Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division – 2nd May 2015
Ground #49 – Sandy Lane, Saltney, Flintshire
- Entrance: FREE
- Programme: NONE AVAILABLE
With the Welsh football season coming to a swift conclusion, the groundhopping options available to me on the first weekend of May were, at best, very limited. The Welsh Premier League had finished its league phase the previous weekend and would be starting the Europa League playoff the following week, whilst the Cymru Alliance had finished in early April. It would be Welsh Cup Final weekend, but considering it was being held at Newtown’s Latham Park, a stadium I have visited on numerous occasions, that option was alas a no-go for me. A few matches were still continuing in the Welsh Alliance but even that was coming to a close within the bank holiday weekend. Thankfully there was still one league still available to me that had a number of options to choose from for the weekend – it would be Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) action for me this weekend!
With four fixtures being played in the WNL Premier Division that Saturday afternoon, and being played in four grounds I had not previously visited this season, there was a good selection to me to feed my increasing groundhopping addiction and get one step nearer to the season’s goal of 50 grounds. Each fixture had its own compelling reason for visiting but in the end I chose a fixture where I would be travelling to a ground I had promised myself I would visit for a while. Therefore it would require me to make a short trip down the River Dee towards the border and a visit to Sandy Lane, the home of Saltney Town.
Saltney is a small commuter town situated right on the England–Wales border with the west part of the town lying in Flintshire and the eastern part in Cheshire, and it forms part of the Deeside conurbation of towns that lie beside the River Dee. The name of the town originates from the former salt marshes of the river on which the town is built upon.
The town is located in between Broughton and the city of Chester, roughly 2.5 miles in between the two conurbations on the south bank of the River Dee. The English-Welsh border divides the town and it runs down the middle of Boundary Lane, the only urban street in England and Wales where this occurs. The English part of the town is Higher Saltney, more commonly known by local people as “Top Saltney”, whilst the Welsh sector of the community is known more specifically as Saltney Town. St David’s High School is based in the Welsh side of the town and is the local secondary school for students from the surrounding areas. Opposite the high school is the town’s community centre, which is regularly used by children’s groups as well as being surrounded by fields where football tournaments are often held. It is at the community centre, situated on Sandy Lane where Saltney Town F.C. are based.
The first record of a Saltney-based football club was in 1908 when they joined The Combination (like many other Welsh clubs at that time) and competed against teams from Manchester and Liverpool until the league disbanded in 1911. The highlight of that period was their debut season in the league finishing in 2nd place, placing higher than future Football League team Tranmere Rovers who finished 3rd that season. Football returned to the town in the 1919-20 season when Crichton’s Athletic became founding members of the Cheshire County League, changing their name to Saltney Athletic in 1921 before leaving the league in 1923 after a 6th place finish in the league.
Another Saltney based club, Saltney Social, became founding members of another league when they became part of the Clwyd Football League in the 1974-75 season, which they competed in for two seasons. In the 1992-93 season, Saltney Community Centre were formed and they too played in the Clwyd League system until they got promotion to the Welsh Alliance League in 1996. In their two seasons in the league they finished in a respectable 6th and 11th position before they had to resign from the Alliance in 1998.
The current Saltney club, Saltney Town, were formed in 2010 by Marc Edwards and Andrew Johnson who both had the ultimate vision of bringing their community together through football. The club are also known by their nickname of “The Bordermen”, due to where their unique location on the border. Due to the reorganisation of clubs in North East Wales, they started off in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division 1 before gaining promotion to the Premier Division in the 2011-12 season, where they have played their ever since. Last season the Bordermen finished 9th in the table on 41 points.
Saltney have been in a similar vein of form this season, situated just one position higher in the WNL Premier Division in a solid 8th position and on 38 points.
Saltney Town’s Last 5 games:
- 0 – 3 vs Chirk AAA (A)
- 3 – 0 vs Coedpoeth United (A)
- 2 – 0 vs Corwen (A)
- 2 – 2 vs Overton Recreation (H)
- 4 – 2 vs Rhos Aelwyd (A)
As you can see form the results above, Saltney have picked up some form towards the business end of the season, staying undefeated in their previous four games and winning three of them all away from Sandy Lane. This run of great form, especially on their travels, was especially welcome as it came after a losing streak of 6 games which saw the Bordermen score just 3 goals but concede 20 goals during that period. Therefore in this upcoming fixture they were looking to extend their undefeated streak to 5 games and also equal last season’s point tally with a game to play. They were confident of making it happen as they were playing the league’s bottom team…
Llangollen Town are having a miserable season in the WNL Premier and were situated bottom of the table on 14 points with just three wins to their name all season going into this tie. A fast contrast to last season’s form which seen them finish in 11th position and with 33 points.
Llangollen Town’s Previous 5 Results:
- 0 – 2 vs Coedpoeth United [H]
- 1 – 3 vs FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay [A]
- 0 – 4 vs Ruthin Town [A]
- 1 – 2 vs Borras Park Albion [H]
- 1 – 1 vs Hawarden Rangers [H]
Collen’s form going into this fixture was worrying to say the least, earning just a point from a possible 15 available. Plus they up against a team who had beaten them 1-4 in the reverse fixture back in early February. However their previous fixture had given them some hope as they managed their only point against high-flying Hawarden and they still had a chance to avoid relegation to Division 1 if they managed to win their final 3 games as Rhos Aelwyd were just three points ahead of them in the safety zone. Therefore Llangollen were going into this game with some momentum and fighting for their WNL Premier lives! The match was looking on paper to be an interesting one!
The journey towards Saltney is a short hop from my HQ in Holywell, as it takes about 25 minutes down the A55 Expressway, travelling from west to east Flintshire. It is also a route I am most accustomed to as it is same route I take to my workplace every day (those of you who are regular blog readers will know where I work), with Saltney’s ground just a bit further down the Chester road, a mile or so after the turnoff for work.
With weather conditions looking miserable all afternoon, a huge difference from the mild and dry weather conditions that we experienced the previous days prior to this fixure, I set off with waterproofs and umbrella in hand in the expectation it would be a damp, drizzly day. I would also be partaking the Bordermen experience on my own as the regular accomplices were either busy or didn’t fancy the weather to head out – this groundhop would be a solo mission! On my way down the A55, I was entertained with the sounds of 1974, with Radio 2 playing such an eclectic mix starting with The Wombles, via glam rockers Mud to those Swedish super troopers ABBA. A unique preparation for today’s game, but enjoyable all the same as I was traversing through the spray of the A55 – I shall keep you guessing which song I sang the most loudly in the car….
I arrived at their ground just after 2pm although I had a bit of a nightmare when it came to parking. The club suggests that any visitors coming to Sandy Lane should park in the Saltney Sports Centre, which is located on the St. David’s High School Campus just off St. David’s Terrace. Now I misread the website and thought they said parking along the road, as I wasn’t sure whether I was allowed to park in Saltney High School’s car park. Not wanting to cause any potential trespass, I looked for a space along the road but as you can imagine for a residential road, parking was limited. With time ticking away and the weather conditions decreasing, I thought “I’ll try parking in the community centre’s car park” – not the attitude to have folks but I thought I would at least have a look for a spare space.
It would seem other supporters had the same opinion as myself as there were other cars parked at the community centre. There were spaces in front of the centre but I decided to follow the road around the side of the building and park at the back of the centre where other visitors had placed their cars, beside what seemed to be the club’s clubhouse. If there is an improvement I would like to suggest to the club, it would be to provide additional signs or directions to the ground as I wasn’t completely sure whether I had parked in the correct place. So much so, another supporter (I presuming from Llangollen) asked whether this was Saltney Town’s ground. I told him I thought it was although I too wasn’t completely convinced either.
I need not have been concerned as I had indeed reached the correct location for the ground. This was confirmed to me when I saw a couple of players crossing the field behind the community centre and heading southwards. I had noticed a few players trying to cross the busy road as I was faffing with parking which suggests to me that the players have to get changed in the Saltney Sports Centre and then cross the busy Chester Road as there are no changing room facilities on site. I am sure it is not ideal for the club but it does the job for the time being. Whilst parking up I had noticed a path heading off from the centre in the direction the players were heading, so I decided to follow the path and see where it lead me to.
As suspected the concreted path leads to the pitch, which is surrounded by barriers and sponsorship boarding, some of them emblazoned by the local company Airbus. It was quite a nice stroll to the pitch especially with the brook running beside the path and community centre, even if the weather was trying to ensure the day would be a very damp one. From what I encountered, there is a concrete path running around the vast majority of the pitch although veering of this path in the winter could prove to be a bit muddy so wear appropriate footwear for the conditions!
As with many grounds at this level, they are open, public spaces and so don’t have a lot of permanent structures in place. There are no floodlights nor stands in place although they did have dugouts there and curiously had two large containers which opened up by the side of the pitch. I presume the club keep all the nets, balls, flags, dugouts etc. in them but when I arrived at the ground, a number of supporters were inside them and cowering from the ever increasing intensity of the rain. The supporters who didn’t have the luxury of shelter had to make do with being under the cover of a golf umbrella (like myself).
I positioned myself on the community centre side, right by the half way line for the first half viewing hoping to catch all the action no matter which end they played at. This time I was armed with a notebook and pencil hoping to make notes of all major incidents in the game (oh yes things have gone up a level now…adopting some professionalism! Fancy that!). As is becoming increasingly normal for me in WNL games now, there was just the one official today with no assistant referees running the line. Again as experienced with previous WNL games, members of both management teams were given the flags and stood either side of the pitch. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any aggro over decisions like there was during the Caerwys vs Penley game.
With both teams following the Green Cross Code and crossing the road (or using the footbridge) successfully to reach the pitch and then completing their pre-match warm-up routines, it was all ready for kick off! The visitors kicked off the first half and were wearing their home strip of sky blue shirt with claret trim, claret shorts and sky blue socks. The Bordermen wore their home kit of red shirt with black trim, black shorts and red socks. Weather conditions were worsening by kick-off and the wind speed was increasing, but the pitch was surprisingly in a good condition.
A minute into the game and Llangollen almost had an early chance when the Bordermen’s keeper Mike Edwards slipped after failing to deal with a free kick and had to make a save which resulted in a corner. No doubt the number 1 got caught out by the slippy pitch. Despite this early slip up, Saltney took the advantage and had the first real effort on goal when Gary McConnell hit a long range shot wide after a rapid counter. However he wouldn’t fail on his second attempt on target when Saltney broke the deadlock after 10 minutes. A cross into Llangollen’s penalty from the right hand side, delivered by full back Joe Trueman, was met by McConnell who diverted past the Collen keeper Evans to open the afternoon’s scoring.
Saltney Town 1 – 0 Llangollen Town
Things started to heat up once Saltney had taken the lead especially when Llangollen’s Ian Grindley and Saltney’s Shaun Hughes almost came to blows after the visiting defender accused the home midfielder of a stamp after a tough challenge. However the referee did not see the alleged stamp and awarded the home side the free kick for the challenge by Grindley. Grindley and Llangollen would have their revenge and equalled the scores up eight minutes after Saltney’s opener. A throw-in by Grindley on the left found Ashley Wilson, who darted into the box and made enough space to place his shot into the bottom left hand corner of the goal and past the diving Edwards.
Saltney Town 1 – 1 Llangollen Town
As the first half progressed, both teams had half chances as the momentum swung like a pendulum as one attack wave was countered by another attack wave resulting in end-to-end football, which was a delight to behold. The best chance during this period was when Llangollen’s #11 Ben Lloyd broke free of the home defence after a sumptuous through ball sent him clear, but he rushed his opportunity and blasted his shot against the onrushing Edwards. A couple of minutes later and Lloyd broke clear of the Saltney defence once again but failed to test the home goalie as he scuffed his shot wide of the far post.
Saltney started to put pressure on their hosts with 10 minutes remaining for the first half. Firstly McConnell received a yellow after a hard tackle on the visiting keeper after chasing down a pass. Then Shaun Hughes hit a long range dipping shot on goal from the right hand side, which Evans could only just save onto the crossbar after back-peddling and making a decent diving save.
It was all looking as if the first half scoreline would stay equal but on the 42nd minute, the visitors took the lead after a Mike Edwards goalkeeping blunder. A long punt upfield from Llangollen was supposed to be easily cleared by Edwards, but he took his eye off the ball and missed it as the ball went under his foot. Llangollen’s #10 Sam Gostich successfully gambled on the keeper spilling the ball and coolly slotted the ball into the empty net. A howler from the keeper!
Saltney Town 1 – 2 Llangollen Town
Llangollen tried to break forward again and claim a third just before the interval but it was adjudged offside. It would prove to be the final action of the first half and the referee, who was winning no friends from either side through his decisions, blew for half time.
HALF TIME: SALTNEY TOWN 1 – 2 LLANGOLLEN TOWN
Because there were no changing facilities nearby for the teams and it would have resulted in both teams taking the pointless journey back over the road to get back into shelter for just a short amount of time, the half time talks were done on the pitch by both managers. Not an ideal scenario in the wind and rain of the afternoon but the most logical decision. It also proved to be one of the shortest intervals I have encountered this season as the referee started the second half six minutes after he blew for the conclusion of the first half. Thankfully during the short break period, I managed to take a few pictures of the ground, although I found it’s very difficult to do whilst trying to hold a big umbrella which is trying to be blown away by increasing gusts ha!
Again the second half started as the first had commence with both teams looking fairly equal with the ball going end-to-end and conceding possession to their opponents in the midfield. The first chance of the second period occurred five minutes in and fell to Llangollen’s substitute #16 Rhys Kynaston when he got clear of the Saltney defence after a long range pass from the right found him in the centre. Alas for the replacement, he could only manage to drill his effort wide and the scoreline stayed as it was.
On the 55th minute, the most contentious decision of the afternoon occurred when the home side claimed a penalty after a clumsy challenge in the penalty area by the Llangollen defender brought down the Saltney attacker. From where I was standing, it looked like a stonewall penalty and you could even hear the impact of the tackle. Yet again the referee made few friends on the border as he waved away the appeal and let play continue – the wrong decision in my honest opinion as it should have been a penalty for Saltney!
Two minutes after the penalty appeal and the home side almost found themselves 1-3 down when Edwards, who was looking nervous after his mistake in the first half, made another mistake by giving the ball to Kynaston. Thankfully for the keeper, the substitute could only put his long effort wide of the post – a let off for the young lad!
The game was continuing to swing like a pendulum with Llangollen having another chance through Lloyd, who broke clear once again but scuffed his shot wide once again. At the other end a cross from the right hand side almost caught out Evans as his mistimed punch resulted in the ball falling to Tom Chrimes (given the nickname “Damage” – I hope it’s because he’s a massive fan of the 90s boyband of the same name ha) but the attacker blazed his opportunity over the crossbar.
Going into the final 15 minutes of the game and Saltney were starting to get the better chances as Llangollen were trying desperately to hold onto the result, a result which would help in their survival campaign. Saltney came close when a low cross from Gary Tebble found Carl Pleavin in space, but he could only just put his chance wide of the post. A let off for the visitors who were just about holding onto the result! However with nine minutes remaining, it would prove to be heartbreak for Llangollen when Saltney finally broke through their defence to level things up. Another low cross was sent into the box, this time from the right hand side, and Chrimes who was located by the penalty spot managed to divert the cross past Evans into the left hand corner.
Saltney Town 2 – 2 Llangollen Town
A disaster for the visitors who held out the continuous Saltney onslaughts throughout the half but fell to a deft touch from ‘Damage’. There was also a huge sigh of relief for the home side who were probably not expecting to be struggling to the league’s bottom club at this stage of the match, especially after taking the lead.
That would prove to be the final real action of the game as the match fizzled out to a conclusion and the points were shared between the teams.
FULL TIME: SALTNEY TOWN 2 – 2 LLANGOLLEN TOWN
I think a draw was probably the fair result for this game as both teams had great chances to score and potentially win the game, and the match did flow from end-to-end with neither side being able to dominate over the other for long periods of the game. Both teams played well going forward but were equally guilty for missing golden opportunities which could have changed the complexion of the contest. To use a well-used cliché, this match was “one for the neutrals” and as a neutral I certainly enjoyed the game despite the miserable weather conditions.
Perhaps Saltney could be considered the happier of the two teams as they managed to snatch a late equaliser and get something from the game that they probably deserved on the whole. However I am sure they were not happy dropping points to the league’s bottom team and gifting them a victory through a goalkeeping clanger, however they must be commended for not letting their effort levels drop and were rewarded through their excellent wing play . On the whole though, the Bordermen’s unbeaten streak continues and ensures that they finish in 8th place regardless of the result of their final game.
However, Llangollen must be absolutely gutted they drew that game. 2-1 up and with just a few minutes left to play, it would have been the ideal result in their relegation dogfight and would have given them the confidence boost and momentum going into their final two games of the season. As it was, a point does not help them off the bottom of the table and they are now depending on results elsewhere for survival. It’s not an impossible task to avoid relegation but those two dropped points have ensured it has become a lot harder than it was going to be. “Damage” had done the damage to Collen’s potential ‘great escape’.
Overall I enjoyed my visit to Saltney Town although I feel the timing of my visit was probably at the wrong time and perhaps have visited the ground a few months too early. The club are apparently investing in ground improvements over the summer, so I will be interested to see what the ground will look like next season once the improvements have been made. However despite the weather and lack of signage, Sandy Lane has its own unique quaintness which I found really appealing, and there’s a really friendly and welcoming atmosphere from everyone involved with the club. I would encourage everyone to go and visit Saltney as they’re a club who have the community at heart and doing things the right way.
I would like to thank both Saltney Town and Llangollen Town for their help with this blog and I wish them all the best of luck for the rest of this season and next season, and I am already looking forward to my visit to Llangollen sometime in the near future!