6th December 2014 – Welsh Premier League
The first weekend of December allowed me to make the journey to a venue I am very familiar with, probably more familiar than other ground I have visited. The Hollingsworth Group Stadium (or The Airfield to give it its pre-sponsorship name) is the home of Airbus UK Broughton and a stadium I drive past every weekday to and from work. Throughout my lengthy employment with their parent company, I have seen the team and ground develop from a mid to lower table team that had a temporary small trailer for a stand and a grass pitch, to a title-challenging, Europa League qualifying team that now possesses two permanent stands and a state of the art 3G artificial surface! The club and Airbus itself should be highly praised for putting in the investment (or arranging the funding) to steadily improve both the team and the facilities to make The Airfield an excellent Welsh Premier League venue and Airbus UK Broughton a tough team to beat. The Airfield was also the starting and finishing point for my 1888 Challenge charity tour that I did in 2013!
Despite all of this, I still had yet to actually watch Airbus play at The Airfield. Therefore this was my opportunity to rectify that anomaly especially I was the “lone wolf” this weekend due to all my other groundhopping accomplices either working or being hungover from the night before! I made the well-trodden journey from HQ, down the A55 to the Airbus ground hoping to watch Airbus take on Bangor City in the Welsh Premier League.
Airbus UK were having a solid start to the season situated in 4th position in the WPL, but only 2 points from second position. Also they were coming off the back of an impressive 5-0 home victory against Welsh League leaders Haverfordwest County in the Welsh Cup the previous weekend despite being hampered by injuries. Their opponents Bangor City were the complete opposite and were having a shocking season so far! Coming into the match, they were languishing at the bottom of the table and 5 points adrift from Prestatyn Town in 11th spot, with only 1 league to their name this season. A complete change in fortunes for a team that was challenging for the title only a few seasons ago! As a result of this, Airbus UK were strong favourites going into the match even with home advantage!
The Airfield ground itself is located just outside the main Airbus factory in the border village of Broughton, and is known for its close proximity to the English border and Chester, and also for its retractable floodlights. These kind of floodlights are required due to the ground being right next to runway at Hawarden Airport, and the runway Airbus uses extensively. Prior to start of this season, the club became the latest Welsh Premier team to install a 3G artificial surface to replace their grass pitch after getting the required funding from the Welsh FA, as well as funding from the Broughton Wings Social Club. As stated previously, they have two main permanent stands – the main stand (where the TV cameras are located) on the Broughton side of the pitch whilst there is another newer stand at the far end opposite the entrance and next to the runway. The factory side of the pitch is occupied by the club pavilion which houses the changing rooms, public toilets as well as a small amount of seats for regulars and press.
Anyway I managed to park the car in the left-hand side visitors car park at the entrance to the main Airbus drive, although there are plenty of other car parks available should the car park be full. Luckily there were plenty of spaces available and it was only a very short walk to the turnstile of the ground. For any future visitors that wish to arrive early and get some alcoholic pre-game refreshment, the club does not have a club house inside the ground like other WPL teams but uses the factory’s social club (Broughton Wings Social Club) that is located opposite the ground on other side of the road. As I was driving and arrived a bit later than expected, I decided to skip the social club this time and head straight into the ground.
Entry into the ground cost £7 for adults (although I failed to ask if there was a discount for Airbus employees ha!) and the programme was an additional £2. The programme is really decent read giving info and history of both teams, league and cup news as well as information on the Airbus reserves and women’s squads. From the entrance I headed directly to the club shop which was located in a portakabin next to the main pavilion to see if I could add to my mug & fridge magnet collection! The club shop is impressive for the club’s size and had numerous items for sale such as scarves, shirts, programmes, pin badges etc. Most importantly (well for me anyway) they had mugs for sale so naturally an Airbus UK Broughton mug was bought (which came with freebies like a pen, car window stick & keyring) and became a welcome addition to the collection!! Alas they didn’t do fridge magnets although the club shop manager, who was incredibly helpful and friendly by the way, told me that they had discussed about possibly stocking them, along with beer mats, in the future. Hopefully they will introduce them into the club merchandise soon! 🙂
As is becoming standard with my football visits, a visit to the snack bar by the club shop was required. The usual pick of jumbo hotdog with cup of tea was chosen yet again, coming to a combined total of £3 (£2 for the hotdog, £1 for the tea). Hotdog was good even though I had accidently put hot chilli sauce on it thinking it was ketchup (a schoolboy error which became a blessing in disguise considering it considerably warmed me up on a cold day) and the cup of tea was a good amount for £1. With cup of tea & hotdog in hand, I went to find a spot to watch the game and settled on standing in one of the corners nearest the snack bar and in the opposite corner to the turnstile.
Airbus were in their home kit of all blue with a white trim, whilst Bangor were in their away strip of all red with white trim. Bangor initially started the brighter by having the first shot on goal – big Les Davies having an opportunity for a quick opener but found his shot blocked by the Airbus defence. They had a couple more half-chances early on in the game but unfortunately for the visitors the hosts started to dominate the midfield and possession, and took control of the game leaving Bangor’s Davies isolated upfront on his own. With the lion’s share of early possession, Airbus cranked the pressure on The Citizens, with Jay Owens’ blocked shot being the nearest to the deadlock being broken.
Airbus’ intense possession finally provided an opener and it came from the penalty spot after 21 minutes when Bangor’s Anthony Miley was adjudged to have brought down the increasingly influential Ryan Wignall in the box. Wignall darted into the box but Miley felled him with a clumsy, desperate challenge which left the official with no option but to give the spot kick. Up stepped Tom Field to comfortably direct it to the ‘keepers’ right hand side and just out of reach of the Bangor goalkeeper Jack Cudworth to give the hosts a deserved lead after their increased period of possession. Not long after the first goal, Wignall would become provider once again as he constantly exploiting the space left to him by the Bangor wing backs. Another curling cross into the opposition’s penalty box was met by Chris Budrys although he could only manage to put his headed chance over the bar.
Although they were encouraged by the numerous amount of fans who had travelled the full length of North Wales to support their team, Bangor were finding it increasingly difficult to conjure up a chance to get back into the game. Les Davies provided the thrust of Bangor’s intermittent attacks when he arched a dangerous cross into the host’s penalty box but his isolation upfront meant he was unable to find any support in the box that could get on the end of the pass and threaten the Airbus goal. Bangor would be soon punished for this lack of support when The Wingmakers then doubled their lead. Wignall once again being the key player and causing The Citizens’ defence more havoc. He provided the assist through his high floating cross into the box from the right hand side that found Ellis Healing with acres of space and plenty of time to comfortably nod the ball into the far corner of the goal. Yet again the Bangor defence had been caught napping and Airbus were exploiting the space resulting in the home team going into the half-time break with a two goal lead.
HALF TIME – AIRBUS UK BROUGHTON 2 – 0 BANGOR CITY
I decided not to move from my original position during the break as all the play had been at the opposite end of the pitch to where I was from, so I was confident all the action would be down the end I was standing.
I was not disappointed as Airbus started the second half as they had ended the first and were dominating in play and chances. Cudworth was kept busy as he had to deal with a few corners and chances as Airbus went looking for a third and decisive goal. He smartly kept out a chance from Glenn Rule but almost got caught out when Rule agonisingly shot wide after playing a delightful one-two with Healing.
The Bangor tifosi were becoming increasingly vocal trying to encourage their team to summon up a chance back into the match as a result of Airbus having all the momentum. The Citizens almost managed to find a breakthrough, albeit against the run of play, with a couple of chances that forced Airbus’ goalkeeper James Coates into action. First Coates had to make a diving save from the dangerous Les Davies who managed to get a shot on target following a corner, and then had to scramble when former Wingmakers’ loanee Leon Clowes headed just over the crossbar from a free-kick.
Despite the Bangor mini resurgence, the game would be concluded as a contest as the third goal for Airbus would come soon after the Bangor chances, and it would come from the penalty spot once more. Rule breezed through the visitors defence and charged into the box but his shot was blatantly stopped by the hand of Chris Roberts. It was such a clear handball that I could see it from where I was standing although strangely the assistant referee (who was standing right by me) never flagged for it. Anyway Tom Field would step up once again and confidently strike the ball into the same place of the goal to get the same reward as before and earn his second goal of the afternoon.
The third goal was a hammer blow to Bangor’s confidence and their defensive discipline disintegrated as they started making basic errors and leaving even more space at the back for the home side to exploit. The Citizens were soon under pressure once again when Rule managed to get a diving header on target only for Cudworth to keep the effort out through an excellent save. Airbus could smell blood and soon had their opponents carved open again when on 67 minutes a great through ball from midfield put Healing in plenty of space on the right hand side of the pitch. The goalscorer became provider and returned the favour to Wignall as his low accurate cross into the box left Cudworth stranded ensuring the advancing Wignall had to simply tap the ball into an empty net to extend the lead. A goal that wouldn’t look out of place when playing on FIFA 15!!
The visitors managed to get a goal back and restore some pride by grabbing a consolation goal from a set piece to make the score 4-1. Airbus’ defence and marking had switched off for just a second, probably due to the number of substitutions that Airbus had made prior to the corner. It resulted in Miley having both plenty of time and clear space to connect with the accurate cross and direct the headed ball past Coates much to the delight of the travelling Bangor fans!
Airbus would then restore the four goal cushion, as Wignall terrorised the Bangor defence yet again by getting his second and Airbus’ fifth of the afternoon on the 78th minute. After a scramble in the box from yet another corner and Bangor failing to clear their lines efficiently, Wignall latched onto the ball on the edge of the area and lashed a thunderbolt past Cudworth into the top right corner of the net to finish off a fantastic performance. The best goal of the game to emphasise The Wingmakers’ dominance and add more misery to Bangor’s afternoon! The Wingmakers managed a couple of half chances before the end of the game but the contest was over long before then much to the annoyance of everyone involved in Bangor. Tempers started to fray when the Bangor players urged Cudworth to be more urgent in his deliveries, which resulted in the goalkeeper quipping back to them “we’re 5-1 down and I don’t want to concede another!”. Ironically he almost conceded a 6th goal a minute after he made his declaration, but the effort was scuffed and Cudworth could gather the shot comfortably. After a few minutes of injury time, the final whistle blew resulting in Bangor suffering their heaviest ever defeat at The Airfield and Airbus UK having another 5 goal haul for the second game in a row!
The result keeps Airbus in touch with Bala Town & Aberystwyth Town who 2 points ahead of them in the table and comfortably within the Top 6 before the league splits into two in January. Defeat for Bangor leaves them rooted at the bottom and heaps added pressure on City’s manager Nev Powell who is having to endure ever increasing criticism from both the stands and the media. Having watched the game, I can now understand why they are bottom of the table as they looked like a team with zero confidence. They lacked any defensive organisation, especially when they went behind, did not create anything in midfield and were often overran by the Wingmakers’ midfield which isolated Les Davies in the more forward positions. I think Bangor should have the resources to get themselves out of their predicament, especially considering the experience Powell has as a WPL manager. However time is ticking by, performances are declining and the pressure is becoming more intense on City’s management!! I wouldn’t like to see them get relegated as the league would be worse without Bangor’s participation and loyal supporters!
Overall the game was a decent match even if Airbus seemed very comfortable for most of the afternoon, and The Airfield has become a great venue to watch WPL football. The people running the club are very enthusiastic about the club which bodes well for the future and shows why it has developed the past few seasons. The club shop is one of the most impressive ones I have seen at this level so far on my travels (even without the fridge magnets) and naturally I was happy they stocked mugs haha. Well worth a visit if you’re looking for decent WPL action, and I’m glad I have finally managed to watch the “factory team” in the end! 🙂
Bangor City’s match report: