North Wales Crusaders now hold the unique distinction of being Rugby League’s most coastal club after relocating to Colwyn Bay for the 2021 Betfred League One Season.
After finding themselves unable to play at their previous Kingsway home due to Covid-19 restrictions, and a return to the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham unfeasible, the Crusaders have made their home at the Zip World Stadium, just 500 metres away from the stunning North Wales coast.
The stadium is a 5,500 capacity ground, 3,500 is seated with nine hospitality boxes and state of the art training facilities, including a purpose built gym. Club CEO Andy Moulsdale believes that it will make a huge difference to the club on and off the field;
“There’s a lot more corporate facilities here in terms of boxes and hospitality suites, which we were held back a little bit on at our previous ground. The gym is a real piece of kit, it’s a hi-tech gym, I would say it’s a world class facility.”
The club has been based in Wrexham ever since it’s inception following the folding of the original Celtic Crusaders club in 2011, and although the move to Colwyn sees the club relocate to just under an hour’s drive away from their traditional base, Moulsdale is confident that the club can continue to grow across the North Wales region;
“We’ve start quite a few community clubs, we’ve started one in Conwy, we’ve started one in Flint, and obviously Wrexham, and we’ve started a team in Anglesea, so it fits in with what we’re trying to do in attracting an audience around North Wales, so we’re hoping by moving here it brings it all together.”
Like all clubs in Betfred League One, the priority for Crusaders in the last 14 months has been surviving rather than thriving, with Covid-19 bringing about the cancellation of the 2020 season, drying up many of the club's sources of income. However, North Wales have faced additional challenges than most, such as not being eligible for the government grants that the English clubs have benefitted from and are still in the dark as to when fans will be able to return in Welsh roadmap out of lockdown.
All that considered however, Moulsdale feels they are in a strong position as they prepare to finally return to competitive action at the weekend;
“It’s been a challenge like it has in all walks of life but we’ve been backed well by our supporters and partners, we’re in the process of working with Wales Rugby League to access funding that we’ve previously not had being a Welsh club, so hopefully that will take some of the sting out of not being able to welcome fans back.”
The Crusaders missed out on the play-off places in 2020 finishing seventh, but with the league now down to ten teams, with Newcastle being promoted, and the fresh slate provided by the lay-off, Moulsdale says that North Wales can be at the top end of the table this time around;
“Our ambition is like every team, if we said we’re not looking to get in the play-offs and achieve promotion, then what’s the point in doing all of this? I just hope that being here, it will attract attention and support, and from a playing side, by giving the players the facilities and environment that they should have, we are trying to create an image of being a professional club.”
The man tasked with realising that ambition is Head Coach Anthony Murray, who is in his second stint with club. For him, the move to the Zip World Stadium provides an opportunity to take the Crusaders to the next, he explains;
“The facilities that it offers here, in terms of the gym, the wrestle area, the field, and when you pull up in the car park, you feel like you are in a professional rugby league venue. Other players see where we are at and see what we can offer them, so if that gives the opportunity to attract more player who want to be based at a venue like this, it massively helps me to prepare them to play at a professional level.”
With such a long lay-off, and a relatively short and disruptive pre-season, Murray has had to heavily adapt over the last year and a half, but he feels that the squad are finally ready to get the season started;
“Our players through Covid, we regularly kept in touch and they had things set for them, but getting them back in February was brilliant for us all. It’s been a little bit to what we are used to, the pace of pre-season has been slower than before because they haven’t played for 14 months, but we’re back up to full running now.”
A long time passed since the last meaningful fixtures, and it’s difficult to call who will be in the running for promotion and which sides will struggle this season. Coaches like Murray will have little to go on in terms of preparing their players for the opposition, he insists however, that this is not something he is concerned about;
“I’m a big believer in looking after our own house and getting that in order, we’ve got to do that. We’re concentrating on ourselves, when the fixtures start rolling out we’ll get the opportunity then to look at the other teams, but our main has been getting our own players ready and making sure we start well.”
Betfred League One gets underway on Saturday, May 8, with North Wales playing London Skolars