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Kieran Smith of Bala Town FC

Kieran Smith of Bala Town FC for Admiral Sports

 

Wales' failure to qualify for Euro 2024 means that The Red Wall won’t be ascending to Germany this summer. Instead, the nation will rely on its club sides to bring joy through their participation in the early rounds of the European club competitions. 

One of those teams will be Bala Town FC, who hail from a part of North Wales with a population of just 2000 people. This summer, The Lakesiders will enter the Uefa Europa Conference League after securing a third place finish in the country's top division.

And after 11 seasons and 299 appearances covering every blade of grass across Wales as well as pockets of Europe during the club’s previous campaigns, club captain and midfielder Kieran Smith has taken the decision to leave the club, weeks after scoring the goal to secure qualification.  

To reflect on his journey through football and a new beginning, Admiral Sports caught up with the 32-year-old across the border in Christleton, Chester.

 

Kieran Smith of Bala Town FC for Admiral Sports

 

We spend time at the coffee shop Koow, where he manages his self-started running community ‘The Kilometre Club’ before heading over to the ground of the local football club of Christleton FC, where he first began filling his senses with football through watching his dad play.

“It’s funny because that’s what the brand actually reminds me of.” He recalls, looking through the selection of attire from the new collection as the sun shines in.

“The heritage and being stood on the side of the pitch, watching the warm-ups and the t-shirts and training tops the men used to wear in the 1990s, that are now coming back.” 

Ian, the shop owner, shares his own memories, homing in on his favourite Manchester United shirt from the 1980s, before getting on with his day. Kieran is quick to recognise him. 

“He has become a pal, they support us massively and we often meet here post run.”

“Why I started the running club and what I enjoy the most about playing football is bringing people together and meeting new people.” He says, about the start-up which now has 160 members: “It has meant that I’ve met so many people across the City, like Ian, that I never would have.”

 

Kieran Smith of Bala Town FC for Admiral Sports

 

Running has before now been a secondary passion, but with the Copenhagen marathon fast approaching, he has had no time to reflect too much on his decision to sacrifice adding more European appearances to his club record total of 14, in order to concentrate on marathon’s and new personal targets ahead. 

“I have left Bala because after a long spell, the commitment and travel has taken its toll. I am a really keen runner and I’ve been training for marathons around my football and I just want to really commit to my running for the next two years at least.”

On the way to the football ground, we reflect on how playing games of knockout doubles until it went dark led to six years in the centre of excellence at Wrexham AFC, where he played under Steve Cooper and Darren Ferguson,  before turning down a Youth Team Scholarship to pursue his studies. 

“It was a really enjoyable time at Wrexham but I didn’t develop physically as I was coming up to 16. The club believed in me and I was offered a place in the Youth Team. I will always remember Darren Ferguson’s writing in the report box saying he believed I had a good chance of making it, which means a lot when you look at what he and his family have achieved in the game.”

 

Kieran Smith of Bala Town FC for Admiral Sports

 

Acknowledging the great strides Wrexham have made in recent seasons, on and off the pitch, we talk about what needs to happen to ensure that the same happens for Welsh Premier League teams, with the aim for one of them to make it to the group stage of a European competition. 

“It is difficult. Everyone looks at TNS and expects them to win a couple of qualifying rounds in the UEFA Champions League. Their dream is to get into the group stage of the competition. For the rest of the teams, money plays a huge part and the FAW have announced a new strategy to support that vision.”

“It starts with finance to improve teams and resources to grow the club. A lot of the clubs can’t play their European games at home, sometimes you need to hire a pitch, so there are massive strides to make in terms of European Football. The potential is there, from grassroots to semi-pro, the game is growing massively. If the FAW continue to support the system it could be an exciting future for the league.”

 

Kieran Smith of Bala Town FC for Admiral Sports

 

He departs a league and club legend, cementing his status for Bala Town after scoring the winning goal in the 2017 Welsh FA Cup final against TNS and having represented the club against sides such as AIK and Standard Liege. He says the ‘shin-roller’ he scored during his final game at Maes Tegid was a fitting way to sign off. 

“That goal against Newtown that got us the draw which secured European football, it ultimately meant a great deal to me. With it being at our ground as well it was written in the stars if you like.”  

“It is massive for the club qualifying for the Uefa Europa Conference League, financially but also the memories that you make on the trips are unforgettable. I’ve been involved in seven European trips with Bala and I think about them all the time. Alongside winning the Welsh FA Cup they are my fondest memories in football.” 

Through the gates of the football field, half of the pitch is barriered off and surrounded by DIY sheltered areas for spectators as  he goes through the paces of a light cool down session. There are no promises on whether he will stay or return to football. 

“This pitch was where a lot of local finals were played. It was always a big day out if you got to play here. In terms of the barriers here, I remember being that small that I could walk under them. Now you're hopping over them.”

“It’s great to see a heritage brand come forward with performance wear. The fit of it is as good as any and obviously the training wear across the game has moved on a lot since the days of the baggy training tops.”

 

Kieran Smith of Bala Town FC for Admiral Sports

 

Out with the old and in with the new, Kieran’s demand for consistency will now focus inwards, swapping the team game for the solo mission. Of course, he will have his eye on the draw for the UEFA Europa Conference League in the coming months, and I’m sure he’ll have plenty of eyes and support from the supporters of Bala Town for the road ahead. 

“Whatever you put into running you get out of it. You can have the best game of your career in football and you may get beat. If you're consistent with your running and you put in loads of training, it's all on you.”

“I will miss the people, the friendship and the camaraderie that football brings. Saying goodbye to people has been hard and difficult. It's only difficult saying goodbye when you become close to these people. It is the sign of the good times that we’ve had together. If you didn’t get close, it would be easy.” 

 

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