by Olly Allen
In 2009, STM Sports were playing in the Cardiff Combination Premier League, the seventh tier of Welsh football. But the last decade has seen the club go on a remarkable journey, achieving five promotions to reach the second tier for the first time in the club’s history.
Saturday November 23 marked the biggest game in their history, as goals from Callum Bateman and Josh Graham saw them defeat top-flight side Aberystwyth Town 2-1 to reach the Welsh League Cup final.
“It is a fairytale story,” chairman Geza Hajgato told Gair Rhydd Sport.
“We don’t know how it’s happened if I’m honest. We’re just riding a wave, keeping the feel-good factor going as long as we can.”
STM is an abbreviation of St Mellons (in South East Cardiff), and their journey is even more incredible considering that they don’t pay their players a penny.
“Although we don’t pay the players they are well treated. They get the best Nike tracksuits, they don’t pay for training, they don’t pay fines, so we do look after them.”
Former Chelsea apprentice and Cardiff City youth player Hajgato runs the club alongside vice-chairman Nigel Bircham, who he says “deserves the freedom of St Mellons” for what he has done for the team and the community.
The pair invest a lot of their own money into the club, keeping it alive on many occasions.
“Financially at times it has been a struggle,” Hajgato said.
“But we do have five or six very loyal, local sponsors. It has been tough, but the cup run this year has obviously earned us a few quid. We’ve never had as much money in the bank as we do this year.”
Due to injuries to four key players, 38-year-old Hajgato was himself named on the substitutes bench against Aberystwyth and came on in the second half to make his first appearance of the season.
But he admits the team were confident of coming away with the victory against their top-flight opponents.
“To be honest, when we drew Aberystwyth at home, we really fancied ourselves. We never bragged about it, but internally we were confident we could beat them.
“I said to the players before the game you’ll never get another chance at this, so take it all in, savour it, smile, enjoy it. There are players who are far better than us who will never play in a final.
“We are known for playing very attractive football. If you look at the goal that won it on Saturday, it’s an absolutely fantastic footballing goal. Aberystwyth are a very direct side and we coped with it reasonably well.”
STM will now face Connah’s Quay Nomads in the final in February, the side who at the time of writing sit top of the Cymru Premier unbeaten.
“It doesn’t get any tougher than Connah’s Quay,” Hajgato said.
“They probably spend in a week what we spend in a season. But we’ll cause them problems. If we can get on the ball and dictate that way, we’ll have a chance and one thing we have got is goals. We’ll head into it confidently, but we are also realists.”
The club’s story is unique, and Hajgato is confident it won’t be matched. “I’m pleased we’ve done it our way,” he said. “I’m just so proud. It’s not just about the club, it’s about the community.
“This sort of story won’t happen again. I can 100% assure you of that. No one will go through the leagues like us and then get to a national cup final.”