Result: Holyhead Hotspur 3-1 West Didsbury & Chorlton (Pre-Season Friendly)
Venue: The New Stadium, Oval Ground (Saturday 1st August 2015, 2.30pm)
Att: 55 (approx.)
What is likely to be my final pre-season game on these shores this season saw me return over the border into Wales. However, on this occasion, I was heading to the far side of the country and the isle of Anglesey. For today, I was visiting Holyhead Hotspur of the Cymru Alliance League.
For this game, I was again joining the visiting team on their transport for the day. This time, that team was West Didsbury & Chorlton. After a quick chat with football spoon and a short bus ride later, I was at the Bowling Green Hotel, the pick up point for the coach. After a short wait, I was soon boarding the Hayton’s bus and after waiting for a late arrival, we were en route to Holyhead.
2-and-a-half hours or so later, we were crossing the Robert Stephenson-built Britannia Bridge , passing by the small fishing farm which sits in the midst of the Menai Strait. The bridge features some large lions, with two sitting on each side of the crossing. The lions sadly cannot be seen from the roadway, but are spottable from the railway line that takes you over the waterway. Anglesey itself is the fifth largest island that surrounds Great Britain and the largest outside Scotland. After passing close by RAF Valley, there was soon the sight of floodlights in the near distance and the home of Holyhead Hotspur loomed into view.
This wasn’t before the gem that is Holyhead’s old ground revealed itself to us. The old ground sits directly behind the near end goal of the new stadium but is a superb, yet derelict place. The old seated stand still looks in good touch, as does the pitch for the main part, but the “train carriage” covered standing areas haven’t stood the test of time quite as well, as the floor has been ripped out. Following a 14-point turn at the end of the access road/car park, James Lobley and I took a while to photograph the place, one with much more skill than the other, I might add! I’ll leave you to figure out which one’s which….
After doing the above, we made our way back into the New Stadium, which was open for free for today’s game. Holyhead’s side were already going through the warm up, as West’s team arrived, but they soon joined them out on the field. I again joined James on a lap of photography around the ground, before we settled on our place for the first half. During the walk, we were able to take in Holyhead’s ground in its full glory.
The New Stadium features a large all-seater stand on the near touchline, which is joined by the clubhouse, which sits just to the left of it as you enter. The dressing rooms, cafe and turnstiles are behind the near end goal, and the latter features what is possibly the most threatening badge in all of football. It is probably the most terrifying crest you’ll see! Just look at the image below, if you can take it….
Coming back to the ground, and there is the “Stena Line” stand, which is a small covered stand which sits on top of a grass mound and is to the right of the main stand as you look, towards the far end of the ground. It is an absolute beauty of a stand too!
Opposite all these is completely open, but for the dugouts as is behind the far goal, though there is a slightly raised grassy bank to watch from. What’s that? You’d like to know about Holyhead Hotspur’s history? Well, aren’t you in luck….
Holyhead Hotspur were formed in 1990, when a group of players for a local team decided to start their own. They threw names into a hat, drew out Hotspur and so the team was born. Prior to this, however, football has been played in the town since the late 1800’s, with teams under the names of Holyhead Liberals and Holyhead Locos.
The forerunner of the club, known as the Harbourmen, were highly successful, before the current club took on the mantle from 1997, when the club had merged with all four other clubs in the town to become Holyhead’s standard bearer. Early honours included two Dargie Cups and one Megan Cup and Ellias Cup repectively. From 1996, the club won a hat-trick of league titles, one in each of the Anglesey, Gwynedd and Welsh Alliance Leagues. The following season, 1998-’99, saw the club promoted to the Cymru Alliance, the feeder league to the Welsh Premier League, from North & Mid-Wales. In 2002, they won the superbly named Aluminium Mon Cup.
Other the next decade, the club consolidated its place in the Alliance, with Hotspur achieving its best finish, runners-up, in 2008-’09, as well as being beaten finalists in the League Cup, where they lost to Bala Town. The following season saw Hotspur relegated back to the Welsh Alliance, due to the re-organization of the Welsh Premier League and cutting of the numbers from 18 to 12. Just two seasons later, they bounced back to the Cymru Alliance alongside success in two cup competitions, the Cookson Cup and the Barratt Cup. Hotspur were also losing finalists in the FAW Welsh Trophy. Prior to last season, Hotspur have continued to add honours, coming in the form of the 2012-’13 Bobby Owen Memorial Shield, before lifting the 2013-’14 Meditel Gwynedd Cup. Last season, Hotspur finished in 5th place in the Cymru Alliance.
Back to the game at hand, and with the Holyhead Mountain towering over the ground, we were underway. The linesman from Holyhead appeared to want to run the line, but from the middle of the pitch for a while until the ref told him to go away. On the field, the Hotspur goalkeeper fancied himself as a bit of a Manuel Neuer, forgetting that he isn’t Manuel Neuer and usually failing miserably when coming outside his area. This was the case when he got in his defender’s way, who let him know exactly what he thought of his “sweeping” exploits.
Off the pitch, the sights weren’t much better, as we had a child doing a loud gorilla impression on the bouncy castle which was set up behind the goal and a home supporter kicked the ball up into his own face trying to return it to the pitch. The next calamity was the first goal, where a right-wing cross flicked off the head of the Holyhead left-back at the near post and flew in for an own goal. In all fairness, there wasn’t much he could do about that one. 1-0 West Didsbury.
Despite and Chorlton controlling the vast majority of the first period, they were unable to add to their tally, despite more calamitous actions in the Welsh side’s area. This time, it was the ‘keeper again who appeared to take a swing at a West forward. Now, I don’t want to apportion blame where it may be misplaced as I didn’t see the beginning of the incident, but it was enough to have him subbed-off. Now, Holyhead had a problem. They had no sub keeper! An outfielder was called for and was getting ready, when…the referee decided to let the ‘keeper carry on anyway. It was comical.
Anyway, the break came with the score still at 1-0 to the North West Counties side, and James and I headed to the café, or should I say, Caffi. James purchased a cheeseburger, myself a hot dog for £1. It was ok, but nothing to write home about, though the burger looked an altogether more attractive proposition. James went in search of a pin badge to commemorate his visit, whilst I spotted an Elvis tapestry hanging on the wall. No idea why, but here is the King in all his glory:
With this perhaps being proof that Elvis is working in a Holyhead chip shop, we headed back outside for the second half, where for the second time in two weeks, the game completely turned on its head, and the home side dominated for long periods. By now, the ‘keeper was restraining himself for the most part and showing he was a good catcher and shot stopper, as he pulled off a couple of fine close range stops, with one to deny a West player after he’d beaten the defence with a lovely pirouette that Darcey Bussell would’ve been proud of.
Alas for West, by the time that chance had arrived, they were already 2-1 down. West’s defence was again its downfall, as it appeared to be on most occasions I saw them last season, and it showed as they went AWOL regularly, with Holyhead’s forwards running amok. Mel McGinness netted the equaliser, as he was fed with a nice through ball, and with no-one within 10 yards of him, due to the clearest offside ever seen, he was left to slide the ball past the young West goalkeeper, McClenaghan.
The Hotspur tally was doubled with around 20 minutes to play, and it was little surprise to anyone when it arrived. Panic seemed to set in within the visitors’ backline following a corner and Rhys Roberts was left to head the ball home, unmarked. Holyhead, by this point, were dominating the contest going close on numerous occasions, with West looking dangerous going forward still, with Jamie Waldon looking by far the most dangerous player in the visitors line-up and the only one looking like he was capable of worrying the Holyhead ‘keeper.
With time almost up on the clock, a Grand Canyon sized chasm opened up within the Chorlton defence, and Ryan Jones rounded the exposed McClenaghan before slotting in from a tight angle, after the ‘keeper’s best efforts to force him as wide as possible. It was harsh on the young man wearing the gloves, who’d been left hopelessly unguarded by those in front of him for two of the three home goals.
So, the final whistle blew soon after from the referee, and the sides left the field, but not before a West player was giving a dressing down on his performance by a man whom I’m taking must have been his dad, surely! It was to the bar for the non-playing staff and a Kopparberg was purchased for just over £3, which isn’t too shabby. After a short wait, the players came in and were soon supplied with an assortment of sandwiches and the like, as were we afterwards. I also overheard a Hotspur official complimenting a West committee member on the state, or lack thereof, in which the dressing rooms were left, and that not many leave it so well kept. The benchmark has been set now, future New Stadium visitors!
Soon, it was time to go and after looking into the eyes of a dive bombing seagull, we were chased away by the rest, with seagull-based murder being well within our minds. They re-took their territory on the pitch as we left, heading back along the North Wales Expressway towards Bangor, Rhyl and Chester, conversing with James about all things football, especially his current beloved, Wythenshawe Town!
Before too long, we were back in Chorlton, were I disembarked at the town’s bus station and was left with a short five minute wait for my final leg home. I bid farewell to James, who went off to find something for dinner, whilst I get myself prepared for next week and, perhaps, some Iberian football…
Game: 5- Not the best of games, but goals always help.
Ground: 7- A very smart ground, nice stand and clubhouse, especially the Stena Line stand.
Fans: 6- Got into the game on occasion, and kick balls into their own faces.
Food: 5- Was alright, but nothing to rave about. Try the cheeseburger, I’d say. Ask James for first hand experience!
Value For Money: 8- £10 travel, £4 bus return, free entry and £4 refreshments. Not a bad day on the pocket.