Result: Cefn Druids 1-5 Aberystwyth Town (Tenovus Welsh Cup 3rd Round)
Venue: The Rock (Saturday 29th November 2014, 2.30pm)
It has only taken me three & a half months but, finally, I am to undertake one of my targets for this season and add to my Welsh football grounds visited. After coming across the Welsh Cup fixtures on the BBC Sport website, I noted that Cefn Druids were at home, and remembered previous blogs I had read via LostBoyos and Football Spoon, who had both raved about the ground and its unique setting. When such an opportunity arises, it is hard to say no.
So, at just before half 10 in the morning, I travelled into Manchester Oxford Road and my connecting train to Chester. 45 minutes later, I rolled into the border town and waited for my onward trip into Wales. Once boarded, I had two stops to negotiate until I could disembark, for the second time this season, at Ruabon, just past Wrexham. 2 hours after my trip had begun, I had started on the 1.8 mile (25 minute) walk from the station in Ruabon towards the village of Cefn Mawr near Rhosymedre and The Rock, home off the Druids.
Soon enough, after traipsing along the main road linking the two towns together I saw the sign “Cefn Mawr 1/4m” and across the road, a sign for the football club. Always helpful. These bright yellow signs continue to guide you to the ground, but after seeing the pictures of the, World Heritage Site, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in the Lost Boyo’s blog, I knew I wanted to indulge in a bit of heritage & culture beforehand. And with an hour and a bit to waste, I figured, “Why Not?”.
So, after walking through the small village, which was eerily quiet and appeared to be in shut down this afternoon, I walked to a bridge near the town’s Tesco store (other outlets are available), and spotted my target in the distance, shrouded in the mist. After a quick route plot, I headed down the steep hill where I came upon another ground tucked in behind the store and opposite a school. This, I later found out, was the small ground which was home to Cefn Albion (the original club of this name were amalgamated into Cefn Druids).
20 minutes later and I arrived at the gates of the Ty Mawr Country Park, which sits in the shadow of the aforementioned aqueduct. Now, I’d read previously that you could actually get onto the structure, but could I find the way up? Could I f**k! So, eventually I gave best to time, and left with a picture of the archways radiating with Victorian-age splendour towering over a pair of alpacas (or llamas?). Not a common pairing!
So, after re-tracing my steps to the ground and back up the hill, I was soon back at the signpost pointing the way to The Rock. Rock Road leads you there and, almost immediately, you spot the floodlights (and ground) on a crest above you. This, of course, means you have to climb another brief, yet steep, climb to the turnstiles, reached by passing through a door in the fence surrounding the club car park. Once through, you are met by both the “Druids Social Club” and the turnstile neighbouring it. Here, I paid my £7 entrance fee, plus a further £2 for my pink bordered programme, and I was into the Rock.
The first thing that strikes you, unsurprisingly, is the rock itself, a sheer face which climbs above the ground below. This dominates the far side of the ground, which features the dugouts (strangely situated over there) and TV gantry, with the car park and turnstiles being situated behind a goal. The Main Stand (the only stand) sits on the near touchline and is a rather smart structure, with seats decked out in the black & white of the club’s kit. This is joined by the changing/social club facilties and a portakabin used for the post-match TV interviews The far end is another open end, with a grassy hill behind it heading up towards the houses at the top of the remnants of the old works. The ground itself holds a capacity of 3,500 (500 seated) approximately. Now to delve into the annuls of history of the Druids. No, not the religion…
Druids can lay claim to being the oldest club in world football, outside of England (this can be disputed by Oswestry Town/The New Saints, though they are English by geographical location). This is due to the club being able to trace its roots directly back to Druids AFC, who were founded back in the early 1860’s and were a successful club in the early, formative years of the sport until they fell on hard times with the advent of professional clubs. As Druids AFC, the club won eight Welsh Senior Cups and a Welsh Amateur Cup, before rebranding as Druids United in 1923.
As Druids United, the club won a number of honours, including three Wrexham & District League Titles, a Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division 2 Title & a Division 1 Title on the same league. They also lifted a North East Wales FA Cup and two Welsh Youth Cups during their time under this identity which ceased in 1992, when Druids United merged with Cefn Albion, to create Cefn Druids FC, the current entity.
Cefn Albion, meanwhile, were a relatively new side (especially in comparison with Druids, having only formed in 1967. However, they lifted the Division One title in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) and also achieved a runners-up position in the Premier Division of this league. Albion also lifted a number of cups, including a North East Wales FA Cup, a Welsh National League Division 2 Cup and a North East Wales FA Horace Wynn Cup before the merger.
So, 1992 was Cefn Druids first season under the new name, though they have had some shocking ones under the horror that is sponsorship, being known as (brace) Flexsys, NEWI and lastly the ghastly Elements Cefn Druids, before finally reverting to a plain and lovely Cefn Druids FC in 2010. Thank God!
In 1999, the club won the Cymru Alliance title and with it promotion to the League of Wales. They remained here until 2010, as a solid mid-table outfit, on the whole (bar 2005 when the club should have been relegated but were reprieved by Cymru Alliance winners, Buckley Town, declining promotion). But, in 2009-’10, the club, with a young squad due to a reduced budget, finished bottom and thus suffered the drop to the Cymru Alliance. 2012-’13 saw Druids compete in the UEFA Europa League (and European competition) for the first, and to date only, time. They were drawn against Finnish outfit MyPA, drew 0-0 at home but were thrashed 5-0 back in Helsinki. After a four-year sojourn, the club returned to the Welsh Premier League for this season, as champions of the Cymru Alliance League, but have to begin life in the top flight under a new manager as Huw Griffiths left after budget disagreements and John Keegan took the reigns.
As Druids(up to 1923)/Druids United (to 1992)/Cefn Druids (to present day):
Wrexham & District Amateur League Champions: 1931–32, 1933–34, 1936–37
Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division One Champions: 1950–51
Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division Two Champions: 1969–70
Cymru Alliance Champions: 1998–99, 2013–14
Welsh Senior Cup Winners: 1880, 1881, 1882, 1885, 1886, 1898, 1899, 1904
Welsh Amateur Cup Winners: 1903
Welsh Youth Cup Winners: 1958, 1959
North East Wales FA Challenge Cup Winners: 1980, 1998–99
North East Wales presidents Cup Winners: 1998–99
As Cefn Albion (1967-’92):
Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division Runners-up: 1984–85
Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division 1 Champions: 1979–80, 1980–81
Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division 3B Champions: 1969–70
North East Wales FA Challenge Cup Winners: 1978
North East Wales FA Horace Wynn Cup Winners: 1977
Welsh National League Division 2 Cup Winners: 1974
So, after having a quick flick through of the programme, proudly displaying the statement of the “oldest club in Wales”, the sides entered the field and the floodlights flickered into life.
My first competitive game in Wales (not in the English Pyramid) got underway a few minutes late, and it was the home side who were to take a shock lead against their high-flying visitors (3rd in the WPL), as defender Adam Hesp stabbed the ball home at the back post after a header had been blocked out on the line.
However, their lead didn’t last long as Aber striker Chris Venables got to the ball ahead of the ‘keeper and applied the slightest of touches on a free-kick to direct the ball into the vacant home net. 1-1.
No more goals were to occur despite the all action, free flowing nature of the game and I headed for some chips, which were amazing! Definitely up there with the best I’ve had in a ground. Half-Time was spent catching up on the English scores (including one I found rather amusing), and watching a few of the Druid’s youth players receive their respective age bracket “Player of The Month” awards (including one being harassed for not smiling by his team-mates), before the sides re-appeared to do battle once again.
Just minutes in, though, Druids were dealt a blow, when their ‘keeper, Callum Glover, and an Aber forward collided going for the ball leaving both prone on the floor, and eventually leading the man between the sticks from the field on a stretcher to a generous round of applause. With no sub GK on the bench, it was going to be a struggle from here for Druids, and so it proved….PENALTY!!! Druids’ Bruno Fernandes with a blatant pull as a free-kick was delivered and Venables stepped up to convert. But only just, as the sub “‘keeper” got a good hand to it. 1-2.
As I went for a wander around the ground, I came across a touching tribute. In the aftermath of the sad, untimely passing of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes, the #putoutyourbats had become something of a popular tribute by participants and fans in all sports & walks of life. Thus, as a big cricket aficionado, I found it an absolute touch of class by Aberystwyth Town to put a bat in their technical area with a shirt draped over it. Whomever came up with the idea of doing that gets much praise from me. A truly wonderful, yet simple, gesture which, in my humble opinion, could, and should, have been more widespread. RIP Phil.
Turning our attentions back to the game now, and it was one way traffic now as Jeff Kellaway netted a quick-fire brace to settle the tie. His first was an unopposed back-post header from a pin-point free-kick delivery, before he doubled his tally with a 20-yard daisy cutter which scuttled into the corner. With time running out of the five added on, Venables completed a well deserved hat-trick. From a Druids attack, Aber quickly broke down the right flank and, after cutting inside, the winger fed Venables who fired home. 1-5. Full-Time. As I remarked on the day, the score-line was harsh, but the result correct. Aberystwyth Town through to Round Four.
After the whistle, I headed into the clubhouse for a half of Strongbow whilst watching the results from the English leagues filter through via Jeff Stelling & his crew. After some surprising scorers (Glen Johnson in particular causing some interest in the room), I headed off into the darkness towards Ruabon. I had already planned out a visit to an oldie-worldie sort of pub by the name of the Bridge End Inn (a former CAMRA National Pub of the Year in 2011), which sits very close to the station, which I had meant to visit on my trip to Penycae (my previous transit through Ruabon), but unfortunately, Old Father Time defeated me on that occasion. Once there, I ordered a Stowford Press whilst sitting in the bustling bar area which was full of Welsh Rugby Union(?) fans, most kitted out in the colours of their nation. The area around the bar is adorned with all types of barmats, which gives a different style to the inn, and adds to its décor and wonderful atmosphere. Soon though, it was time to depart and I headed over the bridge at the station to catch the Holyhead train back to Chester, and onwards to Warrington & home.
Whilst on the final leg train back, I met a group of guys & girls heading from Warrington into Manchester where “Roy” proceeded to show everyone on the carriage his backside tattoo. Lips. After a good laugh with them, I had to bid goodbye and wish the all a good night as my stop was approaching. Another good day & trip, strangely unproblematic, which is always a bonus. AND I DIDN’T GET LOST!!! THE BIGGEST MIRACLE SINCE LAZARUS! I’m sure this Manchopper tradition will be restored sooner rather than later, though!
My Cefn Druids M.o.M.- Bruno Fernandes
My Aberystwyth Town M.o.M- Chris Venables
Game: 7- First half a good contest. The unfortunate GK’s injury spoilt the contest.
Ground: 7- Apart from the one stand, social club and the rock face, it is basic, but well worth a visit.
Fans: 7- No particularly vocal, but friendly and welcoming.
Food: 9- Really good, as I say, up there with the best.
Programme: 8- A good read, well worth a purchase.
Value For Money: 8- Cheaper than Evo_Stik Premier for two Welsh Premiers sides. £12 travel and £2 programme.
Referee: 8- Brave, but correct, call from him for the pen and, all in all, had a good game.