Welsh Premier League – 28th March 2015
- Entrance: £7.00; Programme: £2.50
- Chicken Pie: £2.00; Cup of Tea: £1.00
- Rhyl F.C. Mug: £4.00; Rhyl Pin Badge: £3.50
The final weekend of March, which was also an international break weekend, saw me travel to a ground that I have previously visited in the past which has huge importance to both myself and to this blogsite. It would result in myself travelling back to the fantastic ground of Belle Vue, the home of Rhyl Football Club and the venue of Holywell Town’s incredible comeback in the FAW Trophy final way back in 2011 (and the inspiration for this blog’s name)!
Initially I was looking at potentially visiting Penycae’s ground to see them take on Llandudno in the Cymru Alliance. This was a significant match as it would have seen Tudno get promoted to the Welsh Premier League for the first time in their history as Cymru Alliance champions had they won the match (which they did and huge congratulations to Tudno for this fantastic achievement!). However tweets from a couple of people on Twitter moved my focus to the crucial local derby match of Rhyl against Connah’s Quay in the Relegation Conference of the WPL. One of those tweets came from a fellow Welsh groundhopper Matt Harrison who, along with his brother, runs the fantastic website Lostboyos which initially focused on Welsh players who played abroad, but has recently focused on posting groundhopping visits from all divisions and leagues (please check it out, it’s fantastic reading!!).
Matt was making the train journey down to Rhyl to watch them take on gap Connah’s Quay and immerse himself in some North Welsh football. He would also be viewing the Israel versus Wales game (which was taking place in the evening) after the league game in a Rhyl pub. Having not been down to Belle Vue since that magnificent Holywell comeback, plus the prospects of meeting up with Matt, seeing a local derby and potentially getting myself a Rhyl mug to add to the collection (most important of course ha!), meant that the half an hour drive up the coast was on!
The popular seaside town of Rhyl (Y Rhyl in Welsh) is located in the very north of Denbighshire, in the corridor of land that connects the majority of the county to the sea, although historically the town was part of Flintshire. The town is unsurprisingly situated on the North East Wales coast (handy for a seaside town…) and at the mouth of the River Clwyd, the river which provided the name to the previous county that covered Denbighshire, Flintshire & Wrexham between 1974 to 1996. To the west of the town are the connecting coastal towns of Kinmel Bay and Towyn, with the historic castle town of Rhuddlan to the south and the other famous local tourist locations of Prestatyn and Talacre (which is worth visiting by the way….there’s my bit for Flintshire tourism done…) to the east of the town.
Rhyl is also a place I have a lot of nostalgia for and I always enjoy the drive down the coast as I spent many weekends of my childhood travelling down the Coast Road and walking around town and the promenade with my parents, as well as shopping around the town (the White Rose Centre was always a plus point!). Plus I have family roots there as my grandfather’s family originates from the Rhyl/Abergele area so we would often travel down to see my great-grandmother (or Nain as I called her) when she lived there – another reason for my fondness for the town.
Therefore the trip down to Rhyl was a well-worn track for me although it has been a while since I had ventured westwards and I was unsure of the location of the ground through sheer directional knowledge. Using the sat nav, I had expected to venture along the Coast Road through Prestatyn and Rhyl before directing me down some side road and hopefully onwards towards the stadium. Strangely the sat nav had other ideas as it sent through Abergele and then Dyserth, before heading down a country lane (which was narrow at places) which fed into the south of the seaside town. Most probably the quickest route to the stadium (about half an hour journey from HQ) but surprising all the same!
Rhyl’s Belle Vue or “The Corbett Sports Stadium” to give it it’s sponsored name, is located in the middle of the town, with its main entrance on Grange Road. At the Grange Road end, there is a huge car park for supporters to use, although there is also plenty of roadside parking either outside the ground or nearby to it. I turned up there just before quarter to 2 and parked roadside just outside the ground as the car park looked full when I arrived, and it would be easier to leave come full time. Something which I convinced myself was for the best when I walked into the car park and found it had plenty of available spaces to park in…
Anyway to make up for my faux pas with the parking, I saw the official club shop just outside the ground entrance and shot towards it hoping to purchase a Rhyl F.C. mug. Unfortunately the recent bad weather had a bit of an impact on the club shop as leaks from the roof had caused part of the tiled ceiling inside the cabin to come away from the roof at the far end, causing a bit of a water damage to the stock below. Talking with the steward looking after the shop, he said that he was called a few days prior to the match to check on the shop after a loud bang was heard inside. When he opened up the cabin, he saw the damage although thankfully it was only superficial damage which could be easily repaired, and the majority of the club shop stock was at the other end with all affected stock (mainly shirts or training wear) only suffering some water damage. Luckily for myself, none of the mugs had suffered a soaking so I gleefully bought one, alongside an official Rhyl pin badge for the combined total of £7.50 (£4 for the mug, £3.50 for the badge). I was impressed with the amount of Rhyl merchandise they had on offer, and certainly a lot more than I was expecting. The steward also said that they would be getting even more merchandise next season when they switch kit suppliers to Adidas! 3 stripes for the Lilywhites = nice! A quick dart back to the car to put my purchased items in for safe keeping, and returned back to the ground entrance where I paid £7 entry fee and then a further £2.50 for the programme on the game.
Right a little history on the Lilywhites:
Rhyl Football Club are one of the best supported as well as one of the most successful Welsh teams in the modern Welsh Premier League era. Football has been played in the Rhyl area since the late 1870s (with the club stating it’s foundation date at 1879 on its badge) and were part of the pioneering clubs who helped established the early football leagues in the North Wales area. Despite of this, the vast majority of their illustrious history was spent in English non-league football pyramid until they reluctantly moved back into the Welsh football pyramid in 1992. They are also one of the few teams to have won the League of Wales / Welsh Premier League, winning their first league title in the 2003–04 season, and their second in the 2008–09 season.
Despite their championship winning credentials and superior attendances, they were forcibly relegated (after an unsuccessful appeal) to the Cymru Alliance at the end of the 2009-10 season after their Welsh Premier licence had been revoked due to a restructuring of the WPL and tighter licencing criteria set by the FAW. Rhyl returned back to the Welsh Premier League in 2013 after winning the Cymru Alliance title undefeated, becoming the first club in the history of the competition to complete the feat.
Unsurprisingly for the locality of the two towns, they have enjoyed a healthy rivalry with Prestatyn Town since the Seasiders have ascended to the top tiers of Welsh football, and past fixtures between the two have attracted plus 1000 attendances (a massive amount in WPL terms). Alas next season will see a hiatus on this rivalry as Prestatyn will be back playing in the Cymru Alliance for the 2015-16 season. Historically however, Rhyl’s fiercest rivals are Bangor City with both North Welsh towns spending the majority of their history in the English non-league pyramid, being past league champions and arguably being the two biggest teams (if not the largest supported and most partisan fans) in the WPL. Matches between the two are always massive occasions in Welsh football circles – perhaps the North Wales coast derbies need to be called “Y Gogleddico”?
This season has been a slightly disappointing campaign for Greg Strong’s boys as the Lilywhites are currently competing in the Relegation Conference and situated in 7th in the table. They are hoping to tie down 7th position which would see them go into the playoffs that decides the second Europa League qualifier through the league. In their previous three games, they have been in good form with an important 2-1 away win at Carmarthen, a creditable 1-1 draw against Bangor and a 2-1 away victory against Prestatyn which practically confirmed the Seasiders their relegation to the Cymru Alliance. On form like that, they were looking like favourites in this upcoming match.
Their opponents Gap Connah’s Quay (known as Connah’s Quay Nomads before they got taken over by gap Personnel) have had a tough season, despite being in ninth position, and has seen them involved in a change in manager from stalwart manager Mark McGregor to Allan Bickerstaff. The Deesiders are deeply involved in a relegation dogfight between themselves, Bangor City and Cefn Druids to avoid the 2nd of the two relegation spots down to the Cymru Alliance. Despite a comeback 4-3 away victory over doomed Prestatyn on Friday 13th (unlucky for Prestatyn), they suffered a massive blow to their survival hopes losing 0-2 away at relegation rivals Cefn Druids to make this upcoming game a crucial game for their season.
Anyway I entered Belle Vue (I’m not calling it by the sponsored name) and the venue is a fantastic ground and possibly the best in the Welsh Premier League. Unlike many WPL clubs who have one or maybe 2 massive main stand(s), Rhyl have seats on all four sides of the pitch with covered seating on the pitch sides and the end opposite the entrance. On the entrance side of the ground, there are uncovered seating as well as standing areas for fans. Plus they also have the clubhouse perched at the top of the stand allowing a great view of the pitch through the clubhouse windows, as well as having the main canteen situated in the corner. There is also a smaller snack bar in the main stand, whilst the Sgorio cameras are perched on top of the George James stand. It is a fantastic ground, and you can see why it has hosted many cup finals in the past.
Whilst waiting for Matt to arrive at the ground, I decided to buy a cup of tea from the main snack bar, whilst eyeing up what hot food they had on offer for half time. They have the usual hot snacks you can imagine for the average groundhopper at reasonable prices for the WPL. The cup of tea cost £1 and came in the standard polystyrene cup, and I stood by the main snack bar carefully slurping it down whilst watching the two teams run through their warm-up drills on the pitch.
Having waited for a while, and with kick off rapidly approaching, Matt still had not appeared inside the ground. Part of me thought he had gotten lost on the way to the ground, or perhaps he had lost track of time as was still looking around Rhyl. Anyway he finally appeared although not from the ground entrance but from the clubhouse behind me. He had been in the ground the entire time but had been drinking with a few Rhyl fans up in the clubhouse…I should have guessed ha! Anyway prior to the start of the game Matt bought a pasty and chips from the snack bar, and we had a chat about the upcoming match, his journey on the train to Rhyl, as well as the whole groundhopping scene in general and how our respective blogs got started. He detailed how him and his brother thought of the idea of the Les Rosbifs inspired Lostboyos whilst drinking in the pub (great ideas always happen in the pub!!), whereas I regaled him about the story of where the blog title “The 94th Minute” came from (very apt considering it was being told in the ground where it happened and strangely Holywell Town were back playing in the FAW Trophy final in a few weeks).
For the opening salvos of the first half, we were stood by the snack bar before walking over to the opposite end of the ground to take a few pictures of the ground and the football action itself. Before the game could commence, there was a minute’s silence for Ian Evans, a former local assistant referee who has sadly passed away at the age of 42, which was impeccably observed by all in the ground. Rhyl played in their traditional home kit of white shirt with black trim, black shorts and socks, whilst Connah’s Quay were in their home kit of red shirt with black trim, red shorts and socks (I still can’t get used to the Nomads playing in a home kit that isn’t white shirt with black shorts!).
Connah’s Quay started the more brighter of the two teams by showing great ball retention in the midfield and being more lively. It would be the Nomads who would have the opening chance of the game when a Rob Jones corner was clipped over the upright by former Welsh international Steve Evans. They continued their early dominance by winning every aerial contest and pinning back Rhyl in their own half, as well as pressing them into conceding possession. The surprise loan signing of Cortez Belle, who had signed the previous day on loan from fellow playoff chasing team Carmarthen Town, showed why the visitors had brought him into the club by making an immediate impact for the visitors. His attacking intent to carry the ball forward from the centre circle, as well as his aerial strength was an obvious highlight in the opening stages.
Nonetheless the Lilywhites managed to churn out their first attempt on target when Levi Mackin’s free kick was connected by Ryan Astles who shot from about 8 yards out. However the ball was at a comfortable midriff height for Nomads’ keeper Terry McCormick to comfortably deal with. Things got worse for the home side when centre back Jamie Brewerton had to be replaced by Michael Walsh due to injury after just 15 minutes. Worrying signs for Rhyl considering that is was his return game from an injury layoff , and the home fans were hoping it was just a precaution substitution.
The impressive duo of Alan Bull and Cortez Belle continued to probe the Rhyl defence through their attacking play but could not create a clear shot on goal, with Rhyl keeper Alex Ramsay either gaining possession on loose balls or easily clearing the threats. Connah’s Quay continued to ratchet up the pressure on the Rhyl defence by having a couple of half chances. Firstly Sean Miller exploiting the space down the left (something the Nomads would continually attack at during the first half) made a run down the byline and cut into the penalty area. He sent a square ball across goal which was begging to connected with but alas none of his teammates could get on the end of the cross. The Nomads would get nearer to opening the scoring, once again through a set piece. A sumptuous delivery by Kevin McIntyre’s was met by the head of Steve Evans again, but as with his first chance could only put the ball wide of the post!
With their defence under pressure, Rhyl finally started to work their way back into the match and Ashley Ruane was becoming more influential in the game. Intricate build up play from the Lilywhites allowed Ruane to unleash a vicious shot on goal, which was diverted way by the strong hands of McCormick. The Nomads could have caught them on the counter from the resulting corner as Sean Miller raced upfield on a dangerous counter-attack but could only manage to scuff his shot wide after pressure from Ramsay. Rhyl would get another chance to score when Liam Dawson fired a shot goalwards from 7 yards out but could only hit the side netting.
With both teams coming incredibly close to scoring, it was no surprise that a goal would soon arrive. Connah’s Quay almost scored when the impressive Belle showed great ingenuity to wriggle way from Paul McManus and unleash a targeted shot which clipped both the head of a Rhyl defender and the outside of the post to go out for a corner. From the resulting corner, the Nomads would finally break the deadlock on the 38th minute when McIntyre’s delivery was punched high into the air by a pressurised Ramsey, only for the towering centre back Steve Evans to make it third time lucky at set pieces and finally diverting the ball into the Rhyl net on its looping descent downwards.
Rhyl 0 – 1 Gap Connah’s Quay
Buoyed by their opener, Connah’s Quay were on the hunt for a second goal just before half time and it arrived not long after their opener on the 42nd minute. Belle once again in the thick of the action by causing problems for the Lilywhites’ defence. It was his flick on which eventually made its way out to Alan Bull flying down the left wing. Bull jinked past the wrong-footed Woodward with ease and placed the ball past Alex Ramsey’s right side to double the visitors lead. A bad goal to concede for the hosts just before the interval!
Rhyl 0 – 2 Gap Connah’s Quay
That would be last major piece of action of the first half as both teams when into the break with no other chances made after the second goal. Connah’s Quay had played really well and deserved to be in the lead as they stood up firm against Rhyl’s attacking quality and had the better chances. However Rhyl did threaten the visitors at times and would need to seriously improve their performance in the second half if they were to get something from the game.
HALF TIME: RHYL 0 – 2 GAP CONNAH’S QUAY
During the half time break, Matt had headed back to the clubhouse to meet up with the Rhyl fans he had been drinking with earlier for a couple more swift ales. As I was driving, I decided against it and headed to the smaller snack bar situated in the middle of the main stand for some bwyd. As stated previously, they had all the regular hot snacks you would want from a snack bar but I chose the traditional football supporter snack of a hot pie – no doubt inspired by Matt’s choice of ‘savoury pastry’ earlier . One piping hot chicken pie, served on a paper plate along with plastic knife & fork (with a splash of brown sauce) for £2.00. Not the cheapest pie I have come across this season but the quality was evident as it was really nice and filled the gap in the stomach more than adequately. Although I did have to grip onto the pie quite firmly as the winds were picking up, pushing along the dark rain clouds that would affected the second half, and I had images of the said pie ending up on either the floor and/or all down my front – neither ideal options!!
Once the pie had been consumed by the snack bar (albeit with plenty of pastry flakes blown away by the increasing gusts) I headed back up to the position I ended up at the end of the first half, although this time I decided to sit under the stand rather than stand in the open corner. It would prove to be the correct decision when the heavens decided to open up!!
The commencement of the second half saw the ground affected by the miserable March weather (something which mirrored the Rhyl players’ and supporters’ mood) as strong winds and intermittent showers of hailstones and heavy rain hampered the fluidity of play.
Sean Miller continued his first half attacking performance by surging into the hosts’ area to put pressure on them early in the half, although the Lilywhites were more switched on and managed to block his effort. On the other side, Ruane, who had been an effervescent presence in the first half and continually chased stray passes, dispossessed the goalscorer Evans and managed to win a corner off Miller to managed to lift the despondent Rhyl supporters and gain a bit of momentum for his team.
Connah’s Quay however were holding firm and stifling the hosts to occasional corner-kicks at best, whilst catching their opponents on the break. Liam Dawson tried to get his name on the score sheet but was adjudged to be offside by the assistant referee. A few minutes later and Belle suffered the same fate as he made a surging run on goal but failed to beat the offside trap. Belle would be involved in yet another half chance for the Nomads when he recovered possession from David Thompson on the touchline but he failed to find Bull with his cut back after the forward was unmarked inside the six-yard box. With an hour played, Connah’s Quay were seemingly in comfortable position and successfully dealing with any Rhyl threat.
However with just half an hour to be played, urgency took over for the hosts as they finally upped their performance and started to pressure their opponents as they looked for an opening back into the game. First Steve Evans had to make a vital tackle during a dangerous Rhyl break to eliminate one threat, then Riley managed to halt another Rhyl attack by putting the ball out for a corner. From the resulting corner Rhyl had their best opportunity of the half to open their account when the ball was drifted towards McManus, but his volley only managed to blaze wide of the post. Despite this miss, the momentum was with the home side and they were increasingly looking the more likely to score the next goal of the afternoon!
The Lilywhites’ momentum finally produced a result when they managed to half the two goal deficit from some great play on the 68th minute. A surging drive from Danny Gossett created the danger, especially as he bypassed three challenges before drilling an lethal shot on goal. McCormick, who had played well up to this point, blocked the powerful shot but he managed to fumble the ball into the path of the onrushing Ashley Ruane who deservedly slotted the rebound past the helpless keeper. With just over 20 minutes remaining, Rhyl had plenty of time to bring the score level, and left the Nomads facing an uphill struggle to maintain their advantage.
Rhyl 1 – 2 Gap Connah’s Quay
The goal instantly elevated Rhyl’s spirits both on the pitch and in the stands as they demonstrated that extra yard of pace and determination in the tackling, looking for the equaliser. The Deeside Stadium based outfit went from a position of confidence and strength to a position of worry and caution, eager to get at least something from the game and help their bid for staying in the league. No doubt the loss to Cefn Druids last week had rattled their confidence, and Rhyl was exploiting this nervousness, as the Nomads’ passing became more sloppy and the players retreated further back becoming more defensive.
Rhyl were on the attack and managed to test the Connah’s Quay defence through a couple of half chances and a corner, as well as just getting caught offside just after the corner. The home side almost achieved the comeback when Gossett went on another swashbuckling run at the Quay defence, this time causing havoc down the wing. He tried to lay it up for Ruane to score his second goal of the afternoon, but the ball couldn’t quite reach the mercurial player and the ball went out for a goal kick.
Connah’s Quay finally regained their confidence after their post-concede wobble and regained some composure in their defensive shape. Riley made a great defensive header to dispel a Rhyl pass heading towards the Nomads penalty area, whilst the introduction of the more defensive-minded Marcus Giglio for the attacking Alan Bull also boosted the Deesiders with some extra energy to hold onto their precarious lead. Their keeper McCormick also did his bit to reassure his defence and reducing the effects from the Rhyl attacks by taking his time over every goal kick, which infuriated the Rhyl supporters surrounding me in the stand!
It was at this point when I moved my viewing position from the main stand to behind the Connah’s Quay goal where a majority of Rhyl fans were situated. Naturally I thought that the majority of the action would happen at this end of the pitch!
The final ten minutes of the match became a tense affair as both teams were looking for the next goal – Rhyl for the equaliser and Quay to end the contest. Cortez Belle came very close to scoring a stylish debut goal and becoming an instant hero with his new fans when his effort curled wide and out for a goal kick. The Rhyl substitute Tom Rowlands (who replaced Dawson before the Rhyl upsurge) caused problems for the Nomads as went on a forward run but was eventually caught offside. After Quay made another substitution replacing Rob Jones with Kieran Gaul, they earned themselves a free kick on the left wing around 30 yards from goal. The ball was launched towards Belle who continued his aerial dominance by connecting his head to the ball and aimed it goalwards, but it was only diverted towards Ramsay who easily caught the effort.
With the referee Kris Hames declaring there was just three minutes of injury time to play and clouded under a tense atmosphere in the ground, it looked as if the Nomads might just hold onto their lead especially when Evans and Gaul made vital blocks and Thompson slipped at the vital moment during a Rhyl attack. However nerves were tested for both teams right at the death when Rhyl were awarded a free kick with barely seconds left on the clock. Gossett fired the ball into the danger area but unfortunately for every Lilywhite supporter it settled into the gloves of McCormick who safely caught the ball and eliminated the danger. After this, the official Mr Hames blew his whistle and confirmed a nervy 2-1 win for Connah’s Quay and condemned Rhyl to their first defeat in seven league games.
FULL TIME: RHYL 1 – 2 GAP CONNAH’S QUAY
This was a hard fought result for Allan Bickerstaff’s Nomads which further strengthens their position above the bottom two and their league position for next season. At the same time it also reduces the gap between themselves and the lucrative 7th place and can be considered an outside bet for reaching the playoffs. They also have next weekend off (due to Welsh Cup action) and plenty of time to prepare for their next game against Bangor City on Sunday 12th April, which would confirm their WPL place for next season should they win at Nantporth.
As for Rhyl, they did well to fight back from being two goals down and could have snatched a point right at the death, but the damage was done in the first half when they were punished by the Nomads for their sloppy performance. It was always going to be difficult to overturn a two goal deficit against a team fighting tooth and nail to stay in the division. The Lilywhites must now put this defeat behind them and Greg Strong must fully prepare his team for their upcoming Welsh Cup semi-final against Newtown at Cefn Druid’s ground, The Rock. Should The New Saints win the other semi-final match on the Sunday, the winner of this match will progress into the 2015-16 Europa League qualifiers due to TNS already qualifying for the Champions League next season! If Rhyl are to progress to the final, they need to play like they did in the final 30 minutes and not the first hour of the game especially as the game against Newtown is a winnable game (Newtown are 6th and bottom of the Championship Conference). I shall certain see how they perform as I shall be attending that match at Rhosymedre!
After the game, I went into the clubhouse to meet up with Matt and ask how he found the game as well as his trip to Belle Vue on the whole. He was incredibly impressed with the ground and enjoyed the game as well as his trip to Rhyl, and was now looking forward to the upcoming international match between Israel and Wales. As we were talking in the clubhouse, one Rhyl fan came steaming into the clubhouse shouting, flipping over a few chairs and then slamming the door on his way out. No idea why he was upset, perhaps it was the result although strangely he had served Matt his beers in the clubhouse…
Anyway we left the clubhouse and exited the ground, taking a couple of final photographs of the ground before we left. I said farewell to Matt and wished him well for his trip into Rhyl for the evening as well as his upcoming groundhops in the next couple of weeks (I have tried to convince him to visit Halkyn Road in the near future and see the mighty Wellmen!!). As he went off down the road looking for an adequate pub to frequent to watch the Red Dragons hopefully continue their great start to their Euro 2016 qualifying, I headed back to my car and set off back to Holywell. Yet again the sat nav not directing me the direction I expected and sending me onto the A55 and not the Coast Road! I guess my sat nav just doesn’t like the coastal views….
It was really nice to revisit Belle Vue again which, in my opinion, is probably the best WPL stadium and it always brings great memories of that day in the FAW Trophy final! Watching Rhyl at home is a good experience (even though the result didn’t go their way) and shows how well supported Rhyl is compared with other WPL teams. I was very impressed with their clubhouse as well as the amount of merchandise they had for sale in their club shop, which many WPL clubs could do well to be on par with. All in all, I would encourage any locals or fellow groundhoppers to come visit Belle Vue as you’re guaranteed a warm and friendly welcome even when “Sunny Rhyl” is not so sunny!
I wish Rhyl all the best for their upcoming semi-final match on Saturday and for the rest of the season, and also Connah’s Quay good luck for the rest of the season also and hopefully they will avoid relegation. As a fellow Flintshire lad, I don’t want to see a local team relegated from the WPL! 🙂