WELSHPOOL TOWN

Date of Visit: 11th March 2017

Ground Number: 81

  • Distance Travelled: 56,0 miles
  • Travel Time:            1 hour 5 minutes

 

CLUB DETAILS

Welshpool_Town_FC

  • Club Name: Welshpool Town Football Club
  • Ground: Maes-y-Dre Recreation Ground, Welshpool, Powys SY21 7AT
  • Club Nicknames: Lilywhites
  • Club Colours: White shirts with black shoulders, black shorts & white socks
  • League Position: Mid Wales League Division 1 – 14th [10/03/2017]

 

 

DIRECTIONS & CAR PARKING

Location of Maes-y-Dre
Location of Maes-y-Dre in Welshpool

From Welshpool Town Centre / A458:

Continue down the High Street towards the train station, before going straight through the crossroads and onto the B4381 road. Continue on the B4381 road, heading over the canal bridge and passing the fire station (on the right) and the council offices (on the left). When the green road sign is visible, there should be a right-hand junction right next to the road sign. Turn right onto Howell Road, and the football ground will be at the end of the road on the right hand side.

From Welshpool Train Station:

From the train station, walk onto the footbridge and head towards the Old Station by crossing over the A483 road on the footbridge. Once off the footbridge, a roundabout should appear in front of your position. Take the right hand junction of the roundabout, heading down Severn Road, before turning down the first left-hand junction onto Howell Road. A direction sign stating “Maesydre” and pointing in the left direction should appear before the junction. Head down to the very end of Howell Road, passing the Youth Centre on the right-hand side, before the football ground appears just after the Youth Centre on the right side.

Car Parking Information:

There is a medium sized car park, with spaces for about 30-40 cars, located after the youth centre and behind the main stand.

 

 

CLUB HISTORY

Club Established/Founded: 1878

Honours:

  • 1 x Cymru Alliance Winners
  • 7 x Mid Wales League Division 1 Winners
  • 4 x Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Winners

 

  • 4 x FAW Trophy Winners
  • 5 x Central Wales FA Cup Winners
  • 2 x Cymru Alliance League Cup Winners
  • 5 x Mid Wales League Cup Winners

 

  • Founding Members of the Cymru Alliance
  • 3 x Welsh Cup Semi-Finalists

 

Highest League Finish:         Welsh Premier League – 4th [2006-07]

2015-16 Performance:

  • Mid Wales League Division 1 – 8th
  • Welsh Cup – Qualifying Round 2
  • Mid Wales League Cup – Round 2
MWL Div 1 2015-16
2015-16 Mid Wales League Division 1 Table [Taken from wfda.co.uk]

With Welshpool being in close proximity to the traditional Welsh football heartland of North-East Wales (where the FAW was founded in 1876 in Wrexham), and England’s West Midlands (where a quarter of the Football League’s founding members originated from) it is unsurprising that Welshpool was one of the first towns in Wales where football spread to during the pioneering days of the game.

In 1877 a football match was organised at Welshpool between a Welshpool town select XI and Newtown’s second XI, which ultimately ended in a scoreless draw. It would be this initial game that provided the enthusiasm and foundation for football to be finally established in Welshpool in the following year, with the creation of Welshpool Town Football Club in 1878. The first game of the new club would be a replay of the previous year’s fixture, and it would be a promising start for the upstarts by beating their more established local rivals by two goals to one at Newtown’s ground.

For the first ten years of its existence, the Welshpool club changed its name a couple of times. Firstly it was known as ‘Welshpool Wanderers’ before changing to ‘Welshpool Warriors’, although the latter club may well have been a separate club at the time. However during this period, the town would first appear in the Welsh Cup by competing in the 1884-85 competition. Alas their inaugural appearance in the national cup competition went badly as they were easily dispatched by the defending Welsh Cup champions, Oswestry White Stars, who beat Welshpool 0-8, on their way back to the Welsh Cup final.

Welshpool AFC was re-established in 1889 where they played at the Foundry Field (playing one season as Welshpool United), before moving to their current location of the Recreation Ground in 1895. The club entered the Shropshire League in 1897-98, where they played for a brief period before eventually moving to the Anglo-Welsh Combination League in 1907. Welshpool played in The Combination for two seasons before excessive travel costs forced them to resign from the league in 1909.

After the First World War, Welshpool returned to the Central Wales leagues where they competed for a number of years before winning the Central Section title in 1921. They would eventually gain promotion to the Welsh League Division 1 (North) at the end of the 1924-25 season after they finished as runners-up to league champions Llanidloes Town. They would compete in Division 1 (North) for four seasons, without any substantial success or honours before being relegated back to mid-Welsh football at the end of the 1928-29 season.

Once league football resumed after the Second World War, Welshpool spent the first two seasons competing in the Mid Wales League, before they moved to the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) in the 1949-50 season. The sixteen year period in the Wrexham League pyramid proved to be successful for Welshpool as they were crowned league champions on four separate occasions. They would win the 1954-55, 1956-57, 1961-62 and 1964-65 Welsh National League titles before they returned back to the Mid Wales League structure, a season after their fourth WNL title triumph, in the 1965-66 season.

WNL Div 1 1954-55
1954-55 Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division 1 Table [Taken from wfda.co.uk]
More accomplishments would appear Welshpool Town into the Mid Wales League structure as the period of sustained success was continued for the Lilywhites. They would win seven MWL championships between 1968 and 1980, as well as claiming the League Cup on five occasions and winning the Central Wales FA Cup five times. Welshpool would also claim their first national trophy when they won the 1971-72 Welsh Amateur Cup (now the FAW Trophy) by beating fellow mid-Welsh side Aberystwyth Town by the sole goal at the neutral venue of Newtown. The win against Aberystwyth would be the first of four occasions Welshpool would win the Welsh Amateur Cup in the 1970’s and early 1980’s:

  • 1972: 1-0 against Aberystwyth Town
  • 1977: 4-1 against Whitchurch Alport
  • 1983: 4-3 against Brymbo Steelworks
  • 1984: 1-0 against Caersws in a replay (1 – 1 in the first game)

Having been one of the strongest sides in the mid-Welsh football structure during the 1970’s and 1980’s, it helped in their successful application to join the Cymru Alliance league and become one of its founding members in 1990. In the inaugural season of the northern championship, Welshpool finished in a respectable seventh position with 40 points and a goal difference of +14.

The following season was magnificent for them as they finished top of the 1991-92 Cymru Alliance table, and twelve points clear of their nearest rivals Caersws. Unfortunately for the Lilywhites, the title and a potential promotion to the League of Wales was snatched away by the FAW when they controversially deducted a massive 66 points from Welshpool for fielding an illegible player, who was still under suspension in England. As a result of this huge points deduction, Welshpool subsequently finished bottom of the table and Caersws were crowned Cymru Alliance champions.

Cymru Alliance 1991-92
1991-92 Cymru Alliance Table [Taken from wfda.co.uk]
Despite this huge setback, Welshpool would show great ‘bouncebackability’ and focus on their goal of playing League of Wales football. They came very close during this period by finishing in second position in the two following seasons since their points deduction by finishing runners-up to Llansantffraid (the precursors to the current WPL champions The New Saints) in the 1992-93 season, and runners-up to Rhyl in the 1993-94 season. Alas they unable to gain promotion to the top flight despite their best efforts. However they would claim the Cymru Alliance League Cup in the 1993-94 season, beating the champions Rhyl 2-1 at the neutral venue of Wrexham.

It would prove to be third time lucky for Welshpool in the 1995-96 season, when they finished in the runners-up spot once again. This time they agonisingly lost the title to the now defunct Oswestry Town by a solitary goal, but their heartbreak would soon be put at ease. The champions were unable to gain promotion as their ground failed to meet the League of Wales criteria, and as per FAW promotion rules, Welshpool Town were promoted to the top flight in Oswestry’s place.

Despite early promise at the start of their debut season in the League of Wales, their stint in the top flight was a brief and difficult one. They slumped to a position just outside the relegation zone by finishing in seventeenth position in their first season in the LoW, before struggling the whole of their second season (barely venturing beyond the bottom three places) and getting relegated back to the Cymru Alliance by finishing second from bottom at the end of the 1997-98 season.

They would play in the northern second-tier until the 2001-02 season, when they would regain promotion back to the League of Wales after they finally clinched the Cymru Alliance league title, winning the title with 80 points and scoring over 100 league goals. Welshpool’s return back to the top flight (now under the name of Technogroup Welshpool after a sponsorship deal with said company) started how it ended in 1998 when they finished second to bottom in the 2002-03 season, and were set to be relegated back to the Cymru Alliance after just a single season. However they decided to appeal against relegation to the FAW because Neath (who should have been promoted from the [South] Welsh League Division 1) was denied promotion as their ground failed to meet League of Wales / Welsh Premier League ground criteria. To the surprise of many, the FAW accepted their appeal and they were reinstated to the WPL for the following season.

Technogroup Welshpool would continue to play in the Welsh Premier League for the next eight seasons, achieving an impressive league placing of sixth place in the 2005-06 season, before improving upon that by finishing in fourth position the following season. During that record season, they would earn 60 points from their 2006-07 campaign and achieve a goal difference of +21, and would be just three points off third placed team Llanelli, and qualifying for the (now defunct) UEFA Intertoto Cup.

WPL 2006-07
2006-07 Welsh Premier League Table [Taken from Wikipedia]
Due to the Welsh Premier League restructuring itself by reducing the number of teams in the league from 18 teams to 12 teams, and forcing clubs to fulfil numerous criteria before they were awarded a domestic licence to play in the league, Welshpool Town decided not to apply for a domestic licence. As a result, the club was forcibly relegated back to the Cymru Alliance (although they also finished in 16th position which would have seen them relegated regardless). Unfortunately for the Lilywhites, their return back to the Cymru Alliance was a complete nightmare. A dismal start, combined with numerous points deductions for playing ineligible players or unfulfilling fixtures, and a number of managerial changes throughout the season, resulted in the club finishing the season rock bottom of the table with zero points and suffering their second consecutive relegation in two seasons.

The chaos of the previous season would continue into Welshpool’s first appearance back in the Mid Wales League in 21 years. Firstly their sponsorship agreement with Technogroup ended, meaning the club’s name reverted back to ‘Welshpool Town Football Club’, but ultimately had a huge impact on the club’s finances. As a result, the club opted to become fully amateur which meant then club manager, Chris Herbert, left to become assistant-manager at Rhyl. His replacement, the former Reserve Team manager, Adam Knight, resigned two weeks prior to the season starting and the club had NO registered players at the club, meaning the club were on the brink of going out of resigning from the league. Thankfully local players David Jones and Neil Breeze took control of club management and somehow collated a team together, allowing Welshpool to continue in the Mid Wales League.

Their plight would gain national exposure after Sky Sports legend Jeff Stelling made a joke at the club’s expense on Soccer Saturday after Welshpool had been demolished by local rivals Waterloo Rovers 1-10 on Boxing Day 2011. Manager David Jones wrote a letter to the programme explaining the club’s situation and that the large scoreline was a result of him having to play the second half as a stand-in goalkeeper. This letter was then read live on air during a later Soccer Saturday, which encouraged former professional players and Soccer Saturday regulars, Chris Kamara and Paul Merson, to turn out for the club on sporadic occasions until the end of the 2011-12 season, to help the club in their fight against a third relegation.

Welshpool’s return back to the Mid Wales League was a continuation of the nightmare of the previous couple of seasons as they finished bottom of the 2011-12 table with just eight points from 28 games. Fortunately they avoided further relegation that season, and have since stabilised themselves in the central Welsh third tier. Two consecutive thirteenth place finishes, were followed by a tenth place finish in the 2014-15 season, whilst their slow resurrection continued in last season’s league campaign when the Lilywhites finished the season in eighth position (out of 14 teams) and earned 31 points.

 

CURRENT FORM

MWL Table 10th March PM
The Mid-Wales League Division 1 table in the 10th March (prior to the game)

Welshpool Town’s last five results:

  • Fri 30th December: Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (h) 3 – 4
  • Sat 28th January: Bow Street (a) 1 – 1
  • Sat 11th February: Bow Street (h) 2 – 0
  • Sat 18th February: Machynlleth (a) 0 – 2
  • Sat 25th February: Hay St Mary’s (a) 2 – 2

Welshpool Town had had a rotten season going into this game with Llandrindod Wells. Prior to the match, they were positioned in a lowly fourteenth position (with just Montgomery Town below them) and had only earned 12 points from 23 matches, winning just three of them and having a goal difference of -37.

Despite their disappointing league position, Welshpool were showing an upturn in their fortunes and their form, having lost just one of the last four games, and earning five points from a possible 12 available (earning 42% of their season’s points total in three games).

After a few postponements (with their upcoming game against Llandrindod originally scheduled for the 14th January but getting postponed), Welshpool started 2017 with a respectable draw away to Bow Street, before following it up with their third win of the season against the same opponents at Maes-y-Dre. A battling away defeat at Machynlleth soon followed for Welshpool, but they regained some confidence when they achieved a decent 2-2 draw away at Hay St Mary’s.

 

 

THE OPPOSITION – LLANDRINDOD WELLS

Llandrindod Wells

Llandrindod Wells’ last five results:

  • Sat 17th December: Machynlleth (a) 1 – 3
  • Sat 26th December: Hay St Mary’s (h) 1 – 3
  • Sat 31st December: Rhayader Town (a) 3 – 5
  • Sat 28th January: Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (a) 5 – 0
  • Sat 18th February: Rhayader Town (h) 1 – 3

Llandrindod were also having a disappointing season, situated in tenth place in the league with 24 points, but having games in hand over the teams around them. This upcoming game would be just their third league game of 2017 after waves of postponements had limited their playing time in the league. Despite this, Llandrindod were certainly one of the out-of-form teams in the league so far.

The Spamen have only won one of their last five league games, having unsurprisingly lost to league leaders and local rivals Rhayader Town twice, Machynlleth away from home and suffered a 1-3 defeat to mid table Hay St Mary’s at Lant Avenue. However they did manage to inflict an impressive 5-0 demolition away at Llanrhaeadr to give the Spamen some confidence going into their next away fixture.

 

 

WELSHPOOL

Location of Welshpool
Location of Welshpool in Mid Wales
  • Name: Welshpool (English); Y Trallwng (Welsh)
  • Population: 6,700
  • County: Powys
  • Traditional County: Montgomeryshire
  • Nearest Major Settlements: Oswestry [15,4 miles north]; Shrewsbury [19,2 miles east]; Montgomery [4,5 miles south]; Newtown [13,9 miles south-west]; Llanfair Caereinion [8,8 miles west]
  • Nearest Train Station: Welshpool

Welshpool is a traditional market town of about 6,700 inhabitants, located just four miles from the Welsh-English border, in the historical county of Montgomeryshire. Situated on the western flood plains of the upper River Severn (Welsh: Afon Hafren), where the Nant-y-Caws brook flows into the frontier river, it is the fourth largest town (in terms of population) in the county of Powys. The town was originally known as just ‘Pool’ but formally changed its name in English to ‘Welshpool’ in 1835 in order to distinguish it from the Dorset seaside town of Poole. However in Welsh, the town is known as Y Trallwng, which harks back to its location beside the River Severn, with the literal English translation of Y Trallwng being “the marshy or sinking land”.

WelshpoolMid Wales Towns & Villages
Welshpool High Street [Image: Welshpool.com]
It is fairly simple to reach Welshpool as the town has superb infrastructural links within the North Powys area. A number of main roads intersect through the town, with the west-east A458 trunk road going through the centre of the town, connecting Welshpool to the rest of central Wales and Shrewsbury. The other trunk road, the north-south A483, cuts through the east of the town and connects Welshpool up with other border towns such as Newtown, Oswestry and Wrexham.

The town also has its own railway station, location within the industrial estate on the eastern outskirts of Welshpool. Situated on the Cambrian line, it connects Welshpool with Aberystwyth, Newtown and Shrewsbury. In addition to the National Rail station, there is also a narrow-gauge heritage railway station located in the west of the town. The Welshpool Raven Street station is the starting point for the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, which runs from Welshpool to Llanfair Caereinion (via Castle Caereinion). Further information on the railway can be read in my groundhopping blog when I visited Llanfair United.

In addition to great road and rail links, Welshpool also has the Montgomery Canal running through the town. As a result of the canal, Welshpool was historically an important location to transport goods produced in the area, either up or down the canal on barges, to export their produce further afield. However nowadays, the canal is mainly used for pleasure-seekers and tourists meaning Welshpool has become a mooring point for leisure barges touring the scenic canal.

Montgomery Canal
The Montgomery Canal going through Welshpool [Image: Visit Wales]
Finally Welshpool also has its own airport that is situated 2.3 miles to the south of the settlement. Welshpool Airport is open to the public with pleasure flights and flying lessons available to paying customers, and it also the base of operations for the Mid Wales Air Ambulance. An annual air show is held at the airport, with the display being held every June.

The origins of the settlement originate from the foundation of two churches by Saint Cynfelin and his brother Llywelyn in the area during “the age of the saints in Wales” during the 5th and 6th centuries. Alas there is no evidence remaining of these two early churches, and any accompanying settlement from that period remains unknown by archaeologists.

A motte and bailey castle, Domen Gastell, was constructed beside the defensive barrier of swampy marshy land next to the Afon Hafren in the 12th century, and was potentially used until the late 13th century, with the Normans identifying Welshpool’s strategic significance in the area. This castle would be superseded by Powis Castle, located on the outskirts of the town, which would become the major stronghold within the neighbourhood.

Powis Castle
Powis Castle from the courtyard [Image: Wikipedia]
Powis Castle (Welsh: Castell Powis) is a medieval castle, fortress and grand country mansion that was historically the home of Princes of Powys. It would later become the home of the Earl of Powis, and it is well known for its extensive beautifully landscaped gardens. Nowadays Powis Castle still exists as a Grade I listed building under the ownership of the National Trust, whilst Domen Gastell’s motte is well preserved but its bailey is being re-used as a bowling green.

The borough of Welshpool may have been established by the Prince of Powys in the 1240’s when the burgesses received a foundation charter. However the foundations of this settlement may have originated from the medieval commote of Ystrad Marchell, which briefly served as a defendable capital of Powys Wenwynwyn after its prince was forced to flee the traditional Welsh royal site at Mathrafal in 1212.

It is roughly in the middle of the 13th century where records of town’s name were first recorded. Initially the settlement was referred as Capella da Trallug, which is said to mean ‘the chapel of pool town’. Later this name appears in a Latinised form of pool being used – ‘Pola’. The pool in question was either a large sheet of water formerly in Powis Park, or a part of the River Severn at nearby Pool Quay, which was the highest navigable point of the river in medieval times. In 1277, the English King Edward I created Gruffyd ap Gwenwynwyn, the then Prince of Upper Powis and the owner of Powis Castle, Baron de la Pole.

Welshpool was devastated by the forces of Owain Glyndŵr in 1400 at the start of his rebellion against the English king Henry IV which stunted its growth. However a general malaise and decline in many Welsh border towns during the 15th and 16th centuries had a restricted effect on Welshpool to expand further as a town. Despite this, its importance as a market town and trading hub (the first record of a market in Welshpool appearing in 1252) meant it replaced Montgomery as the regional centre due to its better location for traders.

The town has always been a major hub in the trading of livestock, naturally due to its position beside the Cambrian Mountain range. Initially the mainstay of the town’s economy since medieval times was the trading of wool, with sheep farming being plentiful in the surrounding hills. However in the 18th century, the town experienced a development boom through the growth of the flannel trade. Although Welshpool would not be as successful as towns higher up the Severn Valley, nor see the same level of industrial growth as nearby Newtown, the town was ultimately revitalised with many fine Georgian houses (which still exist today) being constructed on the town’s main streets.

Welshpool Livestock Market
Welshpool Livestock Market [Image: NFU Cymru]
The opening of the Montgomeryshire Canal in 1796 added to Welshpool’s importance as a trading centre within the county, whilst the arrival of the Cambrian Railway in 1862 consolidated and assured the town’s position as a regional centre. Consequently, Welshpool would become the administrative centre of Montgomeryshire until Powys was created in 1974. Today the local economy is still heavily based upon agriculture and the local industry, with the Smithfield Livestock Market (located on the north-eastern outskirts of the town) being the largest one-day sheep market in the whole of Europe.

Beside Powis Castle, Welshpool has a number of interesting buildings which are worth visiting. Saint Mary’s Church is a Grade I listed building, which originates from about 1250 (probably founded the same time as the borough was granted) with remnants of this early medieval church located in the lower course of the church tower. The nave was rebuilt in the 16th century, whilst the whole building was substantially restored in 1871. Additionally, there is also an octagonal brick building which is the Welshpool Cockpit. The 18th century-built building was used for cockfighting bouts until the practise was outlawed in 1849. Today the unique building is the home of the town’s Women’s Institute.

Welshpool Cockpit 2
Welshpool Cockpit [Image: Wikipedia]

 

MAES-Y-DRE GROUNDHOP

Attendance: 100 approx.

Weather Conditions: Mild, but overcast with some light drizzle showers

  • Entrance: £2.00
  • Programme: N/A
  • Cup of Coffee: £1.00
  • Chocolate Bar: £0.70

 

Ever since my superb, memorable, action-packed day trip to the Isle of Man at the end of January, where I watched Rushen United absolutely demolish Ayre United in an Isle of Man Premier League match (my blog on the day can be found here), any opportunities to attend further football games since my Manx expedition have been limited at best.

Obviously the North Welsh winter weather has been the biggest hindrance to my plans, by being so predictably awful in February. A combination of winter storms, snow flurries and/or driving rain had forced a number of my planned groundhops during February and early March to be postponed due to unplayable pitches. The continuation of postponements throughout the winter period in Welsh league football certainly provide excellent and compelling evidence for why Welsh football should switch to a summer schedule (like Irish football does) – it certainly gets my backing anyway!

Any game that I did manage to attend during this tempestuous period was usually a Holywell Town home game. However considering I have written enough blogs from Halkyn Road over the past couple of years, I couldn’t exactly write another one (you readers would get fed up of them eventually…), meaning any potential groundhop blog options were restricted.

Conversely my main focus of attention this past month has been organising and formulating plans for my forthcoming sabbatical (a formal description for a ‘career break’) that shall commence at the end of March. During my six months away from work (that sounds delightful, it really does…), I shall be aiming to exploring many locations and areas around Britain and Ireland that I have always wanted to visit, but never really had the time to (any suggestions for interesting places would be greatly received also). Of course I shall also be aiming to organise a number of groundhops and attend football games during this period. Whilst having a large period of time will crucially enable me to recover from a recent spell of mental illness that afflicted me in November.

Thankfully Mother Nature was being kind for the second weekend of March, with weather forecasts being reasonable enough for a full football schedule to be played. As well as the weather conditions being favourable, a lot of my friends had gone off skiing for the week (not a big fan of skiing to be honest, hence why I didn’t go also) meaning I had a quiet weekend to myself. Naturally with this combination, I was super determined to go on a groundhop to a new location despite the obvious allure of potentially seeing the Wellmen take on Guilsfield in a mouth-watering encounter at Halkyn Road.

Naturally as more new grounds are visited in the Welsh leagues, resultantly this creates an increasingly smaller choice of new grounds to pick from for the next groundhop. Thankfully for this footballing weekend, there were still a good amount of options for myself to pick from. After some serious consideration and analysis on the fixtures being played in all the northern and central Welsh leagues, the shortlist of potential groundhops was whittled down to three interesting fixtures:

  1. Llanrwst United vs Llanberis (Welsh Alliance Division 1)
  2. Llangollen Town vs Lex Glyndwr (Welsh National League Division 1)
  3. Welshpool Town vs Llandrindod Wells (Mid Wales League Division 1)

By not having a clue which game I should go to, I did what most television shows do nowadays – I put it to the public vote! Alas I was neither organised nor proficient enough to establish unique phone lines for people to phone in and declare their preference, like many of these reality TV shows nowadays, and claim an absolute fortune from the premium line numbers (I’m looking at you Simon Cowell). Then again, I did have Twitter and a large group of followers (thank you all for following by the way, you fantastic people!!). Thus the first ever #The94thMinPoll was created on Twitter, which allowed my Twitter followers (@The94thMin if you’re not already following) to pick from the three choices, and settle conclusively which specific location/game I ought to transport myself towards.

Well after a day of uncertainty and some mild excitement, and with the votes trickling in throughout the day, it was confirmed on the Friday evening that Welshpool Town had won the popular vote (cue the Swing-o-meter and Peter Snow!!). From the 31 votes that were cast, Welshpool achieved a close victory with 42% of the vote, whilst Llangollen Town earned 32%, and Llanrwst United earning a respectable 26% of the tally. Overall, all three locations seemed to be popular with the people of Twitter, which was heart-warming to see!

Welshpool Tweet 1
How the vote went in the first #The94thMinPoll on Twitter

So it was decided…the public had indeed spoken! They had mandated me to head down the A483 towards Welshpool for the Saturday afternoon, whilst the other two clubs will be visited at a later date. Hopefully this democratic decision would conclude in a successful outcome for this groundhopper, and wouldn’t go all ‘Trumpish’.

I did deliberate whether to travel down to Welshpool on the train, but considering the resulting return journey time was not exactly ideal for me, I decided to drive the 56 miles down into Montgomeryshire instead. Leaving 94th Min HQ around 12:50, I arrived into Welshpool at about 2pm and with plenty of time before the scheduled 2:30pm kick-off time. On the journey down, I listened to Radio 2 (Radio 1 just annoys me nowadays…) and Paul Gambaccini was playing some of the records that were in the UK Singles Chart at roughly the exact same time of the year (the second week of March) but from 1973. Needless to say, there were some absolute corkers in the list, which I gleefully sung along to as I tootled down the A483, and made the excursion seem much quicker. Here are some of the hits that were in the charts in early March 1973, for your audible pleasure:

I would be carefully turning into Howell Road, to head towards the football ground, just as Slade was cranking up to their crescendo at the chorus, but not before having to slam onto the brakes when a complete tool decided to jaywalk across the Howell Road junction. Let’s just say I did a Noddy Holder style shout of my own, but I certainly wasn’t shouting “IIIIITTTT’SS CHRRRRIIIIISSSTTTMMAAAAAAAAAAASS!” at them!!

Having successfully avoided colliding into the bumbling village idiot, I finally managed to reach the car park at Welshpool’s ground. The car park is right at the end of Howell Road, just after the youth centre, located on the right-hand side. It should be identifiable as the car parking is located just behind the main stand at the ground. Because I was so early for the game, there were plenty of spaces available in the modest-sized car park, and so parked up having nearly the pick of the park.

Welshpool Town - 11th Mar 17 (6)
Finally arrived at Welshpool Town’s ground!

Strangely there was no-one at the car park entrance collecting any entry money, probably because I had arrived so early, so I just parked up and walked towards the main stand. Later on during the second half of the match, one of the stewards came around the main stand asking for £2 entry, which is still a bargain considering the Mid Wales League is at a decent standard. Since I was so early, nothing was open so I was left wandering around and waiting for the snack bar hatch to be opened. I even had to get the toilet block behind the main stand opened – well you have to answer nature’s call, and it had been calling me since I had reached Llanymynech!!

Welshpool Town - 11th Mar 17 (4)
Waiting for the snack bar (and toilet block) to be opened!

Thankfully after my quick comfort break, the snack bar was finally opened and I could purchase some well-needed sustenance prior to the game. The snatch hatch is located in the left hand side of a black portakabin, which is located beside the main stand but positioned further back from the pitch. As with many other snack bars at this level, there were no hot food available, such as hotdogs or hamburgers, but they sold the standard hot drinks and cold snacks e.g. crisps, chocolate bars. Therefore I bought myself a hot black coffee (contained within a mug saying ‘coffee’ on it, just to eliminate any potential confusion of what could be in the mug) and a Cadbury’s Twirl for a total of £1.70 = standard price.

Welshpool Town - 11th Mar 17 (3)
Welshpool training on the cricket pitch part of the field

Unfortunately I could not see anyone selling any match programmes, nor did I see anyone else with them in their hands, so I presume they didn’t produce any for this game which was a bit of a shame but understandable. Anyway with coffee and chocolate in hand, I decided to take a seat in the main stand. On the way to my seat, the unique fragrance of growing grass and mud that usually appears at this time of year filled my nostrils. It is always that distinctive combination of the two compounds that makes you realise that spring has finally arrived, and that the season was approaching its exciting conclusion. It is always that smell that conjures up old memories of great games I had seen played at spring, often involving Holywell Town.

Welshpool Town - 11th Mar 17 (10)
Spring has finally arrived in Welsh football

Welshpool Town only has one large stand at the ground, situated in the middle of the north side of the pitch. The main stand, or “The Tegwyn M. Evans MBE Stand” to give it its proper name, is a decent stand that has about 150-200 covered seats with room at the top of the stand for people to stand up. There is also a large section at the bottom right-hand side of the Evans Stand for disabled supporters to accommodate. It has been recently been refurbished (after receiving grants from the FAW Ground Improvements Trust and Welshpool Town Council) in honour of Tegwyn Evans, who was a driving force in Welshpool and Mid Welsh football. So much so, the stand was reopened in April 2016 by Welsh international manager, Chris Coleman, showing how well regarded Evans was within Welsh football. A very nice touch from Welshpool!

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The Tegwyn M Evans MBE Stand – the main stand at Welshpool

As with many other clubs in the Welsh leagues (examples being Gresford Athletic and Llay Welfare), they share the pitch with the town’s cricket team. Therefore there is permanent barriers dividing the playing pitch from the supporters’ area, as well as a concrete path, on three sides of the pitch, but the side opposite the main stand is tethered off with rope with supporters having to stand on the massive recreation pitch. The crease that supposedly will be used for the forthcoming cricket season had been sectioned off with rope to ensure no-one wrecks the crease prior to the season. However unlike the two grounds previously mentioned, Welshpool do have permanent floodlights positioned in the corners of the football pitch area.

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Further warm-up routines from the Lilywhites

It would seem the town’s rugby union team also play in the same location as a massive brown wooden clubhouse for the rugby club can be seen from the main stand, situated down in the far corner of the pitch. At first I thought I had to walk down there to get a cup of tea before I noticed the snack bar hatch beside the main stand. It looks an impressive clubhouse from the main stand and I hope the rugby club allows the use of the clubhouse to the football club on special occasions.

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Welshpool Rugby Club’s impressive looking clubhouse

At first I decided to sit down in the main stand to drink my coffee, eat my chocolate and watch the first half. On the other hand, considering I had just driven down for an hour, the last thing I wanted to do was to be seated for another 45 minutes. Accordingly I decided to head to the back of the stand, and watch the game stood up in the terraced area – plus it was a better view of the pitch from the higher viewing platform. I wouldn’t be the only person stood at the back of the stand as a group of younger Welshpool supporters had congregated at the other end of the standing area, with one of them wielding a huge bass drum. He would be banging this drum at sporadic moments throughout the entire game, trying to get Welshpool chants going amongst his mates. I’ll be honest, I would like to see more instruments in Welsh league games as it can add to the atmosphere at game, although I was slightly glad I didn’t have the drum right next to me and booming into my ears throughout the game ha!

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Llandrindod Wells preparing for the upcoming match
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Welshpool Town ready to continue their decent form

Having initially watched the teams do their pre-match warm-up routines whilst waiting for the snack hatch to open, the teams would eventually re-emerge from the changing room complex and onto the pitch ready for the match. The changing rooms building is directly next to the black portakabin housing the snack hatch, and looks recently built. An unique building housing a clock on its roof, as well as a plaque detailing Chris Coleman’s visit to open the Tegwyn Evans stand in April 2016.

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The changing rooms complex at Maes-y-Dre

Conditions for the game were fairly decent with it being a pleasantly mild day but with gloomy looking clouds overhead which would deposit some drizzle later on in the game. The pitch condition looked good and not too heavy considering the weather Wales has been subjected to over the past couple of months; so much respect goes to the ground staff for their hard work in getting the pitch into a good standard!

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Kick-off approaching

With both teams on the pitch and ready, it would be the away team would be kicking off the match. Llandrindod would be playing in their home strip of royal blue shirts with white shoulders, white shorts and royal blue socks. Welshpool would also be playing in their home kit of white shirts with black shoulders, black shorts and white socks. It is always good to see both teams in their traditional colours and not have to change kits because of the pathetic “light-dark” kit ruling that has been introduced recently by FIFA.

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The visitors will start the game off

 

 

MATCH DETAILS – FIRST HALF

At the start of the first half, it would be Llandrindod who would start more brightly hoping to get an early goal, but Welshpool would find their way into the game as the half progressed. This resulted in the first half being a fairly equal forty-five minutes with both teams having a couple of chances and half-chances.

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The match begins!
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My viewing position for the first half
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An early attack from the visitors

It would be the visitors who would have the first clear chance on goal after ten minutes when their #10 attempted a long range effort from outside of the penalty area. However it proved to be easily matched by the home goalkeeper as the shot was fairly central and fired straight towards the keeper, who pulled off a comfortable save. At the other end, Welshpool’s #3 threated the Llandrindod defence with a marauding run down the left wing which would have impressed Roberto Carlos. The skilful full back weaved past a couple of challenges before surging into the box and unleashing a fierce low effort. Unfortunately for his superb determination and craft, it was not rewarded as the visiting keeper instinctively got low to block the shot.

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A race to the loose ball!

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Strangely in the middle of the first half, the game had to be stopped as the assistant referee, nearest the main stand, had to leave early and was replaced by Welshpool’s manager who would be temporary linesman for this game. I have no idea why the official left when he did as he didn’t look injured to me (i.e. wasn’t hobbling when he walked off). Whatever the reason he had to go so soon, that is certainly a first for me in the groundhopping adventures.

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Match action
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Aerial challenge
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Headed clearance from Welshpool

There was a spell around the 20-25 minute mark when both teams had great chances to break the deadlock. Firstly Welshpool had their chance through their #9 when he found enough space outside of the penalty box, on the right hand side, to unleash an effort on goal. However the home forward couldn’t get a clean connection on the ball and the ball rolled into the keeper’s hands.

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Welshpool’s coaching staff look on in dismay as Llandrindod break down the right flank

 

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Match action

Llandrindod then threatened the Lilywhites’ goal through a set piece. A curling cross from the left flank was missed by the visiting players but managed to flick off a Welshpool defender. Thankfully the goalkeeper was positioned correctly to easily claim the ball from the unintentional flick. They would get another chance from a free kick a couple of minutes later when another free kick from the left side of the pitch was arched towards goal. This time it looked as it was going to beat everyone and settle in the back of the net but somehow just fizzed past the right-hand post.

 

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Corner from Llandrindod
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Welshpool on the attack
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Llandrindod clearing away the danger

It was at this point that I noticed that Welshpool had a number ten playing in the centre back roll. Now I know shirt numbers have become an arbitrary thing in modern football with strikers such Asamoah Gyan and Jordan Ayew wearing the #3 shirt, whilst Everton’s new signing, Morgan Schneidelin, displaying the #2 shirt despite it being synonymous with the right back roll (club legend’s Tony Hibbert’s former number) yet the Frenchman being a defensive midfielder (usually the #4 role). It would seem the Welshpool defender was employing the William Gallas school of thought when it comes to shirt numbers, with the Lilywhite defender matching the shirt number that the French centre back had worn in his less-than-successful stint at Arsenal.

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Headed clearance from the Llandrindod defence
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Welshpool’s #3 on a dribbling run

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Around the half hour mark and Llandrindod had another opportunity to open the scoring through yet another set piece, this time from a corner drifted in from the left side. The ball evaded everyone allowing a Llandrindod player to rise above everyone and get a connection with the cross. However his connection was not a perfect one as he failed to divert the ball efficiently and could only glance the ball past the right-hand post. A golden opportunity spurned there by the Spamen!

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Long ball into the box from Welshpool
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Still attacking the visitors defence

Both teams would have half-chances throughout the final ten minutes of the game, but a combination of both teams being sloppy in possession in the midfield but solid in their defensive duties meant they cancelled each other out resulting in no further ‘clear cut’ chances for either side. After a sterling contest in the middle of the park from both teams in tackling and intercepting passes when the other were in possession, the referee blew his whistle to call a halt in the proceedings.

HALF TIME: WELSHPOOL TOWN 0 – 0 LLANDRINDOD WELLS

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Half time at Maes-y-Dre and the scoreline is goalless!

 

During the half time period, I decided to venture to the other side of the pitch to take pictures of the main stand and potentially watch the second half from a more “grounded” viewing position. However on the opposite side of the pitch, and as mentioned previously, there are no covers or stands, so typically as I walked to the other side of the pitch the weather decided to drizzle. No matter, I had a new waterproof jacket on and was prepared to resist the droplets to watch the second half. Alas I soon beat a quick retreat back to the sanctuary of the covered main stand as the drizzle evolved to rain and descended from the every gloomier clouds above. Why get yourself purposefully soaked when cover was available? Ha!

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The hills of the Severn Valley
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Maes-y-Dre at half time

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Despite being on the wrong side of the weather, it was delightful to see the surrounding countryside and hills from the opposite side of the pitch, something you don’t really see from the main stand. Central Welsh football grounds are always my favourites because they provide such amazing vistas and panoramic views of the Powys countryside, which are very rarely matched in North East Wales. Although the view from Welshpool didn’t quite match those gloriously displayed in Caersws, Llanfair United or nearby Guilsfield, it was still a great view looking down the Upper Severn Valley and fulfilled the ‘great landscape view’ criteria that all Mid Welsh grounds seem to have!

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Llandrindod Wells come out ready for the second half

 

MATCH DETAILS – SECOND HALF

The second half commenced in the same style as the end of the first half with neither side being superior over their opponents, with no decent goal-scoring opportunities being created for either team, but the game having a lot of action and battling in the middle third of the pitch. It was an even contest but both teams were giving as good as they were receiving from their opponents.

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Early throw in for Welshpool
Welshpool Town - 11th Mar 17 (80)
Match action

It wouldn’t be until the hour mark that the deadlock would be shattered, when the visitors would make the crucial breakthrough in the game. A surging run through the centre from Llandrindod’s #8 created gaps in the Welshpool defence before he was bundled down by the home defence, eager to eliminate the imposing threat. A certain foul and potential free-kick would have been forthcoming for the visitors; nevertheless, the official played the advantage seeing that Llandrindod still had possession and were streaming forward. It proved to be the correct decision made by the referee as the ball was eventually crossed from the right to Llandrindod’s #10 who had positioned himself on the left side of the penalty box, and was completely unmarked. Having enough time and plenty of space to pick his spot, the forward placed his effort low into the bottom right-hand corner of the net to open the scoring for the afternoon.

Welshpool Town 0 – 1 Llandrindod Wells

Having gained the lead, Llandrindod had the momentum in the game behind them, and looked to double their lead in quick time. The Spamen, sensing Welshpool defence were perhaps starting to creak having conceded, now advanced forward regularly and managed to create a number of half-chances, as well as having a good effort superbly saved by the Welshpool goalkeeper.

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Match action
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Llandrindod with an opportunity
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Easy claim for the home keeper

Alas for the visiting supporters, Llandrindod’s lead would only last ten minutes when Welshpool caught them with a superb counter-attack (combined with a bit of luck). Welshpool’s #10 had advanced from his centre back role and found himself on the right side of the pitch. He curled a curving low cross into the penalty area which seemed to have confused the Llandrindod keeper into spilling what seemed like a catchable ball. The ricochet from the keeper’s gloves headed towards the left post when an oncoming Welshpool player was on hand to easily tap the ball into an empty net. The home side had equalised, and the supporters’ drum was thumping out a beat in double time in celebration!

Welshpool Town 1 – 1 Llandrindod Wells

The match now became more action-packed and frenzied as both teams sensed the next goal could swing the game’s momentum in their favour and potentially claim the three points. As a result, sterner tackles started flying in, and tempers between the players started to rise and almost boil over. It was becoming a fiery game as both teams were becoming increasingly desperate for the win!

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Match action
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Attempted through ball for Llandrindod

Again Welshpool would catch out their opponents on the counter-attack on a number of occasions but couldn’t quite craft anything worthwhile to turn the game in their favour. For Llandrindod, their best chances in the remainder of the second half came through set pieces, just as it had been for them in the first half. A free kick launched into the penalty area from the left wing almost produced some glory for the visitors, but a flicked-on header agonisingly drifted wide of the left post.

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Dangerous free kick for Welshpool

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It would prove to be a thrilling conclusion to the game as neither side wished to settle with the status quo and share the points. Both sides could smell blood and were pushing men forward gambling on nicking that killer goal that could decide the contest, whilst just about dealing with the numerous attacks and counter-attacks that were launched at their stretched defences. There was a feeling in the air that another goal was certainly forthcoming in this game…

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Substitution for the visitors
Welshpool Town - 11th Mar 17 (100)
Direct free kick for the home side

With about five minutes remaining, the anticipated goal arrived, but unfortunately for the Lilywhite supporters in the far corner of the stand, it would be Llandrindod who would clinch it through a set piece unsurprisingly. Having continually threatened the Welshpool defence through set pieces all game, it would be a corner that would eventually provide success and at the perfect point of the game for the Spamen. A corner from Llandrindod’s #10 was superbly whipped towards the far post, where the substitute #15 managed to get himself in between the marking defender and the post to bundle the ball into the back of the net!

Welshpool Town 1 – 2 Llandrindod Wells

Despite Llandrindod snatching a late deciding goal, it would not be the end of the drama and excitement in the game as Welshpool could and should have equalised almost immediately after the guests had taken the lead. A cross from the right was aimed towards the far post, and in a very similar circumstance to the goal just one minute previously, a Welshpool forward found himself in between the marking defender and the post, and with a glorious chance to level things up once more. Frustratingly for the home support, the forward somehow nodded the ball past the wrong (or right depending on your opinion) of the post, leaving everyone bemused how he had not levelled the scores up.

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Match action

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Even the unmarked header was not the final chance of the game as Welshpool had yet another opportunity to grab a late equaliser. With Llandrindod desperately clinging onto their lead, and defending deep to maintain the score line, it encouraged the Lilywhites to advance upon them. They almost made their visitors pay for their cautiousness when Welshpool’s substitute #15 found just enough space just outside of the penalty box to launch a curving effort on goal. The ball looked like it was going to curl into the bottom right hand corner of the net but could only fizz past the right post, much to the scrambling keeper’s relief.

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Keeper pulling off a decent save!
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Welshpool looking for a late equaliser!

That curling effort would be the final chance of the match as Llandrindod managed to hold resolute just long enough for the referee to finally end the contest. It had been a superb second half, with both sides having chances to get something from the game, but it would be Llandrindod Wells who would be returning to Lant Avenue with all three points.

FULL TIME: WELSHPOOL TOWN 1 – 2 LLANDRINDOD WELLS

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Full time at Maes-y-Dre, and it’s an away win!

 

 

POST MATCH & CONCLUSION

The result did nothing to change the fortunes of both clubs in the league as Welshpool stayed in fourteenth position and still two points behind Tywyn/Bryncrug in thirteenth place. Whilst Llandrindod maintained tenth spot but closed up to Knighton Town in the place above, with the gap being just five points. However Llandrindod can take a lot of confidence in the result as it was their second away victory in a row, which they can build upon to take advantage with their game in hand and potentially chase down the teams above them in the table.

The game itself was a close affair, with the second half naturally being more entertaining than the first half. Of the two teams, Llandrindod probably looked the more threatening, and certainly exploited Welshpool’s inability to defend set pieces to the maximum. However it is fair to say that Welshpool had the better cleat cut chances, especially towards the end of the game. Had the hosts converted any of their opportunities, then they could have potentially gotten at least a point from the fixture.

Overall I really enjoyed my Welshpool groundhop and found the ground to be a really decent one. Alas I was not able to explore the town either pre or post-game due to time constraints, but I will certainly venture back to the town (probably by train next time) to explore it more thoroughly and will revisit the ground again. Everyone I encountered who were involved with the club were really friendly and welcoming, and I shall certainly return back to Maes-y-Dre in the near future!

I would like to wish both Welshpool Town and Llandrindod Wells all the very best of luck for the rest of the season!

Diolch!

RUSHEN UNITED

Date of Visit: Saturday 21st January 2017

Ground Number: 80

  • Distance Travelled: 5,5 miles [From Isle of Man Ronaldsway Airport]
  • Travel Time:            15 minutes

 

 

CLUB DETAILS

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  • Club Name: Rushen United Football Club
  • Ground: Croit Lowey
  • Club Nicknames: The Spaniards, Moryn Vannin (The Pride of Mann)
  • Club Colours: Yellow and black striped shirts, black shorts & black socks
  • League Position: Isle of Man Premier League – 4th [20/01/2017]

 

  

DIRECTIONS & CAR PARKING

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Location of Croit Lowey in Port Erin

From Port Erin Promenade:

Follow the one-way loop through the town by heading down Church Road, then turning right onto Orchard Road at the end of the road. At the end of Orchard Road, turn left onto Station Road and drive past the petrol station on the right. Turn right just after the church (situated on the right) into Droghadfayle Road, and the ground should be on the first turning on the left, opposite the fire station.

From the Isle of Man Airport:

From the airport, take the A5 road towards Castletown and stay on the road for approximately four to five miles. Turn onto Castletown Road before heading into Gansey, and go straight over the roundabout onto Station Road and the road into Port Erin. Just before the church on the left-hand side, turn left onto Droghadfayle Road. The ground entrance will be on the first left turning.

Car Parking Information:

Car parking is available at the ground, with parking allowed behind the goal at the Droghadfayle Road end (the nearest end to the entrance).

 

 

CLUB HISTORY

Club Established/Founded: 1910

Honours:

  • 10 x Isle of Man Premier League / Division 1 Champions
  • 9 x Manx FA Cup Winners
  • 15 x Hospital Cup Winners
  • 16 x Railway Cup Winners
  • 13 x Cowell Cup Winners

Highest League Finish:         Isle of Man Premier League – 1st [2009-10]

2015-16 Performance:

  • Isle of Man Premier League – 3rd
  • Manx FA Cup – 1st Round
  • Hospital Cup – Semi-Finalist
  • Railway Cup – Semi-Finalist
  • Cowell Cup – N/A

 

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2015-16 Isle of Man Premier League table

Rushden United are one of the more successful teams on the Isle of Man having won the Manx top division on ten occasions and the Manx Cup on nine separate occasions. They currently play at Croit Lowey, situated in the village of Port Erin. The club’s motto is Moryn Vannin, which in Manx roughly translates as “The Pride of Mann”.

The club was founded on the 21st September 1910 following a civic meeting in the local church hall, and joined the island league that year. Their first ever league game came that year against Douglas Athletic, where they suffered a 1-2 defeat. Unfortunately initial attempts to establish a football team in the village floundered as they were expelled from the Railway and Manx Cups that season, and would not re-enter the league until after the First World War.

When they returned to competition in the 1919-20 season, it would be the start of a hugely successful period for “The Spaniards”. Two years after their return, they would win their first piece of silverware by overcoming a 0-2 deficit at half time to beat St Georges 3-2 and claiming the 1921-22 Railway Cup trophy. Rushen would successfully retain their Railway Cup the following season by defeating Castletown 4-1 in the 1923 final, before they claimed their maiden Manx Cup in the 1923-24 campaign through a 1-0 victory over Wanderers at Ramsey. This would be the first of three consecutive Manx Cup triumphs over the next three seasons.

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The Rushen United Manx Cup Winners 1923 [Image: Rushen United Website]
The highlight of this interwar period would be the 1925-26 season when Rushen would achieve a historic treble-winning season. They would claim their third Manx Cup in a row, beating St Mary’s 2-1 with Rob Crellin grabbing a brace, whilst they achieved their first Hospital Cup victory. A 6-0 defeat of Ramsey in the final was the glorious crescendo of an impressive cup campaign that saw the Spaniards not concede a goal throughout the entire tournament. However the highlight of the season was their inaugural league championship, which resulted in the team being defensively solid throughout the season and conceding only nine goals, whilst keeping fifteen clean sheets, to ensure they would win the Division One title by two points.

Rushen would win their second Hospital Cup in 1928 when goals from the Corris brothers, Wilf and Fred, ensured a 2-0 conquest over Wanderers. However shenanigans in 1929 Manx Cup final resulted in the Corris brothers, along with nine other players, being given substantial suspensions, and the club being thrown out of the league. It came about during the cup replay against St Georges when Wilf Corris swore at the referee and was sent off (no messing from the officials in those days!). In response to the dismissal, Rushen captain John Cooil ordered the team off the pitch in protest of the decision, which brought the wrath of the Manx FA upon them.

Their exile would be short spell as they would re-enter the league the following season, and it would not be long before the trophies appeared once again. Their first trophy of the 1930’s came when they beat Ramsey, after a replay, in the 1931 Hospital Cup. This would be followed up by winning their fourth Manx FA Cup in the 1933-34 campaign, beating Ramsey by the single Jack Curphey goal on the 70th minute. They would also claim an additional Hospital Cup the following season by beating fierce rivals Peel 3-1 (their fourth Hospital Cup in their history up to that point).

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Rushen’s 1934 Manx Cup winners, as displayed in Rushen’s clubhouse

The triumph of 1930’s for Rushen United came in the 1935-36 campaign when they managed to claim their second league championship, having stayed undefeated all season and conceding just eight goals (one better than their first league championship). They would also complete an impressive double-winning season when they claimed the Manx Cup once again, beating rivals Peel in front of 3000 people to make the victory sweeter. The sole decider in the game coming from Wilf Corris – this time holding his tongue long enough to bring the cup back to Port Erin.

Sadly towards to end of the decade, success would start to fade for Rushen. Even though they reached two additional Manx Cup finals following their league championship, they would lose on both occasions to Peel. In addition, a lot of Rushen’s better players had moved to Castletown, with the club in serious financial debt. It would not be until after the Second World War when Rushen would be financially stable enough to win their next piece of silverware.

Post-WW2, the Spaniards initially struggled in the league campaigns, but they did managed to win the 1947-48 Railway Cup final, beating St Georges 3-0 with goals from Jack Oates, Billy Corris and Tommy Carine. An impressive achievement and a cup shock considering Rushen had not won a league game before the final was played on New Year’s Day! Rushen would have to wait until the start of the 1950’s to win another Manx Cup, by beating Bradden by two goals to one, in front of an attendance of 4000 people at the 1951 cup final. They would add another Hospital Cup that season also, by overcoming Castletown 2-1.

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Rushen’s 1951 Manx Cup winning team, as displayed in Rushen’s clubhouse

The majority of the 1950’s and 1960’s were a fairly barren time for Rushen as they would suffer only heartbreak and near misses. They would reach a vast number of cup finals, but would lose a considerable majority of them, often getting beaten by rivals Peel in the cup finals. Despite previous poor final results, Rushen would eventually claim two consecutive Railway Cups in 1963 and 1964. However they would also suffer relegation to Division 2 in the 1954-55 season – the only time in their history they have experienced a demotion to the second tier of Manx football. Nevertheless they returned back to Division 1 the following season, having finished runners-up to the Division 2 champions Laxey.

It would not be until the mid-1970’s when Rushen would re-emerge as one of the strongest sides on the Isle of Man, and started a second halcyon age for the club. It would commence in the 1974-75 season when they completed a cup double by winning the Railway and Hospital Cups, beating Peel 5-1 and Pulrose United 2-0 respectively, to claim their first Railway and Hospital Cups in eleven years. Rushen United would repeat the trick in the following season by successfully defending both trophies to achieve the cup ‘double-double’.

It would be the 1977-78 season which would be the breakthrough season for Rushen as they firstly won their seventh Manx Cup in their history, hammering Pulrose 7-1 and ending a wait of twenty-seven years since their previous Manx Cup victory. They would also win the Railway Cup once again, beating Peel 1-0 to win two cups in one season again. However this important season would be a treble-winning season as the wait for their third league title was finally over! After 42 years of waiting, the Isle of Man Division 1 title would be returning back to Port Erin, although it had been a very close run thing. With three teams all finishing the season with 30 points, Rushen would just take the title by having the superior goal average of the three teams. Certainly a dramatic finish considering the title winning goal came in the 84th minute of the final game of the season!

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Rushen United team of 1978. [Image: Rushen United Website]
Despite Rushen clinching the title by the skin of their teeth, it started a period of domination for the Spaniards as they would claim four league title in a row between 1978 and 1981 (you wait fourty-two years for a league title and four arrive at once). The 1980’s would be Rushen’s decade as they would claim a further three Division 1 league titles, winning the 1984-85 and 1985-86 campaigns consecutively, as well as becoming the 1987-88 league champions. Whenever they failed to win the league between 1981 and 1988, Rushen would inevitably finish as runners-up, emphasising their dominance in Manx football. They would also win four Hospital Cups and four Railway Cups during the 80’s and would complete the decade with their eighth Manx Cup victory, beating St Georges 3-2 after a replay (drawing the first game 2-2).

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Rushen United 1984-85 season. [Image: Rushen United Website]
Despite an encouraging start to the 1990’s due to winning the 1990 Manx Cup final, the success of the previous decade failed to materialise for Rushen. Ultimately they would only claim two trophies during the decade, with only the 1991-92 Cowell Cup (beating Douglas Royal 3-2 after a replay) and the 1992-93 Hospital Cup trophies arriving back at Croit Lowey. However the dearth of trophies would not be through a lack of determination as they would reach a number of cup finals during the decade, but would unfortunately lose the lot. The 1998-99 season being a particularly tough season, with Rushen losing to rivals Peel in both the Manx and Railway Cup finals by the comprehensive scoreline of 0-3 on both occasions.

The new millennium resulted in new dawn for Rushen as they formed the Rushen United Ladies football team. In the 2000-01 season, a successful season saw Eleanor Gawne named as the Ladies’ Island Footballer of the Year, whilst the men’s side finally saw some success on the pitch. They would narrowly edge out Laxey to win the Hospital Cup 4-3 after extra time, with a Mark Haywood brace, combined with goals from Neil Curphey and Nicky Glover, ensured much needed success returned to the Spaniards.

They would regain the trophy the following season, this time beating Marown 3-1, whilst the Rushen Ladies team would go from strength to strength by winning the Manx women’s league title and the HSBC Cup. Once again Eleanor Gawne was critical to her team’s ascendancy to the top, and would be selected as the Ladies’ Island Footballer of the Year for the second year running. It would be the ladies team who would be bringing in the majority of the trophies for Rushen in the first part of the 2000’s as they would win the Manx Ladies Cup on two occasions, the league title once again and the HSBC Cup between 2003 and 2007.

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Rushen Ladies against Corinthians Ladies [Image: Corinthians FC Website]
The 2000’s also saw a couple of milestones for the men’s side. Firstly in 2002, club stalwart Eric Nelson played his 1000th game in a home Division 1 fixture against Pulrose United, at the spritely age of 50, and was given a memento to mark the incredible landmark. Then in 2005, the club played their highest profile game when they played in front of 3,300 people (and the Sky Sports cameras) at the National Sports Centre at Douglas against then English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers. The Bolton side included eight first-team players such as Kevin Davies (who scored four times in 28 mintes), Kevin Nolan and the late, great Gary Speed (who also scored). In the end, the Trotters won the game 10-0, but the result was unimportant for Rushen as it was organised to be a massive fund raiser for the club’s proposed new indoor facility. Overall the club managed to raise a total of £35,000 from the high profile match and a gala dinner.

Rushen United would have another purple patch of success between 2009 and 2011 when they managed to win three competitions in three years. Firstly in the 2008-09 season, the Spaniards claimed their sixteenth Railway Cup by beating Peel 1-0 through a Steve Riding goal. Then in the 2009-10 season, they would return to the apex of Manx football by winning their tenth top flight league title when they lifted the Premier League trophy – their first league title in 22 years! Finally in the 2010-11 season, they were able earn their ninth Manx Cup of their illustrious history, ending a 21 year wait since their previous Manx Cup triumph in 1990.

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Rushen’s Manx Cup winning team in 2011. [Image: Rushen United website]
After a few uneventful years in the Isle of Man Premier League, where St Georges have been the dominant team on the island, last season was Rushen’s best league finish since they last won the league in 2010 when they finished in third position on the table. Even though they would make an early exit in the Manx Cup, they would provide better performances in the other senior cup competitions by reaching the semi-finals of both the Hospital Cup and Railway Cup.

 

CURRENT FORM

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Isle of Man Premier League prior to the game
  • Sat 26th November: St Johns United (h) 2 – 0
  • Sat 10th December: Corinthians (a) 1 – 6
  • Sat 17th December: St Marys (h) 3 – 3
  • Sat 7th January: Union Mills (a) 5 – 1
  • Sat 14th January: Castletown (h) [Manx Cup] 6 – 0

Rushen United were having another decent season in the Isle of Man Premier Division as they were sitting in fourth position in the league prior to the game, with a points tally of 36 points and a positive goal difference of 24. With five league fixtures remaining in the season schedule, they had achieved eleven wins and three draws from their season so far. The Spaniards biggest win of the season coming against their opponents for the upcoming game, beating Ayre United 9-0 away at the Andreas Playing Fields.

Their form going into the match with Ayre has been fairly decent as they were on a run of three games unbeaten. A solid 2-0 victory at Croit Lowey against St Johns United at the end of November was followed up by a disappointing heavy defeat against Corinthians. The five goals scored by Sean Doyle causing the damage at the Ballafletcher Sports Ground. However since that setback in early December, they have impressed in the past three games. Despite going 0-2 down at half time, a brace of goals from substitute Ryan Crawley and a goal from Jamie Johnston, Rushen achieved a hard-earned point against second placed team St Marys.

They would start 2017 with a big away victory at Union Mills, beating the Millers 5-1 at Garey Mooar. A hat-trick from Jack Saxon and goals from Jamie Johnston and Steven Riding ensured it would be a decent start to the New Year for the Spaniards. In their last match, they achieved another high scoring victory over their opponents, this time defeating local rivals Castletown 6-0 in the Manx FA Cup. This time a hat-trick from Mike Williams, a brace from Steven Riding and another goal from Jamie Johnston ensured the Spaniards would advance to the next round of the knockout tournament.

 

 

THE OPPOSITION – AYRE UNITED

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  • Sat 3rd December: Laxey (h) 0 – 8
  • Sat 10th December: Peel (h) 1 – 10
  • Sat 17th December: Ramsey (a) 2 – 2
  • Sat 7th January: St Johns United (h) 1 – 8
  • Sat 14th January: St Georges (h) [Manx Cup] 0 – 7

Having finished in ninth position last season, Ayre United were having an absolutely shocking season by being situated rock bottom of the league with negative two points and having just achieved one point from their twenty league games this season. Their league position is a result of them conceding goals at an alarming rate, having conceded 170 goals from their twenty league games played prior to this game – an average of 8,5 goals per game!! Their heaviest defeat so far coming against Peel AFC, were they given a 0-17 hiding at Douglas Road, with Peel forward Ashley Webster scoring ELEVEN goals.

The Tangerine Army’s season was made even worse when they lost three points due to fielding an illegible player during the season, resulting in their current negative point situation.

It would take until their nineteenth league game before they managed to gain their first point of the season, by claiming an important 2-2 draw against Ramsey at the Ballacloan Stadium. However that hard-earned individual point has been the only highlight of a miserable season for the Tangerines, as the New Year started as 2016 ended. In their previous league fixture played at the start of January, they lost 1-8 to St Johns United with Dean Tate getting the sole consolation goal for Ayre. Whilst in their previous fixture, they suffered a seven-nil defeat to current league champions St Georges to crash out of the Manx Cup. A sad situation for a club who won the Manx Cup in the 2002-03 season!

 

 

 

PORT ERIN

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Port Erin in the south of the Isle of Man
  • Name: Port Erin (English); Purt Çhiarn (Manx)
  • Population: 3,500
  • Sheading: Rushen
  • Parish: Rushen
  • Nearest Major Settlements: Port St Mary [1,5 miles south-east]; Peel [14,2 miles north]; Castletown [5,1 miles east]
  • Nearest Train Station: Port Erin

The seaside village of Port Erin is located in the south-west corner of the Isle of Man and is the largest settlement (in terms of population) in the south of the island. Situated in the sheading of Rushen, the town is a magnet for tourists who come for its scenic beach and the panoramic views of Port Erin Bay. Enclosed by two headlands, Bradda Head to the north and Mull Head to the south, the bay can act as a suntrap in the summer months, but can also funnel the westerly winds towards the village in the winter months. Despite this, the town is famed for its views which include picturesque sunsets over the bay and Bradda Head, as well as occasional glimpses of the Mourne Mountains (situated in Northern Ireland) in the far distance on clear days.

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Port Erin

The town is situated next to where the A7/A29 road converges with the A5 road. It is also the western terminus of the Isle of Man steam railway, which runs to Douglas via Port St Mary and Castletown. The train station has been described as “the most beautiful building in town” and is constructed of distinct red Ruabon brick in an unusual design specifically to fit into its diagonal location between the platforms and the nearby road. Next to the station lies the Railway Museum which displays the history of the Isle of Man Railway through exhibits and visual displays charting the history of the railway from its opening in 1873 until the present day.

Port Erin’s name in Manx is Purt Çhiarn which means ‘lord’s port’ or ‘iron port’ and this name comes from the origins of its modern expansion as a settlement. It started with the construction of a breakwater in the bay by Sir Henry Loch, the Lieutenant-Governor of the Isle of Man. When Loch arrived in 1863, plans were in place to construct a breakwater which would provide a much-required haven for fishing vessels on the west coast of the island, as well as become a profitable harbour for steamers. The breakwater was finally completed in 1876 but it was problematic from the beginning of the project. Violent storms damaged the unfinished breakwater in 1868, and when it was completed, it aroused jealousy from other towns who objected to Port Erin being favoured in this manner.

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Sir Henry Loch, former Lieutenant-General of the Isle of Man. [Image: Wikipedia]
However the big problem with the breakwater was the immense cost of the project, with the British Government demanding £2,600 annual interest to their £58,200 ‘loan’ they gave towards the project. After negotiations between the two parties, Loch managed to persuade the British Treasury in taking a total payment of £20,000 for their input. In the end, all the vast expenditure was for naught when another storm damaged the breakwater in 1882 before another storm two years later finally destroyed it beyond repair. Today the outer breakwater is visible at low tide only, whilst a marker buoy shows the extent of the breakwater.

Port Erin’s failure as a steamer port was compensated by the arrival of the railway, with turned the scenic location into a popular holiday resort. As a result, a range of hotels was constructed around the bay in the 1880’s, with many of which still existing in the town today as it continues to be a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. It was has also been a popular location for filming, with the 2006 film Stormbreaker (starring Ewan McGregor) being filmed on Port Erin beach, as well as a number of television programs. Finally the location was so scenic that it was the residence of 1992 Formula 1 World Champion Nigel Mansell, who lived on the headland to the south of the bay.

 

 

CROIT LOWEY GROUNDHOP

Attendance: 100 approx.

Weather Conditions: Cloudy and dry but very cold and breezy

  • Entrance: £1.00
  • Programme: N/A
  • Cup of Coffee: £0.70

 

For the third full weekend of the New Year, and for the first blog from 2017, I would be going on an adventure. I would be leaving the relatively well-trodden but beloved environment of Welsh football and experience the excitement of delving into another country’s football pyramid for the first time. The aim for this journey would be to travel to an island I have wanted to visit for a long, long time, not only for some groundhop action but to be able to have the opportunity of exploring of the location also. For this January’s groundhop adventure, I would be leaving North Wales behind and heading to the mystical jewel of the Irish Sea…..the Isle of Man!

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Flag of the Isle of Man

For those of you unaware of the island, the Isle of Man is a self-governing Crown Dependency of the United Kingdom, situated roughly equidistance from the four home nations in the middle of the Irish Sea. As it is a Crown Dependency, it is independent from the UK (like the Channel Islands) and runs its own affairs, with only the UK responsible for the foreign policy and defence of the island. It is considered one of the six Celtic countries, with the Manx language (similar to Irish and Scots Gaelic) now being taught in schools after the last native speaker died in 1977. Finally the island is most famous for its historic and thrilling motorcycle race, the Isle of Man TT, which attracts tens of thousands of biking fanatics across the water every year to watch the world’s best motorbike racers compete on the streets on the island.

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In terms of its football, the Isle of Man has its own Football Association that co-ordinates and organises football on the island. The IoMFA is affiliated with the English FA and acts as a County Football Association rather than a separate body, but it does have its own international team that picks players from the IoM Football League. The Isle of Man international football team are obviously not part of UEFA, but they compete do compete in other non-UEFA/FIFA sanctioned football tournaments. The Yellows (nickname of the side) regularly play in the bi-annual Island Games football tournament, facing such sides as Ynys Môn, the Falkland Islands, Shetland Islands etc. and have managed to achieve four silver medals from the tournaments. The most recent silver medal was achieved in latest Island Games tournament, held in Jersey in 2015, when they lost 0-3 in the final to Guernsey.

Now you may be wondering why I have chosen to go to the Isle of Man for a groundhop in the middle of January? Well it was a fantastic birthday present from my groundhopping accomplice Greg who paid for the flight tickets to go over. Initially the plan was to travel up to Scotland to watch Ayr United (ironic considering who we would actually end up watching) because I have not managed to watch live ‘fitba’ in Scotland yet. However the plans were changed when Greg managed to find cheap flights over to the island, which would result in us spending the day on the Isle of Man and being able to catch a game from the Manx football competitions. Now that is a random groundhopping journey!!

It would mean a very early wake-up time of about 4ish on the Saturday morning to enable me to get to Liverpool Airport in time to get the half 8 flight over to the Isle of Man. No doubt an incredibly difficult time of the morning to get out of the warmth and comfort of the bed considering it was a very cold and frosty morning. Although it was the best time to head to the airport as it was distinctly quiet with few travellers about, and thus made going through the security phase much quicker. Plus I was able to buy and consume some Eggs Benedict and a black coffee from the airport’s Weatherspoons, which helped awake me from my weekend drowsiness.

The flight over took about half an hour on a small turboprop plane, and predictably for this time of the year, there weren’t too many other holiday makers making the journey over to the island. Nevertheless I didn’t mind that situation as it meant we were quickly onto the plane and there was less hassle with luggage etc.

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Douglas, capital of the Isle of Man

We landed in the island’s airport, Ronaldsway Airport, just after nine o’clock and subsequently picked up our hire car for the day. The first location we drove to was the island’s capital, Douglas, which is located on the middle right hand coast of the Isle of Man. I was really impressed with Douglas, and it is a very classical, attractive seaside town with the big Victorian-style hotels facing out to see, and a big promenade walkway. It reminded me a lot of Llandudno but a longer version of it. As you can imagine for January, it was really breezy in Douglas with cold winds, but the winter weather didn’t distemper my affection for the pretty town.

We were advised to go to the Welcome Centre in Douglas as our first point of call as it has an IoM governmental ran information desk, which (unsurprisingly) would provide us with information about the island and where the main tourist attractions were located. Speaking with the helpful travel advisor, we disappointingly discovered that all the major tourist hotspots were regrettably shut until Easter and there were only a couple of places open throughout the year. Fortunately one of those places was the Manx Museum located in the middle of Douglas, and it was free entry!

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The view of Douglas Bay

So we trudged off along the charming promenade, battered by the cutting winds on our way to the museum. In the middle of Douglas Bay is a prominent feature – a small fort structure built upon a craggy outcrop. Apparently this small fort is known as the “Tower of Refuge” and was built in the mid-Victorian period as a place of refuge for any sailor who had survived a shipwreck occurred in the treacherous and rocky Douglas Bay. This tower would have enough bread and fresh water for the survivors to live on before they could be rescued and brought ashore in calmer waters.

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The Tower of Refuge

The Manx Museum is perched on a hill a short walk from the promenade and it is well worth visiting on any day, especially with free entry. The museum has a number of sections about the nature and history of the island, detailing traditional Manx life, as well as the development of the TT over the years. I especially found the section about the resurgence of the Manx language and culture interesting, as well as the reconstructions of how traditional Manx cottages looked in simpler times.

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Mike Hailwood’s bike in the Manx Museum
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Section about the resurgence of the Manx language and culture in the Manx Museum

After being culturally and intellectually nourished for over an hour, it was time to be gastronomically fulfilled and so we grabbed a bite to eat at a quaint little café on the high street. Perhaps the café could have been considered a little twee for some people’s tastes as it had a very traditional feel to it, but the bacon & mushroom sandwich I ordered was immense! Massive slices of bread, with the bacon just cooked perfectly and lashings of button mushrooms = perfection!! Plus the service was really friendly which enhanced the welcoming ambiance about the place.

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Douglas High Street with the cafe down on the left hand side.

Time was ticking by and it was time to decide upon a fixture which we could visit, after our initial plan of visiting Corinthians against St Marys had been postponed late in the week. It was Manx FA Cup weekend on the island, so there was a selection of cup games to pick from, however in the end we decided to plumb for the only Premier League game being played that Saturday. It would mean a half-hour drive down to Port Erin on the south-west coast to see Rushen United take on Ayre United at Croit Lowey.

The league game had been brought to my attention on Twitter by Rushen fan Barry Critchley, who had replied to my general enquiries for information on Manx football. He directed me to his team’s fixture on the weekend, and claimed we would get a good welcome from the locals, as well as guaranteeing goals considering Ayre United were shipping them at an alarming rate per game! Well considering we had travelled over for the day, the last thing I wanted to see was a 0-0 draw, plus the bonus of a good welcome were the clinchers for me! Thanks for the help Barry!

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Message on Twitter from Barry Critchley telling me about the Rushen game.

We drove from Douglas to Peel, taking part of the TT circuit on route, before heading down the coast towards Port Erin. We made a brief stop-off at Peel AFC’s Douglas Road ground as we were passing it on route to Port Erin. Peel’s ground looked to be positioned in a very scenic position, with a great view of the tower high on the hill in the background. It also looks to be of a decent standard as it had two covered stands for supporters. However when we popped into the car park, it looks as if improvements were being made to the main stand as scaffolding had been erected beside it. It certainly looks like a revisit to Douglas Road is required in the future once the improvements have been made!

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Peel AFC’s Douglas Road ground

The views across the island were simply stunning and reminded me a lot of going through mid-Wales or the Lake District in terms of its small hamlets and undulating, brown-tinged hills. Alas the journey wasn’t without some fraught jeopardy as the car was ridiculously low of fuel (hire cars always are), and the Isle of Man has very few petrol stations. This meant it was becoming pretty tight if we would reach Port Erin before the fuel was all burnt up. Just as with many Hollywood film endings, we just about avoided disaster by arriving at the petrol station at Port Erin with only a few miles of fuel remaining! A few shredded nerves there!

Port Erin is an absolutely glorious looking seaside village, even on this cold winter’s day. It had the kind of West Wales or Cornwall style coastal settlement feel to it – a rugged yet charming seaside location, with the buildings hugging the surrounding hills and the promenade high above the sandy beach. I can imagine in the summer time, Port Erin must be jammed with tourists, all taking advantage of the beach which would be in a golden hue at that time of the year.

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Port Erin with the Bradda Headland

Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to enjoy and explore what the village had to offer as we needed to get to the football ground in sharpish time. The 2pm kick off was rapidly approaching and we were having trouble finding the ground, especially as the ground was not clearly identified on the phone maps or the local road signs. A couple of aborted jaunts up some side streets and a few loops of the one-way system later, and we acquiesced into having to ask a local for directions. Fortunately we probably asked the most ideal person on the promenade as he gave us exact directions to the ground, and following his route, it wouldn’t be long before we were parking up next to Croit Lowey. We had finally arrived at Rushen United!!

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We made it to Croit Lowey!

Croit Lowey itself would not look out of place in the Welsh leagues as it has a similar layout to many Welsh league grounds. The ground has the changing room/clubhouse complex running alongside one side of the pitch, on an elevated level to that of the pitch. There is also some covered terracing outside the clubhouse allowing some protection from the often temperamental Manx weather conditions. The other three sides were open to the elements with just a permanent barrier separating the field from the standing area. There are no permanent floodlights at Croit Lowey, or a concrete path surrounding the open three sides, but there are permanent dugouts positioned on the opposite side to the clubhouse. All in all, the ground is of a very similar standard to a ground from the third tier of Welsh football, which is good in my eyes!

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The entry for the upcoming game at Croit Lowey was only ONE POUND!! Now that it a complete bargain if you want to watch some proper grassroots football! The great value extended to the snack hatch inside the clubhouse complex, as the cups of hot beverages cost only 70p, so I bought myself a black coffee to warm up before the match. They don’t sell any hot food at the hatch (i.e. hotdogs, hamburgers, etc.) but a selection of snacks, such as crisps and chocolate bars, are available to buy for cheap prices.

As we were buying our cups of coffee, we got chatting to the guy behind the snack counter and found out he was the acting chairman of the club. So we conversed about our groundhop visit and talked about the club in general. From the discussion, it seems that Rushen is in a healthy position considering it owns its own ground, has an impressive clubhouse and recently obtained a decent sponsor on the front of their shirts which brought in some further investment into the club. I’m sure a lot of lower league clubs on the mainland would dream to be in a similar position!

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The board of Rushen United’s honours in the clubhouse

I did ask about hopefully buying a Rushen United pin badge but alas they didn’t have any available (luckily I bought a Isle of Man flag pin badge in Douglas). However he did show us the small trophy room next to the snack hatch, which had a selection of trophies on display, including an old embroidered cap that was received for winning the 1928-29 league, which I found fascinating. There were also a vast selection of pennants received from past opponents hanging up on the wall, as well as an England football shirt with a vast array of autographs from English football legends, such as Sir Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse, Sir Bobby Robson and Paul Gascoigne, to name just a few. Again I was impressed and surprised to see such an amazing collection of legendary names hanging up on a Manx wall!

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The cap awarded to Rushen for winning the 1928-29 Division 1 title
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A collection of signatures from English football legends
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Pennants from the other Manx clubs

After exploring the Aladdin’s cave of Manx football history, we decided to head into the clubhouse section of the complex as there were plenty of old photos and pictures of past winning teams from Rushen’s history proudly displayed on the walls. There was a great selection of classic pictures all showing past Rushen players in a glorious selection of vintage kits and displaying fine facial hair. The pictures that I found fascinating were the ones that displayed the trophy winning teams who played during the pre and post-World War 2 period. The clubhouse itself very decent and is one of the biggest I have visited in my travels. There is a bar selling alcoholic drinks, a pool table, a television and plenty of tables of chairs to make it a decent function room when it is hired out.

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Some of the pictures of Rushen teams past, displayed proudly in the clubhouse

Soon enough we left the clubhouse and back out into the cold air as both teams descended from the changing rooms and onto the pitch for the afternoon’s game. Confusingly (for us initially) Rushen were playing in their away strip of an all sky blue strip with white trim, whilst Ayre were in their home strip of tangerine shirt with black trim, black shorts and tangerine socks. For the first half we decided to stand in the corner of the covered terracing just outside of the clubhouse, making sure to cower and shield from the cutting winds being funnelled in from the Port Erin bay. Despite the wind, I was really looking forward to my first experience of Manx football!

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Our viewing position for the match, with Ayre warming up in the background
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Rushen United descend from the changing rooms and prepare for the game
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Approaching kick-off

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MATCH DETAILS – FIRST HALF

It would not take long in the match before Rushen would take the lead, as the first goal of the afternoon would appear within the first ten minutes of the game. A quick break by Rushen allowed the forward enough time to fire a fierce shot towards the Ayre goal from the right side of the box. Fortunately for the visiting team, the defender managed to get a stretching foot to the shot and divert the ball from its original trajectory. Unfortunately for Ayre, the deflection of the ball from the defender’s foot caused the ball to spin into the air, loop over the onrushing goalkeeper and eventually landing into the corner of the net.

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Rushen on the early attack

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The home support watching Ayre attack the Rushen goal
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Launching a counter-attack

This spark of good fortune for Rushen would be the first of six goals chalked up by the Spaniards in the first half, with the home side using the speed advantage of their forward players to full effect. This advantage enabled them to successfully run at and surge past the Ayre defenders on numerous occasions, making it difficult for Ayre to effectively defend every attacking phase that was thrown towards them. In addition, that alertness ensured they would always be at hand to tap in any rebounds that had deflected from the Ayre keeper, having kept out the initial effort on goal.

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Ayre in possession
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The visitors have a free kick
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And launch it into the Rushen box
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Another counter from Rushen
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OFFSIDE!!

Rushen’s #7 certainly impressed me during the first half with his pinpoint passing to teammates and dynamic attacking runs at the Ayre defence. So much so, I decided to dub him with the moniker of ‘Manx-i Rodriguez’ – the Isle of Man’s answer to the Liverpool’s former skilful Argentine winger. Cue a point in the game when I tried to think of Manx-professional football based puns. The best I could come up with was ‘Mann-i Alves’ and ‘Freddy Port Erin-con’ in the time although if you can think of any better, let me know (although I won’t accept Douglas Costa or Aaron Ramsey ha!).

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“Manxi Rodriguez” launching an attack for Rushen
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Rushen about to score!
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Another kick-off restart for Ayre 😦

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Despite Rushen having the lion’s share of the opportunities, Ayre continued to work hard and make things difficult for their opponents through some tough tackling and some neat build-up play on occasions. As a result, Ayre managed to threaten the Rushen goal on a number of instances, some of which forced the home goalkeeper to make a decent saves to maintain his clean sheet. You certainly couldn’t question the Tangerine’s exertion in the first half!

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The changing room & clubhouse complex at Croit Lowey

Towards the end of the half, we attempted to move from our sheltered position in the stand section to stand on the opposite side of the pitch. Alas the January winds were that cutting and biting that it wouldn’t be long before we ventured back to our original positions in the stand, before darting into the clubhouse to warm up when the official ended the first half. Needless to say we weren’t the only supporters who ventured into the clubhouse at half time to grab a bit of respite from the cold.

HALF TIME: RUSHEN UNITED 6 – 0 AYRE UNITED

 

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Half time and the home side have a great lead!

Greg would buy another hot chocolate from the snatch hatch for 70p (great value considering Welsh clubs’ usual price is £1 for a cup of hot beverage) before venturing back into the clubhouse section. Thankfully someone had turned up the heating in the room resulting in the sorry sight of two Welsh groundhoppers huddling around a radiator trying to absorb some of its warmth, whilst watching Soccer Saturday on the clubhouse’s television.

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The warmth of the clubhouse!

Eventually we would wrench ourselves from the delightful heat of the clubhouse, as well as Jeff Stelling’s vast array of footballing facts and anecdotes, to re-experience the blustery Manx conditions for the second half. Once again we cowered in the corner of the stand section, hoping to shield ourselves from the bracing winds coming from the Irish Sea, whilst hoping for a continuation on the flood of goals for the second half. Would Rushen continue to add to their goal tally or could Ayre produce one of the greatest football comebacks in history?

 

MATCH DETAILS – SECOND HALF

The second half would start on a surprising note as the league’s bottom club managed a rare second half attack on the Rushen goal. Catching the Rushen defence completely unawares on the counter-attack, it ultimately resulted in the Tangerines putting the ball in the back of the hosts’ net through a tidy finish from their striker. Alas there would be no resurgence from the visitors as it would be a rare highlight for Ayre in the second half, and only seemed to resolve and encourage the much changed Rushen team into raising their game for the remainder of the half.

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The Spaniards continually harassed the Ayre team through fierce pressing in the midfield every time the visitors had the ball. Naturally being exposed to such pressure from the “Gegenpressing”, Ayre would eventually concede ball possession in the midfield without causing too much problems to the Rushen defence. With Ayre repeatedly yielding possession to their opponents, Rushen were able to continuously threaten the Ayre goal through regular waves of effective attacking phases.

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Attacking down the right flank

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Attacking corner for Rushen

Unsurprisingly Rushen were able to capitalise on the opportunities provided to them by scoring an additional seven goals in the second half. A vast majority of the goals originating from the tactic of dinking the ball over the Ayre defence, and for the wingers and strikers to latch onto the pass whilst evading the unsuccessful offside trap employed by Ayre United, who were playing a high defensive line to enact the tactic. Alas Rushen continued to overcome the tactic time and time again to leave their pacey forwards in one-on-one contests against the overworked Ayre goalkeeper. The pace of Rushen’s #11 on the left wing certainly caused specifically relentless problems for the Ayre defence as they struggled to cope with his trickery and crosses coming from the left hand side of the pitch.

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A fierce effort from the edge of the box
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Covered by the Ayre defender

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Things were made even tougher for Ayre midway through the second half when their #7 was sent off for two bookable offenses. The second yellow card coming after he said too many choice words towards the official, who had no other option but to dismiss the right midfielder for his dissent.

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Oh no! Another goal conceded by Ayre!
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Rushen get another chance on the Ayre goal
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Penalty for Rushen!
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Cheekily dinks it into the bottom corner!

Rushen would threaten Ayre’s goal on a frightening rate, having decent chances by the minute. It was only the combination of some poor finishing from the home side, deflections off the woodwork and some superb reflex saves from Ayre’s goalkeeper that kept Rushen’s goal tally to just thirteen goals scored. The highlights of the second half goals were a cheeky, Lee Trundle style penalty from #11 which bamboozled the Ayre keeper into lurching in the wrong direction as the winger calmly prodded the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal. Whilst substitute #15, baring a passing resemblance to Kasabian guitarist Serge Pizzorno, unleashed a low-struck thunderbolt from 20-25 yards out which zipped into the bottom right hand corner of the goal. No ‘club foot’ from that one!

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Rushen through on goal, beating the offside trap again.
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Rushen through on goal with a chance!
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Attempting to relieve the pressure on the Ayre defense

With every goal being conceded by Ayre, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the lads as it was yet another tough afternoon in what has evolved into a very tough season for them. If there is one positive they could take from the game, it was that they continued to work hard, never backed out of challenges and fought to the final whistle. Plus their keeper had had a decent game all things considered – a weird thing to say if you have conceded 13 goals, however he pulled off a number of superb saves which kept the scoreline lower than it could have potentially been.

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Another long range effort from Rushen’s Serge Pizzorno!
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OFFSIDE!
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The ball dribbles into the Ayre goal as Rushen expand their lead further

Despite feeling a touch of pity on the Ayre team, I did sadistically want more even goals from the Rushen team despite being a neutral spectator (sorry Ayre!). Considering I have never seen such a game that has produced such a one-sided scoreline before (the best previously being Ruthin Town 9-4 Penyffordd), and having missed the opportunity to see a game which ended up as 12-0 a few weeks prior to this game, I wanted to see a goalfest! Having never seen a team score ten or more goals in a groundhop before, I was perhaps a bit too gleeful when the tenth goal hit the back of the Ayre net (so sorry again Ayre United!!).

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Another Rushen attack…
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…leads to an easy tap-in goal!

With everyone in a state of semi-frozenness from the biting cold winds whipping in from the Port Erin Bay, and the linesmen on either side looking especially cold, the official finally called a halt to proceedings and thankfully ended Ayre’s misery. Rushen would declare on thirteen goals and manage to earn themselves the three points and a great boost to their goal difference in the league.

FULL TIME: RUSHEN UNITED 13 – 1 AYRE UNITED

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Full time and it’s a big victory for the Spaniards!
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Thanks very much Rushen United, I have enjoyed my first experience of Manx football!

 

 

POST MATCH

Once the game has concluded, we left Port Erin and continued on our tour of the south of the Isle by visiting the Calf of Man, a small island located at the south-westerly tip of the island. Alas ‘The Sound’ café (named after the stretch of water which separates the Calf of Man from the main island) located opposite the small island was closed for refurbishment. However the stunning, breathtakingly scenic views from the car park more than made up for the café closure! It is also the location of the Thousla Cross (which appears in Rushton United’s badge), which is a commemorative monument to the men of the parish of Rushen who tried rescue the crew of the French schooner ‘Jean St Charles’ in 1858. If you enjoy a good sea view, this place is certainly worth a visit!

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The Calf of Man

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Looking out to the Irish Sea
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The Thousla Cross

Onwards we travelled to Port St Mary looking for somewhere to grab some tea, but it would seem there are not many viable options during the winter period as many are only open during the main tourist period. Eventually we found a pleasant looking gastropub in Gansey called ‘The Shore’ which (as its name suggests) was almost literally by the seashore. I must declare the food there was absolutely immense, with the battered fish cooked to perfection. Also the locally brewed ale ‘Okells’ is bloody brilliant – I have become a fan of it most certainly! If you like your beers, I would recommend you give the Manx beer a try (www.okells.co.uk), you won’t be disappointed!!

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The harbour at Port St Mary
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Now some of my favourite beers & ales! 🙂

Having been sufficiently fuelled with superb local food, we decided to drive back to Douglas to see what the Manx capital looks like at night time, and take a drive down the now illuminated promenade road. Douglas is quite pretty at night with all the seaside hotels highlighted brightly, and the many pubs looking alluring and welcoming to visitors. Alas we could not stay too long in the town as we needed to return back to the Ronaldsway Airport for our return flight back to Liverpool by taking the final flight from the island that evening. Whilst at the airport, I treated myself to an Okells pack complete with two ales and an Okells glass – had to get some of the stuff!!

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The sculpture called “The Legs of Man” outside of Ronaldsway Airport

We departed the Isle of Man on the 8:20pm flight, and I left the Isle with great sadness having fallen completely in love with the place. One thing is for certain, I shall be returning back to the Manx island in the very near future – my journey and absorption into Manx football has only just begun!!

 

 

CONCLUSION

The huge win for Rushen had moved them up one position to third place in the Premier League table, equal on 39 points with St Marys, but having played two games more than the Saints. However both teams were still 15 points behind runaway leaders St Georges, who look odds on to claim their 17th Manx league title, and their seventh in a row. Alas at the other end of the Premier League table, Ayre were firmly rooted to the bottom of the table and consigned to relegation. They stay on minus two points with still only one draw all season, but now with an eye-watering goal difference of -161. Ouch!

As stated on many occasions during this blog, I absolutely enjoyed my first experience of Manx football and the island in general. Everyone at Rushen was very friendly and welcoming to us, displaying the best of Manx hospitality, which I am very grateful for. The ground was an absolute corker also with a clubhouse and facilities that many clubs in the Welsh leagues would be envious of. Even though the game perhaps didn’t show the best the island has to offer in terms of competition, I am certainly interested to watch more games on the island as I feel I have only scratched the surface with the world of Manx football. Finally with the cost of just £1 entry fee to watch football, it’s fantastic value to see a good level of lower league football!

So if you have a spare Saturday (or weekend), why not consider a flight or ferry over to the Isle of Man for your next groundhopping adventure, or just an adventure in general. A glorious island with great history, great views, and great people (the three legs of greatness ha!) – what’s not to love?? I guarantee you shall not be disappointed!

I would like to wish Rushen United and Ayre United all the very best for the rest of their respective seasons, and hope to see them again in the very near future!

Slaynt vie!

 

ABERYSTWYTH TOWN

Date of Visit: Saturday 3rd December 2016

Ground Number: 78

  • Distance Travelled: 88,8 miles
  • Travel Time: 2 hours & 25 minutes

 

CLUB DETAILS

aberystwyth-town-badge

 

  • Club Name: Aberystwyth Town Football Club / Clwb Pêl-Droed Aberystwyth
  • Ground: Park Avenue, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 1PG
  • Club Nicknames: The Seasiders, Black & Greens, Aber Town
  • Club Colours: Green and white striped shirts with black trim, black shorts, black socks
  • League Position: Welsh Premier League – 10th position [01/12/2016]

 

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Aberystwyth Town’s home shirt for the 2016-17 season [Image: ATFC website]

DIRECTIONS & CAR PARKING

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Location of Park Avenue in Aberystwyth

From the A487 & A44:

Coming into Aberystwyth on the A487 from the North, stay on the A487 by following the one-way system towards the retail park. Go straight through the first roundabout, and pass the railway station on the left hand side. At the second roundabout, turn left onto Park Avenue, and the entrance to the ground should be on the right hand side about 150 yards down the road.

If arriving into Aberystwyth on the A44 road from Mid Wales, follow the A44 until a T-junction appears, where a left-turn is required onto the A487 road. Then follow the directions as stated above.

Coming on the A487 from the South, cross over the River Rheidol and turn right once on the other riverbank, following the signs pointing to the railway station. Follow the road until a roundabout appears, where a right turn is required onto Park Avenue. The ground entrance shall appear on the right side.

 

From Aberystwyth Train Station:

The train station is located roughly in the centre of Aberystwyth and only a five minute walk from the ground. From the main station entrance, turn left and head towards Matalan and the Ystwyth Retail Park. At the mini roundabout, turn right into the car park, walking through the car parking area and along a path between a local school and the public toilets towards Park Avenue. Head over to the other side of Park Avenue at the nearest crossing, and turn left in the direction towards the Retail Park. The entrance to the ground and car park should be opposite to the Poundland shop, although you should also see signs pointing towards the football ground.

 

Car Parking Information:

There is a decent sized car park next to the ground with approximately 100 car spaces available. Please be aware that this is a public, council-owned car park and you will have to pay to park in this location. For our visit, we paid about £3.70 for the whole day, but there are options for £2 for just two hours stay, or £2.80 for three hours. Aberystwyth has other council-owned pay car parks in the town, should visitors wish to explore the rest of the town. There are also available spaces in the Retail Park opposite the ground if required, although these spaces are promoted for shop customers only.

 

CLUB HISTORY

Club Established/Founded: 1884

Honours:

  • 1 x Welsh Cup Winners
  • 5 x Welsh Amateur / Welsh Intermediate Cup Winners
  • 15 x Mid Wales League Champions
  • 8 x Mid Wales League Cup Winners
  • 4 x Welsh League (South) Runners-Up

 

  • Founding Members of the League of Wales / Welsh Premier League
  • 1 x UEFA Europa League Participants
  • 2 x UEFA Intertoto Cup Participants

 

Highest League Finish:         Welsh Premier League – 3rd [1992-93]

2015-16 Performance:

  • Welsh Premier League – 8th
  • Welsh Cup – Round Three
  • Welsh League Cup – Round Two
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The 2015-16 Welsh Premier League table

 

There is evidence of football being played in Aberystwyth since the 1870’s, with records of the earliest incarnation of an Aberystwyth Football Club taking part in the inaugural Welsh Cup competition in 1877-78. During these early years of the national cup competition, Aberystwyth F.C. would reach the Third Round on a couple of occasions before being knocked out of the tournament.

The current incarnation of the town’s football club, Aberystwyth Town Football Club, were founded in 1884 when the son of a local solicitor, Arthur Hughes, along with his brothers Jack and Hugh, decided to place an advert in the local press looking for players to play for Aberystwyth Football Club. Arthur Hughes placed the following advert:

Aberystwyth Football Club

Gentlemen wishing to join the above club are requested to attend a meeting to be held at the Belle Vue Hotel on Saturday, the 4th inst., at 4pm. Members’ subscriptions to be paid in advance, 2s. 6d.

The new Aberystwyth club restricted themselves to just friendly matches in the early years of its history and did not join a league until 1896, twelve years after its creation. They were scheduled to make their first appearance in the 1886-87 Welsh Cup but had to withdraw in the First Round of the competition. This was probably a result due to excessive and hazardous weather conditions in the area which forced trains to get cancelled, and leaving the Aberystwyth team to travel to Llanfyllin.

Towards the end of the 19th century, Aberystwyth Town’s performances improved in the Welsh Cup. In the 1895-96 competition, Aber reached the semi-finals of the cup before they lost by the single goal to Wrexham at the neutral venue of Welshpool. However in the first competition of the 20th century, they would advance all the way to the final. In April 1900, at the neutral ground of Newtown, Aber would win their first, and still only, Welsh Cup trophy when they beat Druids F.C. by three goals to zero. Goals from A.W. Green, E. James and Storey ensured the trophy would make its way to the west coast of Wales. Their road to the trophy was the following:

  • Round 3: Rhayader (a) 1 – 0
  • Round 4: Newtown (h) 1 – 0
  • Semi-Finals: Carnarvon Ironopolis (n) 1 – 0
  • Final: Druids (n) 3 – 0

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The Aberystwyth Town Welsh Cup winning team [Image: Welsh Football Data Archive]
A member of that Welsh Cup winning side, was the legendary Welsh goalkeeper Leigh Richmond Roose who played for Aberystwyth whilst studying at the town’s university. He played 85 times for the club between 1895 and 1900, with the Welsh Cup final being the pinnacle of his Aber career. So much so, that he was carried from the pitch shoulder-high following the team’s victory and was described by the eminent Welsh historian Thomas Richards, as Yr Ercwlff synfawr hwn (“This wondrous Hercules”). Roose would leave Aber for the English leagues where he established himself as Wales’ international goalkeepers and became one of the finest goalkeepers of the age (and probably of all time) and a pioneer in the position.

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A plaque at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground showing former Aber player and Welsh legendary goalkeeper Leigh Richmond Roose

Ironically, the Welsh Cup victory would be the start of the club’s downfall as the club were unable to capitalise on their success and potentially win additional cups during that period. Aber soon suffered a massive financial crisis after the final, which caused a mass exodus of players and a massive reduction in results.

In 1896, Aberystwyth Town joined their first league when they became members of Welsh League. Despite a finish of sixth place (out of eight teams), their stay in the league was a brief one as they returned to their previous schedule of just playing friendly fixtures after just one season in the Welsh League. They would return to league competition in the same season as their Welsh Cup triumph when they joined the Anglo-Welsh “The Combination” league. Again their participation in the league only lasted a season, as travelling costs mounted up and forced the club to quit the competition.

Aberystwyth would finally commit to league football in 1904, when they joined the newly created local Montgomeryshire & District League. They would achieve great success during this period as they managed to win several league championships, including claiming the league trophy in their first season in the league, before they joined the Central Section of the Welsh National League in 1921.

The inter-war period was a successful time for Aber as they achieved six league championships, winning three of their league titles consecutively in the period between the 1925-26 season and 1927-28 season. The early thirties were especially prosperous for Aber as they claimed the Welsh Amateur Cup in 1931 and 1933 (and being finalists in 1935), as well as claiming the Mid-Wales League in the 1932-33 season to create a unique double-winning season.

After the Second World War, Aberystwyth Town would focus their football glare southwards rather than northwards (as is often the case with Mid-Welsh teams – a result of the Mid Wales League being a feeder league to the Cymru Alliance nowadays) by becoming members of the Welsh League (South), joining the Division 2 West league in the 1951-52 season. They would be very successful in their first season playing in the southern footballing pyramid, as they won the Division 2 West title by five points from second placed Morriston Town.

Aber would continue to play in the South Welsh leagues until 1963, when they returned back to focus solely on the Mid-Welsh football pyramid. The team never fully left local football as during their South Welsh tenure, they continued to field a reserve side in the Mid-Welsh league, so it was a fairly straightforward move back to the Mid Wales League…or so they imagined. It would not be until 1984 when they finally they would win the Mid Wales League, after finishing runners-up in six separate seasons. As with London buses, the Aber fans would wait ages to win one Mid Wales League championship, but wouldn’t have to wait long for the second as they would successfully regain their Mid Wales championship the following season. The double-league triumph was orchestrated under the tenure of team boss Meirion Appleton.

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The 1983-84 Mid Wales League table

By the mid-to-late eighties, Aber had firmly re-established themselves as one of the strongest clubs in the Mid-Wales region, but repeated history by returning back to the Welsh League (South) pyramid in 1987. During their second spell in the South Welsh system, they would achieve three consecutive runners-up spots in the late eighties and early nineties. However in 1992, their performances in the Welsh League merited an inclusion to join the newly created national league, the “League of Wales” ensuring Aberystwyth Town would become founding members of the top tier of Welsh football. Their first foray into the national league was a hugely prosperous one as their achieved a third placed finish in the inaugural League of Wales season – still their best league finish to date!

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The inaugural League of Wales table for the 1992-93 season

Despite Aber’s early promise in the League of Wales, the rest of the decade would become difficult for the Green & Blacks as they struggled in the new league. A rather uneventful finish of tenth place was followed by a flirt with potential relegation in the 1994-95 season when they finished in seventeenth position in the twenty team league. During that troublesome season, it would take the club until February before Aber would achieve their first home victory of the season!

However performance would pick up for the Seasiders, and they would finally achieve some glory in the 1998-99 season when Aber qualified for European competition for the first time in their history, when they qualified for the now defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup. They would qualify for the Intertoto Cup after finishing fourth in the league, behind champions Barry Town, Inter Cabel-Tel (now Cardiff Met) and 1992-93 league champions Cwmbrân Town. Their European campaign would only be a brief but memorable one, as they narrowly lost to Maltese side Floriana 3-4 on aggregate over two legs, in the first round of the Intertoto Cup.

floriana-fc-badge

The success of European qualification to Aberystwyth brought changes to the club both on and off the pitch. Off the pitch, the Park Avenue ground was improved and expanded as a new television studio and gantry were constructed, which was followed by the new “Dias” stand being erected at the town end of the ground. The covered stand was named after club legend and record goal scorer David “Dias” Williams, who scored a monumental 476 goals in just 433 games (an average of 1.1 goals per game) between the period of 1966 to 1983 for the Green & Blacks. With the construction of the Dias stand, it brought the seating attendance to nearly 600, and made Park Avenue one of the biggest grounds in the league.

On the pitch, European qualification had raised the expectations of the club, and the club invested heavily to maintain their European qualifying standard. Alas they would fail to requalify for Europe the following season by just three points, leaving the club financially stretched and costing then manager Barry Powell his job.

Aberystwyth would once again qualify for European competition in the 2003-04 season, when they finished fourth in the Welsh Premier League table. Under the management of Gary Finley, Aber would requalify for the UEFA Intertoto Cup ensuring the Green & Blacks would experience European football for the second time in the club’s history. Alas for the Seasiders, their time in the Intertoto Cup would be as brief as their first European sortie when they were knocked out in the First Round by Latvian side Dinaburg F.C. to the disappointing scoreline of 0-4 on aggregate. A disappointing scoreline considering the first leg had finished 0-0 and left Aber with a great chance to progress to the next round, before a heavy defeat in the second leg extinguished all hopes of progression.

After the board decided to pursue a policy of having a core playing squad of local Ceredigion players, Gary Finley left the club and took his Merseyside-based contingent with him. As a result, the club suffered a number of undistinguished years which saw attendances at Park Avenue slump by 40%. However the board were committed to the commendable policy of promoting and playing local players in the squad.

This local policy almost bore fruit in the 2008-09 season when Aber reached the final of the Welsh Cup – their first final since they last won the cup 113 years previously. Their road to the final would be as follows:

  • Round 2: Afan Lido (h) 2 – 2 [3 – 2 pens]
  • Round 3: Caersws (a) 3 – 0
  • Round 4: AFC Llwydcoed (a) 3 – 0
  • Round 5: Prestatyn Town (h) 5 – 1
  • Semi-Finals: Carmarthen Town (n) 3 – 2

Alas for the Seasiders, they would have to wait a little longer to claim their second Welsh Cup when they lost 0-2 to defending Welsh Cup champions Bangor City. Goals from Les Davies and Chris Seargeant, at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli, ensured the trophy would return back to Farrar Road as the Citizens would the second of their three Welsh Cup in a row. The resurgence of Aberystwyth almost provided them with another opportunity for European football when they finished in fourth position in the 2009-10 WPL season. Disappointingly for the Seasiders, they would just miss out on UEFA Europa League qualification as Port Talbot Town would clinch the final European spot by just a single point.

Highlights to the Welsh Cup Final: https://youtu.be/f275atw01T0

Since the Welsh Premier League changed to the ‘Super 12’ format, Aberystwyth have only finished in the Top 6 Championship section once. This has meant Aber have had to gain qualification to Europe through the Europa League playoff route by finishing at the top of the Bottom 6 section rather than achieving it through a high league position. They would reach the semi-finals of the playoff rounds on two occasions, but would be unable to overcome Neath and Llanelli to reach the playoff final.

Despite their disappointment in the playoff phase, Aberystwyth would reach the final another final in the 21st century when they managed to get to the final of the 2013-14 Welsh Cup competition. Along route they managed to beat fellow Mid-Wales sides Llanfair United and Caersws before ending Holywell Town’s fairy-tale story in the semi-finals, beating the Wellmen 3-1 at Latham Park, Newtown. The route to the 2014 final was as follows:

  • Round 3: Llanfair United (a) 2 – 4
  • Round 4: Afan Lido (h) 5 – 1
  • Round 5: Caersws (h) 2 – 1
  • Semi-Finals: Holywell Town (n) 3 – 1

The victory over the then third-tier team would be important for the Seasiders not just because it earned them a finalist birth, but that victory also ensured they would be guaranteed European football for the following season. This was because their opponents, The New Saints, had already qualified for the Champions League as they were confirmed as WPL champions that season. Therefore, the rule at that time was that the cup finalists would take the European spot allocated for the national cup, meaning Aberystwyth would be playing in the 2014-15 Europa League.

Unfortunately for Aberystwyth, they would suffer heartbreak by losing the Welsh Cup final 2-3 to The New Saints at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham, as the Oswestry-based side would achieve a domestic double that season. Aber would be two goals up with 17 minutes to go, but two goals in five minutes from Greg Draper and an 87th minute winner from Michael Wilde ensured the trophy would head to the Saints. Things would not be plain sailing for the Seasiders in their maiden Europa League campaign either. Coming up against League of Ireland side, Derry City, in the First Qualifying Round, they would suffer heavy defeats of 0-4 and 0-5 respectively to the Candystripes, to ultimately crash out of the Europa League 0-9 on aggregate after the two legs.

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Aberystwyth in action against TNS in the 2014 Welsh Cup final [Image: BBC]
In the 2014-15 season, Aberystwyth would finish in the Top 6 of the WPL for the first time when they achieved another fourth place finish in the table. They would miss out on qualification for the Europa League by six points which resulted in them competing in the end of season playoff phase to decide the final European qualifier. On this occasion, they would overcome their semi-final hoodoo by scoring two late goals against Gap Connah’s Quay to face Newtown in the playoff final. In the mid-Wales derby, the Seasiders were favourites to win but would end up losing 1-2 to the Robins to miss out on the Europa League once again.

In last season’s league campaign they would again finish in the Bottom 6 section of the league and conclude the season in a safe eighth place, ensuring their stay in the WPL for another season having never been relegated from the top flight since its formation. Again they would not qualify for the Europa League as the Green & Blacks would miss out on the Euro playoff phase by a single point from Carmarthen Town. They would also suffer an early exit of the Welsh Cup by losing to The New Saints by three goals to nil in the Third Round.

 

CURRENT FORM

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The WPL table prior to the Welsh Cup game.

Aberystwyth Town’s last five league results prior to this game:

  • Sun 23rd October: Llandudno FC (h) 0 – 0
  • Sat 29th October: Airbus UK Broughton (h) 3 – 1
  • Sat 5th November: Gap Connah’s Quay (h) 1 – 3
  • Fri 11th November: Bala Town (a) 0 – 4
  • Fri 25th November: Bala Town (h) 1 – 3

 

After a substantial investment in the club’s facilities, it would be the first season Aber would be playing on an artificial pitch with Park Avenue having a 3G pitch installed in the summer, joining a number of WPL teams with artificial surfaces at their own grounds this season. As with many teams with newly installed 3G pitches, they have struggled to adapt to the new surface and have had a difficult start this season. The 2016-17 season would also be the first season under the tenure of manager Matthew Bishop, who arrived from Hereford FC and replaced previous manager Ian Hughes in May 2016.

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Aberystwyth Town’s manager for the 2016-17 season, Matthew Bishop. [Image: Official Aberystwyth Town FC website]
This upcoming Welsh Cup match was a welcome relief from their league campaign, in which they were positioned in tenth position prior to this game, having lost ten of their sixteen games already played. In their last five games in the WPL, they had only beaten bottom club Airbus UK Broughton, and were on a run of three straight defeats after losing to Connah’s Quay and Bala Town twice and conceding ten goals from the three games played in the league.

In their previous match against Bala Town, the club had a fantastic attendance of 530 people despite it being a freezing Friday night game. The numbers were boosted by their Annual Students Night, encouraging students from the town’s university to come watch the game. However the supplemented home support would be left disappointed from the result.  Goals from Mike Hayes and Lee Hunt put the Lakesiders 2-0 up, but a maiden goal in the second half from Kurtis March ensured a nervy finish. Frustratingly for the home fans, the desired equaliser was not forth coming, and Bala snatched an injury time goal to ensure the visitors would claim victory.

The game capped off a rather miserable week for the Seasiders who would suffer the effects of Storm Angus, which battered the west coast of Wales the previous weekend. Wind gusts of 95mph caused damage in the town and also felled two of Park Avenue’s eight permanent floodlights, causing the lights to fall onto the 3G pitch and spraying the playing field with glass and metal debris. Naturally that weekend’s game against Cefn Druids was postponed, but superb work from the hard working club officials and volunteers in clearing up the debris, and the hiring of two temporary floodlights, ensured the Bala Town game was able to take place. An excellent job considering the damage inflicted on the ground six days previously.

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The damage caused by Storm Angus on Park Avenue’s floodlights 😦 [Image: Cambrian News]

THE OPPOSITION – HOLYWELL TOWN

Holywell Town Badge
Holywell Town badge

Holywell Town’s last five results prior to this game:

  • Sat 15th October: Buckley Town (a) 5 – 1
  • Sat 22nd October: Mold Alexandra (h) 2 – 0
  • Sat 29th October: Guilsfield (a) 0 – 0
  • Sat 5th November: Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (h) [Welsh Cup Round 2] 6 – 0
  • Sat 19th November: Caernarfon Town (h) 2 – 3

 

Holywell Town’s form going into the game against Aberystwyth Town was decent, having had a good October and achieving an impressive performance in the previous round of the Welsh Cup. Important derby wins against fellow Flintshire teams Buckley Town [blog on that game can be found here] and Mold Alex provided some momentum for the Wellmen, whilst the no-score draw away at high-flying Guilsfield can be considered a solid result at a difficult venue for visitors to earn points.

However their confidence was rattled somewhat after losing at home to last season’s champions Caernarfon Town. Despite arguably being the superior team for a majority of the match and taking the lead in the game, the Cofis’ clinical and lethal finishing, particularly on the counter-attack in the second half, ensured they grabbed all three points and left the home support feeling a tad deflated.

  • Round 1: Coedpoeth United (a) 8 – 0
  • Round 2: Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (h) 6 – 0

Despite the previous league result, Holywell had been very impressive in the national cup competition – a competition the Wellmen has had great pedigree in recent times. It started this season’s Welsh Cup campaign away at Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division side Coedpoeth United. A brace from captain Steve Thomas ensured the Wellmen led 2-0 at half time against a resolute Coedpoeth defence. However in the second half, the Wellmen turned on the style against their tiring hosts to score a further six additional goals to eventually claim a Second Round birth with a comfortable 8-0 victory.

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Lee Healey scoring from the penalty spot for Holywell against Coedpoeth United in the Welsh Cup First Round match

The Second Round drew Holywell against Mid Wales League Division 1 side Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, in what could have been a tricky tie for the Wellmen. However in front of the home support at Halkyn Road, Holywell made comfortable work against their lower league opposition by winning the game 6-0. Goals from Shaun Tuck and Sam Jones in the first half, were followed up in the second half with goals from Matty Harvey, Graeme Williams and a brace from Shaun Tuck to complete his hat-trick.

The draw for the Third Round would naturally produce a fixture which has become a regular occurrence over the past few years in the Welsh Cup. For the third time in the past four seasons, Holywell were drawn against Aberystwyth once again. On both previous meetings, the Park Avenue have been victorious over the Wellmen. In the 2013-14 campaign, Aberystwyth would beat Holywell 3-1 in the semi-finals, a historic tie for Holywell as they became the first third-tier side to reach the last 4 of the competition. Then in the following season, they would face each other in the Third Round with Aber making the long trip to Halkyn Road. For that game, Holywell had the better chances during the game but would ultimately suffer the heartbreak of losing on penalties to the WPL side.

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Shaun Tuck would be missing from the game [Image: Holywell Town website]
Holywell would advance into the third encounter with the Green & Blacks with roughly a week’s freshness over their opponents. This was a result of their league fixture against Llanfair United, scheduled the weekend prior to the Welsh Cup game, being postponed by the referee due to sections of the pitch being frozen. Even though the postponement would provide extra time to prepare for the big cup game, it did mean that top goal scorer Shaun Tuck would not be available for this game as his one-game suspension (having been sent off against Caernarfon Town) was carried over. Also this would be the first game without club stalwart and industrious midfielder Tony Roebuck, who had left the club to go travelling around the world. Two massive losses for the Wellmen for this big cup fixture!

 

ABERYSTWYTH

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Position of Aberystwyth in Mid Wales
  • Name: Aberystwyth [English: Mouth of the (River) Ystwyth]
  • Population: 13,000
  • County: Ceredigion
  • Nearest Major Settlements: Machynlleth [17,7 miles north-west], Llanidloes [30 miles east], Cardigan [38,7 miles south-west], Lampeter [24,8 miles south]
  • Nearest Train Station: Aberystwyth

 

Aberystwyth is a historic market and seaside town situated on the west coast of Wales. Located in the northern section of Ceredigion (formally Cardiganshire), the town is an administrative centre for the area, being considered as the unofficial capital of Mid-Wales. Aberystwyth is an intellectual centre as a result of its historic and highly-regarded university which is based in the outskirts of the town, as well as the National Library of Wales also situated in the town. Finally Aber is considered a Welsh language cultural centre with Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society) having its headquarters in the seaside settlement.

The settlement is situated near the confluences of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol before they flow out into Cardigan Bay and Irish Sea. Despite its name, it is the Afon Rheidol which flows through the town, with the Afon Ystwyth flowing around the southern outskirts of the town before converging with the former in the town’s harbour, positioned on the southern tip of the town’s seafront promenade. Aberystwyth’s promenade stretches from the imposing Constitution Hill in the north to the harbour in the south, with a ruined castle in the middle, and complete with Victorian-era built pier.

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The promenade at Aberystwyth

The position of Aberystwyth within Wales is quite an important location, if an isolated one in both Wales and Britain as a whole. It is considered the cultural point where North Wales and South Wales converge, but a great distance from any substantial settlements. Swansea and Cardiff are roughly 70 and 100 miles away respectively, whilst Wrexham is approximately 80 miles to the north-east of Aber. The nearest town to Aberystwyth is Machynlleth, situated just under 18 miles away heading northwards up the A487 road.

Despite its isolated position in Wales, it is fairly straightforward to reach Aberystwyth as there are good infrastructural links into the town. It can be reached by road via the main north-south A487 trunk road, which runs parallel along the western coast of Wales and goes through the town. In addition, the east-west A44 road that goes through across mid-Wales, converges with the A487 just outside the town centre.

Also the town can be reached by train as Aberystwyth has its own train station, which is the western terminus of the Cambrian Line railway. It is possible to travel to Shrewsbury and Birmingham via the twice-hourly train which goes through Machynlleth and Mid-Wales along the Cambrian Line to the big English conurbations on the other side of the Cambrian Mountain range. There is also a heritage railway line running from the town, the Vale of Rheidol line. The steam-engine powered, narrow gauge line has its terminus at Aberystwyth and stretches for 12 miles to Devil’s Bridge at other end of the heritage line.

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The entrance to Aberystwyth’s train station

There is evidence of people living in the Aberystwyth area since Mesolithic times, with remains of flint knapping having been discovered at the foot of Pen Dinas in Penparcau. In the same area south of the town, there is also evidence of Celtic occupation from around 700 BC onwards, with a Celtic fortress being situated at the top of Pen Dinas.

However the recorded history of Aberystwyth began when a fortress was built in 1109 by Anglo-Norman lord Gilbert FitzRichard. The original castle was situated about a mile and a half south of the modern town, on a hill overlooking the River Ystwyth. After the castle was destroyed by the Welsh, a replacement castle was constructed by the invading English King Edward Longshanks at the current Castle Hill, which is the highest point in the town. Between 1404 and 1408, the castle was occupied by Owain Glyndŵr’s forces during the Welsh War of Independence, but would later be surrendered to the future Henry V. The castle would unfortunately be razed to the ground in 1649 by Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War, however portions of three towers still exist.

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The entrance to the ruins of Aberystwyth Castle. [Image: Wikipedia]
The Victorian Era would be a boom time for Aberystwyth, with the arrival of the railway into the town being the catalyst for the growth. The northern Cambrian Line from Machynlleth reached the town in 1864, closely followed by rail links from Carmarthen. With the town now easily accessed by rail, the town would experience a Victorian tourist boom and be packaged to contemporaries as the “Biarritz of Wales”. To accommodate the rapid increase of tourists to the seaside town, a large number of hotels and alehouses were constructed to fulfil the need of the travellers into the town. Aber would host its first Eisteddfod during this ascendancy of the town – the first of four eisteddfodau to be held in the town.

It would be during the phase of hotel building which would ultimately introduce higher education to Aberystwyth. The largest of these newly built hotels, “The Castle Hotel”, was never completely due to the company going bankrupt. However the site was sold cheaply to the Welsh National University Committee, a collective with the sole aim of creating a Welsh University. As a result, the University College of Wales (later to become Aberystwyth University) would be founded in 1872 in the old hotel building. From such humble beginnings, the university would prosper to become one of the top ranked universities for students in Britain, and would have 8000 students studying courses there over six academic institutes.

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The original location of Aberystwyth University, formally “The Castle Hotel”. [Image: BBC]
Aberystwyth would also construct and open Wales’ first pier, the Royal Pier at an initial length of 298 metres, to further encourage interest in the town to tourists. A glass gothic-style pavilion was added to the pier at the start of the 20th century, with the pavilion having the capacity to accommodate 3000 people. However in 1938, a storm with winds of up to 90mph destroyed a majority of the town’s promenade along with 60 metres of the Royal Pier, resulting in the length of the pier being reduced. After being in a state of disrepair after the Second World War, it was repaired in the 1970’s before being improved upon in 1986 when £250,000 was refurbishing and improving the pier to its current standard.

As a result of its exposed position on the west coast of Wales, the town is often vulnerable to storm systems drifting in from the Irish Sea. As mentioned previously, the 1938 storm created huge damage in the town. Regrettably in recent times, the town has again suffered intense damage from storms once again. A storm as recent as 2014 caused enormous sea swells that uprooted boulders from the sea walls, leaving roads and pavements along the promenade buried under a mass of paving stones, bricks, shale and twisted metal. Just very recently, high winds from Storm Angus caused some damage in the town and on the recently repaired sea front.

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The Royal Pier in 1899. [Image: Wales Online]
Despite recent weather conditions, Aberystwyth is considered one of the most picturesque towns in Wales with many visitors still coming to the town on a regular basis, especially during the summer months. Because of the university, Aberystwyth is also considered an excellent student town with a large number of students living in local accommodation during their studies. It is part of the attraction of the town that Aberystwyth University was rated in the top ten of UK higher education institutions for overall student satisfaction in the 2016 National Student Survey (NSS), with overall satisfaction amongst students at Aberystwyth standing at 92%.

 

PARK AVENUE GROUNDHOP

Attendance: 250 approx.

Weather Conditions: Sunny, clear skies but cold

  • Entrance: £6.00
  • Programme: £2.00
  • Golden Goal Competition: £1.00
  • Sausage & Chips: £2.90
  • Bottle of Beer: £2.70
  • Pin Badge: £3.00
  • ATFC Mug: £4.00

 

When Holywell had reached the Third Round of the Welsh Cup, I was hopeful that the Welsh Cup draw would be kind to this groundhopper and potentially send the Wellmen to a far-flung ground I had not been to before. Thankfully the draw would indeed be good and create a fixture which has become commonplace in this competition in recent years. After two previous games at the neutral venue of Newtown, and at Halkyn Road, Holywell would inevitably be drawn against Welsh Premier League side Aberystwyth Town, and luckily (or unluckily depending on your point of view) they would be playing at Park Avenue. An exciting groundhop would await us!

Joining me on the groundhop down to Aberystwyth would be fellow groundhop accomplices Greg (who would be driving down) and Anna (complete with blanket sized shawl ha). The journey down to Park Avenue would take about two and a half hours for The 94th Minute crew, so it would be an early start to get down there in time for the rescheduled kick off time of 1:30pm. Setting off from 94th Minute HQ at about 10am, the journey would take us through Mold, Ruthin, Bala, Dolgellau and Machynlleth before arriving at Aber just before half 12.

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Advertising today’s Welsh Cup game

We parked up in the public car park situated right next to the ground entrance and beside the River Rheidol, which flows past the ground parallel to the main stand. The cost to park up for the day was £3.70 which seems a little steep in my opinion, but considering there was no other option, the payment has to be made. Once all parked up, we made the short walk to the entrance of the ground and paid £6 to get into the ground. Considering I was expecting to pay the usual £7 that is charged at WPL grounds, I was very happy with having an extra pound in my pocket.

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The entrance to Park Avenue

Once inside the ground, I bought myself a match programme for £2 and a golden goal ticket for a further £1. The programme was good value for money with plenty of information on all the Aberystywth Town team’s previous results, including match reports on the last couple of matches. They also produced a good section on Holywell Town, providing the history of the club, information on the players and a message from club secretary Steve Roberts. A fantastically produced programme and well worth the money paid for it (and all printed in colour, on decent paper, which is rare for Welsh clubs).

The jeopardy of the Golden Goal ticket draw had left me picking out the 36th minute for the first goal scored – not a bad pick considering I could have been lumbered with the 1st minute. However Greg had picked out the 34th minute, meaning that any goal scored beyond the half hour mark could make this afternoon very interesting for one of us ha.

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The match programme and Golden Goal ticket bought

As we had plenty of time to kill before kick-off, and that the temperature was distinctly more chilly than it was when we left Holywell earlier in the day, we decided to head into the clubhouse for a couple of drinks. Not surprisingly because we had arrived a good hour prior to kick off, there were not many supporters at the ground. A lot of the Holywell supporters, who had arrived down on the supporters’ coach, had headed into town looking for a couple of pre-match drinks in the Aber pubs before the game. After such a long journey on the coach, a few ales is much deserved for the Holywell Ultras!

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On our way to the clubhouse to warm up!

Aberystwyth Town’s clubhouse was rebuilt in 2006 and is named after Wales’ finest ever football player John Charles, and I must say it is certainly worthy of being named after such a footballing great. It is probably one of the best clubhouses I have visited in my groundhopping travels. A huge clubhouse complete with a well-stocked bar, plenty of tables with a monumental amount of football memorabilia displayed on the walls. It is really impressive! Plus the people working in the clubhouse were really friendly and welcoming which was a bonus also!

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The brilliant clubhouse

After the long journey, I decided to buy myself a bottle of Corona beer for about £3 as well as getting Greg a non-alcoholic beverage of cola, whilst Anna went for a bottle of Koppenberg cider. Whilst simultaneously quenching our thirst and warming up from the biting Ceredigion cold, we were watching some Bundesliga 2 action on one of the big television screens installed around the clubhouse. Rather brilliantly, they were showing 1860 München take on Dynamo Dresden, and as a fan of German football, thought that this was the ideal starter before the main Welsh Cup main course later on. By the way, I was very impressed with the amount of fans Dresden brought to Munich for an away fixture – incredible support!!

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Enjoying a pre-match drink ha!

With the beer consumed, it would be a quick trip to the club shop to buy some Aberystwyth memorabilia to add to the collection. The club shop is situated in a green container next to the entrance, on the right hand side as you enter the ground. Upon entering the green container, I was amazed how much Aber merchandise there was for sale – it was like a bazaar of all things Aberystwyth Town. Already within the shop, there were a couple of parents with children who were looking to buy home shirts, probably for an early Christmas present or stored away until the big day.

Anyway despite the amount of items for sale, I decided to purchase an ATFC pin badge, as well as a mug to add to the collection. The combined total for the pair of items came to £7, which isn’t too bad considering other clubs’ prices. Whilst in the shop, I had a quick chat with the guy running the shop about the upcoming game, as well as the recent previous encounters between the two teams. Naturally I was hopefully and slightly confident Holywell could triumph on this occasion, however they need to score early in the game if they were going to have a chance (although I wouldn’t have complained if they scored in the 36th minute).

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The mug & pin badge bought from the clubshop

With the items now in my possession, it was a quick dart back to Greg’s car to drop them off there (to avoid carrying them around all afternoon) before queuing up for some food from the club’s snack bar. The snack bar, known as Ruth’s Kitchen, is located at the nearest end of the clubhouse complex. As you can imagine all the usual hot foods were available but I decided to go for a tray of chips with sausage for a very reasonable price of £2.90. For the price, they certainly didn’t scrimp on the amount of chips on the tray and it also came with two small sausages. The food is extremely good value for money, and it was very nice also which was a longed-for bonus. A welcome relief to sooth the hunger pangs in the stomach as well as warming myself up on this biting day by the seaside.

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Park Avenue

Because the Holywell fans had now arrived in the ground after being refuelled in the pubs of Aber, they had all congregated in the green Dias stand at the town end of the ground. Therefore that would be our position for watching the first half of the game. A large part of me thought it was cool to sit in the unique stand which I have often seen in Aber matches that have been broadcasted on Sgorio on previous occasions. Although there was a slight twinge of regret that Sgorio didn’t choose this match to be broadcasted live, as they went with the Ton Pentre-Bangor City match instead – think they chose the wrong match, but then again my view is biased ha!

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The famous Dias Stand, where we would watch the first half

It wouldn’t be too long before both teams left the warmth of their dressing rooms and ascended onto the artificial surface of Park Avenue for this Third Round encounter. Aber were in their home strip of green & white striped shirts complete with black trim, black shorts and black socks. Holywell would be playing in their home kit of red shirt with white half middle stripe (I still really dislike the home shirt), red shorts and red socks. Prior to the game, there was a minute’s silence in memory of those players who had died in the heart-breaking Chapecoense plane crash.

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The memory of those Chapecoense players who perished in the tragic plane crash.

 

MATCH DETAILS – FIRST HALF

From the first minute of the half, Aberystwyth signalled their attacking intent with Luke Borrelli being the lynchpin to their opening salvos on the Holywell goal. Within the first three minutes Borrelli broke though the Holywell offside trap and advanced through on goal, only to have his rasping shot saved by visiting keeper Paul Turner. On the tenth minute, Aber would put the ball into the Holywell net through the mercurial Borrelli. A superb curling cross from Chris Jones on the left wing was connected by the stretching Borrelli to divert the ball into the net. However the scores would stay equal as the forward was adjudged to being offside.

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Aberystwyth would have a couple more good chances through a 30-yard thunderbolt from Chris Jones, and an arcing shot from Kostya Georgievsky, but neither opportunity would find their target. Holywell would eventually work their way into the game as the first half progressed and started to have chances on the home goal. Paul Williams and Lee Healey had half chances saved by on-loan keeper Chris Mullock, before the TNS loanee pulled off a couple of stunning saves from Graeme Williams and Paul Williams again to maintain the status quo in the scoreline.

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Holywell fans watching the action
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The main stand & clubhouse
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Another Holywell attack gathered by the impressive Mullock
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Lee Healey the lone striker for the visitors

Despite Holywell having a phase of chances, Aber looked the better side having the lion’s share of ball possession and continually crafting goal scoring opportunities. Borrelli would again have an opportunity to break the deadlock but could only divert his header wide after an excellent Cledwyn Davies cross into the box. However on the 32nd minute, the turning point of the game occurred when the Seasiders’ pressure finally proved fruitful. Georgievsky was fouled on the edge of the Holywell penalty area, allowing Chris Jones a sight on goal through a direct free kick. His effort was cleanly struck forcing Paul Turner into a diving save, but the power behind the set piece meant the visiting keeper could only rebound the ball back into the penalty area. It would Kurtis March who would react quickest to nod the rebound into an empty net to give the hosts a deserved lead (and ensure neither myself nor Greg would win the Golden Goal competition….so so close, very still so far!).

Aberystwyth Town 1 – 0 Holywell Town

Having conceded, Holywell would attempt to get back into the game through a couple of half chances. However they were up against an imperious defence and a keeper in tremendous form with Mullock, with the Green & Black’s number 1 on constant alert to quench any potential threats from Holywell advances. Ryan Wollacott would perform a critical defensive block to maintain the host’s advantage after Holywell had a clear chance through Lee Healey to equalise, much to the frustration of the Holywell fans behind the goal.

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Holywell on the attack in the sunshine
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Agony as a shot goes high
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Aberystwyth takes the lead…

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Lee Healey looking for the equaliser

Aber would have another decent chance when Sherbon hooked his shot wide from close range as the home side asserted their authority on the game. Despite this effort, Aber would indeed double their lead by scoring their second just before the half-time break. In the first minute of injury time, the Holywell defence failed to contain Luke Borrelli once more and on this occasion he would make the Wellmen pay dearly. Beating the offside trap, and riding a desperate covering challenge from the scrambling defence, the forward would make no mistake by rifling his shot past the diving Paul Turner to give the Seasiders’ a two goal advantage.

Aberystwyth Town 2 – 0 Holywell Town

Only an additional minute was played after the second goal before the official concluded the first half proceedings. The Welsh Premier side would go into the break with a fully deserved two goal lead, and would leave Johnny Haseldin with food for thought before he delivered his half-time team talk.

HALF TIME: ABERYSTWYTH TOWN 2 – 0 HOLYWELL TOWN

 

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Half time and the home side are in a comfortable lead

With the Holywell fans feeling pretty despondent after seeing Aber’s dominant performance in the first half, we all went back into the warmth of the impressive clubhouse for a well-needed beer. During the break, I was admiring the football memorabilia on the wall. One of the interesting pieces hanging on the wall was a shirt signed by the legendary Pelé – it’s not often you see that signature on the walls of a Welsh league clubhouse!

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Not everyday you see this signature in a Welsh clubhouse…

With the second half about to start, we ventured out into the chilliness of the Ceredigion air hoping for another famous Holywell cup comeback to appear. Our viewing position for the second half would be standing in the area between the main stand and the terracing in the far corner. The position would provide a great view of the National Library of Wales which overlooks the town on a hill to the east of Aberystwyth.

 

MATCH DETAILS – SECOND HALF

Any hope that Aberystwyth would ease off the pressure on the Holywell defence after having a two goal lead were dashed as they continued the second half as they ended the first. Just a few minutes into the second half and they would have their first chance on the Holywell goal. Another fine cross from Chris Jones finding the head of Will Bell in the centre, although yet another opportunity was spurned as Bell headed over the crossbar.

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My viewing position for the second half, with the National Library of Wales in the background.

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Cledan Davies with the clearance

As the second half progressed, Holywell attempted to push forward to find a way back into the contest, and looked more threatening than they had done in the first half. However it allowed Geoff Kellaway to exploit the space that had appeared in the Holywell half and he became more of an influence in the contest. On the hour mark, he almost ended the tie as a contest when the influential Chris Jones played in Kellaway with a cutting pass for a one-on-one opportunity. Kellaway rounded the stranded Paul Turner with just an open goal in front of him, but the winger could only hit the post from a wide angle much to the amazement of the fans behind the goal.

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The winger would have another chance to get Aber’s third goal a couple of minutes later, but again another chance went begging as his shot went wide. Kellaway caused problems for the Holywell defence in the Welsh Cup semi-final a few years ago, and it was looking like déja-vu as he caused panic in the Wellmen backline once again. Aber would have a few more chances through Georgievsky, a curling Jones effort and a Borrelli header, but on every opportunity the chances were either saved by Turner or put wide of the woodwork. It would seem the third goal was not forthcoming this afternoon for the Seasiders.

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Holywell would continue to threaten the Aberystwyth defence on occasions although they failed to conjure up any clear cut chances. There were half chances for Lee Healey and sub Brady McGilloway but the Aber defence stood firm to ensure they never had any direct opportunities on goal. Healey did well upfront on his own and worked hard to either hold onto the ball or run at the Aber defence, but he was too isolated on many occasions which ensured the Aber defence could productively cope with any Holywell advances.

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It would one Holywell attack which would create some heated exchanges amongst a couple of supporters where we were standing. One of the Holywell players went down under a challenge from an Aber tackle which caused one of the Aber fans declaring he “went down easily”. Cue some choice words between one of the Holywell fans who took a bit of an offense to the accusation and the accuser from the home supporters. In fairness there was no malice or hatred in the “argument” and it was just ‘handbags at dawn’.

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The last ten minutes of the game were frustrating and agonising for the Holywell support as Aber kept surging forward looking for that ‘killer’ third goal. The danger-man Kellaway would advance 70 yards evading challenges from the now tiring Holywell defence before picking up sub Blake Davies on the wing. The replacement would whip a cutting cross for Borrelli who deftly diverted the cross into the net. However the forward would again be on the wrong side of the official’s decision as he was adjudged to be offside, and the goal was chalked off.

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Davies with another clearance
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Aber on the attack

There would be more Aber chances in the final few minutes of the game as missed chances from Kellaway, Davies and Borrelli again meant that Aberystwyth would only score the two goals from this afternoon’s fixture. Had the home side’s finishing been more clinical, this match could and should have been a higher scoreline than the eventual 2-0 result.

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Holywell on a rare attack in the second half

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The frustration on Holywell’s behalf was perfectly summed up when Healey had hold of the ball and shouted at his team-mate to “run then”. With the Holywell player not advancing, Healey would despondently pass the ball into the empty space where his team mate should have been to prove a point. That encapsulated a very difficult afternoon for the Wellmen as the official would blow his whistle to end the contest. It would be Aberystwyth who would advance to the Fourth Round of the Welsh Cup.

FULL TIME: ABERYSTWYTH TOWN 2 – 0 HOLYWELL TOWN

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Full time and it’s the Green & Blacks going through to the Fourth Round

POST GAME

To cheer ourselves up after that result, we decided to venture into town to get some food before making our way back home. A five minute walk away from the ground, and right next to the train station, is the town’s Weatherspoons pub appropriately named Yr Hen Orsaf (English: ‘The Old Station’). Unfortunately when we arrived, we would not be blessed of having a choice from the full Spoons’ menu. Apparently there was a problem with some of the kitchen equipment resulting in many choices not being available and the menu being restricted. Chips with your meal was going to be a “no-go” on this visit it would seem!

After some deliberation and discussion with the staff of what was and wasn’t available, I plumbed for the Pulled Pork sandwich complete with salad, whilst the others had burgers without the usual complimentary fries. Despite the menu restrictions enforced upon us, the food was top notch as per usual. Plus it was nice to have a chat about the match whilst sitting in such a unique location for a Spoons – it must be a trainspotter’s idea of utopia being able to see the trainline from the comfort of the pub amidst a plethora of real ales on tap.

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Aberystwyth’s Weatherspoons “Yr Hen Orsaf”. [Image: TripAdvisor]
Being suitably fuelled up for the long return journey back north, we ventured back to the car and attempted to leave the car park. Note the word “attempted” as the day’s misfortune was to rear its ugly head once more. As Greg tried to reverse backwards, there was an almighty crunching sound coming from the car. Immediately stopping and checking around the car provided no clues to what could potentially be the root cause of the noise, therefore we attempted to restart reversing out of the car park space.

However when he tried to turn the car, the crunching sound became louder and the front of the car suddenly dropped down. Upon a second glance of the car, the driver’s side front tyre was completely flat. When the car was jacked up to attempt to change the tyre, it became apparent what the crunching sound had been. The suspension spring had completely sheared off and embedded itself in the tyre, causing the dramatic loss of tyre pressure, but also wedging the wheel not allowing it to turn. Obviously we would not be going home by our own steam tonight!

Thankfully Greg had breakdown cover through his insurance, but frustratingly there was nobody in Aberystwyth willing to rescue us and take us back to Holywell – I suppose it’s not an enticing option on a Saturday night! The nearest breakdown company willing to pick us up and take us home was in Barmouth!! This meant we were left with at least an hour and twenty minute wait whilst he made his way down the coast to meet up with us in the club’s car park. We were going to be in Aberystwyth for a long time it seems!!!

Whilst Greg was on the phone to the insurance company, I decided to have a little stroll along the path running along the Rheidol, whilst walking over the aesthetically pleasing suspension footbridge that spans the town’s river. The views from the footbridge are actually quite pleasant with views of the surrounding countryside on show, whilst it looking up and down the river was nice and calming (ideal considering our circumstances).

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The footbridge over the River Rheidol
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Looking down the River Rheidol towards the sea.

With the sun slowly setting and the night drawing in, the temperatures were dropping rapidly. Therefore instead of waiting by the car, we waited in the clubhouse which was thankfully still open. It is at this point I must thank everyone in the clubhouse for being absolutely brilliant with us! Even though they were organising the clubhouse for a party later on in the evening, they let us stay in the warmth of the clubhouse and continuously asked us if we needed any help, assistance or even anything to eat. An incredible gesture from them all towards us three stranded football fans. This is the beauty of lower league football – everybody helps out everybody, and I am incredibly grateful to everyone at the clubhouse for helping us at that difficult moment.

Around about 6ish the recovery vehicle finally arrived at the location and attempted to first fix the problem, and then try and put the car on the trailer. Because the front wheel would not turn as a result of the spring skewered into the front tyre, it would take about an hour before the car was winched and then securely fixed onto the trailer. It would be about 7pm before we were able to bid farewell to Aberystwyth and head on our journey back home.

We were all eventually dropped off at a closed garage in Mold, leaving the car outside the garage ready for it to be fixed the following day. Thankfully Greg’s wife, Becky, popped up to the garage to give us all a lift back to our respective homes, and I finally managed to get back to 94th Minute HQ at 10:45pm – nearly thirteen hours after I had departed. This groundhop had certainly been a long, if memorable one!

 

CONCLUSION

As Holywell fan, it was a difficult afternoon in Aberystwyth (and that’s without mentioning the shenanigans after the game) with Holywell being outclassed by their Welsh Premier League opposition. It was clear they missed the presence of both Shaun Tuck and Tony Roebuck in the side, with the midfield clearly missing Roebuck’s industrious energy, whilst forward Lee Healey was an isolated figure without his strike partner being an outlay for his efforts. One highlight was Paul Turner’s performance, as he had a great game in goal and produced some brilliant saves that kept the scoreline respectable.

Aberystwyth were fantastic for this fixture and once again had the hoodoo over the Wellmen in the Welsh Cup. They attacked from the first minute with Chris Jones and Geoff Kellaway being the main creators for the home side, whilst Luke Borrelli caused problems for his opponents all afternoon. Had he been luckier, he could have easily grabbed himself a hat-trick in this fixture. They had a domination of the ball possession and successfully halted any attack that was thrown against them from Holywell. If there was one sour point from their performance, it could be that their finishing was off despite the large amount of chances created. However overall, the Seasiders were superb all afternoon and thoroughly deserved their place in the next round.

Overall Aberystwyth’s ground is an absolute cracker and certainly one of the most impressive grounds I have visited on my travels. There are great viewing positions all around the ground, and the clubhouse is second to none in Wales in my opinion. Plus the food from Ruth’s Kitchen was absolutely brilliant and excellent value for money – everyone was very complimentary about the food that I talked to! Finally, and most importantly, the people who help run the club and clubhouse were absolutely brilliant during and after the match. They were all incredibly helpful and friendly and made us all feel very welcome, which was very appreciated from the travelling support.

May I wish everyone at Aberystwyth Town all the very best for the rest of the season, and wish them the best of luck in the next round of the Welsh Cup, where they play current Cymru Alliance leaders Prestatyn Town. After the help and assistance they gave us on the Saturday evening whilst we were stranded, I really hope they go all the way to the final and manage to win that allusive second Welsh Cup victory. Everyone at that club absolutely deserves such success and I will be backing them in the cup!

Diolch!

BUCKLEY TOWN

Date of Visit: Saturday 15th October 2016

Ground Number: 37 [Re-visit]

  • Distance Travelled: 11,7 miles
  • Travel Time: 25 minutes

 

CLUB DETAILS

Buckley Town Badge

  • Club Name: Buckley Town Football Club
  • Ground: Globe Way Stadium, Buckley, Flintshire, CH7 3LY
  • Club Nicknames: The Claymen; The Trotters; The Bucks
  • Club Colours: Red shirts with white trim, red shorts, red socks
  • League Position: Cymru Alliance – 9th position [14/10/2016]

 

 

DIRECTIONS & CAR PARKING

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Location of Globe Way in Buckley

From Buckley Town Centre:

The Globe Way ground is situated to the north east of Buckley. To reach the ground from the town centre, take the B5127 Mill Lane/Liverpool Road and head out of Buckley towards Ewloe. Roughly a mile down the road, there should be signs pointing to the right for the industrial centre, recycling centre and football ground. Head onto Globe Way and the ground should appear on an elevated plateau on the right hand side about a third of a mile down Globe Way road.

From the A55/A494:

Get onto the A494 and take the turnoff sign-posted for Ewloe / St.David’s Park. On the roundabout, take the Mold Road B5127 exit and follow the road around over the A55. Continue on the road for about a mile and the Globe Way junction will appear on the left-hand side.

From Buckley Train Station:

The train station is located on the eastern outskirts of Buckley and about a 25 minute walk from the ground. Head down Station Road and continue over the crossroads, venturing down the rural Drury New Road. Eventually you will encounter houses and reach a T-junction where a left turn is made, before making the first turn on the right (the Parrot Inn should be nearby). Travel down Burntwood Road before turning left down Mount Pleasant Road, passing the Spencer Industrial Estate entrance on the right, and taking the next right turn onto Globe Way. The ground entrance should be a couple minutes’ walk down Globe Way on the left-hand side.

Car Parking Information:

There is a small car park at the ground although this gets full fairly quickly. The best option for car parking is to either to park along Globe Way, or in the small car park for the Etna Park nature park. This is situated halfway between the junction and the ground on the right hand side.

 

CLUB HISTORY

Club Established/Founded: 1977

Honours:

  • 1 x Cymru Alliance Champions
  • 1 x Cymru Alliance League Cup Winners
  • 6 x NEWFA Challenge Cup Winners

Highest League Finish:         Cymru Alliance – 1st [2004-05]

2015-16 Performance:

  • Cymru Alliance – 12th
  • Welsh Cup – Round Four
  • Welsh League Cup – Round One
CA Table 2015-16
2015-16 Cymru Alliance Table

 

Buckley was one of the earliest towns in Wales to embrace football, with records of the game being introduced into the town around 1860. The first team to form in the town was Belmont Swifts, who would later evolve into the better organised Buckley Victoria Football Club. Playing at their ground at Mill Lane, Buckley Victoria would be regular competitors in those early Welsh Cup competitions taking on such local pioneering teams as Mold Athletic, Wrexham Victoria and Rhyl Athletic. They would also compete in the Anglo-Welsh competition, “The Combination”, for a single season, by playing in the 1900-01 season. They would complete their only season in the Combination in 11th position (out of 12 teams).

Buckley Victoria was eventually replaced by the Buckley Engineers, who would embrace the ‘Vics’ winning mentality by accumulating a large amount of silverware during their existance. The highlight of their amazing trophy haul was three Welsh Amateur Cup [now FAW Trophy] victories that was achieved in 1906 and 1907 with a 4-1 wins over Portmadoc and Aberystwyth respectively, and another win over Aberystwyth in 1911 by a single goal.

Buckley Town Football Club would appear in the town in 1887 (not related to the current Buckley Town) and would achieve success of their own by winning the Wirral & District League and Pike Challenge Cup in 1898. By 1925 they had joined the Welsh League (North) division, and in 1937 went on to win the North Wales Amateur Cup. An impressive achievement considering all other Buckley-based teams were either folding completely or suffering extensive lean patches – a glimmer of success in a dark period for Buckley football.

After the Second World War only two Buckley-based teams existed, with just Buckley Wanderers and Buckley Rovers playing competitive football in the town. Rovers initially struggled in the lower divisions of the Welsh leagues whilst the superior Wanderers side joined the Welsh National League Division 1 in 1949. Buckley Wanderers would finish second in the table on two separate occasions (including their debut WNL season where they were runners-up to Chirk AAA) before eventually winning the WNL title in the 1955-56 season, scoring over one hundred goals in the process.

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Welsh National League Division 1 Table for the 1955-56 season [Image: Welsh Football Data Archive]
As the 1960’s began, Buckley Rovers would join their Buckley counterparts in the Welsh National League First Division, having risen through the local leagues. The WNL First Division was then the highest level of football in North East Wales, thus having both teams in the top tier created a halcyon period for Buckley football. For that first season with both Buckley teams competing, Wanderers would again finish runners-up to Chirk AAA whilst Rovers would conclude their debut season in ninth position for the 1960-61 season.

The 1970’s experienced a change in the fortunes of the two Buckley clubs as Rovers would supplant Wanderers as being the more successful Buckley team in the league. From 1974-75, Buckley Rovers achieved a runners-up finished tailed by a third place finish in the WNL table, whilst Wanderers achieved 10th and 13th in the same seasons. Alas by the 1976-77 season, both teams were starting to struggle in the WNL as results began to deteriorate, with both teams finishing in the bottom half of the table. Identifying that having two sides playing in the town was detrimental to the future success of both sides,  Buckley Wanderers and Buckley Rovers agreed to merge together to create Buckley Town in the summer of 1977.

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The 1976-77 WNL Division 1 Table – the final season of two Buckley sides [Image: Welsh Football Data Archive]
The initial period of the merger would start adequately for the Buckley “super-club” as they finished in 9th in their debut season. However results started to deteriorate and by the early 1980’s the club found itself in the second tier of the WNL pyramid after getting relegated in the 1984-85 season by finishing in 15th position. Their stay in the WNL Second Division would only be a brief one before they returned back to the pinnacle of the WNL pyramid, by finishing as runners-up to Llay Welfare in the 1986-87 season.

Buckley would continue to play in the WNL Premier Division until the 1992-93 season when they managed to once again claim a runners-up spot, finishing a point behind league winners Penley, but would gain promotion up to the recently-established second tier of Welsh football.

Buckley Town would make their debut in the Cymru Alliance in the 1993-94 season (they have played in the league ever since) and would consolidate their position by finishing in 12th place from the 18-team league. For the whole of the 1990’s, Buckley would always finish in the bottom half of the table and often flirted with relegation back to the Welsh National League. Their best league finish during this period would be in their debut season, with the club ending up as low as 18th in the 1995-96 season (having conceded 107 goals).

The dawn of the new Millennium would be the precursor to the dawning of the second “golden age” for Buckley football as Buckley Town would experience their greatest period of success in their history. The Claymen would become one of the strongest teams in both the Cymru Alliance and North East Wales as a whole, claiming numerous pieces of silverware in the 2000’s. They would claim the North East Wales FA Challenge Cup on six separate occasions throughout the 2000’s, whilst also winning the Cymru Alliance League Cup in the 2003-04 season.

Cup victories coincided with improvements in their league form, with Buckley continually improving on their Cymru Alliance performance each season between 2002 and 2005. A third place finish in 2002-03 was quickly followed up with a runners-up placement the subsequent season. The crowning glory of Buckley Town arrived in the 2004-05 season when the Claymen finally reached the peak of the summit by concluding the season as champions of the Cymru Alliance.

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Cymru Alliance Table 2004-05 [Image: Welsh Football Data Archive]
Despite finishing as Cymru Alliance champions, Buckley Town declined promotion to the Welsh Premier League on financial grounds, claiming the required ground improvements to WPL standards and increased travel costs would be too much for the club to commit towards. The refusal of promotion would ultimately have a negative impact on the club, with The Claymen receiving unfair criticism for a “lack of ambition” from the local media and some supporters, whilst a number of players moved to other clubs who harboured ambitions of playing WPL football.

Initially Buckley would produce a solid defence their Cymru Alliance title when finished the season in the runners-up spot, three points behind new league champions CPD Glantraeth. However the club’s ‘golden era’ has concluded and a period of inconsistency now reigned at Globe Way as the Claymen would finish in 9th in the 2006-07 season, before finishing in a lowly 14th position for 2007-08 – their lowest league finish in the 21st century. Improvements were made the following two seasons as Buckley would claim an eighth place in 2008-09, before returning to the correct end of the table by finishing in fourth position the following season.

Inconsistency has continued into the 2010’s with the club finishing as high as third place in the 2011-12 season, but as lowly as twelfth in two separate occasions. This ‘feast and famine’ aspect of Buckley’s fortunes can be clearly identified over the past couple of seasons when Buckley somewhat overachieved under the management of Tom Taylor, and claimed a brilliant fourth position in the 2014-15 season. However they finished last season’s campaign in a lowly twelfth spot having won only a third of their games throughout the schedule in what proved to be a tumultuous season for the Claymen.

 

CURRENT FORM

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The Cymru Alliance table prior to the match
  • Sat 10th September: CPD Penrhyncoch (a) 3 – 1
  • Tues 13th September: Gresford Athletic (h) 2 – 5
  • Sat 17th September: Llanfair United (a) 0 – 1
  • Sat 24th September: Flint Town United (h) 1 – 1
  • Sat 8th October: Barmouth & Dyffryn United (a) [Welsh Cup Round 1] 2 – 0

This season has been a turbulent time for Buckley Town, with the financial situation at the club being precarious and volunteering help becoming scarcer. As a result the club sent out a public SOS to the local community to back and support the club in any way possible to avoid the unthinkable possibility of the club potentially folding. Thankfully the response was hugely successful from the local community with the club accepting a large number of new sponsors, whilst new volunteers offered their help to the club and breathing new life into the once great Flintshire outfit. Furthermore, over 440 season tickets were sold prior to the season commencing which brought some well needed coffers into the pot.

season-ticket
Example of one of the Buckley Town season tickets sold for this season [Image: Buckley Town Website]
In addition the club had a change in management for the 2016-17 season after previous manager Tom Taylor resigned towards the end of the previous season. Former Buckley Town and Blackburn Rovers player Ben Chamberlain returned back to Globe Way to take the reins of the Claymen. No stranger to local football, he was the manager of Argoed United before being the assistant manager at Holywell Town last season.

It has been steady progress for Chamberlain this season having brought in a large number of players in the summer months. Prior to the game against his former team-mates, the Claymen find themselves in ninth position in the table, picking up three wins and two draws from their nine league games so far. Their last win the league was an impressive 3-1 away victory over recently promoted side Penrhyncoch at Cae Baker. A brace from Asa Hamilton and an own goal from Owain James ensured the points would return back to Buckley.

ben-chamberlain
Buckley Town’s manager Ben Chamberlain [Image: Buckley Town website]
However the past three league games have been tough for Buckley, picking up only a single point from a potential nine points available. A heavy defeat against Gresford Athletic at home was compounded by a close defeat to Llanfair United at Llanfair Caereinion four days later. Despite those disappointing results, the Claymen could take some positives from their previous league game as they managed to claim a point against the impressive Flint squad at home. It looked as if the Silkmen had cruelly grabbed the points after an injury time goal from Richie Foulkes, however a sensational equaliser from Brad Cole in the fourth minute of injury time ensured the points were shared between the Flintshire rivals.

With confidence high having claimed a last-gasp equaliser against Flint, Buckley continued to gain more confidence and maintain momentum by claiming an important victory in the Welsh Cup against a determined Barmouth & Dyffryn side. Having seen the game postponed the previous weekend due to a torrential downpour and subsequent waterlogged pitch, Buckley had to be careful the following weekend as it was a potential “banana skin” fixture against the Welsh Alliance Division 1 side. However a debatable penalty dispatched by Mike Cronshaw and a goal from Staige Davies were enough to overcome the dogged Barmouth side, and ensured the Bucks would take their place in the second round of the Welsh Cup.

 

THE OPPOSITION – HOLYWELL TOWN

Holywell Town Badge
The Holywell Town badge

 

  • Wed 14th September: Denbigh Town (h) 2 – 1
  • Sat 17th September: CPD Porthmadog (a) 0 – 1
  • Sat 24th September: Conwy Borough (h) 3 – 1
  • Sat 1st October: Coedpoeth United (a) [Welsh Cup Round 1] 8 – 0
  • Sat 8th October: CPD Penrhyncoch (a) [CA League Cup Round 1] 2 – 3

 

Holywell’s recent form has been fairly decent for their second season in the Cymru Alliance. Despite a disaapointing away defeat to high-flyers Porthmadog at Y Traeth, the Wellmen have managed two league victories from their past three league games with impressive wins over Denbigh Town and Conwy Borough. October has seen Holywell play two cup games away from Halkyn Road with Holywell winning the Welsh Cup game but losing the Cymru Alliance League Cup fixture.

A heavy defeat of Welsh National Premier side Coedpoeth United in the first round of the Welsh Cup gave the Wellmen confidence going into their first visit to Cae Baker this season. However Penrhyncoch are a formidable outfit at home and have made Cae Baker a fortress to opposing teams, and on this occasion managed to scrape a valuable 3-2 win over the Wellmen. It was a significant fixture for Holywell as it was the ground where long-serving player and captain, Steve Thomas, made his debut as a 16 year old over 10 years ago.

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Lee Healey scoring from the penalty spot for Holywell against Coedpoeth United in the Welsh Cup First Round match

Despite the defeat by Penrhyncoch the previous weekend, Holywell would be going into the fixture with Buckley in full spirts. Over the past couple of seasons, Globe Way has been a happy hunting ground for Holywell Town as they have claimed victories in past two visits to their Flintshire rivals’ ground. The first victory came in the Third Round of the 2014-15 Welsh Cup when the Wellmen, then playing in the Welsh Alliance, was drawn against Cymru Alliance team Buckley Town. In one of my earliest groundhop blogs [the first Buckley blog can be found here], Holywell completed a cup shock by defeating their higher opponents by the single goal. A Tony Roebuck header being the difference between the two sides on that occasion, and earning myself a cool £20 off then Buckley manager Tom Taylor!

In last season’s scheduled league game, the result was more emphatic when Holywell, having defeated Buckley 11 days previously in the Welsh League Cup, achieved an impressive 4-1 victory over the Claymen. All the goals being scored in the first half and coming via headers by Dafydd Griffith and Connor Littler, a Tom McElmeel penalty and a Graeme Williams strike. The consolation goal from Buckley coming from a coolly finished Ben Howarth shot.

In the reverse fixture back in late March, Buckley would claim a point against their opponents at Halkyn Road. Marcus Davies would give Buckley the lead but a Connor Littler goal late in the first half ensured the points would be shared in their previous encounter. That result would be the start of Holywell’s poor finish to the season when they only managed two wins from their final eight league games to finish 5th in the Cymru Alliance table.

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Holywell’s new signing from AFC Liverpool, Shaun Tuck [Image: Holywell Town website]
Going into this Flintshire derby game, Holywell’s manager Johnny Haseldin was looking to give debuts to two new signings, Matthew Hurdman and Shaun Tuck. Central midfielder Hurdman was signed on the Wednesday prior to the game and comes with plenty of experience having played for Bangor City in the Welsh Premier League, and signed from current WPL side Cefn Druids. Whereas former Witton Albion, Warrington Town & Colwyn Bay striker Shaun Tuck, has been signed from North West Counties Premier side AFC Liverpool to bring an additional goal threat and hopefully score plenty of goals for the Wellmen.

 

BUCKLEY

location-of-buckley
Location of Buckley in North East Wales
  • Name: Buckley (English); Bwcle (Welsh)
  • Population: 15,700
  • County: Flintshire
  • Nearest Major Settlements: Mold [2 miles west], Connah’s Quay [4,2 miles north], Chester [9,4 miles east], Wrexham [10,6 miles south-west]
  • Nearest Train Station: Buckley

 

Buckley is the second largest town in Flintshire in terms of population (behind Connah’s Quay) and is located just two miles east of the county town of Mold. The town is situated up in the hills of Flintshire, approximately 130-150m above sea level, and can provide great views of the Dee Estuary and Cheshire Plan beyond. Because of its higher altitude, the town is more prone to snowfall in the winter months in comparison with the other Flintshire towns in lower lying areas and nearer to the Dee Estuary.

Due to its close proximity to the Welsh-Englsh border (situated just six miles away), Buckley has become a commuter town for those working in the Deeside Industrial Zone, Wrexham, Chester and beyond. However the town does has a number of small industries to provide employment, with the only large scale industry and employer being Hanson Cement, based in nearby Padeswood. As a result of the commuter town status, the town has great education facilities with four primary schools and a high school (Buckley Elfed High School) situated within the town.

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The Buckley Jubilee [Image: Daily Post]
Buckley is famous in the local area for its annual celebration and march called the ‘Buckley Jubilee’. The Jubilee has been running unofficially for well over 200 years, although ‘officially’ from 1856 when the Buckley Temperance Society first sanctioned the march. The term “Jubilee” first being used for the march in 1871. Held on the second Tuesday of every July, the celebration starts off in the large common ground called “The Common” before leaving the common and marching around the town. The march is conducted by the town’s Sunday Schools, Scout and Guide troops, as well as the local schools, with the numerous contingents of the march carrying banners.

The town is also known for its Tivoli nightclub (known locally as “The Tiv”), which has been a venue for many famous bands playing live there over the years. Famous bands such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in the 1970’s to Oasis, Radiohead and Super Furry Animals in the 1990’s have played live at the venue. Since a renovation and rebranding in 2000, few bands play live there anymore with the emphasis of the club’s music policy switching to commercial and pop music. Despite this, the venue is still a popular venue for music lovers from the local area.

Buckley is also home to two professional footballers in recent times with former Sunderland, Stoke City and Welsh international defender Danny Collins, and current Stoke City captain Ryan Shawcross growing up in the town and playing for Buckley Town’s youth teams.

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Stoke captain and Buckley native, Ryan Shawcross [Image: Sky Sports]
There are many sources where Buckley’s name could originate from. As Buckley’s foundations are based on an Anglo-Saxon settlement, it is possible the name could derive from the Old English ‘bok lee’, meaning ‘clearing in a beech wood’. However it could also derive from the Welsh description of bwlch y clai meaning ‘clay hole’ which is also possible considering the industries the town would become famous for.

Buckley would become a significant settlement within North East Wales as it became an industrial heartland for pottery and coal mining between the 17th and 19th centuries. The town became a popular location for coal mining due to the many geographic faults in the local rock formations that allowed seams of coal to be mined directly from the surface. In addition, its heavy clay soil was ideal for producing excellent quality pottery and as well as manufacturing high quality bricks. Its bricks were so highly regarded, they were transported across the United Kingdom and as a far as the United States resulting in brick production to become extensive in the town.

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The Tivoli nightclub in Buckley [Image: Daily Post]
As a result of the extensive mining and brick production being prevalent within Buckley, a great number of people moved into the area to find work within the ever increasing coal and brick industries. With a large amount of workers coming from Ireland and Liverpool, it gave the town both a distinctive accent and dialect which was being spoken until the last half of the 20th century. Even though the dialect is not spoken today, there is plenty of evidence of it being recorded through the books of noted linguist and Buckley resident, Dennis Griffiths.

Even though coal mining and brick production were large employers within Buckley, the town would become synonymous with the production of various fire-clay and pottery products. Pottery and earthenware products have been produced in the town since the reign of Elizabeth I, when they were taken by donkey to either be sold at the large Chester market or exported around the country via the River Dee. Pottery manufacture became so significant in Buckley that by the start of the 19th century, there would be as many as 14 potteries based in the town. However the industry would sadly deteriorate in the first half of the 20th century, with both World Wars and the Great Depression of the 1930’s causing many companies to cease production, resulting in the last pottery kiln to fire up in the town in 1946.

 

GLOBE WAY GROUNDHOP

Attendance: 322

Weather Conditions: Overcast but mild

  • Entrance: £5.00
  • Programme: £1.50
  • Bacon Bap: £1.50
  • Cup of Coffee: £1.00
  • Pin Badge: £3.00

 

For the third season in a row, I would be making an autumnal visit to Globe Way to see Buckley play at home against a Flintshire team. The first visit was a Welsh Cup game against my hometown side, Holywell Town, in which game the Wellmen managed to grab a 1-0 victory, and I managed to win a £20 bet from the then Buckley manager [see original Buckley blog here]. In last season’s visit, I saw them get beaten 1-3 by another Flintshire side, this time Flint Town United, on the officially allocated ‘Non-League Day’. It was also the game where I met up with the ‘rock and roll groundhopper’ Matt Harrison of Lostboyos fame [his blog on his Buckley visit can be found here] and was also the day Wales qualified for the 2016 European Championships. A fine day all round!

Buckley vs Flint 10th Oct
Buckley Town vs Flint Town United on 10th October 2015

For the third Saturday of October, I would be obviously heading up to Buckley this season to see my team Holywell Town take on one of their local rivals in the Cymru Alliance. I always enjoy the local matches especially as Holywell had so few of them whilst they played in the Welsh Alliance, so the excitement of head to a local rival’s ground in the league is always exciting for me. Plus I was feeling confident we could get something from the game considering Globe Way has been a venue were Holywell have produced some top quality performances over the past couple of seasons.

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Globe Way from the road

Setting off from 94th Min HQ about quarter to 2, arrival at the ground was roughly about 2:10pm, with a good 20 minutes spare prior to kick off. As per usual, parking spaces were limited so the car was parked on the Globe Way road, as many other supporters had done so, and decided to take the short walk towards the entrance of the ground. Entry for this Cymru Alliance game was the average league price of £5, whilst the complimentary match programme would cost a further £1.50.

buckley-vs-holywell-15th-oct-2016-2
Welcome to Buckley Town

The match programme was an excellent read with plenty of information about the current teams, the history and statistics of both sides, as well as a round-up of the previous weekend’s league fixtures. Not to mention details on the club’s reserve team, as well as providing upcoming fixtures for the first team. Certainly a great read and a vast improvement on the programmes that I had bought in previous visits. Undoubtedly one the best programmes I have read this season anyway!

As I went through the turnstile, they had someone selling Buckley Town merchandise for reasonable rates. I had been aware they were now selling merchandise from a Twitter post earlier in the week, so I was eager to purchase something to add to the collection. Despite the temptation to purchase a Buckley Town mug for just £4, I decided against it on this occasion and just bought a pin badge for £3. I was glad to get a BTFC badge for the collection as it was one of the few clubs from Flintshire I hadn’t got a badge for (the other major ones from Flintshire being Gap Connah’s Quay, FC Nomads and surprisingly Greenfield).

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The match programme with pin badge bought

With badge safely acquired, a trip to the snack bar was the next port of call in the ground. As mentioned in my previous blog, the snack bar is located on the end of the changing room complex that overlooks the pitch on the entrance side of the ground. From the snack hatch, I bought myself a bacon bap and cup of black coffee for just £2.50 = an absolute bargain. The bacon baps from Buckley are always an absolute treat, and you can never go wrong for £1.50 also. A bacon bap (complete with a splash of brown sauce) and a coffee at the football, is there anything better??

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Queuing for the bacon baps no doubt!

Whilst thoroughly enjoying eating my bacon bap, which was soon wolfed down as it was that nice, I had a good look around the ground and it was great to see so many people had turned out for the game. As per usual, the Holywell contingent were in full force with their red & white striped scarves draped around their necks, which is always pleasing to see on an away day. But it was great to see so many locals had turned out for the game, and that interest has picked up for Buckley once again after the scare during pre-season. In my opinion, Buckley are a club with so much potential and could potentially be a Welsh Premier League side if they wanted to progress to the national league. The potential support is there in the town and the ground is constantly improving making it one of the best in the league.

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The main stand at Globe Way

Buckley has two recently-built covered stands which allow supporters to sit and watch the game. The main stand is situated on the road side of the ground and holds about 400 seats, whilst on the opposite side of the ground is a smaller stand which has about 100-150 seats. Both stands had a large number of Buckley and Holywell supporters seated in them which again showed there was large interest in this derby game. Not to mention the elevated veranda located next to the clubhouse was full of supporters wanting to watch the game whilst drinking a few alcoholic beverages! One of the best places to watch football in the Cymru Alliance in my opinion haha.

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The second smaller stand

Alas there would be no drinking for me this afternoon and so I decided to stand with a number of Holywell fans who had congregated behind the goal next to the entrance. It was by the entrance that I caught up with my mate Bradders, who is a Buckley native and one of the locals who purchased a Bucks season ticket. I hadn’t seen him in ages as he has been jetting to far flung destinations in Europe for work, so it was nice to have a chat with him about his work trips and the upcoming game. I thought better about making a bet with him over whose home team would triumph in this encounter though. After coming out on tops last time I betted on this fixture, I didn’t want to tempt fate nor be out of pocket for the rest of the day haha.

I did have a chuckle concerning some headwear that one of my friends had brought with them to wear during the game. My friend Anna claimed that her the bobble of her bobble hat was made with real racoon fur (as claimed by the hat seller in Liverpool). After some joking about needing a leash for it in case it decided to run off, it was discovered that the Liverpool hat seller had perhaps span her a yarn. It was revealed that the bobble was not made of racoon fur but a combination of China’s finest acrylic…animal rights activists can now breathe a sigh of relief!

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With coffee in hand and sufficient fuelled for the game with some of Flintshire’s finest bacon baps, and the risk of Anna’s hat scurrying off averted, the teams soon descended from the changing rooms and down onto the field of play. Buckley would be in their home strip of red shirts with white stripes down the side, red shorts and socks. Holywell would be playing in their away kit which was the same template as the Buckley home kit but used a pastel sky blue instead of red. Fair play, the sportswear Macron must do some good trade by selling kits to clubs in the Welsh leagues!

Refereeing today’s match would be former Welsh international forward Cheryl “Fozzy” Foster, who would be making her debut appearance at The Globe. Cheryl had played as a striker for Bangor City, Liverpool and Doncaster Belles in an illustrious career which seen her capped internationally also. Making her Wales debut in 1997 as a seventeen year old, she earned a record 63 caps for the Welsh team before retiring from playing and subsequently becoming a referee. A rare path for any former footballer to follow, especially a former international but a hugely refreshing and hopefully pioneering one that other players will follow in the future.

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Former Welsh international forward turned international referee Cheryl Foster [Image: BBC]
Since retiring from football in 2013 and taking the required refereeing courses, her progress has been exceptional but certainly well deserved. Foster now regularly referees in the Cymru Alliance and highly regarded as an official, and this year saw her included on the FIFA women’s international list of football referees and joins Charlotte Carpenter as Wales’ second FIFA referee. Certainly the perfect example of the (goal) poacher becoming the game (and rule) keeper!

 

MATCH DETAILS – FIRST HALF

It would be the visitors who would start the brighter of the two teams with debutant Shaun Tuck being heavily involved in many of the Wellmen’s attacks during the first half. The first clear chance of the match fell to Holywell after just eight minutes when Lee Healey managed to advance unopposed down to the left flank and fire a low cross from the byline into the box. Unfortunately Tuck was unable to break the deadlock with this opening salvo as he was unable to get a good connection on the ball, allowing the Buckley defenders to successfully clear the ball from danger.

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My viewing position for the game
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John Rushton taking a goal kick for Holywell
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Match action

Tuck would have another goal scoring opportunity a few minutes later when he drifted into space that appeared in the Buckley area to launch a shot at goal. It had the Buckley goalkeeper Adam McGee completely beaten but his effort could only bounce off the post and ricochet out of play for a goal kick.

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A Buckley attack gathered by Rushton
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Preparing for a Buckley free-kick in front of the Main Stand
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Bustling for position in the penalty area

The Buckley defence continuously failed to cope with Tuck’s movement effectively, and the forward would inevitably convert a goal-scoring chance on his third opportunity after eighteen minutes of play. It would also be on the best goals of the season so far! Captain Steve Thomas distributed the ball from midfield to Tuck who had come deep to collect the pass. At which point he rapidly advanced towards the Buckley goal, causing havoc and mayhem in the home’s defensive line. Tuck would dribble and craftily jink past four defenders before shooting low across goal and firing the ball into the back of the net. A well-deserved lead for the Wellmen, with Tuck producing an impressive debut so far!

Buckley Town 0 – 1 Holywell Town

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Holywell take the lead in the first half

Five minutes after taking the lead, and Holywell almost doubled their advantage through striker Lee Healey. Once again he broke clear of the Buckley defence to line-up an attempt on goal, but his fierce shot was superbly saved by Adam McGee. Buckley were on the ropes at that moment and needed to find a way back into this game otherwise the game would quickly drift away from them!

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Buckley attacking throw-in
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Holywell defensive throw-in
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Lee Healey with the control
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Headed clearance from Wellmen captain Steve Thomas

The response of the home side was impressive as they would start to claw their way back into the game to make the encounter a more equal affair. After enduring relentless Wellmen pressure, the Claymen would finally have their first chance around the half-hour mark through a set piece just outside of the penalty area. Shaun Tinsley stepped up and attempted to curl his effort into the top corner of the goal, although the home keeper John Rushton was equal to the effort and managed to deflect the ball away from the danger zone. Buckley would have another effort a few minutes after their first clear-cut chance through Jake Skyner. However his attempt to reduce the arrears ended up going wrong as his attempt scorched over Rushton’s crossbar.

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Attacking free kick for Buckley
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Superb low save by John Rushton
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Another Buckley chance

Both teams would have half chances before the half-time break, with fellow debutant Matty Hurdman perhaps coming the closest to scoring for either team. However the official Cheryl Foster would soon conclude the half ensuring the Wellmen went into the break with the goal advantage, and an advantage which can be considered they deserved!

HALF TIME: BUCKLEY TOWN 0 – 1 HOLYWELL TOWN

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Half time and the visitors lead by a single goal

 

During the half time period I had noticed that the Lostboyos ultra sticker [which can be seen in its full colour glory in Matt’s blog from last year] was still on the floodlight nearest to the entrance. Alas the sticker had seen better days, with someone having made rather unsuccessful attempts to peel the label off the floodlight, as well as the elements fading the sticker to a white box.

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The Lostboyo sticker – has seen better days 😦

 

MATCH DETAILS – SECOND HALF

No doubt Buckley wanted to start the second half on the front foot but after five minutes of the second half, their plan went out of the window as they conceded a second goal through a corner. Steve Thomas whipped a dangerous cross towards the penalty spot and defender Ryan Davidson rose above everyone to head the ball into the Buckley net. Despite the efforts of the home defender on the line, the header was too powerful to hinder and the attempted goal line clearance only helped the ball fly into the net.

Buckley Town 0 – 2 Holywell Town

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Lee Healey on the attack early in the second half
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Preparing for a corner
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Ryan Davidson connects with the cross…
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…and makes it 2-0 to Holywell

With Buckley still reeling from conceding a second goal, the home side would find their disadvantage increased seven minutes later through the efforts of the impressive Shaun Tuck. The debutant latched onto the ball on the edge of the penalty area, perfectly controlled the ball before turning and slamming the ball past McGee in the Buckley goal. It was Tuck’s second goal of the afternoon and Holywell’s third of the game, and they were no more than what the Wellmen deserved!

Buckley Town 0 – 3 Holywell Town

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Today’s official Cheryl Foster talks to Buckley keeper Adam McGee
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Match action
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Holywell make it 3-0!

Three goals down and Buckley threw caution to the wind as they attempted to create an opening which could kick-start an unlikely looking comeback. The Claymen thought that they had created that opener through a Shaun Tinsley strike, but the home support could only see the shot agonisingly saved by Rushton in the Holywell goal. However on the 66th minute, the glimmer of hope the Buckley support prayed for appeared and it appeared from a bizarre phase of play. Steve Thomas attempted a backpass to Rushton but his pass was too hard and deflected off Rushton’s outstretched leg to deflect the ball into his own net. An absolute howler from the league’s best defensive outfit!

Buckley Town 1 – 3 Holywell Town

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Steve Thomas on the attack for the visitors
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Shaun Tuck causing problems for the Buckley defence
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The home support seeing their side nicking a goal back in bizarre circumstances

The own goal raised Buckley’s spirits as they could see an opportunity to pressurise their opponents and perhaps get something from a game which was drifting away from them. Firstly Asa Hamilton blasted wide from a corner, whilst former Wellmen Dan Drazdauskas fired over the crossbar from a central position. Buckley were getting nearer and nearer to making the game a more interesting affair!

Although Buckley were becoming more of an attacking threat in the second half, there were still gaps appearing in their defence for Holywell to exploit. Lee Healey surged into the space on the right hand side of the penalty area attempting to cross the ball into the penalty area for the advancing Davidson to connect onto. However the cross was punched away by McGee but only as far as to Healey’s position, as he latched onto the loose ball and fire a low ball towards the corner of the goal. Unfortunately for the former Bangor City striker, the ball just curled a little too much and deflected off the post for the second time.

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Defensive clearance from Buckley’s captain

With twenty minutes remaining, Healey’s efforts would finally be rewarded as he grabbed a deserved goal and ended all hopes of a Buckley fightback. Healey advanced with the ball towards the Buckley penalty area whilst holding off the challenge of the home centre back. Showing great strength and commitment, he held the defender off just enough to shoot low past the diving McGee to restore Holywell’s three goal cushion. The three points would be returning back to Halkyn Road this afternoon!

Buckley Town 1 – 4 Holywell Town

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Healey makes it four goals for the afternoon for Holywell!

Just when things couldn’t get any worse for the home side this afternoon, Shaun Tuck would compound their misery when the completed his debut hat-trick on the 75th minute of the game. Goalscorer Healey provided assistant as he passed the ball to Tuck who had ghosted into some space in the Buckley penalty area. Having enough time to control the ball, he slammed the ball past McGee to cap off a perfect debut for his new club. It looks like a new fan favourite has been born as he ran towards the ‘Holywell Ultras’ congregated behind the goal.

Buckley Town 1 – 5 Holywell Town

Even though the result had been unquestionably decided this afternoon, both teams continued to attack with Buckley hoping to make the scoreline more respectable whilst Holywell saw an opportunity to increase their inferior goal difference in the league. Healey had another opportunity to score his second of the game but could only blaze his shot over the crossbar. However the majority of the remaining chances were created by Buckley as they looked to restore some pride from this afternoon’s encounter. Firstly Asa Hamilton fired over the crossbar for Buckley before he brought out another top save from Rushton with another fierce goal-bound effort. Finally a dangerously positioned free kick was taken by James Rumsey although it was comfortably gathered by Rushton.

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Match action

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Holywell with the attacking corner
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Great catch from Adam McGee

That would be the final action of the game as Cheryl Foster (who had a good game officiating in my opinion) blew the whistle to finally conclude the afternoon’s action. An excellent performance from Holywell who, for the second consecutive season, would claim a big victory at their Flintshire rival’s ground.

FULL TIME: BUCKLEY TOWN 1 – 5 HOLYWELL TOWN

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Full time at the Globe Way – Holywell win the Flintshire derby by five goals to one.

 

CONCLUSION

It would be a great result for the Wellmen who would once again get a decent result at Globe Way for the second season in a row. The win would see Holywell climb one position up the table to fifth position, equal on twenty points with rivals Flint Town United and Guilsfield. However having the inferior goal difference compared with the other two teams. This match would also see them score nearly a third of their league goals this season, raising their goals total to 17 goals – the lowest amount in the top half of the table!

Despite their lack of goals this season, they continue to have the best defensive record in the Cymru Alliance having only conceded seven goals in ten league games, and are only three points from Prestatyn Town and Caernarfon Town at the top of the table on 23 points. This win against a Flintshire rival sets them up nicely for their next fixture, which is another Flintshire derby game. This time they will be at home against Mold Alexandra, who have come into some form after a difficult start to the season.

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The Holywell team in a huddle after the match! Onwards and upwards for the Wellmen!

As for Buckley, the heavy loss would be a huge blow for confidence especially after the decent performances from the previous two games. The loss saw the Claymen stay in ninth position but with a negative goal difference of -12. Next up for Buckley is a mid-week match against newly promoted side Ruthin Town, who are languishing at the bottom of the table with just a single point to their name after ten games. Certainly a winnable game to regain some confidence into their stuttering season, but also a potential banana skin for them that could see their low confidence snowball should they experience defeat to Ruthin.

Overall I enjoyed my re-visit to Globe Way as it is one of the better grounds in the league and I would recommend everyone to go visit the ground as it is constantly improving. Having drinks on the elevated veranda next to the clubhouse is worth a visit alone ha! Plus the volunteers running the club are very welcoming and friendly, and it is great the club is on the rise off the pitch after the huge uncertainty concerning the future of the club in pre-season. I hope Buckley continue to strengthen both on and off the pitch and wish them all the very best for the rest of the season!

Diolch!

BRYMBO F.C. 2 – 0 LLAY MINERS WELFARE

Welsh National League Premier Division – 24th September 2016

Ground #74: Brymbo Sports & Social Complex (The Crick), Tanyfron, Wrexham County Borough

  • Distance Travelled: 21,4 miles
  • Travel Time: 35 minutes

 

Attendance: 40 approx.

  • Entrance: £1.50
  • Programme: FREE
  • Chocolate Bar: £0.60
  • Cup of Coffee: £1.00

 

September 2016 has been a busy month for me in terms of watching live football, with three of the four September games involving a short walk to Halkyn Road to watch Holywell Town play both Cymru Alliance games and a Welsh League Cup game (frustratingly only seeing one home victory from those three games). Alas in terms of groundhopping and visiting new grounds, it has been a barren month as only a single new ground had been ticked off the list!

In the second weekend of September, I was fortunate to see an excellent Welsh Cup Second Qualifying Round match involving Lex Glyndwr and Chirk AAA at Stansty Park, on the outskirts of Wrexham. On that occasion, the home side performed a superb comeback despite being hindered by a man disadvantage, and being 1-2 down to opposition who are competing in the league above them (Chirk playing in the Welsh National League Premier Division, Lex playing in WNL Division 1). Lex ultimately achieved a famous 3-2 victory and sealed a place in the first round proper of the Welsh Cup. An excellent game played in the quaint surroundings of Stansty Park, from a team who once mainstays of the Cymru Alliance but now found themselves languishing in the fourth tier of the Welsh football pyramid.

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Watching the Welsh Cup match between Lex Glyndwr and Chirk AAA

The previous weekend I was all prepared for a journey down into the Conwy Valley to take in another groundhop by watching Llanrwst United compete against Llangefni Town in a Welsh Alliance Division 1 fixture at Gwydir Park. Despite having done some pre-writing and research for the potential blog, and being enthusiastic for the game, Llanrwst would again be out of reach for this groundhopper! Unfortunately illness would strike just 5-10 minutes into the drive and I only managed to reach the Caerwys junction on the A55, before conceding defeat and turning around to miserably slump back home.

As a result of the previous weekend’s abortive groundhop attempt, I was ultra-determined to visit another new ground this month. After having a good comb through the fixtures of the various Welsh leagues for that weekend, and highlighting a selection of potentially interesting fixtures at unvisited grounds, I finally settled on one contest taking place in the Welsh National League Premier Division. The focus of my groundhopping, almost Sauron-like, glare for the final weekend of September would fall upon the Brymbo versus Llay Welfare match which was taking place at Brymbo’s ground, fabulously named ‘The Crick’.

The last time I had seen Llay Welfare play was when I did a groundhop to their ground, The Ring, during the Halloween weekend in 2015 (blog can be found here), where they played Brymbo’s local rivals Coedpoeth United. As for Brymbo FC, this would be the first time I had seen the Steelmen (Brymbo’s nickname which will be expanded upon in this blog) during my groundhopping adventures. Visiting Brymbo’s ground would also result in another WNL Premier ground being ticked off, and with a planned visit to Coedpoeth United for a Welsh Cup match pencilled in for the following weekend; it could be possible to tick off all the WNL Premier grounds by the end of the season! It’s an accomplishment which is now looking achievable anyway!

Joining me on this late September groundhop would be regular accomplice and 94th Minute stalwart Greg, who would also be driving for this groundhop journey. Setting off from 94th Min HQ about 1:45 pm, the drive would take us along the A55 Expressway before turning off at Dobshill roundabout. From there we drove through the Flintshire villages of Hope and Caergwrle, before arriving at Cefn-y-Bedd and onwards towards the former mining and steel making village of Brymbo.

 

BRYMBO

Brymbo is a large village of over 4,800 inhabitants situated in the Wrexham County Borough in North East Wales. A largely rural commuter village in the hills in the north-western section of the county, it is located 4,5 miles north-west of the county town of Wrexham and 10 miles south-east of Mold. Within close proximity to Brymbo are the smaller villages of Tanyfron, Fron/Vron and Bwlchgwyn.

The village is positioned on the B5433 road, and can be accessed by road via the main A483 dual carriageway (which links the village to Wrexham, Chester and beyond) by taking the Brymbo/Coedpoeth turnoff at Junction 4, or via the Mold-Wrexham A541 road and diverting off at Cefn-y-Bedd. Unfortunately there is no railway station in the village with the nearest train stations being either the Cefn-y-Bedd or the Gwersyllt stops on the Wrexham-Bidston railway line. However there are regular bus routes which link the out skirting villages to Wrexham town centre and to the main railway stations there.

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Location of Brymbo in comparison to Wrexham

The etymology of “Brymbo” possibly originates from the Welsh ‘Bryn baw’ (English: ‘Mud hill’ or ‘dirt hill’), with the village’s name first appearing in records in 1339. At that stage Brymbo was a township covering a large area and accommodating a number of scattered settlements and farms. However there is clear evidence of occupation in the area for many centuries beforehand, with an early Bronze Age burial ground being accidently discovered in Brymbo in 1958. The skeleton of a Bronze Age settler, described as ‘Brymbo Man’, was found in a burial chamber alongside a flint knife and earthenware beaker, and was thought to have dated around 1600BC.

The ancient earthwork of Offa’s Dyke, which supposedly defined the border between the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the small collection of Brythonic Welsh kingdoms (however this is subsequently alleged to have potentially been built during the Roman occupation of Britain), passes close to the village. Excavations were done on the dyke near Brymbo in the 19th century which found evidence of horse bones along with horse shoes “of rude workmanship” beneath the dyke, however no other additional details were recorded.

In 1410, the early forms of coal mining took place in the area when the burgesses of the local settlement of Holt were granted the right to dig for coal in the wastes of “Harwd” and Coedpoeth. “Hawrd” was a medieval alternative name for the settlement, originated from the English name of “Harwood” (“Hare Wood”) and referred to a common in one part of the township. It was also sometime in the fifteenth century when local landowner Edward ap Morgan ap Madoc, built a dwelling in the township that was later to become the grand Brymbo Hall, and the home of his descendants, the Griffith family.

It wasn’t until Brymbo Hall was purchased by local industrialist, and owner of the nearby Bersham Ironworks, John “Iron-Mad” Wilkinson in the late eighteenth century that coal mining expanded from a small scale industry to become a major employer in the area. The 500 acre estate of Brymbo Hall was bought by Wilkinson in 1792 because it was rich in coal and ironstone deposits, and as a result Wilkinson constructed an ironworks near the Hall. The first blast furnace on the site was constructed in 1796 and managed to produce 884 tons of iron in its first year of operation. The ironworks was expanded in 1805 when a second furnace was constructed and brought into production.

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John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson [Image: Wikipedia]
By the mid-nineteenth century, a number of larger deep mines were sunk around the area, as well as the ironworks being steadily expanded to accommodate increasing demand. As a result the majority of Brymbo was developed as accommodation for the increasing influx of miners and the ironworkers was demanded in the area. The village was constructed on and around the steep sides of Brymbo Hill and providing excellent panoramic views of the Cheshire Plain below.

In 1884 the business was incorporated as Brymbo Steel Co. Ltd and began to trial steelmaking using the open-hearth process under the encouragement of part-owner Henry Robertson. By the start of the following year, Brymbo had successfully produced its first steel in the plant, which was the first of its kind produced anywhere in the United Kingdom.

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Brymbo Iron & Steelworks c.1885 [Image: Wrexham.gov.uk]
By the time of the Great Depression of the 1930’s many of the area’s collieries ran into geological and financial problems, with the final deep mine (near Southsea) closing in 1938. Even the steelworks went bankrupt in 1931, but was quickly saved and production soon restarted. A lucrative contract supplying engineering steel for Rolls-Royce aeroplane engines ensured the plant could continue where other industries collapsed pre-WWII.

Post-war, the steelworks were hugely expanded with electrical furnaces being constructed on the site to help increase production in steel. However the area’s dramatic topography initially caused issues with expansion which forced the company to create a vast artificial plateau of slag from the furnaces. To do this, they had to fill the width of a small valley and bury most of the village of Lodge, with houses purchased and demolished to make way for the plateau. Further expansion continued in the early 1970’s, after the site had been nationalised into British Steel in 1967, when a large, modern rolling mill was constructed south of the main steelworks site.

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Brymbo Steelworks in the 1970’s [Image: Wikipedia]
After years of uncertainty throughout the 1980’s under the Thatcher regime, the steelworks was finally closed in stages between 1990 and 1991 with 1,100 people being made redundant. Naturally the closure of the site had a severe economic impact on the village, which was still being felt going into the new millennium. However today Brymbo is encountering a resurgence with a large number of new build houses and an enterprise centre being constructed on the former Steelworks site, and transforming itself to an appealing commuter village due to the good infrastructural links to the nearby conurbations of Wrexham, Chester and beyond.

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Penrhos Engine House [Image: Wikipedia]
There are also still traces of the former steelworks in the locality and fascinating place of interests in terms of industrial archaeology. The original “No. 1” blast furnace commissioned by John Wilkinson, and associated buildings still exist in the area. Above Brymbo stand the remains of Wilkinson’s lead smelter, the “Bottle”, next to a pond (locally known as the “Cold Pool”) used to supply water to the Steelworks until 1990. Also in the nearby hamlet of Pen-Rhos is the Penrhos Engine House, also built by Wilkinson and now designated as a ‘scheduled ancient monument’.

 

BRYMBO FOOTBALL CLUB

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  • 14 x Welsh National League Champions
  • 1 x Cymru Alliance Runners-Up

 

  • 2 x FAW Trophy Winners
  • 9 x Welsh National League Cup Winners
  • 1 x Welsh National League Premier Cup Winners
  • 6 x North East Wales FA Challenge Cup Winners
  • 2 x Welsh Cup Quarter-Finalist

 

  • Cymru Alliance Founding Member

 

Football has been played at Brymbo since the end of the 19th Century with players, working in the nearby coal pits and steelworks, making up the compositions of the inaugural Brymbo-based clubs. The first Brymbo side to appear in Welsh football competitions was Brymbo Institute who first appeared in the 1890-91 Welsh Cup competition. They managed to progress all the way to the semi-finals of the 1894-95 Welsh Cup competition before being eliminated by Wrexham 0-4 at the neutral venue of Stansty Park in Wrexham (now home of Lex Glyndŵr). It was a tough route to the last four for Institute by having to defeat then Welsh Cup regulars in Rhostyllen Villa and Rhosllanerchrugog, as well as former Welsh Cup winners in Druids (forerunners of today’s Cefn Druids) and Bangor, before coming unstuck against another former cup winner in Wrexham.

Brymbo Institute’s 1894-95 Welsh Cup campaign:

  • R1: Rhostyllen Villa (a) 4-1
  • R2: Rhosllanerchrugog (h) 4-1
  • R3: Druids (h) 1-0
  • R4: Bangor (h) 1-0
  • SF: Wrexham (at Stansty Park, Wrexham) 0-4

 

The second Brymbo club to appear was Brymbo Victoria who were founded in 1900, and initially started playing in the Flintshire League and then the Wrexham & District League. The Vics would reach the final of the Welsh Amateur Cup (now FAW Trophy) in the 1907-08 season beating the fellow “Victoria” clubs of Gwersyllt and Wrexham, Holyhead FC and Shrewsbury Rovers on route to the final. They would fall at the final hurdle, losing to the now defunct side of Esclusham White Stars by a scoreline of 0-1 at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham.

The Vics subsequently joined the Anglo-Welsh league called ‘The Combination’ during the 1909-10 league campaign. Taking the place of Birkenhead FC in December 1909 (who had resigned mid-season) and fulfilling the rest of Birkenhead’s original fixtures, they unsurprisingly finished bottom of the 16-team league with just 11 points. The following season was a marked improvement when Brymbo Victoria finished in fourth position, albeit with just 11 teams in the league. They would also reach the second round of the Welsh Cup before losing to Johnstown 0-2. However that season would be bittersweet for the Vics as despite their decent league and cup performance, they were unable to improve upon them as The Combination was disbanded in 1911.

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The final table of The Combination 1910-11 season

The foundations of the current Brymbo side originate from Brymbo Steelworks Football Club, which was formed as the steelworks’ team over 60 years ago as part of the Brymbo Steelworks Complex. The team would become one of the most successful amateur clubs in Wales, with the club enjoying numerous WNL titles and cup victories in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Between 1966 and 1983, Brymbo Steelworks managed to claim eleven Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) league championships, five WNL Cup victories, four North East Wales FA Challenge Cup victories and a Welsh Amateur Cup win. The club’s success on the pitch mirrored the fortunes of the steelworks, with the steelworks enjoying an expansion in production and investment during the same period.

Brymbo Steelworks also enjoyed some great success in the Welsh Cup with the Steelmen reaching the quarter finals of the 1967-68 competition, overcoming Cymau, Rhos Aelwyd, Portmadoc (now Porthmadog) and Penmaenmawr (after a replay), before being heavily beaten by Football League club Chester 0-8. They almost equalled the achievements of Brymbo Institute, who reached the semi-finals a century previously, when they nearly won a slot in the last four of the 1986-87 Welsh Cup campaign. After narrowly defeating Machynlleth in the first round, and inflicting heavy defeats on Denbigh Town, Pilkington’s St. Asaph and Sully, they came up against Wrexham, who were the opponents for Brymbo Institute in the semi-finals. Although they achieved a better score line than the Institute, the result was still identical as Wrexham ended Brymbo’s dream of national cup glory once again, losing 0-1 at the Racecourse Ground.

Brymbo Steelworks’ route to the 1967-68 Welsh Cup Quarter Finals:

  • R2: Cymau (a) 4-0
  • R3: Rhos Aelwyd (h) 2-1
  • R4: Portmadoc (h) 2-1
  • R5: Penmaenmawr (h) 1-0 [after replay]
  • QF: Chester (h) 0-8

Brymbo Steelworks’ route to the 1986-87 Welsh Cup Quarter Finals:

  • R1: Machynlleth (a) 1-0
  • R2: Denbigh Town (a) 5-0
  • R3: Pilkington’s St. Asaph (h) 6-0
  • R4: Sully (h) 4-1
  • QF: Wrexham (a) 0-1

 

Brymbo Steelworks eventually dropped the “Steelworks” suffix in 1991 after the actual steelworks was closed down in 1990, before becoming founding members of the Cymru Alliance as Brymbo F.C. for the inaugural season in 1991-92. Their first season in the new North and Mid Welsh league was a tough one for the Steelmen as they only won four of their thirty game season, conceded 106 goals and earned only 14 points to achieve a 15th place finish from the sixteen team league. The following season was no better for Brymbo, finishing bottom of the table and winning just three games all season.

However the next three seasons would be a marked improvement for Brymbo F.C. as they became one of the strongest teams in the league. The Steelmen would finish the 1993-94 campaign in sixth position before achieving their best ever finish (in the current Welsh football pyramid format) by finishing as runners-up in the 1994-95 league season, and winning 26 of their 34 games played. The following season, they showed that runners-up placement was no ‘fluke’ when they finished in third place for the 1995-96 Cymru Alliance season. However it would be the final season that Brymbo F.C. would be seen for a decade as a ‘new’ club would take their place in the second tier!

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The 1994-95 Cymru Alliance table

In the summer of 1996, a merger took place between Brymbo F.C. and the neighbouring village team of New Broughton F.C. to create Brymbo Broughton Football Club. At the time of the merger, Brymbo were still in the Cymru Alliance whilst New Broughton were applying their trade in the WNL Premier Division, but the merger was required for both clubs to advance forward. Brymbo may have had the higher league position and excellent facilities, but were lacking experience and expertise in key off-field positions and were now struggling financially to compete in the Cymru Alliance. New Broughton on the other hand had a well-organised and experience committee and were financially secure because of it. Their major problem was that their playing fields were not at the required standards which were vital to play at a higher level of football. Plus their ground was council owned meaning they were just tenants, and thus could not invest into the facilities. Therefore the pooling of resources made perfect sense to maintain football in the locality and to continue improvements in Brymbo and New Brighton football.

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The 1996-97 Cymru Alliance table – the first season as Brymbo Broughton

Despite the merger of the two teams, the “super club” was unable to match the recent success of Brymbo F.C. when Brymbo Broughton finished in a respectable ninth position in the 1996-97 season. Unfortunately that initial season under the Brymbo Broughton moniker would be their best season under the new name as, despite the combination of two teams’ resources, the team’s fortunes started to fade. They would continue to play in the Cymru Alliance for the next five years but would only achieve bottom half finishes, finishing in the bottom two positions for three of the five seasons in the second tier. Eventually Brymbo Broughton would get relegated back down to the WNL Premier Division in 2001-02 after they finished 17th in the Cymru Alliance.

Initially their stay in the WNL Premier Division was an enthusiastic one as they became one of the teams to challenge for promotion back to the Cymru Alliance. A fifth place finish, followed by an achievement of third place in the 2003-04 season confirmed that promotion was only a matter of time for the Steelmen. However the following season would be disastrous for Brymbo Broughton as their aim to leave the WNL Premier was achieved, but in the completely wrong direction as they finished rock bottom of the pile with just twenty points, and an additional three points deduction. However Brymbo Broughton would maintain their position within the WNL Premier, but at the expense of another team in the league. 2005 saw another merger in Brymbo’s football history and yet another name change!

In the summer of 2005, Brymbo Broughton merged with Summerhill United to form Summerhill Brymbo Football Club. Summerhill United were a relatively new club in the WNL pyramid, having joined the WNL Division 2 in the 1999-2000 season. But a significantly rapid rise through the leagues saw them compete in the WNL Premier for the first and only time in the 2004-05 season. In that season, which saw Brymbo Broughton positioned bottom of the table, Summerhill would finish in a respectable seventh position in the table and earning 42 points. Summerhill Brymbo F.C. would only compete in the 2005-06 WNL Premier for just the single season, achieving a solid fifth place finish in the campaign, before yet another (if familiar) name change was required for the team.

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The Welsh National League Premier Division 2006-07 table – the first season back as Brymbo F.C.

For the start of the 2006-07 season, Summerhill Brymbo dropped the “Summerhill” part of their name and reverted back to just Brymbo F.C. (the name they currently have). The change in name seems to have improved fortunes dramatically as the team would win the WNL Premier Division for two seasons in a row between 2006 and 2008. During that time, Brymbo would win 52 games from 60 league fixtures and score a combined total of 213 goals over the two successful league campaigns. The club would also gain national glory by claiming the second FAW Trophy in Brymbo’s history by beating Glan Conwy 6-2 in the 2006-07 final. Despite winning the title in two consecutive seasons, achieving national cup success and dominating the WNL, they were unable to gain promotion back up to the Cymru Alliance.

This failure to gain promotion to the second tier of the Welsh football pyramid has been costly to Brymbo as the following season after their second league victory, they surprisingly finished 14th out of 15 teams, winning only 4 games from their campaign. This would be the start of a fluctuating period for the club in the WNL as they would either have a good season or a miserable season, with one scenario often following the other scenario in the succeeding season. A perfect example of this inconsistency is that the Steelmen would achieve a 5th place in the 2012-13 season (their highest since they last won the title), but would follow it up with finishing bottom of the table in the 2013-14 season having claimed only three victories and scoring just 16 goals all season.

WNL 2015-16 Table
The 2015-16 Welsh National League Premier Division table

However recent form for Brymbo has been encouraging as a 12th place finish in 2014-15 was improved upon last season with the Steelmen concluding the 2015-16 campaign in 5th position. Last season was a decent campaign for Brymbo as they earned 47 points from the campaign and managed 16 wins from 26 fixtures – their highest amount of wins and points accumulated from a single season since their league championship victory in 2008.

 

CURRENT FORM

Brymbo’s last five results prior to this game:

  • Sat 20th August: Overton Recreation (H) 3-0
  • Sat 27th August: Queens Park (H) 1-5
  • Sat 3rd September: Offa Athletic (A) [Welsh Trophy Round 2] 9-1
  • Sat 10th September: Llay Miners Welfare (H) [Welsh Cup Qualifying Round 2] 6-1
  • Sat 17th September: Cefn Albion (A) 2-0

Brymbo would be going into the game against Llay situated in 8th position after having won two of their five league games, and accumulating six points. After a difficult start in the league, having lost their first two league games, their first win came against bottom club Overton Recreation at The Crick. Despite heavy defeat by current league leaders, Queens Park, at the end of August, Brymbo were enjoying a successful and unbeaten September. An impressive victory over North East Wales League side Offa Athletic, was followed by a big victory over today’s opponents in the Welsh Cup 2nd Qualifying Round. Finally they achieved their second victory of the league campaign, going to The Myga and defeating Cefn Albion 2-0 in an impressive display.

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The WNL Premier Division table prior to the game

 

Llay Welfare Logo

Llay Welfare’s last five results prior to this fixture:

  • Wed 24th August: Hawarden Rangers (H) 0-2
  • Sat 27th August: Coedpoeth United (A) 5-1
  • Sat 3rd September: Penycae (H) [Welsh Trophy Round 2] 0-3
  • Sat 10th September: Brymbo (A) [Welsh Cup Qualifying Round 2] 1-6
  • Sat 17th September: FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay (H) 1-1

 

Llay Welfare’s September was the complete opposite of their opponent’s form having only achieved one draw and two defeats from their games in the second month of the season. Despite encountering this poor form going into the game, they were positioned just a place below Brymbo in 9th spot and on the same points as them, but with the inferior goal difference. Their only league victory in 2016-17 was an important victory over Coedpoeth United, defeating them 5-1 at the Penygelli Playing Fields. This victory was trailed by two cup exits, firstly to fellow WNL Premier team Penycae, losing 0-3 in the second round of the FAW Trophy, and losing 1-6 to today’s opponents.

Despite having seven first-teamers missing for the Welsh Cup game, Brymbo would inflict a heavy defeat on their opponents and have the upper hand in confidence going into this fixture. On that day, a hat-trick from midfield Adam Lloyd (playing as a false 9), plus goals from Paul Messham, Nicky Chesters and Richie Smullen ensured the Steelmen would progress to their first round of the national cup competition. The sole consolation goal for Welfare on that miserable afternoon came from Luke Kavanagh.

 

THE CRICK GROUNDHOP

It was a little touch and go whether we would make it to Brymbo in time for kick off due to Greg unexpectedly being delayed. This was because he had to fix a broken toilet in his house before he could leave for the football, but thankfully we managed to arrive at the ground just prior to kick off. It is worth noting that Brymbo F.C.’s pitch is not located in Brymbo village itself, but a further two miles south. This is because the ground is part of the Brymbo Sports and Social complex which is to be found in the village of Tanyfron.

As the name suggests, the Brymbo Sports & Social complex is the sporting hub for the local area with the cricket pitch and social club all being within walking distance from The Crick. As you enter into the complex, the cricket ground (home to Brymbo Cricket Club) is situated on the right hand side, whilst the large social club is to the left, complete with large dragon ornament lifting a pint of ale welcomes all visitors to the complex. If you follow the road into the complex, there is a huge car park positioned behind the club, above the cricket ground but below The Crick football field. We managed to park up in the car park (with there being more than plenty of spaces available for supporters) and headed towards the pitch.

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The location of The Crick in Tanyfron

As you park up, you will notice a large flight of steps from the car park to the higher plateau where The Crick is located. At the top of the steps is the hut where you pay your entrance fee, and for this particular game, entrance fee was just £1.50!!! An absolute bargain price of third tier football! If you thought that price was good value, the match programme also came free with the entrance fee. Considering a number of clubs in the WNL don’t produce programmes, it was a nice treat to receive the programme made all the sweeter by the price! The programme was decent also, with information about the WNL and upcoming Brymbo fixtures, as well as information from the other leagues in the Welsh football pyramid. A decent standard and better than some of the programmes I have had to pay for the past groundhops elsewhere!

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The free match programme

The main ground at The Crick is located on the left as you enter the ground, with an additional pitch on the right hand side. In between both pitches and located next to the entrance is the changing rooms and snack bar building. It is here where you can buy the usual snacks and hot drinks that are often available at football grounds, and it would be our first port of call before the game commenced.

Despite having hot dogs advertised for one pound each, there were none available for purchase due to an issue with the hut’s electricity supply meaning they were unable to cook them that afternoon. As a result I decided to purchase a chocolate bar for 60 pence and a cup of black coffee for the standard price of one pound. I also asked if there were any pin badges available but unfortunately they didn’t have any left. Apparently the cost of getting them produced is expensive and not worth the expense, which was a shame to hear. Hopefully badge producers can perhaps reduce their prices to allow clubs to purchase them for supporters and groundhoppers alike.

Perhaps instead of badges being bought, maybe a stamp sort of system could be employed at clubs as an alternative? Just an idea I picked up from the interesting ITV series “Joanna Lumley in Japan”, where the former New Avenger would visit places in Japan and pick up an ink stamp at the locations she had been. Maybe that would be a cheaper alternative collection for groundhoppers instead of clubs having to pay for pin badges? Just a thought…

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The Crick, home of Brymbo F.C.

Anyway The Crick is certainly an impressive ground for the WNL and one of the better grounds I have seen in the area. The pitch has a concrete path going around the majority of the perimeter as well as permanent barrier separating the playing field from the supporters’ area. Brymbo also have a main stand on the Tanyfron side of the pitch, which has approximately fifty covered seats for supporters. In addition there is also another covered shelter on the opposite side of the pitch (the Social club side) which allows supporters to stand and watch the game, whilst protected from the elements. There were also permanent dugout on the shelter side of the pitch, although naturally for this level of football, there were no permanent floodlights were present at the ground.

With both home and away supporters occupying both covered stands, and with a considerable number standing around the pitch, we decided to start watching the game at the corner of which we entered the ground. It would be interesting to see which team would come out victorious for this game – would Brymbo repeat their Welsh Cup performance of a fortnight ago or would Llay gain revenge and pick up their second league victory of the 2016-17 campaign?

Both teams would be playing in their home strips with Brymbo in their gold shirts with black trim, black shorts and gold socks. Llay would be playing in a white & black striped shirt, black shorts and black socks.

 

MATCH REPORT

Prior to the game commencing, the game had a minute’s silence in memory of one of the Brymbo coaches who had passed away earlier in the week. The weather conditions for this game were typical of a late September afternoon – dry but overcast. Also chilling winds had been gusting in from a north-westerly direction, and providing the first sign of worsening conditions to come in the next few months. To quote the excellent programme, ‘Game of Thrones’, the breezes provided conclusive and inevitable proof that “Winter is coming!”.

Rather uncommonly for third tier football, the game would be controlled by the just the referee with both teams’ managers acting as makeshift assistant referees for the match. At least this fixture actually had an official to officiate the game unlike another WNL game between Coedpoeth United and FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay which was postponed due to a lack of referees! Incredible and rather pathetic in fairness!! Here’s hoping some of the Euro 2016 prize money, which has been promised by FAW Chief Executive Jonathan Ford for “grassroots” projects, is used to train more game officials in the lower leagues.

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The opening salvos between the two teams were fairly equal with both teams sizing each other up, but with Brymbo looking slightly the sprightlier of the competitors. Despite the Steelmen’s opening confidence, it would be the Miners who would chisel out the game’s first clear cut chance.

Llay had a fantastic chance around the 15th minute mark of the game to snatch the lead when their forward managed to dart clear of the home defence, after a quality through pass from midfield, produced a one-on-one chance for him. However under pressure from a combination of both the recovering centre back and rapidly looming goalkeeper, Matty Wilcox, it forced the striker to lose composure and snatch at the shot instead of dinking the ball over Wilcox. These double sources of pressure ultimately forced the visiting player to scuff his effort, resulting in the ball dribbling wide of the right hand post.

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The Social club side of the ground
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Llay miss an early chance

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Midway through the first half, both myself and Greg met fellow groundhoppers who were also attending the game. The previous night, I had spotted on Twitter that a tweet from ‘The Groundhog’ had been retweeted by Llay Welfare’s account who had stated he was attending the game. Having tweeted him back declaring my intentions to visit the game also, I was eager to meet up with a fellow groundhopper, although he is far more experienced in the pastime than I certainly I was having visited many grounds in the area!

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We met The Groundhog with his son, who was on camera duties, next to the main stand and had a good chat to them both about groundhopping in and around the Welsh leagues, as well as comparing the standard of WNL football to an English league equivalent. It was really nice to meet the pair of them as I am a fan of their fantastic blog site. I often use the site as great reference point for information about a ground prior to attending any groundhops in the area, as they have normally attended the ground in the past. An excellent website which I would highly recommend to everyone that they should visit: thegroundhog.wordpress.com

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brymbo-vs-llay-welfare-24th-sept-16-25
Free kick to Brymbo

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Free kick to Llay in front of the changing rooms & snack bar building

Standing beside the main stand at a slightly elevated viewing point, we would all see the stunning opener from this afternoon’s action. On the 26th minute, the home side would make Llay regret their missed chance early in the half by taking the lead after a period of sustained ball retention and possession. Brymbo would claim the advantage in the fixture through an absolutely fantastic strike from Adam Bradshaw. The forward managed to latch onto the ball in the available space located just outside of the Llay penalty box. Having enough time to pick his spot, Bradshaw rifled his effort straight into the top right-hand corner of net, leaving the diving Llay keeper, Charlie Williams, helpless in his efforts to stop the attempt. An absolute thunderbolt of a strike!

Brymbo FC 1 – 0 Llay Miners Welfare

Brymbo almost managed to score a second goal in the half through another blockbuster of a shot from outside of the penalty area. Had the chance been converted successfully, it would have been as good as the first goal. Once again utilizing the space that was being created between the midfield and defence, another powerful strike was launched towards goal from around about 25 yards out. The ball was wickedly dipping in the air and looking like it could just sneak under the crossbar. However on this occasion, Charlie Williams just about managed to get his fingertips on the dipping shot and deflected the shot onto the crossbar, before it was hastily hoofed away by the covering defender. This left the entire crowd “oohing” and applauding in appreciation of both the powerful shot and decent save from the visiting keeper.

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There would be a couple more half chances from both sides, but neither threatened the goal successfully enough to change the score line.  It would be the home side who would clench the slender advantage as the game progressed into the half time cessation of play.

HALF TIME: BRYMBO FC 1 – 0 LLAY MINERS WELFARE

 

At the half time break, The Groundhog duo would head off to the snack hatch for a hot beverage whilst Greg and I stayed at our position beside the main stand. I also had a check of the Wrexham versus Chester result – the fiery derby game taking place a few miles away from the Brymbo game. Naturally the game ended in a scoreless draw, with neither team covering themselves in glory. I overheard a couple of the locals grumbling over the result and bemoaning both Mills’ tactics and the players who had been brought in. It would seem the patience for Garry Mills as Wrexham manager has completely evaporated and frustrations are being expressed more fervently, with the possibility of his tenure looking increasingly likely it could end soon!

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The teams return for the second half

 

SECOND HALF

The second half would follow the same format as the first half with neither side taking the upper hand in the match, and both having chances to score the game’s second goal. Llay would have a superb chance early on in the half when their forward #9 Tom Maurice Jones managed get beyond the last man in the Brymbo defence and advance towards goal, having ghosted in from the right side of the pitch. Just as he was about to unleash his effort, a recovery pinpoint tackle from Brymbo’s #5 Joe Edwards did just enough to divert the ball out of play and eliminate the threat. Had the defender timed his last ditch tackle wrong and hindered the run of the forward, it could have been a clear penalty!

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At the other end of the pitch, Brymbo’s main threat to doubling their lead was coming from set pieces as the Llay defence were continually conceding free kicks in dangerous positions. Their #7 Paul Messham had a superb opportunity to score the Steelmen’s second of the afternoon with a direct free kick located in a central position roughly 20 yards from goal. The midfielder attempted to curl the ball over the assembled defensive wall and into the top right hand corner of the net. Alas for Messham, his effort successfully lifted over the jumping wall but could only sail agonisingly wide of the corner of the goal frame.

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Llay would have another golden opportunity to open their account for the afternoon after they crafted yet another great opportunity for their striker. A superb cutting ball through the home defence to the visiting player, coming in from the right flank, allowed him enough time and space to pick his spot in the net. Again the Brymbo goalkeeper was quick to spot the danger and came rushing off his goal line to force the striker to make another mistake. His pressure proved fruitful as the visiting striker tried to dink the ball past the keeper on his inside but hit the ball too hard on the outside of his boot to curl the ball well wide of the right post. Another super opportunity squandered by the Welfare!

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Brymbo on the attack with the main seated stand in the background

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The game was becoming a more open affair with Llay having a majority of the possession but with Brymbo trying to catch their opponents on the counter-attack. As the minutes slowly ticked by, the game was becoming more physical with increasingly hefty challenges and tackles becoming more prevalent. The official (who I thought had a fairly decent game) tried to quell the increasing temperature in the aggression, although he was lenient on a couple of challenges. Despite his best efforts it didn’t stop both linemen-managers barracking him for his decisions on certain sporadic occasions, which could have been yellow cards. In addition, some of the supporters in the main stand and standing around the pitch shouted their frustrations at the official’s decisions – being a referee is always a thankless task it seems!

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With five minutes remaining, Brymbo finally sealed the victory and earned the three points through a superb diving header from Donal McKenna. Llay conceded yet another free kick in a dangerous position just outside the left-hand side of the Llay penalty area. Brymbo would punish their opponents for conceding a set piece in such a crucial location on this occasion by whipping a curling cross into the danger zone between the defenders and the keeper. Charlie Williams attempted to come off his line to intercept the cross and divert it away from danger, but McKenna managed to get ahead of the onrushing goalie to connect with the pass and nod the ball into the empty net.

Brymbo FC 2 – 0 Llay Miners Welfare

The second goal killed off any hopes of Llay getting anything from the match as Brymbo sufficiently held on for the final five minutes (plus injury time) of the match to secure their third victory in the league, and second over Llay in a fortnight!

FULL TIME: BRYMBO FC 2 – 0 LLAY MINERS WELFARE

 

I must declare that I really enjoyed this game with both teams having great chances throughout the match and both halves being open and entertaining encounters. I think Llay can feel unlucky from not having gotten anything from the game as they created enough clear-cut opportunities throughout the ninety minutes. Had the chances been successfully converted, it could have changed the aspect of the game and could well have seen the three points going back to The Ring. Ultimately the deciding factor was conversion rate of goal scoring opportunities, and Brymbo effectively converted theirs when it mattered most.  Their first goal was an absolute screamer, and certainly one of the best goals I have seen in 2016, whilst their second was a superbly crafted set piece.

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Full time at The Crick, and it’s a home win.

Even though Brymbo would take the points from this contest, crucially both teams can take a number of positives from their respective performances, which should provide them some positive momentum going into the next couple of league fixtures. Brymbo maintain their perfect September by winning their fourth consecutive game, whilst Llay continue their improvement in performances for the month, and rectified some of the sins from the cup defeat two weeks prior despite falling to defeat once again!

Overall I really enjoyed my groundhop to Brymbo’s excellent ground. Not only were the people at Brymbo really welcoming and helpful, but the ground itself is an excellent arena to watch local football. Plus you have the advantage of enjoying some post-match drinks and nibbles at the nearby social club which is always a huge bonus in my book! Regrettably we were unable to head into the social club on this occasion as we had to dart off to meet-up with some friends; however it looks worthy a visit if you’re attending a game at The Crick!

It was also really nice to meet fellow groundhoppers at the game and have a good chat with The Groundhog and his son. Please go and check out his excellent blog site, if you not already aware of his fine work, and below is the link to his corresponding blog concerning this Brymbo game:

https://thegroundhog.wordpress.com/2016/10/01/brymbo/

Finally I would like to wish both Brymbo and Llay Welfare all the very best for the rest of the season, and look forward to seeing them play again sometime soon!

Diolch!

 

HOLYHEAD HOTSPUR 0 – 0 HOLYWELL TOWN

Cymru Alliance – 20th August 2016

Ground #71: The New Oval, Holyhead, Anglesey/Ynys Môn

  • Distance Travelled: 66,2 miles
  • Travel Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Attendance: 109

  • Entrance: £4.00
  • Programme: £1.00
  • Pin Badge: £3.00
  • HHFC Mug: £4.00
  • Hamburger: £1.80
  • Cup of Coffee: £1.00

 

One of the groundhopping goals of the previous season was to have visited all the Cymru Alliance grounds, and potentially write a blog on the groundhop. Alas by the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, that goal alluded me as only one ground was beyond my reach and stopped me from completing my quest – The New Oval at Holyhead. Now it wasn’t through lack of trying as I had intended to travel down to Holyhead by train to see their league game against Mold in one of the final remaining league games of the season. But a combination of poor time keeping, miserable weather conditions and people dropping out at the final moments resulted in a missed train at Flint Station and an opportunity gone!! Frustrating!!

Anyway I was super determined not to miss the opportunity this time around and ensure I could tick off Holyhead Hotspur’s ground as soon as possible (for my own sanity if anything ha!). Obviously I was looking to head to one of Holyhead’s first home games of the season, mainly because the threat of postponement from poor weather would be drastically reduced when compared to winter times. The last thing you want is to travel for 90 minutes by train and then find out the game has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch! In addition, and please forgive me all Holyhead locals, the gusty winter weather conditions at Holyhead are not the most appealing for your typical groundhopper. “Can they do it on a breezy January afternoon at Holyhead?” is the Cymru Alliance equivalent of “a cold winter’s night at Stoke” – I think Messi/Ronaldo would do the latter but would struggle with the former! So you can imagine my delight when I scouted the opening fixtures of the campaign and saw that one of Holyhead’s first home fixtures of the season would be against Holywell Town!

Ronaldo
Could Ronny do it on a cold evening in Holyhead?? [Image: Wikipedia]
As you are all aware (and if not, have a look through my previous blogs) I am a Holywell Town supporter, and have seen them play in a number of far flung places in the North Wales region. Seeing them play at the far western settlement of Holyhead meant I had no excuse not to visit Holyhead early on in the season, and providing illness would not strike me, Holy Island would be my desired destination for the second weekend of the 2016-17 Cymru Alliance season!

Obviously with Holyhead being the terminus of the North Wales railway line, ‘letting the train take the strain’ seemed the most logical and convenient choice to travel down there. However with my usual groundhopping accomplice, Greg, not being available until half 12 due to work commitments, it meant the journey would have to be made by car (a shame really as I was looking forward to the train ride). Therefore we set off from HQ around about 12:45pm onto the A55 Expressway, hoping that there would be no further traffic problems or incidents on the road which could further delay our progress.

Also with weather conditions looking incredibly undesirable due to an anticyclone coming from the south-west bring in rain and gale force winds, there was the risk the game could be postponed. This risk would be further enhanced if the traffic officials closed the Britannia Bridge, the bridge crossing the Menai Straits, to traffic because of the high velocity winds. It would seem travelling to Holyhead for a game was never going to be straightforward regardless of the season!

 

HOLYHEAD

Holyhead (Welsh: Caergybi) is a major sea port town situated in the far north-west corner of Wales, and is considered the major travel hub for travellers coming to and fro from Ireland. Having a population of nearly 11,500 people, Holyhead is the largest town within the county borough of Anglesey. However the town is neither the county town (that would be Llangefni situated 16,5 miles east of Holyhead) nor is it actually on the Isle of Anglesey itself, being situated on Holy Island (Welsh: Ynys Gybi) to the west of Anglesey. Originally connected to the rest of Anglesey via Four Mile Bridge (so called as it was situated four miles or six kilometres away from Holyhead), it is connected by the major roads of the old A5 road and the more modern A55 Expressway, which are main arteries into the rest of Wales. It is also connected by rail through the North Wales Coast railway line, with Holyhead’s train station being the western terminus of the North Welsh railway line. There are regular direct trains running to and from Holyhead to/from both Chester and London Euston, allowing passengers to easily jump on a ferry to Ireland using public transport.

Anglesey Location
Location of Holyhead in North West Wales

Holyhead is most famous for its sea port and being one end of a busy ferry route crossing the Irish Sea, linking itself with the Irish ports of Dublin and Dún Laoghaire (situated roughly 75 miles west of Holyhead). Multiple daily crossings operate from the Port of Holyhead to Dublin, with a daily ferry heading to Dún Laoghaire. As a result of the numerous ferry crossings, Holyhead is a crucial part of the haulage and car passenger movement coming to and from Ireland, allowing the Irish to connect with markets in both Britain and continental Europe. Because of its importance, Northern Europe’s biggest ferry company, Stena Line, operates from the port as do Irish Ferries, and the port itself is a huge employer within the locality.

Although there is evidence of prehistoric settlement within the area with burial chambers and standing stones in high concentration on Holy Island, the foundations of the town originate with the Romans who founded a fort in the area approximately in the mid-to-late 4th Century. It was built in a strategically sound position as part of a major defensive scheme by the Roman Empire to protect the major fort and settlement at Segontium (now Caernarfon), as well as the rest of the north-western coast of Cambria against Irish sea-raiders. The fort is unique in Roman architecture as was built with three protective walls, with the fourth side supposedly protected by the quayside and Irish Sea beyond. The Romans garrisoning the fort also built a watch tower on the east side of Holyhead Mountain (Welsh: Mynydd Tŵr) inside a prehistoric hillfort, which was used as the fort’s look-0ut point for raiders coming from the sea or around the coast.

Holyhead Mountain
Holyhead Mountain [Image: http://stigvista.co.uk/%5D
Holyhead Mountain is the most prominent geological feature in the area as it looms over the town being situated just two miles west of Holyhead. At 220m (or 722 feet) in height, it is the highest mountain in the county of Anglesey and can provide ideal views out to sea from its rocky summit. On a clear day, it is possible to see as far as the Wicklow Mountains situated on the east coast of Ireland. Because of its prominence, there is evidence of prehistoric settlement from the Stone Age to the Iron Age either at the foot or on the mountain.

It is estimated that the Roman fort was abandoned around 393 when troops were sent to respond to the revolt of Eugenius of Gaul. However in the 6th Century, the old fort was given to the Cornish bishop and Christian missionary, Saint Cybi, by King Maelgwn Gwynedd where the saint founded a large and important monastery. Subsequently the fort became known as Caer Gybi or “Cybi’s Fort”, and is still the Welsh name for Holyhead today. The Church of St Cybi still stands on the site of the old Roman fort and monastery today, with a small detached chapel (Eglwys y Bedd) reputedly standing over St Cybi’s grave.

The strategic location of Holyhead as a port was crucial to Britain’s trade shipping routes, and this was apparent in the 19th Century when Holyhead’s maritime importance was at its height. This was a result of a 1,7 mile (3 km) long sea breakwater being constructed turning Holyhead into a safe harbour for vessels caught in stormy waters in the Irish Sea. Shipping on their way to the massive trading port of Liverpool or the other industrial ports of Lancashire would use Holyhead as a safe haven before venturing onwards once the weather was more favourable. Holyhead Breakwater was created from limestone quarried from nearby Holyhead Mountain and is the longest breakwater in the United Kingdom.

Holyhead Breakwater
Aerial view of Holyhead Breakwater & Marina [Image: Daily Post]
Sailing crossings between Holy Island/Anglesey and Ireland has existed for thousands of years, and it was this position which encouraged Thomas Telford to build the crucial post road of the A5 towards Holyhead. The old A5 road started in London and concludes at Admiralty Arch in Holyhead. This strengthened Holyhead’s maritime position as it would be the port from which the Royal Mail would dispatch mail to and from Dublin on the Mail coach. Holyhead initially lost the London to Dublin mail contract to the Port of Liverpool in 1839, with the introduction and construction of railways throughout Britain resulted in the London to Liverpool railway being opened. Only after the completion of the Chester and Holyhead Railway in 1850, and the subsequent construction of Holyhead railway station, did the Irish Mail contract return back to Holyhead.

In recent times, the port has been influential for major employment to develop within the area. The largest example of this was the establishment of an aluminium smelting works in 1971 and operating just outside of the town, including a plant that refined bauxite. To accommodate the factory, a jetty was constructed in the harbour to receive ships from Jamaica and Australia carrying their cargoes of bauxite and aluminium ores. The factory was one of the largest employers in North Wales employing 540 staff and producing 142,000 tonnes per year. It was also the largest consumer of electricity within the whole of the United Kingdom. Alas the factory shut down in 2009 after problems securing power after the previous contract with the nearby nuclear power station in Wylfa was terminated.

Holyhead (port featuring ferry)Isle of Anglesey Aerial North Towns & Villages
Port of Holyhead [Image: Holyhead.org]
Despite this blow in employment, the Port of Holyhead continues produce a steady amount of jobs for locals, with the majority of the jobs linked to the Irish ferry services operated by Stena and Irish Ferries. However with the introduction of large cruise ships stopping off at Holyhead during their voyage, it is hoped that the increase of tourists from such large cruise ships will bring money and added employment into the area by improving the tourist industry. The aim to utilise such venues as Holyhead’s arts centre, the Ucheldre Centre, which holds regular arts exhibitions, performances, workshops and film screenings, or the Holyhead Maritime Museum is key to the town’s future. Put them into conjunction with emphasising the stunning landscape surrounding the town, and hopefully that will encourage more tourists to visit the area.

 

HOLYHEAD HOTSPUR

Holyhead Hotspur

  • 1 x Cymru Alliance Runners-Up
  • 1 x Welsh Alliance League Champions
  • 1 x Gwynedd League Champions
  • 2 x Anglesey League Champions

 

  • 1 x FAW Trophy Finalists
  • 1 x Cymru Alliance League Cup Finalists
  • 1 x Cookson Cup Winners
  • 1 x Mawddach Barritt Cup Winners
  • 1 x NWCFA Challenge Cup Finalists

 

Holyhead has always been a hotspot for Welsh football since the late 19th Century, with the port town being one of the first towns in Anglesey to fully embrace football. The first record of a Holyhead-based team playing in Welsh competition is the appearance of Holyhead Railway Institute playing in the 1898-99 North Wales Coast League. Eventually such teams like Holyhead Town and Holyhead United would eventually appear in the port town, with Town being the more successful of the teams. Holyhead Town would reach the Quarter Finals of the Welsh Cup in the 1960-61 and 1961-62 campaigns, and would later play in the English FA Cup in the late 1960’s. The furthest they reached was the Second Qualifying Round in the 1967-68 competition, when they defeated Porthmadog before getting knocked out to another Arfon-base team in Bangor City 1-3.

Holyhead is also home to a former Welsh international player, as the current Welsh national team and Swansea City Goalkeeping Coach Tony Roberts was born in the town. He played for Holyhead United Juniors before he moved to Queens Park Rangers in 1986.

Tony Roberts
Local lad and former Welsh international keeper Tony Roberts [Image: swanseacity.net]
The town’s main football team currently is Holyhead Hotspur, and they are nicknamed “the Harbourmen”. The team was founded in 1990 after a group of local football lads (aided by Ken Chambers and Gary Williams), who were playing for another local team, decided to establish a team in their home town. The club’s unique name was chosen through an actual ‘draw out of a hat’ with numerous name suggestions coming from the players themselves. In the end, the suffix of “HOTSPUR” was picked out of the pile, and thus the alliteratively pleasing name of Holyhead Hotspur was created.

They initially started in the local Anglesey League and played there for six seasons before winning the Anglesey League in the 1995-96 season and getting promoted to the Gwynedd League. The Harbourmen would only spend a single season in the Gwynedd League before they achieved their second promotion in two seasons by claiming the Gwynedd League title and getting promoted to the Welsh Alliance League. The rapid rise of Holyhead Hotspur would continue unabated as they achieved their third promotion in as many seasons when they became the Welsh Alliance League champions in their debut season. They would also win the Alves Cup and Aluminium Môn Cup in the successful 1997-98 season to achieve an unprecedented treble winning season.

Their first eight years in the Cymru Alliance were uneventful for the Harbourmen, finishing in the bottom half of the table for seven of the first eight years in the league. Their best league position during this period was a ninth place finish in the 2001-02 season. However results would improve from the 2006-07 season when they finished in seventh position, before improving upon that the following season by finishing in fifth position. The 2006-07 season would also see them achieve their best result in the Welsh Cup when they reached the Quarter Finals of the competition, before being hammered by WPL side Welshpool Town 1-5 in the Last 8 fixture.

CA Table 2008-09
2008-09 Cymru Alliance Table

Their best season in Wales’ second tier came in the 2008-09 season when Hotspur managed to achieve their highest ever league position when they finished in 2nd place. Having won 23 games from their 32 game season and scoring 71 goals, they missed out on promotion by just three points to current WPL team Bala Town, under the management of Colin Caton. They also managed to reach the final of the CA League Cup, although they would ultimately fall at the final hurdle and lose to CA champions Bala Town in extra time suffering double heartbreak to the Lakesiders.

The heartbreak on missing out on promotion by three points and a cup victory would only be half the problem for Holyhead in the 2010-11 season when they suffered relegation back down to the Welsh Alliance League. This was a consequence of the reduction of Welsh Premier League teams from the previous 18 team situation to the current 12 team format. As a result of the large amount of teams coming from the top flight, the Cymru Alliance had to relegate the bottom ten teams of the league to ensure 16 teams remained in the league. Just one year after finishing in the runners-up position, they would be playing the following season in the third tier of Welsh football even after finishing in 8th position in the table.

Their stay in the Welsh Alliance League would only last for two full seasons as Hotspur would finish no lower than second place. They would get promoted back to the Cymru Alliance as champions by winning the 2011-12 Welsh Alliance Division 1 title, winning 25 games from their 30 game season. They would also add the Cookson Cup and Barritt Cup to the trophy cabinet to achieve a treble-winning season. They came incredibly close to achieving a quadruple winning season by reaching the national FAW Trophy final. However they would lose in the final to Sully Sports by a scoreline of 1-2.

CA Table 2015-16
2015-16 Cymru Alliance Table

Their period back in the Cymru Alliance has been a decent one for the Harbourmen as they have continually finished in the top half of the table. Their first season back in the second tier ended up with them finishing in 7th position, before following it up with a 9th place finish and then an impressive 5th place in the 2014-15 season. Last season’s campaign saw Holyhead Hotspur achieve a league position of 7th in the Cymru Alliance table, earning themselves 46 points in total and winning thirteen games.

 

CURRENT FORM

Holyhead Hotspur’s last league result prior to this game:

  • Sat 13th August: Buckley Town (A) 1-1

Holyhead had started this Cymru Alliance season with an away score draw at Globe Way, as they achieved a 1-1 draw at Buckley Town. Having taking the lead after just ten minutes from a Michael Kelly goal, they would concede 12 minutes later through an Asa Hamilton header. It would prove to be a fair result as both teams had chances, with captain Rhys Roberts having a goalbound header cleared from the line. However a point away at Buckley was a decent result for Campbell Harrison, who would go into the Holywell game with great confidence. Buoyed no doubt having seen new signing Paul Pritchard perform well between the sticks, as well as decent performances from defenders Rhys Roberts and Alex Jones, with Mel McGinness looking a threat upfront.

All four would be starting for the match against Holywell, whilst Holyhead would be bolstered by the loan signing of Peter Jones from WPL side Llandudno. Having scored nine goals during Llandudno’s CA title winning season, he was also part of the Llandudno side when they came up against Swedish giants IFK Gothenburg in the Europa League. Jones would be a good signing for the Harbourmen and provide strength in the attacking department.

 

Holywell Town Badge

Holywell Town’s last league result prior to this fixture:

  • Sat 13th August: Gresford Athletic (H) 1-0

Their opening game of the 2016-17 saw the Wellmen grab a hard fought single goal victory over Eddie Maurice-Jones’ Gresford side. An 82nd goal from substitute Phil Lloyd was the deciding factor between the two teams who were competing in their second season back in the Cymru Alliance. Holywell Town are much changed from last season with a number of new signings coming into the Wellmen’s first team squad. Such signings like Luke Wandless, Gareth Sudlow, James Graham and loan signing John Rushton (signed from Gap Connah’s Quay) have been brought in by Johnny Haseldin to compliment the local lads such as Steve Thomas, Graeme Williams and Paul Williams, as they push to improve on last season’s league finish of 5th position.

Six new signings would start for Holywell against Holyhead with John Ruston in goal, Gareth Sudlow in defence, James Graham in midfield and an all new attack with Sam Jones, Mark Bridge and Luke Wandless looking to get the goals. Last week’s goalscorer Phil Lloyd would start on the bench once again and would be used as an impact sub later on in the game.

Holywell would be heading into match having completed the double over their opponents last season. The match at Holyhead back in late November 2015 was the first game between the two teams since the infamous banner (“bannergate” I suppose you could call it) was displayed by the celebrating Holyhead Hotspur team after they gained promotion from the Welsh Alliance at Holywell’s expense. Having beaten the Flintshire team to the league title, the Harbourmen unfurled a banner saying “BYE BYE HOLYWELL”. That was not forgotten by everyone involved with the Wellmen, and it would inspire them to beat their former Welsh Alliance rivals 2-1 at Holyhead, before hammering them 4-0 in the reverse fixture at Halkyn Road.

 

THE NEW OVAL GROUNDHOP

Despite being buffeted all the way along the A55 towards Holyhead by the strong summer gales, the road was relatively clear of traffic, especially as we drove through the interior of Môn. Although there was a slight delay at the natural traffic bottleneck of the Britannia Bridge, the journey went without hardly any delays and we arrived at the ground at about 2:10pm. It is relatively direct to reach Holyhead’s ground as it positioned practically at the very end of the A55 Expressway. Travellers just have to divert off the dual carriageway at the final junction before the road eventually terminates at the Port of Holyhead.

Location of Holyhead Hotspur
Location of Holyhead Hotspur’s ground in Holyhead

Holyhead Hotspur’s ground is located on the southern outskirts of the town, near to the industrial parks, and on the same road as the town’s leisure centre. Therefore it was a case of just following the road signs pointing in the direction of the leisure centre on the two roundabouts, and we knew we would soon have sight of the grounds at the end of the leisure centre road. There is plenty of parking just outside the grounds with enough space to park either side of the road, although there are additional spaces at the leisure centre if required.

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Croeso i Holyhead Hotspur

Notice that I stated “grounds” as Holyhead is unique in the Cymru Alliance as their old ground and current ground are directly next to each other. In akin to what happened at Athletic Club’s San Mames and what is currently happening at White Hart Lane, the new ground was constructed in the same location at the old ground. However unlike the two old grounds previously mentioned, the old Holyhead stadium continues to exist and was not demolished to accommodate the more modern ground. The old ground has a couple of covered stands for standing supporters whilst it also has a small covered stand which accommodates roughly 50-75 seats. Holyhead moved into their new ground in preparation for the 2007-08 season when it was opened in July 2007, opening with a friendly match against a Wolverhampton Wanderers XI team.

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The New Oval, home of Holyhead Hotspur

The changing rooms and entrance are located between the two grounds, and it was towards the entrance we headed towards after the car had been parked up. As fully expected, the gusts seemed to have a bit more velocity behind them in the exposed town and it became a laughable struggle to put a light coat on with the winds almost taking the garment of clothing from my grasp on a couple of occasions. Despite sporadic rain showers, today was not a flat cap friendly day and was wisely left in the car. I had a horrible feeling that had it been worn, unquestionably it would have been lifted off my head and land somewhere on the other side of the island.

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Match programme

Entrance to the game was a bargain price of just £4 per person with the match programme an additional pound. The programme is an award-winning one by winning last season’s Cymru Alliance Programme of the Year award. The programme is certainly excellent quality with plenty of information on the Holyhead Hotspur team and its previous fixtures, as well as detailing the history of Holywell and its players.

The first point of call once inside the ground was the club shop, which is located in an individual building just by the entrance. The club shop is very impressive a large number of Holyhead Hotspur emblazoned merchandise on sale, as well as sports books. As regular readers will know, I like to collect mugs and pin badges from each club I visit (should they be available) and so I bought a special commemorative 25th anniversary pin badge for £3 from the club shop. However I initially thought I had lost the newly-acquired pin badge when I returned back home and couldn’t find the badge. However an intense, almost forensic style search of the car produced results. The badge had somehow fallen out of the coat pocket and under the driver’s seat – not sure how it ended up there but it managed to get to 94th Minute HQ in one piece!

Another purchase from the Hotspur bazaar was a splendid looking HHFC branded mug which cost an additional £4, joining the Prestatyn Town, Porthmadog and Holywell Town (of course) mugs previously acquired from other Cymru Alliance teams. Talking of Prestatyn, I owe their goalkeeper £1 after he gave me a pound to buy the mug, as he was currently talking to the friendly and helpful people running the shop when I arrived. I only had a £20 note and just £3 in change with the club shop having little change, therefore he provided that extra pound to make the mug deal happen. Next time I am at Bastion Gardens, I will pass that pound back to you mate!

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The Holyhead Hotspur mug added to the collection!

As I said before, the people in the shop were really friendly and we had a chat about the upcoming game, whilst they were trying to convince me to buy a Holyhead scarf to complete the collection! Ha! Sorry gents but I only like my football scarves red and white striped! Plus I was discussing my previous groundhop attempts to come to Holyhead and how they had been scuppered by the weather conditions on every occasion. “The weather in Holyhead is never any good” was the reply from the local club member – from the “summer” conditions outside, I was starting to think he could be right!!

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Club shop at Holyhead

A quick scoot back to the car to drop the Hotspur mug off, and it was next to the snack hatch located opposite the club shop, and part of the changing room complex by the entrance. All the usual hot food and beverages are available from the snack hatch, and for reasonable prices. A normal hamburger (no cheese as I’m lactose intolerant) with onions cost a decent price of £1.80, with a supplementary cup of black coffee for the standard price of a single pound. Can’t argue with those prices, especially as the hamburger was good also!

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The clubhouse with main stand, and smaller stand in the background

With hamburger clung one hand and the mug of coffee gripped in the other, it was a short walk towards the main covered stand in the new ground. Not before being almost whisked off my feet (not in the romantic sense) from the squalls and being rained upon by one of the many heavy downpours which would have an impact on the majority of the first half (as well as cooling my coffee down rapidly). It’s safe to say conditions were more autumnal rather than what should be expected for August – but that’s North Welsh weather for you!

The main stand is an impressive structure within the ground, and certainly one of the best in the Cymru Alliance and easily within WPL standards. Sandwiched between the leisure centre road and pitch, it contains about 250 covered seats and provides a great view of the entire pitch. A huge upgrade in facilities from the old stadium on the other side of the changing rooms!

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Where to sit??

In between the main stand and the club shop and entrance is the impressive looking large clubhouse. Here you can purchase the traditional pre and post-match pints or ales, as well as other non-alcoholic drinks, and can also be hired out as a function room. On the other side of the main stand is an additional, smaller shelter which allows supporters to stand up and watch the game whilst being helpful covered from the elements which inevitably descend upon Holyhead throughout the season. Finally Holyhead’s ground has permanent floodlights installed allowing evening matches to be played at the ground throughout the season.

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Sitting in the main stand and sheltered from the elements!

Sitting in a row towards the back of the stand, it was great to see a considerable number of Holywell fans had also made the long trip along the A55 to Caergybi. The Holywell Ultras were in good force for this afternoon’s “Clash of the Holys”. The majority of the home support was positioned right at the top of the main stand, standing above the seating area and being vocal in their support throughout the encounter.

With the light rain being swirled around in vortices above the well maintained pitch, the teams soon made their way out onto the changing rooms. Holyhead Hotspur would be wearing their home kit of royal blue and white striped shirts, royal blue shorts and socks. Holywell Town would be wearing their new Macron kit of red shirts with white trim and half a white stripe, red shorts and red socks. At this point, I shall state for the record that I hugely dislike the new Holywell home kit. Call me old-fashioned but I believe Holywell should be playing in the traditional red and white striped shirt! This red shirt with HALF a white stripe in the centre is just not a Holywell shirt in my opinion…anyway I digress…

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The home side kicking off with Holyhead Mountain on the horizon

 

MATCH REPORT

As expected, the weather conditions would be the dominant variable in this encounter as it would seriously affect how both teams would play each half, creating the proverbial “game of two halves” as either side benefitted from playing with the winds during their half. Any long balls played into the wind were quickly halted and sent back the direction from whence they came from!

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For the first half, the advantage of the wind would go to the home side and would naturally dominate play as Holywell struggled to cope with the gusty conditions and Holyhead used it to their advantage. Although a number of long passes were blasted out of play, they almost got the tactic perfect when a long punt forward from former Caernarfon goalkeeper Paul Pritchard almost found Mike Kelly running into the Wellmen penalty area. Despairingly for the home support, Kelly couldn’t quite get hold of the pass and the danger soon passed. Although the first real chance of the game fell to the Harbourmen in the 20th minute, when a long wind-assisted ball fell to debutant forward Peter Jones. Unfortunately he had his shot blocked inside the Wellmen’s penalty area as the visitors stoop firm in the testing conditions.

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A throw-in by Wellmen captain Steve Thomas

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Free kick for Holyhead

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A couple of free kicks by Kenleigh Owen tested the Holywell defence but were ultimately dealt with. Had there been any connection from a home player from the set piece crosses, it could well have potentially crafted a goal for Holyhead. Nonetheless they would get closer to scoring later in the first half when Mel McGuiness managed to break clear of the Holywell defence and advance goalwards. It would take a well-timed, ‘last ditch’ diving tackle from Wellmen defender Matty Harvey to keep the scores level and ensure his side would not concede.

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Despite being pegged back in their half for a vast majority of the first half, there were the odd occasions of counter attacks into the Holyhead half from the visitors. Graeme Williams looked the most threatening outlay for any Holywell attack with his attacking runs from midfield, but ultimately the Wellmen failed to fully test Pritchard in the Holyhead goal for the first 45 minutes of the game. Any Holywell attack was either successfully dealt with by the home defence or hampered by the relentless detrimental winds.

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Holywell with a rare first half attack

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With time ticking away in the first half, and the early wind advantage quickly coming to a conclusion, Holyhead surged forward to find the game’s opener and create an advantage in the game. New boy, Peter Jones, could only direct his fierce effort just wide of John Rushton’s post, before Dean Garmey squandered the final clear chance of the half when he also directed his shot to the wrong side of the woodwork ensuring the first half action would remain a goalless affair.

HALF TIME: HOLYHEAD HOTSPUR 0 – 0 HOLYWELL TOWN

 

Half time was spent in the impressive looking clubhouse, where the majority of the other supporters had congregated to consume a few pints whilst sheltering from the gusts coming from the Irish Sea. As with many clubhouses in the league, it is a decent sized room (which can be hired out for all respectable functions) and has its own bar which sells all the usual soft and alcoholic drinks. Greg treated himself to a pint of Kronenbourg (‘La Taste Supreme’ apparently according to the collar-erecting former footballer turned actor Eric Cantona) whilst the designated driver here contented himself to just watching the scores come through on Soccer Saturday, which was being broadcasted on the clubhouse’s TV, and tutting over the sadly inevitable Liverpool result against Burnley.

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Half time in the clubhouse
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Club honours in the clubhouse

With Greg’s blood alcohol level sufficiently topped up, it was back out for the second half action. This time we decided to stand in the “bus shelter” style stand, next to the main stand, at the far end of the ground where a few other supporters were standing. This stand might not provide a raised viewing position as the main stand, but allowed us to be closer to the action. As we walked passed the main stand, I noticed Holywell’s manager John Haseldin sitting high in the stand. No doubt positioning himself in a higher viewing position to get a better overview of the pitch for the crucial second half performance.

 

SECOND HALF

The second half started with both teams trying to gain control of the game, but with the wind now in Holywell’s favour, there was only going to be one winner in ball possession for the second half. Assisted by the elements, the visiting side where now threatening the Harbourmen’s goal more regular than they had in the first 45 minutes. Captain Steve Thomas forced Paul Pritchard into making a comfortable catch after a long free kick was launched into the penalty area, whilst forward Sam Jones’ powerful shot inside the penalty area could only whistle past the Holyhead post around five minutes after the restart.

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Despite Holywell’s dominance, Holyhead were strong on the counter-attack and had a great chance to break the deadlock through Peter Jones around the hour mark. A superb threaded pass through the Holywell defensive line from Dean Garmey found Peter Jones clear of the defence and advancing goalwards after he had superbly created room for himself to surge forward. However for the home support, a perfect timed sliding block from Gareth Sudlow ensured Jones’ effort would not trouble Rushton’s goal and the effort had dissipated.

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