25th October 2014 – Conference North
Saturday 25th October saw myself and my friend Greg take the short trip down the A55 to the quaint coastal town of Colwyn Bay to see the North Welsh side compete in their Conference North game against fellow coastal town Barrow AFC. I will be honest it was not going to be the game I was initially planning on attending, however a phone call from Greg on the Friday afternoon asking if I fancied going to watch Colwyn Bay the following day could not be turned down.
Myself and a few members of the team have often discussed the possibility of going to watch Colwyn Bay play for a couple of years now but we have never really had the time nor the possibility to do it. However the fact they were playing against Barrow, a town we all know very well due to our yearly trip up to the Cumbrian town for the Keswick 2 Barrow 40 mile charity walk (under the Welsh Warriors team guise), and that Greg had work mates who were going and were Barrow supporters, meant we were destined to head west for the Saturday afternoon’s entertainment. It was the not the first time Greg had seen Barrow play as he had gone with his workmates to watch Barrow play against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light a couple of years back in the FA Cup Third Round game, so understandably he was keen to see the Cumbrians play again. For me, I was keen to see Colwyn Bay play especially as it was a stadium I had not been before to and also it was a chance to see Conference North football.
I suppose it’s a little disappointing that I have not been to Llanelian Road earlier, especially as they were in my neck of the woods of North Wales and playing at a high level in the English non-league pyramid. I guess that’s the issue Colwyn Bay have always had in encouraging fellow North Walians from outside of the town to come and support them – something which hasn’t helped since Wrexham slipped into the Conference National a few years back, and also the standard of the Welsh Premier League improving thus encouraging attendances to creep up. However I feel that idea is changing and more local football fans are taking more interest in Colwyn Bay’s exploits especially considering the cost of tickets at higher levels of football. There seems to be a small renaissance in the support of non-league football which can only be a great thing for football at the “grassroots”.
The journey down the A55 Expressway to Colwyn Bay is always a pleasant one (providing there are no roadworks or delays which are commonplace on the A55) as views of both the Clwydian Hills and North Wales coast looking out to the Irish Sea are prevalent along the route. As we headed into the town, Greg stated he didn’t know where the stadium was (helpful statement ha) and because I thought he had been before, I didn’t check where it was either. We headed into the main town whilst I fiddled with my smart phone to bring up the maps application and search for the stadium. Once the phone had gotten a signal and located the stadium, we realised it was based in Old Colwyn and so had to do an about turn and head back on ourselves to get to the stadium. However once we had gotten on the right road, the stadium was signposted so there wasn’t much need for the maps furthermore. We arrived at about half 2 with a coach (no doubt bringing either the Barrow team or fans down) parked outside of the stadium entrance and a number of cars parked alongside the road that runs past the stadium. We parked on the road as there were no double yellow lines and managed fairly near to the entrance. There is a small car park at the entrance where you can park your car although this comes at a cost of £2.50 for the privilege.
Once parked up on the main road, we walked up to the ticket office passing both the parked ‘Barrowbus’ and a Police Van. As I have not been to any Conference South games before, I am completely unaware of the ticket pricing structure of other clubs within the league so I cannot really comment on whether the cost was fair or not. I paid £11 on the gate for my ticket so you can decide whether that is a correct price or not – I didn’t mind paying it anyway. Once through the turnstiles, there was a steward selling match programmes at £2 each, so one was bought for the pre-match reading and to get some info on the teams.
Then I headed to the club shop which is located in the right hand corner of the ground as you enter through the turnstiles. Being an avid collector of mugs and fridge magnets displaying the club badge of the stadiums I have visited, I was most certainly eager to view what they had on offer especially considering I have not got any Colwyn Bay F.C. merchandise in the collection! The club shop is a decent size for the club and had a wide range of CBFC merchandise for sale including replica home shirts. The shop also displays the pennants of clubs who have played The Seagulls in the past and it pleased me greatly to see the Manchester United pennant next to the inform Holywell Town pennant. Anyway the staff who were running the shop were really helpful and friendly and you could sense the enthusiasm for the club coming through whilst talking to them. I did manage to buy a Colwyn Bay badge mug and fridge magnet for a grand total of £8 and was very pleased with the latest addition to the collection.
Whilst waiting for the game to start and with the players from both teams going through their warm-up routines on the pitch, we decided to follow both sets of supporters into the grand club house for a quick drink. The club house was a really impressive size and had plenty of tables for the supporters to sit down and enjoy a quick pre-match pint (or pints). They were also showing the West Ham versus Man City early game which was projected on the back wall of the club house so that kept the supporters entertained before kick-off. I bought a pint of Peroni for about £3.20 which is a fair amount for a pint of the Italian Nectar, although they had cheaper beers and ciders on tap if Italian beer is not your thing.
Once the pint had been consumed, we headed out of the club house to find a good place to sit/stand in the ground to watch the game. I thought Colwyn Bay’s ground was really impressive, although for the high level of non-league they are playing in, I suppose the stadium has to be of a good standard. At one end of the ground is the grand club house and entrance, whilst the main stand runs alongside the road side of the ground and has the seats and disabled facilities. At the other two sides there are covered stands for the supporters to stand under, with the side opposite the main stand, separated into 2 stands with the dugouts inbuilt into the stands. They were separated by the platform where the media could put cameras although today a lone photographer was braving the windy conditions to perch atop of the media platform to take pictures of the ongoing match. There is also a sloping farmer’s field behind the stands where sheep were taking an brief interest in the noise coming from the ground although they soon ran off once the tannoy started blaring. The local fans took their position in the main stand whilst the Barrow fans were located in the opposite side in the stand nearest to the club house and bar. We met up with Greg’s Barrow supporting workmates and stood against the wall in the corner nearest the club shop, and at the end the visitors were attacking towards.
Conditions were not the best as the wind was picking up and dark clouds were drifting over which threatened what seemed to be a downpour later on in the match. It was would seem the conditions had an effect on the game as the first half wasn’t the greatest half of football you would have seen. It was Barrow who had the vast majority of the possession in the first half, as you would imagine from a team who were currently situated 2nd in the Conference South. They might have had the superior possession to their hosts although they didn’t create too much from their chances. They were getting success down the flanks and Colwyn rarely managed to get out of their own half in first 45 minutes, however Barrow were not taking their chances when they were created and the home team were defending resolutely when the attacks came. Colwyn managed a couple of chances throughout the back end of the first half, catching Barrow on the break although when it came to shooting they ended up being pretty standard saves for the Barrow keeper. As imagine from the standard on show in the first 45 minutes, the score was 0-0 at half time with the home side coming off the pitch the happier of the two by keeping a clean sheet.
A large group of Barrow fans were in loud support and constantly chanted for their team during the first half. Chants varied from unwavering support of their team to chants against their opponents and their Welshness. In contrast to the Barrow supporters’ loud support, the Colwyn fans in the main stand seemed very quiet in my opinion and only came alive when the home side had a shot on goal. I was a little bemused why they weren’t making more of a noise to support their team. Perhaps they being drowned out by the partisan support coming from the Barrow end, perhaps the conditions had dampened their spirits or (more than likely) they didn’t see a great amount from the home side to cheer about much. Either way the first half was a gritty affair with Barrow coming out the better team although they weren’t taking their chances effectively enough for the fans to be content.
Half time saw us queue up for something to eat at the snack bar located at the club house entrance. If I could make a suggestion is that they could do with another snack bar somewhere else in the ground as the food queue ended up being quite long and the people working the snack bar were snowed under for orders. It took us about 10 minutes to get our order (we were one of the first in the queue) and we ended up with the classic beef burger. It didn’t help that there was no ketchup left so I ended up with burger sans sauce! Still though the burger was nice and for about £3.50 I can’t really complain with the price either which seems reasonable for a football ground. I have paid more for a flavourless burger at the football before now!!
As the second half commenced, we made our way to the opposite end of the ground where the Barrow fans had congregated behind the goal to watch their team attack that goal and hoping (as joking stated by a few Barrow fans) to “suck the ball into the goal”. As we made our walk alongside the main stand, Barrow made an early attack which resulted in their striker controlling the crossed in ball on his chest in the opposition’s penalty box and thumping it on the volley to drill the ball past the Colwyn keeper and ensure Barrow took the lead. A great start for the visitors who had caught their hosts napping and lead the Barrow fans into rapturous celebration in the goal behind. A goal fit for any division let alone the Conference South! With Colwyn Bay rattled, Barrow were in the early ascendancy and had a couple more chances which went wide or over the bar – chances which left the Barrow fans frustrated as they should have been tucking them away to add more pressure on their opponents.
As the Barrow fans feared, Colwyn Bay awoken from their half-time slumber to slowly get back into the match and wrestle more of the possession. This came about after they made a couple of personnel changes which included player-manager Frank Sinclair (he of Chelsea, Leicester and Jamaica fame) being substituted onto the pitch to control the situation and his team from his familiar position of centre back. These substitutions firmed up the Colwyn back line and allowed them to push more forward and take more chances as they were chasing for an equaliser. It was now Barrow who were on the back foot as the home side came alive, and with them so did the home crowd’s support and noise. Colwyn Bay had a few chances before they finally managed to get the ball into the back of the net. However the referee blew his whistle before the celebrations could begin and expunged the goal for potentially offside (it was difficult to see from my position). Not much argument from the home players nor fans but the Barrow fans roared with approval for the referee’s decision.
During the back end of the second half, the Barrow fans became louder and frenetic as they could see their team slowly being pushed back by the home team, and clinging onto their slender lead. Colwyn’s keeper got a lot of stick from the Barrow fans behind his goal, but their attention was now on the more well-known Frank Sinclair. Queue the age old chants of his weight being fired at him as well as other possible derogatory retorts which I could quite not hear properly from my position but were sufficient enough for Sinclair to react to them. In front of the Barrow fans he dropped his shorts to reveal his buttocks to the baying crowd, which only sent them into a more frenzied pitch of chanting of “You’ve got the fattest arse in the Conference North” towards Sinclair. The partisan support of Barrow kept chanting for the whole of the second half hoping to encourage their team to survive the Colwyn waves of attack and possibly nick a second goal to settle the match. Again when Barrow got a corner, the chants of “You fat bastard!” were directed at Sinclair again, and once again he reacted to their chant by lifting the front of his shirt to reveal a ripped 6-pack! If he’s considered fat, then I must be super obese!!!
Not sure what to make of those incidents as he was getting some stick from the opposition fans and therefore made an attempted comedic attempt to brush them off. However I think reacting made the situation worse as it encourage the Barrow fans into more chanting. Plus there was the school of thought, certainly amongst the more restrained Barrow fans that were around my position that a manager shouldn’t be acting in that behaviour towards opposition fans. Perhaps it might have been for the best if he had ignored the chanting and focused on the game or mentioned it to the referee if they were getting non-acceptable.
The game eventually fizzled out as both teams’ tempo decreased towards the end after the strong showing in the second half, and as a result of the worsening conditions as fine rain started to fall and the temperature dropped. The game finished as a 1-0 win for Barrow, which keeps them in the hunt for promotion at the top of the table. Both teams can take positives from the game as Colwyn Bay defended well for a vast majority of the game and were only opened up by a spectacular goal, plus they came more alive in the second half to give their opposition more problems and were unlucky not to get a point. Barrow can take some positives also as they made good starts in both halves and created chances even if they were not fully taken advantage of. Plus they managed to hold onto the victory when they didn’t play their best football – a sign of a good team when they still win despite struggling.
All in all it was not the best game of football I have seen this season as both teams were evenly matched by not playing to their full potential. However it was a decent match to watch my first Conference North game and could be considered a typical “autumnal non-league game”. I think Barrow will be there or thereabouts in the promotion race this season as they have some decent players in their team and strong support which should see them a tough side to beat for anyone in the league this season. As for the home team, they were unlucky not to get something from the game and look good enough to stay comfortably safe in the league this season. Plus I was impressed by the standard of their ground and the enthusiasm of the people who work for the club. Above the main stand of the ground a sign says “Colwyn Bay Football Club Pride of North Wales Football” – at their current situation and potential future progression in the non-league pyramid, I think they are a club North Wales can be proud of and would encourage all North Walians (and beyond) to come and give them a visit!!
Colywn Bay’s match report: