Result: Prestatyn Sports 3-1 Gaerwen (Welsh Alliance League Division 2)
Venue: The (“Fortress”) Recreation Ground (Saturday 26th May 2018, 1.30pm)
Att: 70 ~ (officially 40?!)
It’s the penultimate weekend of my season! Finally, we are almost at a close and everyone will soon be enjoying their off-season break of….approximately two weeks. It’s almost surreal that clubs are being forced into finishing their season as late as the second weekend of June (in the case of the Liverpool Old Boys League), but so terrible was the weather, especially over the late Autumn and Winter months, as well as every Friday night seemingly seeing heavy rain for a long spell, that that’s where we are at. That summer argument gets ever stronger, what with the Health & Safety rules seemingly not helping matters at certain points.
Regardless, such a long season gives us groundhoppers more scope to visit places that might have otherwise continued to elude us and that was the case with my visit to the subject of this very blog – the Recreation Ground in Gronant, current home of Prestatyn Sports. Sports have been making use of the neighbouring village’s pitch for the last couple of seasons, with their ‘spiritual’ home at The Meadows, in the town itself, having been judged not up to scratch for the Welsh Alliance League and after initial problems at their temporary home which saw them kicked out of the league at the beginning of the season, some very decent upgrades have seen it brought up to standard…and comfortably so in my view.
Anyway, more on that later. For now, let’s concentrate on the early part of the day. Having again been afforded a lift into Manchester upon the cancellations due to yet another train strike (*sighs*), I caught the 10am service from Oxford Road station which heads up through Warrington and Chester before crossing over the border, passing the Welsh towns of Shotton and Flint and travelling along the seafront prior to arriving into Prestatyn, where I arrived at a little after half eleven. Well, I pretty much had to guess where we were at times along the route, having been carted along like cattle in an uncomfortably packed out train, which only just managed to take on two elderly people in wheelchairs whilst forcing pushchairs to block the passageways. I’m not sure that is exactly meeting the safety standards nor allowing for a quick and safe exit in an emergency, but there we are. I fear only when something does happen will people take any notice.
Moving on from that ever more depressing views and my mood wasn’t helped upon boarding a bus outside the station neighbouring Royal Victoria which then took me the wrong way and headed up towards the coast. My phone map apparently had switched the stops to the opposite sides of the road, causing the confusion. Great stuff. Further disruption was to follow, as the bus I actually needed was then delayed by some twenty minutes, meaning I eventually arrived at the foot of Upper Gronant at a little before 12.30pm. And it was raining now too. Could it get any more “banterful”?
With the wet stuff beginning to fall and me foolishly having selected to wear shorts and a t-shirt upon awaking in a warm, sunny Mancunian morning, I immediately sought out the nearest pub which seemed to be the interesting-looking Beachcomber Inn of Lower Gronant. It did look a bit different from the outside, that’s true, though there wasn’t much out of the ordinary within. It was decent enough, however, and a pint of Coors was had as the weather swiftly passed through before I headed back towards the crossroads and up the, rather steep, incline to Upper Gronant itself. You can definitely see why it’s called that!
The fittingly named Gronant Inn was next up, a small, local pub hidden away within the village somewhat, despite seemingly being on one of the more “busier” routes. I say busier with quotations, as it certainly wasn’t exactly rammed with traffic it has to be said! I was the only customer at this early part of the afternoon as far as I could tell and after a swift pint of the Carlsberg (there wasn’t too much choice in the way of lagers) in here, it was off to the ground, with kick-off only twenty minutes or so away.
After passing what looked to be a fire damaged house en route, I came upon a play ground at the foot of a road and could spot the players on the pitch beyond. To the left of this stood a small portakabin-like building which played host to the changing rooms and what not, whilst a table outside served as the tea bar and was manned dutifully by a Prestatyn official by the name of Dave (at least that’s what I’d been told by the Sports twitter account!). After purchasing a packet of crisps, a chocolate muffin and a programme (which was rather good too, with a fair amount of original content) for the princely sum of just £2, I continued on towards the railed-off pitch and climbed up the grass mound that sits towards the right-hand end on the near touchline. The far side plays host to the two smart-looking dugouts, whilst also giving views down the valley and out over the Irish Sea and the large amount of turbines dotted around in its water. All sides are open, with no hard standing available, though some can be found on the pitch-side skate-board tricky thing (I don’t know anything about skateboarding other than Tony Hawk).
In addition, a couple of what seem to be temporary dugouts are located behind the right-hand goal which give a little cover to a few lucky punters. One of said punters happened to have “Massiv” emblazoned on the back of his club tracksuit and apparently, according to the programme, he is Sports’ number-one fan. Indeed, his shout of “no win, no trophy” definitely got the most laughs of the day! Anyway, that’s all there is to the ground nicknamed “The Fortress” and this is the story of the team who have definitely made it a formidable one….
Formed in 2013, Prestatyn Sports Football Club has already had a colourful, and quite tumultuous, start to life in its first half-decade! After first entering the Clwyd League, they finished as Division 1 runners-up at the end of their first season and were also beaten finalists in the R.E.M. Jones Cup. There’s an ‘Everybody Hurts’ joke in there somewhere.
From there, they moved into the Premier Division of the Clwyd and Conwy League, becoming 2014-’15 champions whilst also lifting that season’s NWCFA Intermediate Cup, Premier Cup and President’s Cup. Their title win also meant promotion to the Welsh Alliance was attained, though this would eventually mean their home at The Meadows in Prestatyn was no longer suitable and so an enforced move to the Recreation Ground in the nearby village of Gronant was undertaken. However, this move didn’t seem to set the club back too much as they finished 6th and reached another cup final at the end of their first season in 2015-’16, but lost out in the Welsh Alliance Challenge Cup. However, they put that right the following (last) season, winning the Challenge Cup as the second attempt whilst improving to third in the league standings.
At the start of this season, the club was unanimously voted out of the Welsh Alliance League, but were successful in their appeal and were reinstated, while also installing substantial improvements on their current Gronant Recreation Ground home, including permanent pitch rails, dugouts and better changing facilities. This reprieve seemed to fire them up for this season and the club have gone on to win the Alliance’s Division 2 title and with it (likely) promotion to Division 1, with them signing off their time in the division in today’s game. They only lost their unbeaten league record last week in falling to a 2-1 defeat at Y Felinheli, though got back on track by defeating today’s opponents in the reverse fixture just four days ago.
After the Division 2 champs were given a guard of honour by their visitors from Anglesey, CPD Gaerwen, the game got underway and it was a fairly tight affair early on, with little to really choose between the two sides. Both were also guilty of spurning possession when in good positions, meaning that it took until around the 15th minute for the first true chance of the game to arrive and, when it did, the net was rippling. A couple of misshit overhead kicks eventually fell to a Prestatyn player at the near post and he bundled it over the line, only for the goal to be ruled out for an offside. They went close again shortly afterwards too, when the Gaerwen ‘keeper got down well to save from the home #9, after he’d latched onto a long-ball over the top.
It had been largely Sports who’d controlled the first half-hour without being the truly dominant force and Gaerwen would make them pay for not making their earlier chances count. After winning a free-kick around 30 yards out, the resultant kick was floated in and after the #10 had won the header at the back-post and nodded back across goal, left-back Arwel Williams arrived to force the ball home from a couple of yards. One-nil to the visitors and the champions were looking at ending their season with two defeats, having only lost their unbeaten record the previous weekend.
Williams then forces Sports’ stopper Ryan Jones into a low stop after an accurate free-kick was heading for the bottom corner, before the champs responded with a good ball in being met by #11, whose free header lobbed wastefully into the grateful hands of the Gaerwen #1. However, he could do nothing about Ian Griffiths’ thunderbolt of a shot just a couple of minutes later. The forwards picked up the ball a good 30 yards out and, after taking a couple of touches, unleashed a rocket of a shot that flew into the top-corner with the ‘keeper not even attempting to dive for it. A superb strike and a definite “Goal of the Season” contender in my very prestigious awards….They are. They are.
The hosts almost went into the break ahead too, when an awkward bounce in front of the visiting custodian led to him losing control of the ball and it falling loose, whereupon the initial shot was blocked before #8 fired wide. Gaerwen too had a chance to re-take the lead just before the whistle, when the #11 hit an effort that looked to be creeping just inside the post, only for Jones to get down sharply to tip it behind. A fine stop to ensure the sides went in level-pegging.
After an uneventful half-time that saw me begin to again bemoan my wardrobe decisions as the wind began to blow in from the sea across the way, we were back underway for a second-half that I hoped would take my mind off it! It began promisingly enough too, with an early free-kick from #5 only being parried by Gaerwen’s ‘keeper and #10 finished to seemingly but Sports ahead, only for it to be, rather questionably, ruled out for offside. It’s a pretty thankless task doing the offsides as a club liner, though, as it’s always going to be under a fair bit of scrutiny from those watching on!
Jones again was forced into another good stop, when he denied the pacey visiting #7 with his feet after he’d outpaced the defence to get in, but the angle proved a little too tight. As champions do, Prestatyn made him pay for this miss by swiftly creating an attack that saw Griffiths again be released and he rounded the ‘keeper and his shot crossed the line despite the best efforts of the Gaerwen defender retreating back on the line.
Seven minutes later and the home side had sewn up the points when, with fifteen minutes or so to play, a deep free-kick reached the back-post, where the ball was headed across to the near-post, then headed back again before being directed goal-wards by the head of Robbie Dunn who wheeled away having netted the third goal of the afternoon for Sports. Their highly impressive #3 then had a chance to cap his fine performance with a goal, when he set off an a foray forward and was found arriving in the box, but he just couldn’t sort out his feet in time to turn his effort towards goal.
With the last-kick of the game, Gaerwen had the chance to net a second that their battling performance deserved, when the dangerous #7 again used his pace to advance into the area. He blotted his copy-book by scuffing his shot across the six-yard box, though this almost worked inadvertently when the ‘hip’ striker wearing the #99 shirt threw himself at the loose ball but after stretching to meet it, it just evaded the unguarded goal. The whistle arrived upon the miss, with Prestatyn running out 3-1 winners and duly being presented with their winner’s medals and the Welsh Alliance Division 2 trophy, as Queen’s overplayed “We are the Champions” played out over the loud-speaker system brought in especially for this moment. Congratulations to them!
After the champagne had been sprayed and the pictures were beginning to be taken, I headed off to the bus-stop where I was expecting to be enduring a 20 minute wait for the bus off to the nearby Bells of St. Mary’s pub and having a pint there prior to returning back to Prestatyn. However, having only been there a matter of seconds, a lad pulled up and offered me a lift back to the town, having been a long-term sufferer of bus stop waits. After a short time, I thought it’d be rude to say no and so took him up on his offer, before being dropped back at the station. Honestly, I was very grateful!
Being back in Prestatyn far earlier than I was expecting, I now had no rush in getting back for the train of course and so decided to have a quick one in the station-neighbouring Cookhouse and leave the Royal Victoria to last, as it stands outside the platform I’d need for the train back to Warrington. A pint of Amstel in the former went down well as I looked to try to formulate a plan that would allow me to include a visit to the Nant Hall Hotel that I’d passed en route to the game earlier. It had looked pretty interesting with a group of statues lining the driveway and populating the gardens, so I figured it’d be a shame to miss out. As luck would have it, I had about twenty minutes or so until the bus that would again be heading off that way and so that was that sorted. Off to the Nant Hall I was!
Arriving there after a five-minute journey passing nearby Prestatyn Town’s Bastion Gardens home, I headed inside to find the lovely decorated bar area fairly well populated. Opting for a pint of the Heineken in here – which at £3.95 wasn’t that bad for a hotel really – I sat down before having a sense of déja-vu imposed upon me as a bride and groom emerged from the room next door, complete with photographers and guests. If you don’t know why I’m mentally scarred by this, see my Ossett Albion blog and you’ll understand why….
After wishing them well via the medium of a few of the guests I’d offered my table too, I quickly headed out as I began to feel a little out of place. I thought I was a bit early too, but it turned out to be a good thing I did leave that little bit quicker, as the bus creeped up on me just as I arrived at the bus stop once again. Phew. Shortly back in the town centre again, I visited the William Morgan free-house (surprisingly not a Wetherspoons) at the foot of the main row of shops where I was delighted to find they had the fine 61 Deep on. I was even more happy with the price – £2.20? That’s fine with me!
After giving up my booth in here to a group of Irish guys and girls (on account that they asked if anyone else was there and I reckoned I’d just move for all of them and swap tables), I headed back to the station and the large Royal Victoria. It doesn’t look too much from the outside, but its far nicer within, that’s for sure. With the Fulham-Villa play-off on TV, I settled in with a pint of Coors (£3.50) before checking in with the train, you know, just to see how it was getting on. It was then I saw the dreaded word: Cancelled. ‘Oh. My. God. Could this day get any worse?’ I thought to myself, though after looking into it a bit more, I found it had only been cancelled from the first two stops and so was still heading back my way. I did try to get my muffin from earlier open too, but only found it crumbled into bits. Great stuff, absolute scenes.
A second pint in here got me through the 20 minute delay before I departed across the road and to the platform where the train was just a couple of minutes off. Upon boarding, I was joined opposite on the tables by a group of lads, one of which looked suspiciously like he was filming me on his phone, as I tried to recover what I could of my ever worsening chocolatey delight. Granted, it must have looked a little strange now that I think about it. Anyway, it turned out this guy knew Prestatyn Sports and the guys there (unless he was just humouring me for the sake of it!) and I was soon joining them in drinking canned Gordon’s. I don’t even drink gin, but I did then….
The lads departed at Chester and I continued on to Warrington, the second can of gin unfortunately leaking all over my bag and soaking everything within, though the programme miraculously got away with it for the most part, just getting a little damp on the corners. Everything else survived too as it turned out, though the muffin by now was well and truly dead. It was soon binned. The muffin saga was over (I may write a script about it) and so was the trip soon after, as I got back home in time for a couple more whilst watching the European Cup Final in my parents’ bar. My mum’s a Liverpool fan, so she wasn’t best pleased come full-time….
So what about muffin sa…I mean Prestatyn Sports then. Well, the ground is simple but then there was no surprises there, but the game was very decent and the programme is always a nice addition when at these lower levels of the game. The town of Prestatyn and the village of Gronant are both nice enough too, with the pubs’ offerings being slightly mainstream being the only slight negative, bar the 61 Deep discovery that is. Another bonus is that I’ve now come across Gaerwen’s ground, another that looks good for a visit at some point. On the list it goes.
All in all then, it had been a good trip to probably round off my club football for the season. All that remains to be done? A trip to Wembley next Saturday, and then it’s the turn of the Samba Boys….
Food: N/A (crisps and muffin – no, I’m not talking about it)
Value For Money: 7