Venue: Cae-y-Castell (Saturday 28th February 2015, 2.30pm)
Today had been long planned to be a first visit to Widnes’ rugby stadium for Widnes FC vs Northwich Flixton Villa in the NWCFL. But, when my regular groundhopping partner Dan said he was unlikely to be able to make the trip over, my interest waned after considering the image of the, rather large, ground with around 40 souls inside it. Not too attractive, nor to be honest is the pull of the new build grounds too strong upon me. So, as Saturday morning arrived, I still had no definitive venue for my day. I considered options such as Runcorn Linnets (whom I’ve not yet visited as the club), Shaw Lane Aquaforce (this option was nullified the day before) and Chorley.
The latter of the above options was crossed out when I discovered that it was a replacement bus service (again) so after looking briefly Colwyn Bay before deciding it was cutting it too fine, a random thought crossed my mind. What about Flint Town United? They are a club who I’ve wanted to visit for a while since I discovered their existence due to the strange, almost double suffix name. So, after discovering that the transport links were somewhat favourable, though with no time for any issues, I was soon on my way into Manchester Oxford Road for my connection onwards over the border, for the second time in as many weeks.
Once again, I found myself on an Arriva Trains Wales service heading down past Warrington and Chester and onwards towards Flint which is direct from Manchester, helpfully, including passing nearby the Deeside Stadium, home of Flint’s local rivals Connah’s Quay Nomads. Less helpful was the packed train which left me sitting next to a foul smelling toilet which didn’t get any better the more people used it, surprisingly. I almost thought about picking my bag up and hitting people away from the door, but I decided that the British Transport Police probably wouldn’t look upon this sort of activity with too much fondness, so I thought better of it. Though, thinking back on it I think they’d have let me off if they’d encountered the odours emanating from the WC.
Anyway, after around an hour of toileting fun, I arrived in Flint with around 15 minutes to kick-off. I thought the ground was going to be about a 10 minute walk, until I looked closer on Google Maps and saw that there was a footpath leading to the ground through a car park, reducing this to about three. So, I set off, over the bridge on Castle Road. This immediately made me consider Fflint Castle and soon enough I was walking past a fading road sign pointing out the way to the medieval structure. In fact, the castle stands right next to the football club, hence the ground’s name, Cae-y-Castell, the Castle Field.
So, after following a few guys along the path leading beyond the social club, I arrived at the turnstile building and handed over £5 before spotting an empty programme stand. Shit. But, as I walked in, I spotted the unmistakable shape of the football souvenir sitting inside the turnstile operators room. After handing over the further £1.50 for the full colour issue (cheap for that I may add), I was inside the ground and took my seat in the all-seater Main Stand just as the teams were preparing to exit the tunnel, built into the stand. Adjoining this is the food hut and two old porta-kabins which seem to be (or had been) a club shop. They looked all shut up today. Opposite the Main Stand are two small, twin seating stands which look new and a camera gantry. There is a bench under the gantry, leading it to resemble something of a smoking hut-like structure. Behind the left hand goal is open, hard standing as is the right hand goal, though this does have a small covered seating stand, kitted out in blue seats other than the newer black and white clad stands that reflect the home team’s strip.
The ground is situated on the banks of the Dee Estuary, which today was largely dry. Now, time for a look into the history of the team from Flintshire known as the Silkmen.
Formed in 1886 as Flint FC, the club originally played on the banks of the Dee Estuary, at Strand Park where they reached the first ever Welsh Amateur Cup Final in 1891, which ended in defeat. Sadly, in that same year, the club’s goalkeeper, Arthur Bartley, died from injuries sustained in a match thus becoming the first fatality in modern Welsh football.
In 1893, the club were founders of the North Wales Coast League, winning the inaugural title before switching to the newly formed Flintshire League in 1896. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the town was supporting three teams and something had to give. Flint Town, as the club were now known, and Flint UAC (United Alkali Company) merged under the Flint Town banner, to leave just two clubs fighting out the local rivalry in the town. This occurred in 1906 and by 1909 the club had attained its first silverware, in the shape of the North Wales Amateur Cup. At this time, the club were competing in the Chester & District League.
As the early part of the century wore on, the club switched to a new home on Holyhead Road (which was to be their home until 1993. The new ground could accommodate up to 3,000 fans, numbers which weren’t uncommon at the time and these fans were rewarded with a further three North Wales Cup wins in the early 1930’s (’31,’32,’35). Throughout the early years at their new home, the club competed in the Welsh National League (North) and the Welsh League, where they won the title in 1934. In 1937, the club switched to the West Cheshire League, where they remained until 1949. Flint Athletic, the other club in the town, played in the Dyserth League until these two clubs came together to unite the town’s football under one name; Flint Town United.
The first season as United was the 1949-’50 season, which was played in the Welsh League North. Up until the 1960’s, the club won a couple of pieces of silverware, with the 1948 Welsh Amateur Cup and 1954 Welsh Senior Cup added to the trophy cabinet, until financial decline resulted in relegation to the local leagues in 1962. The 1970’s and ’80’s saw the club flit between various leagues, but they showed signs of recovery at the end of the latter decade, as they won the Welsh League (North)title in 1989.
In 1990, Welsh Football was transformed with two new leagues introduced, including the Cymru Alliance, taking in the Welsh League (North), Clwyd League, Welsh National League (Wrexham) and the Mid-Wales League. The first season in the new competition was an extremely successful one for Flint, as they lifted the inaugural title and added the North Wales Challenge Cup before defeating South Wales Champions Abergavenny to win the one and only Welsh Non-League Final. In 1993, the club became founder members of the League of Wales. The closest they came to promotion to the Welsh Premier League was in 2005-’06 when they missed out by a point. However, they would have made it in had they not had 3-points deducted for failing to fulfil a fixture earlier that season. Oops. The most recent honour is the 2008 North Wales Challenge Cup. They ended up back in the Cymru Alliance with the reformation of the Welsh Premier League in 2010. Last season, Flint finished up in 8th place in the Cymru Alliance.
Onto today’s game now and it was mid-table Flint who were the comfortable favourites. Their opponents, Llandrindod Wells were second bottom, having accumulated only 5 points all season (as opposed to FTU’s 37) and scored just 16 times in 22 games. But, in football, you just never know. In fact some people in the ground wouldn’t know there had been a goal. Flint kicked-off, but 23 seconds later, the ball was in their net! Some haphazard defending led to the ball being stolen off the #5 who’d been played into trouble, before a cross was played into the middle where the unmarked John Williams calmly slotted in. 0-1. Shock on the cards?!
The home side had chance after chance, but were held at bay by some stern last ditch defending by a Llandrindod side who were mostly made up of players who’d come through their youth system. First, a shot was saved and the rebound headed wide of a gaping net by #11. There was a number of blocked or wild efforts, up until the visiting goalkeeper pulled off a wonderful save to deny a Flint strike from 20 yards low down to his left. Interspersing all these chances for the home side was the best chance of the game. This fell to Wells and again it was Williams. Llandrindod broke down the right flank, crossed low, but from inside the six yard area, Williams fired high over the bar. As he rode upon the pitch side barrier, you could sense him wondering if that miss would come back to haunt him and his side.
After my photographic tour of the ground, I ended up back at the food hut, where I purchased a Cheeseburger for £2 (worth every bit of it) and had a quick chat with a Flint fan, who shared my pessimism for his side’s chances when I stated it just looked like one of those games where they could play all day and not find the net. How prophetic was I to sound? Nostradamus eat your heart out.
After the break, it was back into the Main Stand for me. The second period got underway and it was dominated by Flint. Mostly, this was because of Wells’ happiness to sit back on their lead and defend as though their lives depended on it, with skipper Chris Murphy leading from the front. Or back, as he is a defender. They were helped, mind you, by a large amount of overplaying and general lack of urgency shown by the United players who seemed to think the goal would come eventually. They should have known better, as they were unable to beat Wells in the reverse fixture either which ended in a drawn contest. By now, there was a fan leaving as he “couldn’t take any more”, the ref was public enemy #1 (both sides weren’t too enamoured) and a couple conversed about a guy who had chosen to miss this game and asked the question of whether he was psychic. Perhaps he was the Nostradamus? Or maybe it was the Druids of Wales and the mystic air. Or maybe, I’m talking bullshit.
Indeed, as Flint got a little more urgent, so chances on the break came along for the visitors. After the United #11 had struck the top of the crossbar, Llandrindod’s ponytailed #8 should have sealed the game just before the stoppage time, which was extensive due to a head injury to Flint’s #5 Luke Camden, who was one of two decent performers for his side, as he received the ball on the edge of the box, but fired wastefully over. He had his head in his hands. A goalden chance. Sorry.
As stoppage time wore on, it became apparent to me that I was going to likely miss my train. Though, I did almost see a goalkeeper score for only the second time, when Elliot Power came up for a corner which was cleared. The resulting throw fell to him and he hopefully lashed the ball goalwards into the crowded box, but the ball flew harmlessly wide of the upright to signal jubilance from the small band of visitors who could enjoy the longest trip in the league back home.
Indeed, I arrived at the station after a sprint to see I had missed the train by a minute. Not to worry…TO THE PUB! An hour to waste, so I spied the Ship Inn next door to the station where I could watch out onto the platforms and ensure I didn’t miss the next one! After walking in to the pub decorated, as you’d guess, with pictures of ships and general ship stuff and a pirate flag. Ooh-Argh. Bad pirate impression in my head over, I ordered a Kopparberg from the man on the bar before I realised that I was the only (I think) person in the pub. This was a bit of a shame, as it was quite a nice place, quirky and with character but as the time went on, a few other hardy shipmates joined me on the voyage. Or to watch the Welsh in the Six Nations, whichever one you wish to choose. Anyway, after dodging heavy rain shower, I finished my drink and headed over to the platform for the train back towards Manchester.
On the way back, I was going via Warrington and…..oh my God, you don’t need to know this. Absolutely nothing happened and to be honest, you’d be sent to sleep, if you haven’t been already. Anyway, a good day out at a ground I really rate having been. And of course, being English, it was hard not to feel happy for the underdog.
My Flint Town United M.o.M.- Luke Camden. (If only for his Terry Butcher impression.)
My Llandrindod Wells M.o.M.- Chris Murphy
Game: 6- Not bad, quite entertaining and all but one goal takes the rating down as a neutral.
Ground: 7- One that I quite liked, with the castle alongside.
Programme: 8- A really good read, and a catch up on Welsh Football readily available inside.
Food: 9- The cheeseburger was really good, melted cheese, good onions on too. Lovely.
Fans: 7- Quite entertaining, whether laughing at the unfolding events or becoming angered by it or the ref.
Value For Money: 6- Not many goals, missing a train despite a sprint. Everything else ok though.