In Cardiff and Swansea football crowds had exceeded those at club rugby since around 1910. By the 1920s
    attendances at Cardiff City matches at Ninian Park could even outnumber those at rugby internationals.

    On 13 December 1937, the senior football and rugby clubs of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea all played at home. The three rugby matches attracted a total of 7,000 spectators, while the three football matches attracted a total of 44,000 spectators.

    In 1939 the South Wales Echo pointed out that while Cardiff RFC would attract a crowd of between 4,000 and 7,000 for a big match, third division Cardiff City FC would regularly attract crowds of between 20,000 and 30,000. The paper claimed that a similar difference existed between the two codes in Newport and Swansea.

    So why did clubs such as Aberdare Athletic and Merthyr Town fold? In Aberdare’s case a number of reasons contributed to their downfall. One was the fire on the night of 7th November 1923 that had destroyed all the seating at the ground as well as the press box and two offices. A delay in replacing the stand meant reduced attendances for a long period. The club received £5,000 from the insurance company, but this proved not enough.

    By 1925 there was over 2,000 men unemployed in the district and a number of others on short time working. With miners’ wages at or below pre-World War I levels and rates in the town having increased by 133% since 1914 there were a number of people who just couldn’t afford the entrance fee.

    Then in 1926 mine owners gave their workers notice of a 20% wage cut coupled with having to work an extra hour per day without pay which led to the mines of Aberdare and across Britain closing with the miners on strike.

    When Aberdare Athletic failed to get re-elected to the Football League in 1927, club president, Willie Llewellyn said “This was to due to the coal stoppage when supporters had not the money to spend on football.” When Aberdare Athletic folded the next year, club chairman, Dr Wilson said “…if the collieries of the district resumed normal working conditions again the Club would be able to rise once more and revive soccer in the town.” It is quite clear from these statements where the directors thought the cause of the club’s demise layed.

    In 1929 Aberaman was attracting attendances of around 100 for their Welsh League matches, nearby amateur matches were getting crowds of 2,000 to 3,000 where entry was free.

    Meanwhile in Merthyr there were 10,000 miners without work in 1924, and by 1932-33 unemployment was around 14,000 or around 61% of the working population.

    By 1927 unemployment in Glamorgan stood at 24.1 percent. There was mass migration from South Wales as people left in search of work. 50,000 people moved away from the Rhondda and 27,000 from Merthyr. The majority were young males, the core of the population who attend football matches.

    You say that the “club always had a challenge to attract the crowds, apart from the local derbies against Merthyr Town and Swansea Town.” It should be noted however, that Aberdare Athletic’s record Football League attendance was 18,350 v Bristol City on 2 Apr 1923.

    In good times there was enough support for both football and rugby to coexist in South Wales.

    You say that the club “became the first team from the Football League to not gain re-election.” This of course is incorrect as a lot of clubs before Aberdare Athletic have failed re-election, (some have been re-elected at a later date). The following clubs all failed to gain re-election at the Football League’s AGM before Aberdare Athletic’s failure: Stoke (1890), Walsall Town Swifts (1895), Burslem Port Vale (1896), Crewe Alexandra (1896), Burton Wanderers (1897), Blackpool (1899), Loughborough (1900), Walsall (again in 1901), Doncaster Rovers (1903), Stockport County (1904), Doncaster Rovers (again in 1905), Burton United (1907), Lincoln City (1908), Chesterfield Town (1909), Grimsby Town (1910), Lincoln City (again in 1911), Gainsborough Trinity (1912), Glossop (1915), Lincoln City (again in 1920).

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