The story of Cwmbran Town is a remarkable one and equally remarkable is the story of club legend Tony Wilcox who sadly passed away in 2003 aged just 46.
These days of course we have seen TNS dominate the WPL and are the team everyone wants to beat, but turn the clock back and re-visit the League of Wales in its inaugural season in 1992/93 and it was Cwmbran Town who were to clinch the league title with Tony Wilcox at the helm.
Tony was at the helm for 11 years at the Crows and his record is remarkable, he guided Cwmbran Town to 5 European adventures and also saw Cwmbran Town lift the Welsh Cup twice under his reign. Under Tony’s guidance Cwmbran Town became the first Welsh club, and only the second throughout Europe, to play in all four European competitions. The club remained competitive in the league and also nearly became champions several times finishing third in 1999 and 2000 and also pushing Barry Town close in 2001 before finally finishing as runners up.
Playing their home games at the Cwmbran Stadium the Gwent team took Welsh football by storm and that legacy is still remembered today in the modern era. Tony was a football man and and ex-player himself with spells at Barry Town and Ton Pentre before a leg injury saw Tony take early retirement from playing the game he loved. Tony returned to Barry Town in a managerial capacity in the 89/90 season and enjoyed success as Barry Town returned to the Southern League. However known as “Mr Cwmbran” Tony made the managerial move east to Gwent and in 1991 was unveiled as Cwmbran Town manager.
The club were flying and the race to secure the League of Wales inaugural title was a closely fought affair with Inter Cardiff pushing Cwmbran all the way. The reward for the club who had enjoyed some crowds in excess of over 1,000 was a European Cup tie against Cork City of Ireland, over 3,000 fans roared the team on at the Cwmbran Stadium. Incredibly it was Roy of the Rovers stuff and two goals from Francis Ford and a Simon King penalty gave the Gwent team a 3-0 half-time lead. Unfortunately they bowed out with the tie after two legs 4-4 and the Crows losing out on the away goals rule.
Cwmbran Town attracted some high profile players under his reign and there can be no doubt that for many of them it would be Tony’s love of the game, a vibrancy and people management that would see them put pen to paper. The club had the European taste and went on to play in several more european ties under Tony’s guidance including National Bucuresti of Romania, Scottish giants Celtic, Nistru Otaci of Moldova, Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia, and Israel giants Maccabi Haifa.
The games against Celtic despite a heavy scoreline losing on aggregate 10-0 will live in the memories of those who witnessed the games. Over 46,000 at packed into Celtic Park for the away game with the home tie switched to Ninian Park. Again an incredible atmosphere ensured with the Scottish giants packing the Bob Bank, Grange End and the Main grandstand. Tony humour shining through as he commented on the Celtic tie.
“We have had a bit of trouble in training recently,” said Wilcox. “A few of the lads have been away on holiday, but only last week I made my record signing.” Deiniol Graham joined from Colwyn Bay for £6,000, but it is money which will be easily recouped by Cwmbran’s share of the gate receipts from the two-leg tie “Pitting my wits against Dalglish is not exactly the sort of thing that happens every day,”
During the great days at the club English giants Manchester Utd also played a friendly in 1994 in front of over 8,000 supporters at Cwmbran in a tribute match for Cwmbran linesman Frank Martin who had passed away in 1993.
Welsh football and Cwmbran Town were at a loss when Tony passed away during the 2002/3 season. A club mourned, and Welsh football mourned the passing of a Welsh football legend. Brian Coyne who had previously managed Newtown was installed as manager the following season but his spell was short lived after the resignation of club chairman Mr John Colley, Brian also departed from the Crows.
The club were relegated unfortunately at the end of the 2006/07 season when Cwmbran Town were relegated for the first time from the Welsh Premier League into the Welsh Football League. The club never recovered from its aftermath and proceeded to drop down the Welsh Leagues. Today however the future looks bright and Cwmbran Town are now competing in the First Division of the Gwent County Leagues. Promotion will see them return to the Welsh Leagues and I think it is safe to say that Welsh football would gladly be pleased to see the club rise back through the leagues.
The club now play on a 3G pitch at the superb Cwmbran Stadium, Tony was a visionary and I am sure he would be proud to see the progress once again being made at the Crows and his legacy and memory will live on in Welsh football and of course at the club he loved.