Date of Visit: 19th January 2019
Competition: Welsh Alliance League Division One
Ground Number: 83 (revisit)
- Founded: Unknown
- Ground: Roe Plas Meadows, Lower High Street, Saint Asaph, Denbighshire LL17 0SG
- Colours: Yellow-gold shirts with black trim, black shorts with yellow-gold trim, black socks
- Website: http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/stasaphfc
- Twitter: @StAsaphFC
- Highest League Placement: 10th – Welsh Alliance League Division One [2016-17]
It was the third weekend of 2019, and I was eager for some groundhopping action although the January weather conditions were causing problems. Despite it being an unseasonably mild Christmas and New Year, the third weekend had seen winter finally arrive in North Wales. The weather on the Friday had resulted in a layer of snow falling on North Wales, and I was initially tentative when selecting a groundhop match to visit. Although the layer of snow had melted as soon as it fell, but it could have resulted in a number of waterlogged or frozen pitches on the Saturday. This meant I was stuck to Twitter and Facebook on the Saturday morning looking for confirmation of games taking place.
Holywell Town were travelling down to Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain to play against Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, who were ground-sharing at Treflan for the 2018-19 season as their actual home ground did not fulfil Cymru Alliance criteria. Considering I had already visited Treflan for my 100th groundhopping visit back in 2017 (my Treflan blog can be found HERE), and I wanted to go to a ground where I could write a groundhopping blog on, I ultimately decided against it. Anyway I would be watching Holywell at Conwy the following Friday night (my previous Conwy Borough blog found HERE), and had seen their previous two away games this year.
Looking at the potential weather for the Saturday afternoon, I didn’t fancy travelling too far in case it potentially snowed again, therefore I was limited with my choices. Thankfully I spotted a fixture which would be the answer to my prayers! I noticed that in the Welsh Alliance Division One, Saint Asaph City were playing against Llandyrnog United at their ground of Roe Plas Meadows. I had been to Roe Plas on a previous occasion but had not written a blog on it, plus Saint Asaph is a quaint little city which I enjoy visiting. It looked ideal, but was the game actually on???
After a quick check on social media, I had solid confirmation the game was on (or at least starting), plus I wouldn’t be too far away from HQ should it snow again. Therefore my choice was made, I would follow in the footsteps of Saint Asaph himself and venture westwards to the holy city of Llanelwy…
LLANELWY / SAINT ASAPH
- Population: 3400
- County: Denbighshire
- Historic County: Flintshire
- Nearest Train Station: Rhyl [6,0 miles north]
The ecclesiastical city of Saint Asaph or Llanelwy is situated in the northern section of Denbighshire, although historically it was located in the western outskirts of Flintshire. With its population of just under 3400 inhabitants, it is the second smallest city in Wales and the United Kingdom in population (behind Saint David’s), and third smallest in terms of size (behind the City of London and Wells). The city lies on the banks of the River Elwy (Afon Elwy), a tributary river of the River Clwyd (Afon Clwyd), and is situated 6 miles south of Rhyl, 3,5 miles south of Rhuddlan, 6,0 miles north of Denbigh and 10,5 miles west of Holywell.
There has been important archaeological evidence of inhabitation along the Elwy since Neanderthal times, about 225,000 years ago, whilst it is suspected by historians that the Roman fort of Varae was situated in the city (possibly where the cathedral is now located). However the city’s foundations centred around a 6th century Celtic monastery, which was founded by the Brythonic monk, Saint Kentigern. He originated from the Brythonic kingdom of “Alt Clut” or Strathclyde in Y Hen Ogledd. Saint Kentigern is also known as Saint Mungo, and he is known in Scotland for also establishing the diocese of Glasgow, and thus being the patron saint of the city.
The Welsh name for the settlement, Llanelwy, originates from this initial monastery with “llan” being an enclosed church or parish, and “elwy” being the River Elwy (thus “the church on the Elwy”). Asaph was a disciple of Kentigern at this monastery, and it was said that he performed a miracle with hot coals being carried in his apron, which revealed his sanctity. Once Kentigern returned to his native Strathclyde, Asaph was consecrated the replacement bishop and abbot in 573, being the first Welsh bishop of the see.
The city’s famous cathedral has been in situ for about 1400 years and is in dedication to Saints Asaph and Cyndeym, although it is commonly just called St Asaph Cathedral (Welsh: Eglwys Gadeiriol Llanelwy). It is also the episcopal seat of the Bishop of St Asaph, whose Anglican diocese covers the majority of North East Wales. The cathedral famously displays the first bible that was translated into Welsh, by The Rev. William Morgan, Bishop of St Asaph, in 1588.
The cathedral has had a turbulent history, with the original stone cathedral (containing the shrine of St Asaph) being burnt down by invading English forces in 1282, whilst during the Glyndwr Uprising, part of the cathedral was left in a ruined state for seventy years. The present building was largely built in the late 15th century, before being greatly restored in the 19th century, and further repaired for subsidence in 1935.
As the seat of a medieval cathedral and religious diocese, St Asaph was historically considered as a city. However the British government later clarified that St Asaph was the only one of the 22 ancient cathedral dioceses in England and Wales not to have been awarded city status. As a result, the town applied for city status on historical and religious grounds in both the 2000 and 2002 competitions, but losing out on both occasions. It would be third time lucky for the town, as they applied and were successfully bestowed city status in 2012 alongside Chelmsford and Perth. In that year’s competition, they surprisingly beating fellow (and considerably larger) North Welsh town, Wrexham.
Today Saint Asaph is a thriving city, with the city being linked to the rest of North Wales via the A55 Expressway, whilst a business park is located just outside the city’s boundaries that brings in employment for the area. In addition, tourism is still a key sector for the city with holidaymakers naturally visiting the cathedral, whilst exploring the Vale of Clwyd or the North Welsh coast. Also the city council tries to promote St Asaph locally as “the City of Music” by hosting the annual North Wales International Music Festival within the city.
SAINT ASAPH CITY
As with other towns in the North East Wales area (e.g. see Ruthin Town), football appeared in Saint Asaph during that initial surge of popularity for football in the 1880’s. There is documented evidence of ‘Saint Asaph Athletic Football Club’ being in existence in 1885, and reaching the final of the North Wales Junior Cup in 1887. The first appearance of a Saint Asaph side in the Welsh Cup came in the 1888-89 season, when they lost 0-7 to Bangor in the first round. In the following season, there would be two St. Asaph sides in the first round, with both “St Asaph” and “St Asaph Wanderers” competing. Alas both sides would be heavily beaten in the first round of the Welsh Cup, losing 0-10 to Gloddaeth Llandudno FC and 0-15 Colwyn Bay respectively – sadly not a vintage year for the Llanelwy clubs!
There is little information on Saint Asaph City for the majority of the 20th century, and thus it is difficult to work-out when the club was founded initially. It is likely the club started its history in the Dyserth League, before joining the Clwyd League in 1975-76 when the Dyserth and Halkyn Leagues were combined together to create the Clwyd League.
In their first season, they finished bottom of Division Four of the Clwyd League but would soon improve their fortunes by rising through the leagues and eventually reaching their highest Clwyd League position of ninth in Division One in the 1979-80 season. Unfortunately for the Saints, the first team would replace their reserve side by dropping into Division Four the following season before ultimately folding in 1982.
After eight years of the (then) town not having a senior football team representing it, the club reformed for the 1990-91 season and played in the Clwyd League Premier Division. Their start in the Clwyd League was prosperous, as they finished in second and fourth in their first two seasons, whilst winning the President’s Cup and League Cup in both seasons. In their third season competing within the Clwyd League, St. Asaph City finally became the 1992-93 Premier Division champions, finishing 6 points ahead of title rivals Prestatyn Town, and gained promotion to the Welsh Alliance League. Alas their stay in the Welsh Alliance would last less than two seasons as an arson attack destroyed their changing rooms, thus causing the club to fold due to not having the required facilities.
The club would return at the turn of the new millennium as a junior side initially. However, when the council built a new pavilion with changing rooms in 2006, it allowed the club to re-join senior football for the start of the 2006-07 season. Starting in the Clwyd League Division Two, St Asaph City climbed through the Clwyd League structure, winning the Division One title in 2009-10, before finally winning the Premier Division again in the 2012-13 season and regaining their position within the Welsh Alliance League.
St. Asaph played in the Welsh Alliance League Division Two for just two seasons before earning promotion to Division One (and the third-tier of the Welsh football pyramid) in 2014-15 as Division Two champions. After the thirty game season, St. Asaph won the title on goal difference from Llangefni Town despite both teams having an identical league record and scoring over 100 goals. They achieved their highest league placement (so far) of tenth in the 2016-17 season, and finished in twelfth position (out of fifteen teams) in last season’s campaign.
ROE PLAS MEADOWS GROUNDHOP
- Distance Travelled: 10,5 miles
- Travel Time: 20 mins
- Entrance: FREE
- Programme: N/A
- Cup of Coffee: £1.00
- Pin Badge: £3.00
The car journey from 94thMin HQ to Saint Asaph took just under 20 minutes, with the A55 Expressway thankfully being clear of traffic in the westerly direction (the same could not be said of the opposite side however). The stress-free drive took me over the Rhuallt Hill before descending into the scenic Dyffryn Clwyd / Vale of Clwyd. The views of the Vale, with the Snowdonian hills in the far distance, are always a joy to behold and experience when descending down the Rhuallt Hill on the A55.
Turning off at Junction 27A of the A55, I soon arrived at the entrance to the ground at about 1:20pm. The Roe Plas Meadows football ground is situated roughly in the middle of the city, down besides the Afon Elwy that flows through the city. The ground is overlooked by the older part of the city, as well as the cathedral on the hill above. Roe Plas is located down a narrow road in the city’s public park, with the entrance to it situated on the main road before going over the road bridge spanning the Elwy or ascending up the hill into the city (should you be approaching from the west). Height restrictions are in place at the entrance, so please be aware if you are driving a tall vehicle.
As I had arrived forty minutes before kick-off, there was plenty of parking spaces available to me. There are parking spaces all along the road leading to the pitch, as well as a free parking car park at the end of the road, next to the tennis courts. Should extra parking be required, there is also a council-run car park on the opposite side of the main road. However considering I had arrived so early (so much so I was the first supporter to arrive at the ground), I easily managed to get a space next to the football pitch itself. I had wanted to arrive early as I was anxious I wouldn’t be able to get a car parking spot, or would have to go searching around Saint Asaph, so I was relieved when I saw I had plenty of spaces to choose from.
The ground is situated within the city’s main public park, so there were plenty of people walking along the riverside path as I was strolling around the pitch. The ground itself is fairly standard for third tier football in Wales. It is dominated by the brick pavilion that is located on the city side of the pitch, which houses the changing rooms, supporter toilets and snack bar in different sections of the building. On the opposite side of the pitch are the two dugouts for the teams, which for this match, had a number of plastic seats located within them for the management and substitutes. The dugout shelter may now also have a certain sticker affixed to the back of it…. 😉
All around the pitch is permanent metal standing barriers that separate the playing surface away from the supporters area, whilst there’s only a concrete path alongside the pavilion / road side of the pitch. The remaining three sides are just grass covered, and were quite muddy when I was walking around the pitch. Therefore please be aware should you be visiting the ground in the winter months, decent footwear will be needed!
There is no permanent covered seating or stands located around the pitch, although there were a few wooden benches dotted around two sides of the pitch. I suppose it would technically could give the ground a seating attendance of roughly 12 if the benches were occupied by supporters, which they often were throughout the game. Finally there are no floodlights at the ground, but considering very few clubs in the third tier actually possess floodlights, it’s not a surprise nor problem for this league.
With plenty of time to waste before kick-off, I decided to have walk around the pitch to take some pictures for this blog. This was followed by making the short walk down to riverbank of the Elwy, which flows just a short distance away from the ground. Standing beside the fast-flowing river, it was very tranquil, quiet and calming even though a main road was only located a short distance away from my spot. The swirling, eddying waters of the Elwy looked very clear on this winter’s day, and I had to dunk my hand into the water to feel the temperature of it. I can confirm that the waters of the Elwy was absolutely freezing on this January afternoon – not really a surprise! Haha!
On my walk back around the pitch, I could see the top of the cathedral’s tower just appearing over the treeline in the distance, and overlooking the pitch from its hill in the background. I can certainly understand why Saint Kentigern established his monastery there, and how the cathedral was developed on that spot (not to mention the suspected Roman fort there also). Its elevated position on top of the hill would have been spotted for miles around, and the monastery, and later cathedral, would have been an impressive sight for the locals back in the late sixth century throughout the various centuries!!
As both teams were now doing their pre-match exercise routines on the plot of grass beside the main football pitch, I decided to casually trudge back to the snack bar to buy myself a cup of black coffee to warm myself up with on this chilly afternoon. The snack bar at St. Asaph sells all the usual hot drinks, as well as chocolate bars and pin badges, although no hot food was available. I bought myself a mug of black coffee for the standard price of £1, whilst I inquired about the pin badges, which were advertised on the price list at being sold for £3. Sadly they had forgotten to bring them down for today’s game, but the woman running the snack bar said I could have her own pin badge instead. At first I was hesitant, but reassuring me she would get a replacement pin badge from the pile later on in the day, I took it off her hands for the agreed £3! It has since become another welcome addition to ever expanding the pin badge collection!
With the scheduled kick-off time rapidly approaching, an increasing amount of supporters started to turn up at the ground, with the car parking becoming increasingly full – I was certainly glad I had arrived early at Roe Plas now! There was a good number of home support standing around the pavilion, but also a considerable number of Dyrny fans who had made the 9.5 mile journey northwards for the game. In terms of the Welsh Alliance Division One, this was probably the closest away fixture for the Llandyrnog faithful, so it’s no surprise a lot of away supporters had turned up for this game.
One such Llandyrnog supporter who had turned up before the game was Matthew Lewis, the secretary of Llandyrnog United. I managed to catch up with him during the half-time break and throughout the second half, and it was good to have a chat with him again! It’s potentially exciting times for Llandyrnog as they seek to move from their Cae Nant ground into their new ground beside the former Arla creamery for next season. This is something which I mentioned within my Llandyrnog United blog, which can be found HERE.
Prior to the game, I was looking forward to this upcoming encounter as I expected it to be a tight contest. St. Asaph were going into the game with some degree of confidence having achieved an important 3-2 away victory over Greenfield in the previous weekend. Two late goals from Paul Fleming and Steve Falvey ensured they mirrored the result in the opposite fixture that was played in late August. In addition, the Saints had beaten Llandyrnog 3-0 away at Cae Nant at the start of the season, meaning they were confident of getting a similar result on home turf.
Whereas Llandyrnog were badly needing a win, having not won in their last three games, and last getting a victory against Llandudno Junction before Christmas. In their previous match, they agonisingly conceded an injury time equaliser against Mynydd Llandegai at Cae Nant, after Connor Jones had given them the lead on the 58th minute, to draw the match 1-1.
Just as I was finishing off the last few gulps of my black coffee, both teams had arrived out onto the football pitch in preparation for this game. St. Asaph were in their home strip of yellow-gold shirts with a black trim, black shorts with a yellow-gold side stripe, and black socks with yellow-gold trims. Llandyrnog United were in their own home kit of sky blue shirts, navy blue shorts and socks. They were then followed by the three officials (yes, we had a full quota of officials for this game!). One of the linesmen did look very young, however it was great to see evidence of youngsters who are interested and being developed as the next generation of officials. Without such officials, there would be no games, so development of new referees is essential for the future of the game. I’m sure this game would have been valuable experience for his referee education!
The weather conditions for this game were heavily overcast and gloomy, with a slightly chilling breeze. Certainly the temperature was no higher than 6 degrees Centigrade, although it felt colder with the breeze – thankfully I had wrapped up warm for the game! The pitch looked heavy, muddy and rutted up at places, which would naturally hinder a slick passing game from occurring for this game. Alas the pitch condition was not surprising considering North East Wales had encountered a dusting of snow the previous day, and that the pitch is open to the public for the remainder of the time.
The game was only four minutes old when the first goal of the afternoon surprisingly appeared. Llandyrnog’s #10, Josh Griffiths, managed to break clear of the home defensive line after a cutting through ball from midfield was deflected into his direction. The forward made no mistake with his opportunity to slot the ball past the helpless goalkeeper, and into the bottom corner of the net. A nightmare start for the hosts and the ideal beginning to the game for the visitors!
Saint Asaph City 0 – 1 Llandyrnog United
Despite the early goal, the remainder of the first half was decidedly quite equal with neither side having too many clear-cut chances Although it was Llandyrnog who probably had the better and more numerous chances when they appeared. There were some free kicks and corners which led to some half-chances, although they ultimately fizzled out or resulted in the keepers making fairly standard saves. The only interesting point of the first half was when the St. Asaph keeper attempted to double punch a cross out, but ultimately scuffed it out for a corner.
The majority of the half was dominated by the intense battle in midfield between the two teams, with some heavy tackles and sneaky elbow-led challenges, which looked a little bit naughty from my viewing position, but were often missed by the officials. The tussle was becoming increasingly spicy towards the end of the first half with continuous frustrations resulting in tempers flaring up between the teams. However only a couple of yellow cards were shown, as Llandyrnog went into the break with the just a slender single goal advantage.
HALF TIME: SAINT ASAPH 0 – 1 LLANDYRNOG UNITED
It would be the hosts who would dominate the ball possession and chances in the second half, hoping to craft an equaliser in the game. However they could have (and should have) found themselves 0-2 down after an hour of gameplay. Against the run of play, a dangerously positioned free kick from Will Ashley was gloriously curled towards the top left corner of the goal. It beat the Saints’ goalkeeper but clipped the underside of the bar, deflecting the ball downward before it bounced back out into the 6 yard box. From my viewing position, it looked like the ball had clearly bounced over the goal line, but all the officials failed to award the goal. Goal line technology or VAR was definitely needed in St. Asaph on this occasion!
Llandyrnog would be subsequently punished for the officials’ decision, when in the 68th minute, a St. Asaph players was fouled inside the penalty area with a late tackle after he had rapidly advanced into the box from the left flank. Substitute #12, Duncan Midgley, coolly sent the Llandyrnog goalkeeper diving in the opposite direction as he firmly placed the ball to the right side of the goal and levelled the scores up. Considering their second half performance, it was a well-earned goal for the hosts!
Saint Asaph City 1 – 1 Llandyrnog United
The momentum of the match was now in the favour of the home side, as they cranked up the pressure on the Llandyrnog defence in their attempts to create a second goal. St. Asaph were getting a lot of joy down the flanks, especially down the right hand side, allowing them to launch numerous curling crosses into the penalty box to create chances. Alas they could not find any further joy as either the Llandyrnog defence held firm, especially when there was a scramble in the 6 yard box, or St Asaph’s shots were off target.
With the home side committing additional men to the attacks, it left them especially vulnerable to the counter-attack, something with the visitors exploited. Llandyrnog had a couple of potential chances in the last few minutes of the game, which could have seen them steal all three points. Thankfully for the home supporters, United could only spurn their chances. However it would be one such Llandyrnog counter-attack which resulted in an injury-time red card for St. Asaph’s #4. A sturdy tackle that caught the opposing player in the chest when both players slid in to challenge the ball resulted in #4 getting a second yellow card, and his dismissal.
That would be the final action of the game as the official very quickly blew his whistle to end the contest on this cold afternoon in St. Asaph. The points would be shared between both sides as they would come away with a 1-1 draw!
FULL TIME: SAINT ASAPH CITY 1 – 1 LLANDYRNOG UNITED
The draw really didn’t benefit either club in terms of their Welsh Alliance Division One league position. Llandyrnog managed to climb a place to tenth spot, but with Mynydd Llandegai just a point behind, and having played three games fewer, it is likely Llandyrnog may return to eleventh position soon enough. As for St. Asaph, they stayed in thirteenth position, but moved onto 19 points with twelfth-placed side, Llanrwst United. However the Saints have played a game fewer than the Rwsters, and crucially three games fewer than the fourteenth-placed side, Barmouth & Dyffryn United. There is still a good opportunity for Saint Asaph to create a huge points gap between themselves and the two relegation spots.
Having wanted to revisit Saint Asaph City for a while, I was glad I finally got the chance to go to Roe Plas again. The layout of the ground may be fairly standard for the third tier of Welsh football, but I found it had a unique charm about the place which I enjoyed. If I had more time, I would have explored the city further and perhaps taken more pictures of the cathedral, or even followed the Elwy riverside path upstream a little. The path that runs alongside the Elwy is very scenic, quiet and calming and worth doing if you have a day in Saint Asaph, or even just for a different dog walking journey. Regardless, the groundhop was really good and everyone at the club was very warm and welcoming, which I thoroughly appreciated!
If you are visiting the area on holiday or fancy a day out, may I suggest a potential walk (something which I have done in the past). Starting in Rhuddlan, explore the ruined castle of Rhuddlan and the old hill fort of Twthill, before walking upstream of the Afon Clwyd. Walk through the local nature reserve there, past the confluence of the Clwyd and Elwy, and following the course of the Elwy into Saint Asaph. There are a couple of nice pubs on route (the Talardy and Plough Inn) before crossing over the Elwy and into the Roe Plas Meadows (or onwards to the city and cathedral). The walk is just over three miles, but combines history, nature, drinks and football in one day! What more could you ask for?
I would like to thank everyone at Saint Asaph City and Llandyrnog United for their hospitality, and wish everyone at the two clubs all the very best for the remainder of the season!