Football Collective member Jonathan Ervine looks back on the first season of North Wales fan-owned team Bangor 1876.
When your side is trailing 12-0 in a pre-season friendly against opposition from a side that competes at a much higher level, managing to get onto the scoresheet in the final minute could seem like a very minor form of consolation.
However, what happened at Broadhurst Park in Manchester at approximately 4.45pm on Saturday 20 July 2019 was anything but a minor detail. For the hundreds of fans of Bangor 1876 who had made the trip from North Wales to see their side take on FC United of Manchester, it was a big moment on a big day. Welsh language television channel S4C chronicled the occasion, and their short video includes scenes of the reaction to the historic first ever goal by Bangor 1876.
Bangor 1876’s existence stems from a meeting in April 2019 at which members of the Bangor CIty Football Club Supporters Association (BCFCSA) voted overwhelmingly in favour of becoming incorporated as a Supporters’ Trust and forming a new club. It did so in order to provide the local community with a fan-owned and community-focused team.
However, the process that led to the formation of Bangor 1876 has a connection to the Football Collective and its 2018 annual conference at Hampden Park in Glasgow. A chance conversation after a conference session about supporter ownership in UK football led to a series of meetings between members of BCFCSA and Supporters Direct (now the Football Supporters Association). Progressively, an exciting vision for what a fan-owned team could provide in Bangor emerged. Many thanks are due to Richard Irving and his colleagues for their support and encouragement.
The 1876 in the club name refers back to the year in which a public meeting in Bangor took place and led to the foundation of the city’s first football team. Its inclusion in the name of the new fan-owned club symbolised the desire to ensure the continuation of football in Bangor, and indeed football that has as its focal point a team that is run by and for the local community.
In June 2019, Bangor 1876 learned that it would begin its existence in the Gwynedd League, the fifth tier of Welsh football. It started the process of recruiting players and coaches, a process facilitated by the appointment of highly-regarded A-license coach Mel Jones as team manager. Progressively, players arrived to become part of the newly formed outfit. Many of them were talented, young local players, and they were joined by several others with Welsh Premier League experience such as Les Davies, Michael Johnston and Jamie Petrie.
As an iconic fan-owned club, FC United of Manchester were highly appropriate opponents for Bangor 1876 in their first match. The game was one of the home side’s most well-attended pre-season friendlies, and a warm welcome was extended to the several hundred Bangor 1876 followers that travelled from North West Wales to see their new team in action for the first time.
The fact that FC United were a class above and recorded a convincing victory was in many ways an irrelevance to the large following from North Wales. The day was the start of a new journey, a new journey with a new sense of purpose. The moment when Benn Lundstram’s last minute shot eluded FC United’s substitute goalkeeper led to wild celebrations from the 1876 contingent behind the goal that showed what having a club to truly believe in meant.
The following weekend saw the first ever Bangor 1876 home match, which was played at Bangor University’s Treborth playing fields. The fact that over 300 people were present showed the community’s interest in the new club. Throughout the 2019-20 season, home crowds of 300-400 spectators were common and indeed the average home attendance was higher that the vast majority of teams in the top division of Welsh domestic football.
On the park, things went well during pre-season as well. The Holywell match resulted in a 3-1 win for 1876, a particularly impressive outcome given that the visitors had been in the second tier of Welsh football the season before.
The competitive season began in August with a 4-1 win away to Ogwen Tigers in Bethesda. Several cup victories against higher division opposition were among the highlights of the first half of the season. A Welsh Cup win against third tier Penycae in October stands out, notably due to coming from behind three times, forcing extra time with an injury time equaliser and winning on penalties after a 3-3 draw.
It wasn’t until November that Bangor 1876 lost a competitive match for the first time, bowing out of the FAW Trophy away to Tier 3 side Llanrwst and losing at home to second tier Ruthin in the Welsh Cup. December began with an important 2-1 win away to then league leaders Trearddur Bay on Anglesey, and it was a significant month off the field as regular matchday foodbank collections started just before Christmas. The idea was suggested by captain Michael Johnston, who was aware of the great work being done in his native Liverpool by Fans Supporting Foodbanks.
January brought with it further developments off the field with the appointment of pro-license coach Iwan Williams as director of football. Iwan has played a major role in developing the Bangor 1876 Junior Section and community activities, which includes participating in the FAW’s ‘We wear the same shirt’ football and mental health initiative. It was also a month during which we scored our 100th league goal and 150th goal in a competitive match.
February saw us maintain our 100% league record and a win away to Llysfaen in March secured a place in the semi-finals of the North Wales Coast Junior Cup. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown, that’s where the season ended. Over the summer, we were declared Gwynedd League champions and promotion to the newly organised Tier 4 of the Welsh pyramid was confirmed.
Things have been busy off the pitch since then as our coaching team has been making plans for the new season. Our board has been working with Bangor University to discuss ground improvements that are geared towards making our home venue compliant with the requirements in place in leagues higher up the Welsh pyramid.
There has been continued interest in our club locally and further afield, and our website figures have demonstrated this. In the weekly football website rankings on Pitchero – who host several thousand UK football club websites – Bangor 1876 has regularly been in the top 20 and indeed spent four weeks in a row in the top 10. It’s only the start of our journey but it’s certainly been an exciting one so far and we’re looking forward to the seasons ahead.