Cymru Alliance – 26th September 2015
Ground #61 – Recreation Ground, Caersws, Montgomeryshire, Powys
- Entrance: £5.00
- Programme: £1.50
- Cup of Coffee: £1.00
- Chocolate Bar: £0.65
The final weekend of September (and the first after the autumnal equinox and thus the initial weekend of Autumn) would see myself take the longest journey of the season so far in the quest of groundhopping. I would be heading south once again into deepest Montgomeryshire to see Holywell Town play in one of their furthest trips of their Cymru Alliance campaign. It would be a trip to the banks of the River Severn to see the Wellmen take on former League of Wales competitors Caersws at the Recreation Ground – this was an ‘old school’ LoW fixture if there ever was one!
This was one of the fixtures I had singled out when the fixtures were announced before the Cymru Alliance season began, as I had not previously visited Caersws before. Alas I was unable to attend Holywell’s previous visit to Caersws, when they travelled down to the mid Wales town last season to take on Abergavenny Town in the semi-finals of the FAW Trophy (which they won 1-0 with a late goal from Tom McElmeel). Because I failed to visit last season, and hoping to complete my personal goal of visiting all the CA venues by the end of the season, Caersws was a must visit in my groundhop odyssey this season. Therefore when the weekend came around, I was very excited for the game ahead.
Accompanying me on the journey down the A483 would be regular groundhop sidekick Greg who was fitting the visit into his busy schedule for the Saturday (work in the morning, party in the evening). In accordance with the deal we made when Greg drove down to Guilsfield for the Guils game against Connah’s Quay, I would be driving this 75 mile, 1 hour 50 minute journey down to Caersws. A long way to watch football but thankfully the weather was perfect for a September afternoon, as I started my journey southwards, picking up Greg in Broughton on my route down to the Recreation Ground.
Caersws (Welsh: Caersŵs) is a large village of about 1,500 people situated on the banks of the upper River Severn in the historic county of Montgomeryshire in northern Powys. The settlement is positioned just 5 miles west of Newtown (the largest town in the old county), and conveniently halfway between the coastal student town of Aberystwyth and the Shropshire border town of Shrewsbury. Because of this, the village can be reached by train as it has a train station on the Cambrian Line, which runs between the two towns mentioned previously. The important coast to coast Llandudno to Cardiff A470 trunk road (as mentioned in the Glan Conwy blog) also runs through the village and past the ground, making Caersws an important stop for drivers venturing either up or down the country.
The village’s football team is Caersws F.C. (nicknamed “The Bluebirds”) and they currently play in the Cymru Alliance. The club was established in 1887 when they adopted the moniker of ‘Caersws Amateurs’, although the club name was changed in 1974 to just Caersws F.C. when they abandoned their amateur status.
Despite the club being founded in the late 19th century, and being one of the oldest in the area, the early part of their history produced very few notable successes for the Bluebirds. It wasn’t until the 1960s when the club experienced their first halcyon period, winning the Mid Wales League three out of four seasons between 1959 to 1963, as well as appearing in three Welsh Amateur Cup (now FAW Trophy) finals, winning the cup in the 1960-61 season. It was also during this period that they achieved their record margin of victory, defeating Aberystwyth Town 20-1 in 1962.
The fortunes of the club waned throughout the late 60s and 70s until they regained the Mid Wales League title in 1977-78. Throughout the 1980s, the club would win the league a further four times before they were invited to compete in the Cymru Alliance in 1990. The Bluebirds would be successful in the new northern league, finishing runners-up in their first season, and winning the league in their second season of 1991-92. This success would mean they would become one of the founding members of the League of Wales when the national league was established in 1992.
The Bluebirds second halcyon period came at the turn of the millennium when they won the Welsh League Cup two seasons in a row between 2000 and 2002, as well as winning their third League Cup in the 2006-07 season. The highlight of this period was the chance of experiencing European football via the now defunct Intertoto Cup. In the 2002-03 season, they faced Bulgarian side PFC Marek Dupnitsa where they achieved an impressive 1-1 draw in their home tie, but were ultimately defeated 1-3 on aggregate.
Their stay in the top flight would end in the 2009-10, becoming victims of the league reduction from 18 teams to the current 12 team format, and they would drop back down to the Cymru Alliance where they have played ever since. Last season they achieved a solid 8th place finish in the league, winning 13 of their games and earning 47 points, but it was their fortunes in the knockout format which would be memorable by Bluebird fans. The 2014-15 saw the club achieve a cup double by finally winning both the Cymru Alliance League Cup after being finalists twice previously, and the Montgomery Cup for the third time in four seasons.
This season they were struggling in the league, and were going into this match against Holywell situated in 12th position (out of 16 teams) with just six points from the first six games. They started their season with close defeats to Holyhead Hotspur and Porthmadog, before finally achieving their first win of the season against struggling Buckley Town, and following that up with a huge 4-0 win over Powys rivals Rhayader Town. However the Bluebirds have struggled defensively since the Rhayader win, suffering two heavy defeats in their previous two league games. A 0-4 home defeat against Denbigh Town abruptly halted their momentum, before suffering another heavy defeat at the hands of another newly promoted team, Gresford Athletic, by getting demolished 0-5 away at Clappers Lane. Conceding nine goals in two games was not good form going into this match against Holywell.
Their opponents for this game were having the complete opposite season to the Bluebirds and were flying high in their first season back in the Cymru Alliance. After a difficult August which saw the Wellmen earn two points from a possible nine, September had seen Holywell’s fortunes improve by achieving a 100% victory rate winning their last five games in all competitions. Their previous league match saw them clinically dispatch Flintshire rivals Buckley Town 4-1 at The Globe, resulting in the Wellmen ascending to the heady heights of 2nd position. They would be going into the match in 3rd position however after Denbigh Town’s 2-0 victory over leaders Cefn Druids on the Friday night saw them overtake Holywell. Nevertheless, a win for John Haseldin’s boys on this afternoon could see them regain 2nd spot and position themselves just a single point behind the Ancients after seven league games.
As expected the journey down from Holywell to Caersws via Broughton took longer than anticipated. Bustling southerly traffic heading down the A483 ensured speeds were reduced in areas, especially when getting stuck behind tractors in periods. In conjunction with the traffic, a quick pit-stop at the services outside of Shrewsbury resulted in the pair of us reaching the outskirts of Caersws for around 2:05pm. Thank goodness the weather was nice on the journey down as miserable weather might have made the drive more grueling than it was.
Driving into the village, the road sign pointing towards the entrance of the ground could be seen just before the road goes over the narrow bridge spanning the River Severn. It was hear where I turned into a small car park which the Holywell Town bus was currently parked up, along with a number other cars. Alas there was no space in the small car park and so I decided to look for parking spaces in the village – not knowing that had I continued down the car park and followed the road going under the low railway bridge, that there was a huge car park next to the pitch. Ah well I will remember that for next time! Anyway I drove over the narrow bridge and continued into the village. There I managed to find a spot in the small car park in the village, located next to the public toilets, but just a couple of minutes’ walk from the ground.
The Recreation Ground is situated on the opposite bank of the Severn in the south-western outskirts of the village, and located near the Cambrian Line railway line running through the settlement. Supporters have to venture under this low lying bridge (something which even I had to crouch under for) to gain access to the ground. Cars are able to drive under the bridge but high sided vehicles would either have to park in the car park before the bridge, or even in the village itself, so be careful if you attempt to drive underneath the railway bridge.
The ground itself is an amazing standard for Cymru Alliance football, and would be easily capable of hosting Welsh Premier League football if the Bluebirds gained promotion back to the top flight in the future. According to its stats, the ground is able to hold 4000 spectators with 375 being able to be seated. The main stand is located on the far side of the pitch has plenty of covered seating, and also houses the changing rooms for the two teams. There are also covered sections for standing, and for disabled supporters which I was very impressed with. Next to the main stand is the snack bar / clubhouse complex.
On the opposite side of the pitch is another smaller stand which has covered seats for supporters, and is next to a centrally positioned TV gantry for the Sgorio cameras, should they roll into the village. There is plenty of space for another similar sized stand on the opposite side of the TV gantry if it was required in the future. Behind this smaller stand on the railway/river side of the pitch, are smaller pitches which can be used by the youth teams, as well as training space for the senior first team.
Finally at one of the ends of the pitch a line of trees act as a barrier to stray shots and crosses, whilst the ground’s main car park is situated at the opposite end of the pitch. Alas there is nothing stopping a high rogue shot from damaging a windscreen, so I was partially thankful I didn’t park my car there.
Once myself and Greg had limboed under the railway bridge, the road turns to the left and rises, ensuring the expanse of the Recreation Ground can be clearly seen. At the top of the small hill is situated the entrance hut where the entrance fees are paid. As I paid for Greg’s entry when he drove, he paid for mine at the hut, with entrance costing the usual CA price of £5 per supporter. They were also selling raffle tickets, but this time we passed up on the opportunity to take part. Instead we bought lucky dips of which minute the first goal of the match would be scored. Greg had 43 minutes, which was possible, and I had 88 minutes (I was hoping it wouldn’t get to that point of the match before the first goal is scored!). Rather annoyingly I forgot to ask if they had any pin badges for sale….
After the lucky dips were purchased, we decided to head to the snack bar for some well-earned refreshments. The snack bar has the usual drinks available as well as chocolate bars although I didn’t spot if they offered any hot foods or not. Considering I didn’t see anyone with a burger/hotdog, I’m guessing not. Anyway I bought myself a black coffee and a Mars bar for the reasonable grand total of £1.65 – always good when the coffee is put into a proper mug and not polystyrene cups which become too hot to handle at times. My coffee came in a mug commemorating the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, which the historian in me absolutely loved!
Before finding a spot to sit down and watch the game, I bought a programme from the programme seller (situated in the main stand) for £1.50. Even though the programme looks like it could be full of information due to its thickness, the vast majority of the coloured pages are filled up with adverts for club sponsors – Caersws certainly has a lot of sponsors! However the black & white printed pages in the middle have a lot of information on the home team, as well as detailed description on the away team and impressively written match reports from the Bluebirds’ previous fixtures.
With food & drink purchased, and a programme in the back pocket, we decided to sit in the smaller of the two stands for the first half because it was situated in the half Holywell would be attacking into for the first 45 minutes. Plus it looked the warmer stand as it in basked in late September sunshine – as the half progressed, that early autumn warmth would certainly be felt by all the supporters in the stand!
Both teams would come out onto the pitch, accompanied to the soundtrack of Bryan Adams’ Robin Hood megahit “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” – an interesting song to welcome the ‘merry men’ onto the pitch I think! Caersws would be playing in their usual home kit of blue shirts with white trim, white shorts and blue socks, whilst Holywell Town were in their home strip of red & white striped shirts, red shorts with red socks.
MATCH REPORT – FIRST HALF
Throughout the first half both teams seemed determined for getting a result in this game and producing some fantastic attacking moves which was exciting to watch for the supporters present. Although it would be the inform and confidence brimming visiting side that would start the brighter of the two teams in opening section of the first half.
Having the majority of the early ball possession, the Wellmen would soon be threatening the Bluebirds goal, and on the 13th minute, their first real chance on goal appeared. A superb attacking run from Airbus academy product Connor Littler allowed him to cross to “The Beast” Steve Lewis in the Caersws penalty area. Using his strength and vision, he managed to run into the space and successfully connect with the cross. Unfortunately for the former Llandudno hotshot, he couldn’t quite direct his connection on target as his effort drifted wide of Alex Ramsey’s post. However it was a signal of intent from the Halkyn Road-based squad.
As the half progressed, Caersws started to gain confidence as they worked themselves into the game. Just like Cecil and his cold-blooded mates, the sunshine must have helped them warm up and get moving as the Bluebirds made the game a more equal affair. They would soon have their first chance on goal as they started to wrestle away the ball possession from their opponents, and use their pace down the flanks to unleash great counter-attacks. Some excellent work in the Bluebirds’ midfield allowed Elliot Jones to break through the Wellmen’s defensive line and surge through on goal. However the former Newtown stopper, Mike Platt, ensured the danger was averted after pulling off a superb reaction save to keep the scores level early on in the match.
Littler would produce a wonderful piece of skill on the 20th minute, which almost seen Holywell take the lead. A Peter Hoy free kick into the box saw the forward confidently attempt an audacious FIFA 16 style overhead kick to threat the Caersws goal. The Bluebird defence and keeper were well beaten from the fierce strike, but the effort lifted a little too much and thundered off the crossbar to every home supporter’s relief. To attempt such a shot shows the confidence that the young lad currently has playing in this team, and has been an excellent addition since he arrived from the academy of WPL side Airbus UK Broughton.
After half an hour of the game had been played, and Caersws had another chance to break the deadlock, again coming through the pacey runs of Elliot Jones. Another long ball over the Holywell defence was picked up by Jones, allowing him to loom dangerously towards goal in a one-on-one scenario with the visiting keeper. Again Platt was emanating an imposing presence in the Holywell goal and proving incredibly difficult to overcome by the Bluebirds. Despite a strong effort from Jones, Platt won the second duel of the half by pulling off a great diving save to keep the score line blank.
As mentioned previously, Greg had pulled out the 43rd minute in the first goalscorer lucky dip. Jokingly I had suggested he would probably win the kitty as he had won money on the lottery the previous day, and wins usually “appear in threes”. So imagine the scene when on the 43rd minute, Steve Lewis broke clear of the Caersws defence and was thundering towards goal. Greg was jumping around with eagerness for the Caersws net to bulge, whilst I was amazed my jokey prediction was about to come true. Alas fate would not smile on Greg this time around, and the first goalscorer prize money would not be returning back with us to Flintshire, as Lewis’ low shot was just about saved by the legs of the former Rhyl number one. The net stayed empty and so did Greg’s wallet – unlucky!
It would prove to be the final chance of the half, and both teams were content with their first half efforts as they returned to the changing rooms at half time, with the Cymru Alliance teams stuck in a scoreless equilibrium.
HALF TIME: CAERSWS 0 – 0 HOLYWELL TOWN
Throughout the first half, the temperature amongst the stand was getting increasing warmer, until it was becoming a little unbearable. It didn’t help I was wearing jeans at the time and my legs were practically burning from the sunshine blazing down upon them. Therefore a load of us in the smaller stand decided to move to the other side of the pitch, and sit in the shaded main stand for the second half. We decided to sit in the furthest end of the main stand as it was both empty and located in the half Holywell would be attacking in the second 45 minutes.
Whilst sitting the main stand and preparing for the second half, we did notice some of the songs that were being played over the sound system, and they were right random selection of songs for our half time entertainment. By the way, I am not complaining with the choice of songs, but surprised they were being played in a football stadium. Anyway some songs such as Eurythmics’ “There Must Be An Angel” came over the sound system whilst Bryan Adams’ “Please Forgive Me” was being played as the players came out for the second half. Clearly someone at the club is a huge fan of the Adams….
MATCH REPORT – SECOND HALF
Bryan Adams must have encouraged the home side as they were the first out of the gates and looked the most likely to score early on in the second half. The Bluebirds early domination of the game resulted in them having a couple of chances at Holywell’s goal which could have seen them take the lead. Firstly the dangerous Elliot Jones found space in the Wellmen penalty area and rose highest to connect with the corner that was whipped in. Alas it just wasn’t happening for the forward as his headed effort just glanced over the crossbar. Another header from Scott Williams a few of minutes after the Jones chance almost broke the deadlock, after he managed to get on the end of a dangerous looking cross. His looping header looked as if it might just sail over Platt’s head and into the net, but it just when inches over the Holywell crossbar.
It would take a good fifteen minutes of Caersws superiority before Holywell finally worked their way back into the match and fashioned their own chance on goal. It would be Graeme Williams who would prove to be the lynchpin of Holywell’s attacks in the second half as he found more space available to him in the midfield. A defence splitting ball from midfield allowed Williams to break through the home backline and rapidly advance forward. He was well entitled to take a shot, but unselfishly tried to lay the ball off to the forwards Littler and Lewis who had occupied a better position on the field. Alas the pass was intercepted by the Caersws defence and cleared out for a throw in.
From the subsequent throw-in, Peter Hoy launched the ball like a medieval trebuchet deep into the penalty box, allowing Littler to take advantage of half a metre of space around the penalty spot to firmly nod the ball into the bottom corner. Despite the header beating Ramsey in goal, the ball agonisingly diverted back off the post, and the threat was cleared away by Caersws.
Holywell were starting to gain momentum in the game, and on the 67th minute they finally managed the breakthrough and unlocked the home defence through a set piece. A free kick from just outside the penalty box was curled into the left hand side of the box by Hoy. Holywell’s captain Tom McElmeel and a Caersws defender both rose up to challenge for the header with McElmeel attempting a back headed looping flick towards goal. Now at this point I am unsure who got the final touch, but from where I was sitting McElmeel managed to flick the ball on but the challenging defender seemed to have diverted the ball upwards and looping towards goal. Ramsay had committed to the free kick and was left in no-man’s land as the ball drifted over his head and nestled into the back of the goal.
Caersws 0 – 1 Holywell Town
McElmeel was credited with the goal, although the way the defender slumped to the ground after the goal had been conceded made me think he might have had the final and decisive connection with the ball. I don’t think he’ll be claiming it though….
With the home side reeling from conceding such a disappointing goal in terms of defending, the Wellmen smelt blood and confidently went in search of the killer second goal. A few minutes after breaking their opponent’s firm resolve then they broke it again and scored their second goal of the afternoon. Williams being the man to win the game for Holywell as he found enough time and space in the Caersws penalty area to collect the pass from Lewis, turn and control the ball into a better position before superbly before firing a low shot past the diving Ramsey on his inside post to double the Wellmen’s advantage.
Caersws 0 – 2 Holywell Town
After the second goal was scored, tempers started to flare up amongst the home side. No doubt annoyed at conceding twice in such a short period to see the game slip away from them, their exasperations were added to further with the erratic decisions of the official. Many decisions made by the official in the second half were frustrating both managers in the dugouts, which was shame considering the official had performed well in the first half. Offsides were being called when they were onside, whilst minor challenges were pulled up yet other offenses were not punished. It’s the inconsistency which annoys the most!
Tensions were brought to a head when Greaeme Williams put a sliding tackle into Caersws’ #9 Josh Hartrick. Even though Williams got the ball, the Hartrick was not best pleased with the velocity of the tackle and some “afters” occurred between the players, which brought a majority of the players into the mini-melee. The official, who was close to the incident, decided that the Caersws attacker’s reaction was beyond the acceptable limits and shown him a straight red card for what I can only presume was for a perceived stamp on Williams. From my position in the stand, it certainly looked like the Hartrick moved towards the Wellmen goalscorer but I wouldn’t have considered it a stamp – perhaps the official thought the intension was there. Either way, it was a controversial sending off and added to Caersws’ frustrations from the afternoon.
After the sending off, the tempo of the match seemed to fizzle out with Holywell keen on holding onto their lead whilst the 10 men of Caersws seemingly having the wind taken out of their sails. However with a few minutes of the match remaining, Caersws pushed for a consolation goal, which could be argued was the least they deserved from their efforts. Firstly Dale Evans thundered a vicious looking shot towards goal which brought out the best of Platt to his clean sheet intact. Then Jones came incredibly close to lobbing the keeper from 25-30 yards out after Platt had rushed out of his area to head away a loose ball that had gone over the Holywell defence. Great vision from Jones to attempt such an audacious effort on goal, but he could only send his lob wide of the target and it was eventually cleared by the returning Holywell defence.
That would be the final action of the match as the official eventually ended the contest, ensuring Holywell would achieve their sixth consecutive victory in September, and condemn Caersws to their third league defeat in a row.
FULL TIME: CAERSWS 0 – 2 HOLYWELL TOWN
I really enjoyed my groundhop to Caersws as the village seemed a very nice place to visit, and the ground was very impressive for the Cymru Alliance level. I don’t think there are many finer walks to a ground than walking from the village, over the bridge spanning the River Severn, under the railway bridge and into the ground. Certainly the excellent weather conditions added to the enjoyment of the visit, but the ground itself is one of the best in the league and well worthy of a visit. Plus the volunteers who worked there gave myself and the rest of the Holywell Town fans a really warm welcome when we arrived, and the hospitality was second to none! So a massive thank you to everyone at Caersws for that!
The long journey back was much tougher than the forward trip but I was travelling the 75 mile distance with a smile on my face. Holywell Town were now just 1 point from top spot and exceeding everyone’s expectations! Plus it was a fantastic boost in preparation for the high profile Welsh League Cup match that would appear on the following Tuesday when the Wellmen would take on the WPL champions The New Saints in a Treble Winners clash! Anyway the win proved to be one part of the double delight which would see Wales beat the old enemy in the rugby for a rather splendid Saturday. Just a shame my fantasy football teams weren’t as good…
May I use this opportunity to wish everyone at Caersws F.C. all the very best for the rest of the season, and I hope to visit Caersws again in the future. Thanks to their official Twitter feed also for providing me with the team selection – most appreciated! J