THERE is arguably nobody who knows the Welsh Premier league better than one of its founding fathers, Mickey Evans.
Known to many as “Mr Caersws”, Evans stepped down as Bluebirds manager this month having led his hometown club in every Welsh Premier campaign since the league began in 1992.
The only boss to have achieved that feat, his association with the management team at the Recreation Ground goes back to 1983, when he joined as player-manager following 13 years and over 500 games as a player with Wrexham.
Evans presided over the best years of the small mid-Wales club, winning three league cups and, in 2002, steering Caersws to a fourth-placed finish and an InterToto Cup place – for which he was named manager of the year.
So when he warns the league needs more funding if it is to survive and develop, FA of Wales and Welsh Premier chiefs had better be listening.
“The league is progressing,” said Evans, who as a player also gained international honours with Wales at under-23 level. “But I’ve been saying for years there needs to be more money put into it.
“It’s no good people saying the grounds need improving and so on. The clubs have been told to do this and that, you’ve got to have 500-minimum seating, but where is the money coming from?
“I think the Welsh FA need to come up with more money to put into the league,” he added. “I fear for it in years to come – it’s very much the poor relation in Welsh football. Very few want to get involved at the Welsh Premier level.”
An announcement is imminent of an official partner for the Welsh Premier in conjunction with current sponsor Principality, a move which should provide a welcome cash injection.
Evans said: “If that’s the case, all well and good, it’s long overdue. The league has got better and it’s getting more competitive, and it’s nice to see ambitious clubs taking their opportunity to come into the league.
“Clubs are working hard to improve their grounds. Look at Rhyl – they’ve worked really hard and they’ve got a terrific ground. They had a problem with the playing surface last season, but that happens to every club.
“The league has struggled for a sponsor – when you look back to Konica, their sponsorship then wasn’t a lot less than it is now 14 years later.
“With a bit more money going around other clubs could do to their grounds what Rhyl have done.”
Evans is hugely proud to have managed Caersws for so long, saying: “There’s probably been nobody in the league managing their hometown club.
“There’s an upside and a downside to that. Obviously there’s the added responsibility of managing your home town and you feel responsible for the results.
“When things go well it’s great, but you do feel the added responsibility and you’re trying to do well for the village itself, not just the football club.
“You go back there in the evening, you don’t disappear 40 or 50 miles away. If you’ve lost they say ‘what happened today?’, which most managers don’t get.
“Who’s bothered about Wrexham’s result in Shrewsbury, or about Shrewsbury’s result in Liverpool?
“Caersws has always been a football-mad village anyway and there have been several good sides over the years.”
Evans watched the team of youngsters he first took into the league mature over the years, reaching their peak at the start of the Millennium when they beat Barry Town to win their first league cup in 2001, then Cwmbran Town the following year to retain the trophy.
“We’ve had our ups and downs,” he said. “We had a lot of young lads in the team who found it very hard to adapt at first. But they’ve grown up with the league and that has benefited the club.”
One of the highlights for Evans was that European finish in the 2001-2 season, when before Christmas the Bluebirds had been written off as relegation fodder.
“That was an amazing season,” he recalled. “Just before Christmas we were bottom, and I always remember playing Cwmbran at Merthyr. We played ever so well and we had I don’t know how many shots kicked off the line, or hit a bar or a post. We lost the game late on to a very dodgy offside goal and we were thinking ‘what more can we do?’
“People kept saying to us we’d turn it around but we were thinking ‘how many more games can we lose?’.
“Then all of a sudden we went on an amazing run.
“To take a small club into Europe, we performed ever so well. We played a team which played in the top Bulgarian division – CSKA Sofia were in the Champions League and we played a team from the same division as them.
“We lost 2-0 over there in unbearable heat, and we drew 1-1 in the return. We were 1-0 up and it was a very creditable performance by the lads – most of the lads hadn’t even seen European football on the television.
“It was a great experience for them – not just the players but for everybody involved with the club, and that’s something you can never take away.”
The three league cup wins – culminating in last season’s penalty shoot-out triumph over Rhyl, were equally uplifting for the Bluebirds.
“We played four finals and lost the first one,” he continued. “Then we stopped Barry Town winning the treble when Barry were a good side, and that was against the odds. Last season we beat Rhyl, who were runners up in the league and we deserved it.”
But he stepped down this month, leaving veteran striker and his son Graham to carry on the Caersws tradition.
He said he simply felt it was time to do other things which were important to him.
“I stepped down because I felt it was time to step down,” added Evans, who still works full-time for Texaco fuels. “The club had asked me to stay last summer, but I said at the start of the season it was going to be my last.
“It’s been enjoyable but it’s been a lot of hard work. People don’t realise how much time you have to give up for it. My life has revolved around it, with the family holidays and so on.
“I’m going to enjoy life away from it. I want to be able to do what I want to do, and that’ll be the first time for a while.
“I’ll still support the club – I’m a Caersws lad – but just for the moment I need a break.”