Interview with the Chairman

As the end of 2022 approaches, we reflect on the club’s recent history and position as well as sit down with Druid’s chairman Des Williams. He gave us his thoughts on his time at the club and vision for the future.

Relegation from the Cymru Premier League was a huge blow for a club that had ambitions to compete with the bigger sides in the league. Just a few short years ago, Druids were playing European football and since then, the slide into Tier Two has been a painful but gradual process. However, the drop back into Tier Two does give the club the chance to reinvent itself.

Druids have spent the past few years punching above their weight, defying the odds by remaining in the league albeit at the bottom end and always looking at ways of surviving rather than fighting for a top six place. The brush with relegation in 2020 was a warning sign of things to come and the debacle of last season was the result of a once proud club that had been neglected to the point that it was almost beyond repair.

Weighed down with mounting debt, a stadium that is one of the best in Wales in need of updating and the club lacking leadership and guidance, Druids were heading for extinction. It needed a new outlook, and people in charge who knew the club’s potential and had the experience and finances to save it. The person to take the reins did so by accident and only as a short term measure, initially, and he’s wasted no time in repairing some of the damage done over the years.

Des Williams has stepped forward and taken the reins to an ailing club that needed CPR and a complete revamp. He has done what his predecessors haven’t and invested his own cash into the club as well as time and energy. It’s become a passion, but now though is the time he will truly be judged on what he’s done so far.

So, after a hectic summer, how does The Ancients new custodian feel heading into his first full season in charge?

“I’m really optimistic about the future of the club and I feel that we’ve started to head in the right direction both on and off the pitch. If you can’t be optimistic and excited about this moment, you’re never going to be, and you probably shouldn’t be doing the things we’re doing or investing in a football club” said Williams.

Williams’ sporting business background is steeped in the Moneyball process. A process whereby you find raw talent and develop it into the gem that fits the club’s playing style and ethos. It’s about such fine margins, but as long as you’re trying to do the right things and you set up in the right way, you give yourself a fighting chance to succeed.

Since taking the reins, officially in March 2020, there hasn’t been a moments rest as work rebuilding the club has been constantly taking place. A mere seven days into the start of his tenure, the COVID lockdown struck and all hell broke loose. Starved of income and with bailiffs at the door, literally, the club needed an immediate cash injection which Williams provided. Since then the club has been weaned from his financial reliance and started to become more self-sufficient.

Williams took the decision to concentrate on the business side of the club, while the football management team got to grips with the football side. A new manager came in with a wealth of experience but working under the tight COVID structure saw him soon depart. His replacement also departed within weeks and rumours started about the working style of the new chairman. The truth is that neither manager was the right fit for the club and both resigned rather than being sacked. Williams has gone away from the normal convention and brought in an up-and-coming manager and surrounded him with the off field support needed for him to succeed.

“We’ve learnt a lot. I think Neil has done well on the coaching side and there’s a visible intent of how we want to approach things. We were always going to focus on the business side first so that the club is sustainable, and then it was important to look at the football side. It was a really important part of the jigsaw getting Neil in,” said Williams.

The first couple of weeks of the season were a bit hectic because players hadn’t been cleared through the international transfer window and the club used a lot of its academy players, most of whom were not ready for the rigours and physicality of Tier Two football. Just when the players all fell into place, substantial injuries denied Druids of showing what they can do.

Rather than panic, Williams concentrated on what was important for the club and what he knew he could change and influence, and that was quite an intense period.

Druids understand even now, people have strong opinions and are emotionally invested in the club, and Williams is still finding his way around the league and the game. It’s an industry like no other as a huge factor is the fan base, and everyone wants to give you their opinion, which Williams received whether he wanted it or not.

There’s still some work to do in the infrastructure and the operational sides of the club, but we are learning fast. It’s the culture that matters, and that takes time.

“The football side I feel good about. On the operations, there’s a long way to go in getting to the standards that any football club needs to reach if it wants to be professional” said Williams.

On the football side, Druids have a good chance at fighting for a top three finish as Williams has opened the cheque book and provided the funds to get the right players onboard. Time will tell in the next few months if the club has the fighting spirit that matches their chairman’s desire and drive.

A football club will always ultimately be judged on the pitch, but certainly at The Rock, there has been a consensus for some time that things needed to improve drastically off it as well.

It’s more than remodelling the function room into a sports bar or by redecorating and adding a new coat of paint at The Rock, it needs a press of the reset button on the general approach and attitude at the club. For far too long, the mantra smacked of ‘it’s only Druids, it’ll do for now’ – but with the change in chairman has come a change in culture.

What happens on the pitch gives Williams license to do all the other stuff he wants, and needs to do, to rebuild the club because there’s no point in talking about changing the culture and the infrastructure if performances on the pitch don’t match.

The club needs to have a culture of giving people the tools to do the job and be creative. Having the right people in the organisation is vital and Williams has brought in consultants to help with the rebuild and culture change. He’s given the coaching staff the tools to do the job they’re employed to do and are capable of and then given them a clear enough mission and vision about the job in hand. Some coaches found the new standards hard to adapt to and left the club, while others have stuck to it and relished the changes and chances given.

Getting the culture right is critical in terms of standards, in terms of behaviour and in terms of expectations. Everything emanates from that and being the chairman and leading the way means Williams must ensure that he too maintains the standards, qualities, values and beliefs. He’s struggled to adapt to the footballing culture, locally, and has fallen foul of the FAW on a couple of occasions. A blog about the struggles of being a black chairman was found to be against the standards of the FAW and he was sanctioned for it, a sanction he accepted and has served.

“I’m not from the area and there are a few people, who ought to know better, with a lot to say in the shadows. I just highlighted them when maybe saying nothing is the norm and accepted around here. I’m not about that,” said Williams.

“Personally, I think culture is the foundation that everything else is built on. We’ve started on that journey beyond the football team, but it’ll constantly evolve as we work on the longer-term vision for the club” added Williams.

Williams has been successful in sport by constantly learning from doing and being creative and that mindset is what was missing at the club. No longer will the club accept mediocre performances on and off the field, the club was crying out for people that are driven to win and buy into the philosophy of development and learning. Ones that are always looking at how to get an edge, how to improve, how do we move ourselves on and that’s going to take a while to embed because it hasn’t been that way.

But this isn’t just a short-term plan to get the Druids back into the Cymru Premier League, although that is obviously what everybody ultimately wants. It’ll be a labour of love for Williams and his staff as they aim to lift the Druids back up on the pedestal they deserve to be on and an opportunity for supporters to feel pride once again in not only their team, but their club.

The response from the fans has been mixed. The ones with children at the academy seem happy in the direction the club, as a whole, is going. There are some former Directors, volunteers and fans that criticise without knowing the facts or have a desire to even know what’s going on. The reality of what he’s bought into is as expected, and there’s a lot more time and investment required to get the club to the standard he wants to get it to, and that’s going to take a few more years.

“I’m pleased with where we’ve got to today, and I’m told that we’ve achieved a lot, but I don’t see it that way. I think we’ve done okay, but there’s definitely a long way to go in terms of the culture, technology, the infrastructure and the vision, but we’re on it.” Added Williams.

More than just a football club.