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Musty’s Tiger Bay Build On Historic Roots And Use Football As The Door To Opportunity

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In normal times, Tiger Bay FC can be found playing their home matches every weekend in Canal Park – a thin strip of greenery that runs from Cardiff Bay up to Butetown, built on top of what was once an industrial waterway connection between the city and the docks.

But these are not normal times, which at least means the football club can concentrate on some of its other community-focused roles that stem from attracting youngsters wanting to kick a ball about.

Like every other grass roots club in the Cardiff Combination League, Tiger Bay are training but without the release of matches as Covid-19 restrictions continue.

So, it’s training nights and then the personal development of players for manager Mustafa Mohamed – “Musty” – the club’s dynamic 25-year-old manager.

Skilled Sailors

The club may only have begun in 2009, but the roots of their playing base – the capital’s Somali population that came to Cardiff Docks as highly skilled sailors in the 1880s – stretch back over a century.

At first, Somalis dominated the playing squad – with the exception of one or two who were second and third generation Caribbean - but Musty says the club is now more diverse – both in its make-up and wider purpose.

“I’ve tried to broaden things since I’ve been involved, so that we reflect the people around here,” says Musty.

“There are now about six or seven Somalis, including me, in a squad of about 18 and the others guys include Arabs, north Africans, Egyptian, Sudanese, Yemenis, Libyan – it’s a real mix.

“The players come from different backgrounds and perspectives, but they all share a love of football.

“They also have familiar problems that go beyond football and we try to help them with those. It might be college applications, or finding jobs in engineering, finance, or accountancy.

Good Connections

“In many ways, we have become well connected, so we try and use those connections to give people the resources to get what they need.

“We all love football, but we also use football as a tool. Our motto has always been that we’re more than just a football club.”

As well as a senior team, Tiger Bay also oversee younger age-group sides, in conjunction with other organisations in Butetown such as Tiger Bay Youth Development.

Those links have enabled the club to bring through a steady flow of fresh talent, meaning many of those in the senior side have come through the ranks from the age of 14.

Last season, with an average age of just 21, Tiger Bay finished fourth in the Premier Division of the Cardiff Combination League, with an ambition to push higher, when the league was brought to a premature close in March.

Welsh Cup Adventure

There are high hopes the current side can go on to match the feats of the renowned 2014 team that reached the third round of the Welsh Cup before going out to Caersws, a club that had previously represented Wales in European club competition.

Former club chairman Ishmael Ide recalls: “That was a great day and a fantastic achievement for the club.

“For us to reach that level was amazing. They were a very well-oganised team, semi-professional at the time, whereas we just used to turn up and play.

“We have built the club up, used the money from our own pockets and lots of commitment and enthusiasm, and we’re very proud of what we’ve done.

“Back before we started, there was a real lack of opportunity for our players to play football. 

“We didn’t seem to get anywhere when he tried to play for other teams, so we started our own.”

Canal Park Plans

Tiger Bay FC have no clubhouse and although they get good match day support from friends and families, their traditional post-match routine has always been a cup of tea in the nearby Paddle Steamer café.

But there are plans in place for joint redevelopment of Canal Park by Cardiff Council and Cardiff and Vale College that would see £1.9m invested in new facilities.

The idea is for clubs like Tiger Bay and others in the local area to share the 3G playing surface, changing rooms, multi-use gaming areas and floodlighting with the four Butetown primary schools, although the pandemic has put back the start of construction.

Musty says: “There are big plans there for the area and we will be part of that. Tiger Bay is now established as a football club in the area, but we’ve got a much wider role to play for all the people who live here.”

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