Mawddach Challenge Cup Final – 9th May 2015
Ground #50 – Nantporth Stadium, Bangor, Gwynedd
- Entrance: £4.00; Programme: £1.00
- Cheeseburger: £3.50; Fizzy Drink: £1.00
Saturday the 9th of May was an important date in The 94th Minute’s calendar as it would be the final game of Holywell Town’s amazing season – and what a season it has been! Having seen the heartbreak of a cup final loss, to the highs of winning the Welsh Alliance Division 1 league and the further delight of winning the FAW Trophy, it has been a season of pure excitement and happiness. The Wellmen had mathematically won the league and FAW Trophy in the same week, could lightning strike twice and experience another incredible week?
The previous Monday to this game (the May Day Bank Holiday), I saw the team lift the Welsh Alliance trophy in front of 420 fans at Halkyn Road after completing their final Welsh Alliance league campaign with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Glantraeth. Even more pleasing was that Holywell got some revenge on the Anglesey side after Glantraeth inflicted their only league defeat of an otherwise unbeaten campaign. Having seen the Wellmen give some payback, the week would see them having an opportunity to right another ‘wrong’ from the season as they would be coming up against Llanrug United in another cup final, this time the Mawddach Challenge Cup final. After seeing the heartbreak of them losing to ‘Rug in the Cookson Cup final at Conwy, it was time for the Wellmen to banish the memories of that night and finish off the season in style…oh and there was the small matter of achieving a domestic treble on the cards as well….
This would be the fourth time the two clubs had faced each other this season, and I had seen two of their previous matches. Obviously there was the Cookson Cup Final which saw the Arfon-based team go one better and defeat the cup holders 2-1 in a replay of the 2013-14 Cookson Cup final. They had also played each other twice in the league, with Holywell emerging victorious on both occasions winning 5-0 and 4-1 – the game at Halkyn Road I had seen and produced a blog on that afternoon’s game in November which the home side had won in a flattering 4-1 scoreline. This fourth and final encounter would see both teams make the journey to a neutral venue for the Mawddach Cup final, the newly built home of former Welsh Premier League champions Bangor City, the Nantporth Stadium in Bangor.
Bangor is a small, historical city in North West Wales in the ancient kingdom (now county) of Gwynedd with a population of just over 16,000, and is one of the six cities in Wales. The city is situated on the North Wales coast near the Menai Strait which separates the island of Anglesey from Gwynedd, the town of Menai Bridge lying just over the strait.
Bangor is most famous for being a university city being home to Bangor University, which was founded in 1884. However it also possesses an important Anglican cathedral, which has its roots going all the way back to the early 6th century AD when a monastic establishment was founded on the site by Saint Deiniol. Bangor itself is an old Welsh word for a ‘wattled enclosure’ such as the one that originally surrounded the cathedral site. Historically Bangor was an important port in the 19th century as it exported the slates produced at the Penrhyn Quarry to the rest of the world at Port Penrhyn. It is at Port Penrhyn where the River Cegin also flows into.
The city is also alleged to have the longest High Street in the whole of the United Kingdom, and also possesses the ninth longest pier in Britain with Garth Pier being 460m in length. It has also hosted the National Eisteddfod on eight separate occasions.
The Nantporth Stadium (which is known for sponsorship purposes as The Book People Stadium) is situated on Holyhead Road in the west of Bangor, and is located in between Bangor University sports complex and the Menai Straights. The stadium is a new build and can accommodate a capacity of up to 3000 people. Due to its location, the ground was originally used by Bangor University’s football and rugby clubs, as well as practical lectures by the University’s ‘Normal Site’ campus, which is home to the Sports Science and Education faculties. The main pitch also has fantastic views of the coast due to it overlooking the Menai Striaghts, with Thomas Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge located nearby.
Building work began on the ground in August 2011 and was completed in January 2012, which is when Bangor City moved there from their traditional and famous ground Farrar Road, which was located in the middle of the city and has sadly now been turned into an ASDA supermarket.
Nantporth has two stands, with the main stand located on the Holyhead Road side and has 805 covered seat for supporters, as well as the changing rooms and clubhouse within it. On the opposite side of the pitch is a smaller stand, the Menai Stand, which is considered the family stand and has a further 300 covered seats. On the Menai side, there is also a television gantry next to the Menai stand, and located in a central position where the TV cameras are installed. On either end, supporters are able to stand to watch the game especially as the ground is slightly terraced to allow three levels of viewing for supporters.
In the future, Bangor City hope to take the overall seating at Nantporth to over 1500 to allow them to play any European matches there should they be able to qualify for any European competitions. There are certainly enough space to expand the stadium with an option to build an identical stand to the Menai stand on the other side of the TV gantry, plus there are plenty of space at either end to potential build additional stands.
It would be the ideal venue for hosting a final against two teams who had been in contrasting form going into the final.
Holywell Town’s route to the Final:
- R1: 6 – 2 vs. Llandudno Junction [H]
- R2: 5 -0 vs. Trearddur Bay United [H]
- R3: 3 – 0 vs. Pwllheli [H]
- SF: 3 – 1 vs. Kinmel Bay Sports [H]
Holywell were going into this final in the greatest of form, if a little battle weary. Throughout April and May, they had to play an astonishing 10 league and cup games – the price you pay for being so successful this season. Despite the number of games played, they have stepped up to the challenge managing to win 9 of the games and drawing away at Llanberis. Their route to the final was a very difficult also, beating eventual league runners-up Llandudno Junction in the first round, and progressing past ever-improving Trearddur Bay in the second round. Hard fought victories against Pwllheli and then Kinmel Bay in the semi-finals ensured the Wellmen would reach their third final of the season.
Llanrug United’s route to the Final:
- R1: 4 – 3 vs. Meliden [H]
- R2: 2 – 2 vs. Glantraeth (4 – 2 on pens) [H]
- R3: 1 – 0 vs. Llanerchymedd [H]
- SF: 1 – 0 vs. Glan Conwy [A]
Put that into contrast with Llanrug who only had to play seven games during the April and May period, although just achieving three victories, two draws and two defeats – losing their final league game 0-1 to the impressive Glantraeth. However they had overcome Glantraeth on their route to the final where they managed to beat Glan Conwy in the semi-finals. A match which I seen and blogged about, and was arguably one of the worst games I had seen all season. Despite this, I knew Llanrug would be up for this game especially gaining confidence from their Cookson Cup victory in late March.
This game had added importance to myself as it would be the 50th ground I have visited, and it would complete my goal of reaching 50 grounds by the end of the 2014-15 season. At times I didn’t think I could do it, but thankfully the timing was flawless and I managed to achieve my aim on Holywell’s final game of their season! Needless to say I was hoping that Holywell would achieve a victory and make this visit memorable for all the right reasons!
Despite the allure of taking a train journey to Bangor and having some pre-match drinks like I did for the FAW Trophy final, I decided that driving there would be more ideal for today’s game. Accompanying me on this journey would be Damo, who also came along for the FAW Trophy final where he interrogated former Welsh minister Alun Michael on the train back home! The other groundhopping accomplices were either working, on a stag do or putting fences up…strange…No matter myself and Damo were excited for this game anyway!
The car journey from Holywell to Bangor took just under an hour and thankfully the A55 was clear of any traffic so the journey was pretty much straightforward travelling down the North Wales coast. We arrived at the Nantporth stadium just before 1pm, meaning we had about an hour to kill before kick-off. I parked up the car in the car park, which is located behind the main stand and had plenty of spaces for me to choose from when I got there, and we headed towards the turnstiles. Entry to the game was the standard Welsh Alliance price of £4.00 with an additional £1.00 for the accompanying programme to the game. The programme was good value as it had details on both teams’ history as well as players and seemed more value for money than the programmes the FAW had produced for both the FAW Trophy final and the semi-final between Rhyl and Newtown that I watched.
Just beyond the turnstiles is the Bangor City club shop, which expectedly was closed for the afternoon. However I could see the merchandise through the window taunting me, especially the Bangor City mug which I spotted and glumly could not purchase on the day. From the entrance you have to ascend a steep flight of steps to reach pitch level, with toilets and a snack bar either side of the bottom of the steps. When we got there, there were a few Holywell fans who had arrived early as well as club secretary Steve Roberts who was on the pitch. We said hello to him and headed towards the clubhouse, which is located at the top of the main stand.
As you would expect for a newly built ground, the clubhouse was huge and it looked fantastic. The highlight was the far wall which showcased all of Bangor City’s previous excursions into the European competitions. The main focus of the wall were the posters from the two legs played against Spanish giants Atlético Madrid in the second round of the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup. On that occasion, a dodged Bangor defence in both legs ensured Atleti only managed a 3-0 aggregate victory with Bangor coming away from the Vicente Calderon with just 0-1 defeat, the highlight of which seeing keeper Dai Davies saving a penalty.
With plenty of time to spare, Damo bought himself a pint whilst I had lemonade (rock and roll folks!) and we spent a majority of the time watching Everton versus Sunderland which was being shown on the big screen in the corner of the room. The clubhouse also allows a great view of the whole pitch and through the windows we could see both teams warming up on the pitch. It was during this time when I managed to meet another groundhopper who had made the long trip to Bangor. Martin Roberts, owner of the fantastic We All Stand Together blog (seriously well worth the visit, it’s an amazing blog – I’m a huge fan!) came over to say hello. I had spoken to him previously over Facebook although this was the first time we had met face-to-face. We both had mutual admiration for each other’s blogs, which was great to hear, and he told us about his journey up to Bangor. He said he had to get up at 6am to get the correct train to arrive at Bangor in time, and wouldn’t get back home until 10pm = now that’s pure commitment folks! We had a good chat and then he headed off hoping to take more pictures of the day. The link to his pictures taken, as well as his excellent blog on the day is at the bottom of the page.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the Holywell fans turned up at the clubhouse, and they brought with them a familiar friend with them. Cecil the Croc, the green inflatable crocodile which ended up being the undoubted star of the FAW Trophy final had served his suspension, after being sent off in the previous final for a pitch invasion, had arrived and this time he had brought along some of his friends. Cue the surreal vision of seeing a clubhouse full of football fans with green inflatable crocodiles with the background sound of smaller crocs being blown up. In all fairness to the Wellmen fans, they had made the effort once again and would be on song all day!
No sooner had the fans arrived then they would be downing their pints and venturing outside as the players had made their way out of the changing rooms and onto the pitch. Myself and Damo decided we would stand behind the end nearest the entrance, the end Llanrug would be attacking in the first half. This was because I fancied something from snack bar during the first half ha! I opted for a cheeseburger with onions for the reasonable price of £3.50, and was very good and a good size burger for the money. As with other grounds, they had the usual chips, hotdogs and a selection of pies and pasties to keep all supporters happy, as well as serving cups of tea.
Once the pre-match formalities had taken place, including both teams shaking hands with some FAW dignitaries, it was time for kick off. Holywell were in their traditional home kit of red & white striped shirt, red shorts and socks, whilst Llanrug were in their away strip of white shirt with black sleeves, white shorts and socks.
As expected, the first half proved to be very end-to-end, with Llanrug having the better chances of the first half and seemingly having the better energy levels. However the first chance of the game went to Holywell through some great connecting play between Steve Thomas and Tom McElmeel. The attacking midfielder saw McElmeel in space but his effort was comfortably saved by Llanrug’s goalkeeper Dylan Roberts. Llanrug would get their first opportunity on goal through David Noel Williams although his shot was saved by Holywell’s keeper Mike Platt.
Both teams would get chances to open the scoring from the afternoon all through set pieces. Holywell’s Thomas launching a great free kick which found Matty Harvey but the official through Harvey had impeded the keeper to gain an advantage in the penalty box. Llanrug would cause some danger when a corner fell kindly to Dylan Owen but he saw his lashed effort drift high and wide of the Wellmen’s goal. Holywell would threaten the Llanrug once again through a free kick when captain Sam Jones fired a ball into the danger zone and Roberts somehow briefly took his eyes off the trajectory of the ball and somehow fumbled the ball at the far post, worrying after he looked like he had the effort under control. Thankfully for the keeper, his spill wasn’t capitalised by their opponents and was cleared to safety by the Llanrug defenders, allowing both himself and the Llanrug fans, situate in the main stand, to breathe a sigh of relief.
Llanrug’s relief turned to joy when they deservedly took the lead in the Mawddach Cup final afer some great play down the right hand side by their right midfielder. After getting the better of a 50-50 challenge with Matty Roberts, it resulted in the midfielder pinging the cross into the penalty box. The dangerous Jonathon Peris Jones met the low curling cross, and from the left hand side of the area shoot past Mike Platt’s left hand side to give ‘Rug the lead.
Holywell Town 0 – 1 Llanrug United
Holywell had a good chance to equalise when Steve Thomas beat Dylan Owen to cross the ball into the penalty area, where the ball bounced past Darren Phillips and hit the unaware Sam Jones on the knee to agonisingly go out of play for a goal kick. However it was the only real chance the league champions had in the half to level the tie up as the referee blew for half time shortly after the missed chance. Llanrug were the better team in the first half and pressed Holywell into making mistakes and pouncing on them, very much the same tactic they employed in their Cookson Cup victory. As for the Wellmen, their efforts had to improve in the second half if they were to complete the treble and sign off the season on a glorious note!
HALF TIME: HOLYWELL TOWN 0 – 1 LLANRUG UNITED
During the half-time interval, I decided to take a few more pictures of the ground as record for my 50th ground. I was a little concerned that Llanrug had taken the lead and was hopeful this final wouldn’t play the same way as the Cookson Cup final, but was confident that Holywell would improve their performance in the second half. For the next 45 minutes, we were joined by the rest of the Holywell fans who had spent the first half behind the other goal which Holywell were attacking towards, and like me were taking full advantage of the snack bar at this end of the ground.
From the off Holywell’s performance had improved and they almost took the lead straight after the restart when the ball fell to Steve Thomas. Not realising he had more time and space to control the ball, lashed his effort over Dylan Roberts’ crossbar and Llanrug were let off. A few minutes later and Paul Williams crossed to Thomas, but once again his effort failed to hit the target and went inches wide of the post. Despite Holywell’s more attacking outlook, Llanrug were always dangerous on the counter attack and almost doubled their lead through Jonathon Peris Jones. Great wing play from Kevin Lloyd allowed him to whip in a great cross to Peris Jones, whose fierce effort deflected off a Holywell player.
With Holywell now pushing forward more effectively and enjoying the momentum, it wouldn’t be long before they earned themselves a deserved equaliser. The increasingly influential Thomas managed to win a free kick just outside the penalty area. From the resulting free kick, Sam Jones whipped a ball into the danger area and defender Matty Harvey rose highest to get his head on it and fire his header past Dylan Roberts to level the tie up.
Holywell Town 1 – 1 Llanrug United
With the score level, both teams were looking for the crucial second goal of the afternoon. Firstly Llanrug’s Carl Griffiths fired his shot wide after superb wing play from Lloyd down the left hand side. Then Holywell’s Stuart Hayes done well down the right and passed to Sam Jones who jinked past a couple of challenges but fired wide of the post. Carl Griffiths would be involved in another chance as he exploiting the space opened up to him through Holywell’s more expansive game, He managed to brake clear once again and cross towards Kevin Lloyd, but Jack D’arcy successfully made an intercepting challenge and cleared the ball to safety. Then substitute Phil Lloyd starting getting heavily involved as his running caused the now tiring Llanrug defence problems. His first shot went into the side netting, then a couple of minutes later he managed to find space to cross the ball towards Hayes. Alas for the Wellmen forward he lost his balance whilst surging towards goal and fell over before fully being able to control the well placed ball.
During the game, the Holywell fans were in full voice and were coming up with some excellent chants once again. Their focus was fixed on Llanrug’s #4, the defender Darren Phillips who was having an excellent game for ‘Rug and looking solid in defence. Because of this, the supporters tried to unsettle him with the following chant:
He’s big! / He’s round! / He’s worth about a pound! / Number Four, number four!!
Phillips took it in good humour and put his thumbs up to the Holywell supporters chanting. He was having a good game and the Holywell fans around me agreed he was doing a good job in defence.
As the game went into the final ten minutes, both teams were eager for a last gasp winner which would surely seal the tie. Holywell tried through Hayes excellent graft down the right, who again managed to cross to Sam Jones. Unfortunately for the Wellmen captain, his effort was matched by Roberts in the Llanrug goal who pulled off a great save to keep his side in the match. Llanrug then had their chance for a winner through Kevin Lloyd, but his shot was well saved by Mike Platt who somehow managed to tip the ball over the bar. They would get another chance before the end when Carl Griffiths had the chance to win the cup for his side but headed wide. The final chances of the 90 minutes both fell to Holywell when first substitute Graeme Williams found to space to turn and shot but saw his effort well saved, before goalscorer Matty Harvey had the final say of the 90 minutes. Once again a cross came into the box and he got his head on it once again, although unlike his previous effort, this effort flew wide of the post.
A couple of minutes later, the official blew his whistle to end the second half. With both teams still equal, it would mean an additional 30 minutes would have to be played to find a winner!
END OF 90 MINS: HOLYWELL TOWN 1 – 1 LLANRUG UNITED
With both teams having a quick teamtalk on the pitch, the Holywell supporters stayed in their current position where they had stayed in the second half. It was during this time when they noticed a guy scraping the roof of a caravan just outside the perimeter fence. This resulted in some banter between the Holywell fans and the man working on the caravan, with the fans chanting “You’re only here to see the Wellmen” and “Shine up your caravan”. However some chanting gold popped up, to the tune of The Housemartins’ hit “Caravan of Love”:
Every woman, every man, shine your caravan of love….shine up, shine up, SHINE UP!
Needless to say everyone was chuckling over that chant and the man on the caravan was chuckling away to himself as he worked on the roof. Still not sure what he was doing but I’m guessing he got fed up of it as I saw him sitting on the edge of the room and watching the match a bit later on during extra time.
EXTRA TIME – FIRST HALF
A couple of minutes into the first period of extra time, and the most debatable event of the game happened. Phil Lloyd broke clear from the halfway line and skipped past the challenge from the centre back, and surged forward into the penalty area. He then unleashed a thunderbolt shot which flew past Roberts but hit the crossbar and dropped down over the line before bouncing back out into the field of play. In a similar fashion to England’s 1966 goal, the linesman (who wasn’t Russian in this instance) indicated straight away it was a goal and after a couple of seconds of uncertainty where the two officials communicated with each, the referee indicated it was a goal resulting in huge celebrations for everyone connected with Holywell.
Holywell Town 2 – 1 Llanrug United
With the Wellmen’s supporters still celebrating Lloyd’s goal, Llanrug managed to win a contentious free kick close to the corner flag after Matty Harvey made a challenge which was harshly given against him. From the resulting free kick, the ball was launched into the penalty area and despite the Holywell defenders’ best efforts, the ball fell kindly to Llanrug’s sub Gethin Phillips who fired home through a crowded box.
Holywell Town 2 – 2 Llanrug United
A massive cheer came up from the main stand once Llanrug had scored which interesting considering the Llanrug fans had been relatively quiet throughout the game, well they were from my position anyway. The Holywell fans cottoned onto this, and the chants came thick and fast – “It’s nice to see you’re here!” and “You only sing when your drawing!” were some of the printable chants being sung.
The remainder of the first half of extra time proved to be a tight affair with neither team wishing to concede again this half, and so no further chances of note came to either team.
EXTRA TIME HALF TIME: HOLYWELL TOWN 2 – 2 LLANRUG UNITED
Both teams knew they had to score to prevent the game going to the lottery of penalties, plus the next goal might well be the winning goal of the contest. As a result, both teams completely went for the next and potential winning goal. Holywell had a chance when Steve Thomas fired a great cross towards Harvey who managed to head the ball unhindered, but as in the second half his effort flew wide of the post. Llanrug then broke on the counter attack through Carl Griffiths and he managed to cross the ball again to Kevin Lloyd. This time Dafydd Griffith was in the right location to snuff out the cross and clear the ball from danger. With the minutes ticking away, the game was becoming more cagey and nervy – it was “squeaky bum time”.
With the threat of penalties looming large on the horizon, the critical goal was finally scored and it would go to the league champions. Thomas once again exploiting his pace advantage by creating space down the left and run at the right back. He managed to avoid the challenge of the Llanrug right back before drilling a low, dangerous cross into the penalty area. It looked as if no-one could get on the end of it before substitute Luke Tyson put his name into Holywell Town history by just about getting a touch on the ball to divert it goalwards. The ball span towards goal and took what seemed an eternity to reach the goal as it rolled forward, taking a deflection off the post to settle in the back of the net. The third goal caused pandemonium to break out amongst the Holywell fans, an explosion of delight and relief that the goal might well win them the cup and the quest of the treble.
Holywell Town 3 – 2 Llanrug United
It looked as if the third Holywell goal had knocked all the wind out of Llanrug’s sails but all credit to them, they kept fighting on and could have equalled things up again when they had an effort on goal. Alas for the Arfon-based team, the shot flew high over Mike Platt’s goal and I think that was that for them. With the third goal leaving Llanrug dazed, Holywell went looking for the knockout fourth goal which would end the contest. Phil Lloyd broke clear of the Llanrug defence and had just the keeper to beat, but could only fire his shot straight at Dylan Roberts who securely clung onto the ball. Then Sam Jones had another chance to finalise things but saw his lethal shot well saved by Roberts, who trying to keep his team in the contest, but I think their energy levels had been consumed up.
Some of the Llanrug fans could see the writing on the wall and they started heading towards the exit before the final whistle. All the Holywell supporters could see them leaving and chanted “we can see you sneaking off!” and “your taxi’s outside, it’s waiting for you!” Personally I was a little annoyed with those fans who left before the final whistle – ok I understand your team has lost but considering they had worked bloody hard to get to the final and had played well throughout the game, the least they could have done is stayed until the end and applauded their efforts especially with just a few minutes to go. Also it was the final game of the season so some appreciation for their decent season should have been given. If there was some reasonable explanation for their early dart, then fair enough I will apologise, but if not then it was a bit of a poor show from those fans that left early in my opinion. As you can tell, I’m not a fan of leaving games early…
A couple of minutes after Holywell’s third goal, the referee blew for full time. Holywell Town had won the Mawddach Cup and achieved an unprecedented treble! Unbelievable!!
FULL TIME: HOLYWELL TOWN 3 – 2 LLANRUG UNITED
It was quite cool to see that the FAW officials had set the trophy up in the stand, resulting in the players having to climb the steps to receive the trophy in akin to the FA Cup. Firstly the officials received their awards for officiating the game, and then the Llanrug players climbed the steps to receive their runners-up medals. They were warmly applauded by everyone especially the Holywell fans who appreciated their efforts and the fact they were a decent team. Then the Wellmen climbed the steps and with everyone receiving their winners medal, it was left to present the trophy to Sam Jones who held the trophy aloft whilst confetti and champagne was sprayed everywhere to celebrate an amazing and historic victory.
I have to say that Llanrug once again impressed me with their desire and craft, and have some excellent players amongst their team. It looked as if they ran out of steam in the second half as they had to use their substitutes a bit earlier than Holywell but they gave a great account of themselves and almost completed a cup double. Hopefully they won’t be too downhearted from this cup defeat and they will use it to strive forward to greater success next season. I think if they play as well as they did in the final, throughout the whole of next season, they should be considered one of the favourites for the Welsh Alliance crown. Perhaps the friendly rivalry shall recommence in the 2016-17 in the Cymru Alliance?? I wish them all the very best for next season anyway!
Nantporth is a fabulous stadium although I would have liked to felt the atmosphere Farrar Road had produced to have given a fair comparison between the two stadiums. However considering the other Welsh Premier grounds I have been to, it’s an impressive ground and certainly one all fans should go and visit in the future, especially when Bangor are playing at home and the home fans are in full voice. Perhaps Holywell can face Bangor in the near future, I think the atmosphere would be incredible! Anyway a big thank you to all the stewards and volunteers who worked that day, they were incredibly helpful and welcoming to their club.
And finally what can I say about Holywell? I have used up all the adjectives and superlatives to describe both the team and this season as a whole. All I can say is a big THANK YOU to Johnny and the boys for their amazing effort this year and bringing the smiles back to all Holywell supporters. It’s been a difficult time in the Welsh Alliance and there’s been some dark periods during that time, but it’s been a long road and plenty of hard work to reach the level they are at today. So they thoroughly deserve the rewards they are reaping now and hopefully the good times will continue back in the Cymru Alliance next season. I would also like to thank Sean Elliott and Steve Roberts for their dedication to the club throughout the years, and a massive thanks to Steve for all his help and support for this blog and the Wikipedia page, I really do appreciate it!
Here’s to the next 50 grounds, let’s hope they will be as exciting and the first 50 have been!
COME ON YOU WELLMEN!!!!
We All Stand Together’s blog of the day:
Additional pictures from the final: