Leading a balanced university lifestyle is a constant challenge. Students have an abundance of regular pastimes including studying, socialising and exercising. It becomes even trickier to balance the latter with the rest when it involves a battle for Europa League qualification.
This is the reality for one university football team based in Wales. Cardiff Metropolitan University finished in the Welsh Premier League play-offs this season, which means they are just two matches away from entering the Europa League Preliminary Qualifying Round.
Cardiff Met have never qualified for the competition, despite coming close to qualifying on two previous occasions including last year. But another successful season has meant they now stand on the brink of history once again, and they could earn the university an enormous £193k windfall if they qualify.
The team is made up entirely of students, or those who have recently graduated, and they do not get paid to turn out for the side. This has resulted in them being labelled ‘The Students’ within Welsh footballing circles, and finished seventh in the Welsh Premier League this season.
However, they boasted the fourth-highest points tally in the league due to the nature in which the WPL splits into two sections during the season. This means Met are now set to face Caernarfon Town for a place in the play-off final.
The team is managed by former Swansea City footballer Christian Edwards, and he is committed to instilling a strong ethos at the club focused on passing football. This means that Met are always on the look-out for young players who are willing to buy into this vision.
Goalkeeper Alex Lang is a first-year student who joined the club from Swansea City last summer, and he says that the students are relishing the opportunity to finally seal a European spot.
“We’re all very excited and we’re going to give everything we can,” he said.
“We’re currently going from lectures and studying in the day to preparing for the Europa League play-offs in the night. I don’t think it’s happened before where a university has got into a competition at this level. It will really put Cardiff Met on the map.”
He added that the club has had a mixed season, after failing to finish in the top half of the table before the league split. However, Lang believes the dedication of the players and the burning desire to put things right helped them thrive in the closing weeks of the regular season.
“We had a really good start and then had a dip around Christmas time due to injuries and many other factors,” he said.
“We have really high standards at the club so it was a big disappointment when we didn’t get it, but we’ve worked really hard since then and put things right.
“Our aim at the beginning of the season was to get into the European play-offs and we’ve managed to achieve that.”
Lang spoke of the challenges the players have faced in ensuring the club’s Europa League bid doesn’t distract from their university work. But he did note that many of the players are study sport-related degrees, so their degree work does in fact help them in preparing for regular matches.
“This means we get help looking after themselves on and off the pitch,” he said
“It actually gives us an extra boost. There are a lot of sports courses offered by Cardiff Met and I think this is definitely beneficial to the team.
“We also take the football very seriously. It’s not just a hobby, as there are standards expected from us. We have to get things right on the pitch, as well as in the classroom to get the grades we need.”
The success of Cardiff Met on the pitch in recent years is reflective of the importance of education within football. To succeed in the modern game, players must be capable of looking after their bodies and must also be able to understand sometimes sophisticated tactical strategies.
Met are leading the way in proving that the intertwinement of education and football usually breeds success.
Cardiff Met face Caernarfon Town in the Europa League play-off semi-final on May 11.
Featured photograph/ UEFA Europa League – Wikicommons