Manchopper in….Rhostyllen

Result: Rhostyllen 0-1 Lex Glyndwr (Welsh Trophy First Round)

Venue: Vicarage Hill (Saturday 23rd September 2017, 2.30pm)

Att: 45 (hc)

With little in the way of standout fixtures for this week’s round of games, I again left my fate in the hands of the twitterverse and allowed them to decide where my Saturday afternoon would be spent. Four options were offered up (though Uttoxeter ended up being a Sunday, so lucky that didn’t win) and it soon became clear that the one and only Welsh option was a clear leader. As such, Friday evening saw a trip to Wrexham confirmed and a visit to Rhostyllen’s Vicarage Hill ground.

I would be accompanied by blog regular Dan on this trip, following his choice to take the plunge and embark a rare Saturday outing in recent times, with the hop over the border for only his second Welsh game (the first being our trip to Mold at the end of last season) proving too hard to resist. However, problems soon arose when the train we were planning on catching seemed to not exist (I later discovered I’d planned it on the wrong date!) and thus contingencies were made and we soon found ourselves heading for Crewe. Luckily, there was to be no “Crewe ID” required on this occasion! For those of you who don’t know the story of Crewe ID, it stems from us being refused entry to Crewe vs Preston a couple of years back, due to us not living in Crewe. I kid you not.

Anyway, with around half-an-hour in the Cheshire town to waste, we headed to the station’s bar: the Crewe Hero. A quick half later and we were finally en route to Chester, however our connection looked to be giving us only a slight chance of making our train into Wales. For once, the times worked well and the early arrival of our Virgin service saw us arriving into the shadow of Cae Ras in good time. Now for the 40 minute walk down to Rhostyllen village. Nice.

Luckily this wasn’t our venue!

After heading down footpaths, over railway bridges, down path-less roads and past farmer’s fields, we finally found ourselves at the top of the steep hill leading down into the village. More to the point, our eyes were set upon the fine sight of the Black Bear pub…and what a little gem this place was. Not far removed from a house, the bar is only small and the place is split into a couple of small areas. The pint of Holsten was mighty good though, and you can’t say much else for less than £3. This proved to be the standard around the three hostelries within Rhostyllen too.

After finishing up our respective pints, it was onwards across the River Clywedog and up a few tree-lined steps (along with standard Rocky-esque celebration at the top) and to our last pre-match stop-off, the Swan Inn. Again, this was another welcoming pub, though seemingly more popular than the slightly out-of-the-way Black Lion. The canine regular, George, also gives nice welcomes in here, as he proceeded to sit with us for the first few minutes of our visit before heading back to his parents and settling in once more. Pints of Heineken were polished off fairly swiftly, before we too our leave and headed for Vicarage Hill and the big Welsh Trophy clash, with visitors Lex Glyndwr returning to the Hill for the second consecutive week and looking to avenge their narrow one-nil reverse which was obviously still fresh in the memory.

Black Lion

River Clywedog

The Swan

With Dan making the role of navigator his own, we were soon arriving at the ground, accessed by walking off the pavement and through a gate. That’s all that’s needed. Indeed, roads surround the ground on two sides, with the far end offering raised views and the opportunity for those driving to remain in cover during the more inclement weather. The remainder of the ground is open standing, but with no paving. There is a small covered terraced area on the near side touchline, which was well populated today. There are also a pair of brick dugouts but Lex decided not to use their given one, instead forming up on the opposite touchline to the dugouts, with one official from each taking on the role of assistant referee, with a distinct lack of officials clearly an issue in the area at the moment (both Division 1 games were off due to no ref too). We arrived with the players all set to go, but before we get to it, here’s the story of Rhostyllen F.C….

History Lesson:

The current club was only formed in 2015, however football in Rhostyllen can be traced back to the 1870’s, the first reference to a team being found from 1879. Rhostyllen FC only lasted three years before reforming as Rhostyllen Victoria in 1883. This club would remain playing through until 1897 when they would fold, with another local team under the moniker Esclusham apparently taking on the reigns.

Esclusham would win two Welsh Amateur Cups (1905 & 1908), with local legend saying Billy Meredith played for the club during this period. The club played in the Wrexham National League, winning it in 1908 before joining the North Wales Alliance in 1912. After a six season spell where the club went missing, they would re-appear in the North Wales Alliance for another two years prior to the league disbanding and after a further gap in their existence, Esclusham would pop up in the 1926-’27 season of the Wrexham & District Amateur League, only the second year of that competition.

Rhostyllen FC

After again seemingly dropping off the footballing plane in 1929, a Rhostyllen & Bersham British Legion team, along with a Rhostyllen Sports Club side, would begin playing in the Welsh National League from 1946. After a nine-year spell, the clubs would leave the league in 1955 with a new entity, Rhostyllen Villa, coming into being, probably signalling a merger. They remained in the WNL through until 1985, (a Rhostyllen MV also won the Wrexham Area Division 1 in 1989 during a four-year existence, unsure if same club) winning the Wrexham Area Division 2 title in 1993 as Rhostyllen and Bersham FC & Division 1 in 1995 to achieve promotion to the Premier Division before seemingly folding in 1998 after becoming Rhostyllen Villa for half a season.

Rhostyllen FC

A Rhostyllen United (formerly Owens Corning in the WNL, ’97 Division 2 champions & ’98 Division 1 runners-up) then continued the long and winding story in 1999, but would only last until 2005 themselves, despite again getting to the Premier Division after finishing as runners-up in both Division 2 and 1 in 2002 & ’03 respectively. The current club then look to have been the next team to appear on the radar, winning the 2016 Clwyd East League to return the Rhostyllen name to the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) once more. The Division 1 was again won last season to enable the club to take a spot in the Premier Division for this season. See rhostyllen.info for more on this rollercoaster!

The game got underway with the home side narrowly on top but, to be honest, there was little to separate the two sides throughout. The first chance duly went to Rhostyllen, the Lex ‘keeper drew into a good save to palm away a shot, before my camera narrowly avoided death by ball, as it was hit square in the lens by a clearance. A big thanks here to the Lex player on the sidelines for his concern over this!!

Match Action (camera about to get it!)

Match Action

Speaking of Lex, they began to grow into the game as the half went on and began to gain the initiative. Around half an hour in, a looping effort by their #7 clipped the top of the crossbar before going over. Then, with around ten minutes of the half remaining, the visitors would grab the lead, Jason Edwards getting to the ball at the back post to head across the home ‘keeper and into the net. I remarked soon after I wouldn’t be surprised if that was that for goals in this game, as both sides looked very well matched and, by all accounts, had a very similar match-up the previous week. Half-Time arrived with the score reading Rhostyllen 0-1 Lex Glyndwr.

With little in the way of facilities around, Dan and I wasted half-time by checking up on the scores within the English leagues which, of course, were running the usual half-hour behind the 2.30pm kick-off we had here in North Wales. Before long though, the Lex players were re-joined on the pitch by their claret-clad counterparts and we were back underway with Rhostyllen having largely the better of another tight half, but finding the visiting ‘keeper in fine form. A definite man-of-the-match performance from him, as the guys we spoke to at the end of the game agreed to.

Lex ‘keeper saves the FK

Match Action

View from the stand

As I alluded to above, there was little to get the pulses racing for a neutral. Indeed, the ‘keeper’s rave reviews came largely from the command he had of his box, rather than any sort of heroics. But, when he was called upon, he dealt with the danger. Firstly, he had to get down well to a free-kick that looked bound for the bottom right-hand corner and then had to keep out the Rhostyllen dangerman, wearing the #7 shirt, who did well to beat two men and force his way into the box. Unfortunately for him, the ‘keeper was equal to his effort and time ran out on the hosts’ quest for a leveller (much to our relief, nothing personal, we just really didn’t want extra time!) as Lex Glyndwr did equal up the bragging rights over the two games. Full-Time and one-nil it remained.

For Dan and I, a quick exit was made back past the Parish Hall before a visit to the Old Black Horse. Again, a nice little boozer was to be found here and a fair place to have a pint whilst planning out which bus we could get to get us back to the station. Eventually Dan sorted this all out and we were soon back at the Racecourse Ground. Well, we were actually in the Turf pub, but it’s near enough to the entrance! After wasting away the remaining half-hour in here, we left with what we thought was plenty of time, only to find a train at the platform as we entered the station. After jumping on in haste without actually knowing if it was the right one (I reckoned it was as the time matched up), we were relieved to find it indeed was heading back to Chester where we soon went in search of some much needed food.

Parish Hall. Also serves as dressing rooms!

Black Horse

War Memorial

An easy journey back through Warrington was undertaken to end off the day. In summary, yes, the game wasn’t too great in terms of excitement and it definitely lagged behind the others in the competition in terms of goals scored (4-0 was about the third lowest score, with a 10-3 being the highest!). But having said that, it certainly was watchable and I always prefer a game to have something on it all the way through, rather than it be a damp squib at half-time. Rhostyllen as a village is a nice little place and the pubs are really decent too. The ground is simple but tidy and, all in all, is definitely worth a trip out for. For next week, it’s back onto the FA Cup with the glitz and glamour of a “televised”, early kick-off. Almost unheard of….

RATINGS:

Game: 5

Ground: 5

Food: N/A

Programme: N/A

Value For Money: 6

Manchopper in….Mold

Result: Mold Alexandra 2-2 Caernarfon Town (Cymru Alliance)

Venue: Alyn Park (Saturday 25th March 2017, 2.30pm)

Att: 84

A historic day. No, not for me, nor Mold. Neither the Cymru Alliance or even Wales itself. Nope this day was historic for one person and one person only. It was to be regular blog appearance maker Dan’s first ever foray into Welsh football (if you don’t count Colwyn Bay that is) and I figured what better place for him to experience the grandeur of it all than at Alyn Park, home of Mold Alexandra FC.

So, having met up with Dan at Manchester Piccadilly, we were soon en route to Chester, though our train apparently didn’t want us to ever get there, with each stop being announced as the one prior, with “rural-ish” Newton-le-Willows being transformed into Manchester Oxford Road, which could have caused some confusion where there tourists about! As for us, this mix up mattered little as we disembarked at the end of the line and headed out into the border-straddling city and the glorious late morning sunshine.

With us having around a half-hour’s wait for the express bus service to Mold, I figured it’d be rude not to sample the delights of the Town Crier pub, what with it being directly behind the bus stop and its beer garden being filled with sun-bathed punters taking advantage of this most rare of occasions. A further plus was that the Crier was selling bottles of the lovely Icelandic Pale Ale Einstök, whereas Dan was less adventurous, plumping for Carling. No, I don’t know why either.

First stop: Chester’s Town Crier….

….before heading to Mold

With the half-hour soon up, we headed for our carriage up to the North East of Wales where we were given the £5.50 day ticket from the very personable driver, who’s friendliness and overall service was outstanding and certainly far removed from the vast majority of those around Manchester, so full marks to her for that. Anyway, with Dan nodding off after a hard night’s shift the previous night, we headed onwards, passing the grounds of Airbus UK Broughton, of course famed for its picture opportunites of the Airbus “Beluga” (more on that later), and Hawarden Rangers before arriving into Mold’s own town centre after around 50 minutes of travel.

After Dan got excited seeing his name on a sign (yes, really!) we were heading onto the high street. With the town’s market day in full flow, we soon found ourselves heading in the wrong direction, though this did give us the chance to visit our first (the one in Chester doesn’t count, ok?!) pub of the day. This was the Pelican and was something of a “hip” café/bar, with a couple of old arcade machines located inside. As for us, we were only truly interested in the bar and I again embraced my adventurous side, going for a pint of Meantime Pale Ale (about £3.80) with Dan going all out for…another Carling. Ah. The pub had a bit of history to it, though and it involved the same Daniel that caused Dan’s excitement earlier on (see pic)!

Mold

The Pelican’s bit of history

The Griffin

Soon enough it was time to head a little closer to the ground and so off we went, back through the market and past the quietest busker I’ve ever encountered. Basically, you couldn’t hear the guy until you were right next to him, which probably contributed somewhat to the lack of change in his case. Anyway, next up was The Griffin, the more traditional boozer of those sampled during the day. It was also the cheapest too, with a pin of Heineken costing about £2.60.

After finishing off our drink in here, it was off uphill and past the church before crossing the busy main road to reach the access road of Alyn Park. Upon our arrival, a nearby factory alarm began to ring out with us both hoping that this wasn’t going to soundtrack our afternoon!

Mold’s church

Arriving at Alyn Park

After successfully navigating the traffic, we handed over our £5 entrance fee and a further £1 for the programme (not much to it really) before heading to the clubhouse to take advantage of the cheap offers in here with Dan getting two Bud’s for £4 and myself two Corona for a fiver. Not too shabby and the barman even kept one in the fridge for us to have at half-time, as we watched the end of Lincoln City-Forest Green before heading outside for kick-off.

Alyn Park is a fairly standard ground with only one true stand to speak of. There is a secondary, covered  standing area, though this is only for busy, wet days it seemed, as no-one was making use of it today, once again taking advantage of the rare appearance of the yellow orb in the sky. The Main Stand, however, is a brilliant structure; a raised seating stand, it gives great views over the pitch and is just quite unique in its style. The rest of the ground is open standing, with just the stand side and the car park giving any sort of hard standing, the far side and end both being grassy. As for Mold Alexandra themselves…

History Lesson:

Mold Alexandra Football Club was formed in 1929, though the playing of organised football in the town can be traced back to 1878-’79. After a number of Mold clubs competed up to the outbreak of WWI, Mold Town took on the mantle of the town’s top club post-war and managed to reach the first round of the FA Cup in 1925, but disbanded five years later, probably not helped by a fund-raiser offering the first prize of a pig.

Despite still having a few sides competing in the town, in late 1929 Mold Alexandra was formed and would play at thir current venue of Alyn Park. Their first season was in 1930-’31 when they took a place in the Mold, Deeside and Buckley League and it was a successful first campaign which yielded the North Wales Junior Cup. A move into the Flintshire Amateur League was undertaken for the Alex’s second season, which proved a shrewd decision as both the League and League Cup were won.

MAFC

1937 saw Mold move into the English system and compete in the West Cheshire League, along with local rivals Buckley and Flint Town, though their stay here was, obviously, massively interrupted by the outbreak of WWII. Come the end of hostilities, 1946 saw the club build their first stand at Alyn Park and they remained in the WCL for a further season after this prior to moving into the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) for 1947, whereupon they remained for the next forty-three years.

During the latter part of their stay in the WNL, Mold won the WNL title in 1986, along with that years WNL League Cup, North East Wales Cup and the North Wales Coast Cup in what was a memorable year.  1987 saw Alex retain both their league title and the North Wales Coast Cup. These successes were enough to see Mold invited to join the newly-formed Cymru Alliance, an invitation that was accepted.

1992 saw Mold become founder members of the new League of Wales, though their stay looked to have lasted just one home match, when the club were thrown out for not matching the league’s ground grading regulations. However with a new stand and floodlights erected, the Alex were reinstated. However, their stay was a short one as financial issues struck and the club were relegated at the end of the ’94-’95 season.

Clubhouse/café/shop

1998 saw worse fortune befall the Alex as they were relegated from the Cymru Alliance to the third tier of the Welsh system, the contributing to the club going as far as considering a merger with Mostyn FC. The club were expecting to be placed back in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area), but were instead placed in the Welsh Alliance, which covered a larger area of the country. This irked the club to such a point that, after a failed appeal, they decided to pull their first team for a season and field just the one side in the WNL First Division, the reserves effectively taking over as the first team.

After being expelled from the Welsh Cup due to being at too low a level, 1999 saw the club achieve promotion to the Premier Division. 2001 & 2002 saw two WNL Premier Division Cups arrive at Alyn Park, the latter season also seeing the club promoted back to the Cymru Alliance as champions. 2005 saw another relegation back to the WNL, though their stay lasted just three years, as Mold took advantage of Brymbo being unable to take promotion to instead move back into the second tier. They even added more salt to the wounds of Brymbo by beating them in the final of the WNL President’s Cup that same season.

2010 saw Mold relegated again due to restructuring and this time remained in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) through to 2014, when they were again promoted as champions back to the Cymru Alliance, along with lifting their second President’s Cup. 2015 saw the Alex ass a third North East Wales Cup to their cabinet and last season sae them stave off relegation in finishing 13th out of 16 sides in the Cymru Alliance. This season, they currently sit in 14th, within the extended relegation zone for this season.

The game got underway and, wow, was the first half poor. I really can’t recall anything happening bar one fine save by the debutant Caernarfon ‘keeper Alex Crofts to deny Mold’s Aaron Davies when one-on-one. Other than that, the first period was a real stagnant, huff-and-puff half with little to choose between the two outfits, which was somewhat surprising when you look at where the two are in the Alliance table. (Caernarfon 2nd to runaway champs Prestatyn, Mold down in 14th (third bottom), though have games in hand to save themselves from the drop). The only positive from the first half was that the chips were pretty good.

Match Action

Match Action

Beluga!

Mercifully, half-time arrived and that Corona seemed much more needed than the first! It certainly hadn’t been a riveting contest for Dan’s first look at the Welsh pyramid, but that was all about to change in the second half, as both teams set about having a go and the aforementioned Beluga made an appearance as it climbed out of Hawarden airfield, just a few miles away!

The half got underway and it took just a few minutes for the visitors to break the deadlock and breathe life into the contest. Some good work down the side of the Mold area led to a low ball into the six-yard box being pounced upon by Jamie Breese. 0-1 to Town and, on paper, you’d have thought that that was more than likely going to signal one way traffic for the rest of the game and when Breese had an effort hacked off the line soon after, it certainly looked as though that was to be the case.

But the hosts were having none of that and began to come out of their shell and have a real go at Town and around the hour mark they turned the match on its head. First, Jorden Stafford brought his side level with an arrowed drive from all of 25-yards that flew beyond Crofts and into the net before, just two minutes later, Mold were ahead when Danny Warren forced a loose ball over the line from close range to leave the small band of travelling supporters down the other end stunned.

View from the small stand

Match Action

Match Action (from the Main Stand)

Mold looked on for an all important three points to go towards their bid for survival, but Town were playing still to secure that runners-up spot and certainly weren’t going down without a fight and with the ninety almost up, they found the leveller and what a strike it was.

Caernarfon skipper and former Wales u21 international Nathan Craig was the man to rescue his side as he received the ball around 25-yards from goal and hit a stinging effort that flew beyond the helpless home custodian Leigh Williams, and into the net via the inside of the post. The second fine goal of the day, but neither team could force a winner and the spoils were shared, with the hosts understandably more than happy to come away with a point, despite being oh so close to all three. As for Caernarfon, that goal was enough to secure them second. Full-Time, 2-2 and back to Mold for the bus back, via a very, very swift half of Poretti in the wonderful looking Fat Boar pub!

The Fat Boar

So, a fine day out came to an end and, all-in-all, it had gone swimmingly. A nice town, good beers, a decent game (in the end) and fairly cheap & easy travel and of course that fantastic stand was there just to make everything that little bit better again. I’d definitely recommend a visit. But it’s back into the league for next week and a revisit. I “Wander” were to go (please laugh at my puns)…

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 6

Food: 7

Programme: 3

 

 

 

 

Manchopper in….Penycae

Penycae FCEagle Sports

Result: Penycae 1-1 Eagle Sports (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: The Riverside, Afoneitha Road (Saturday 16th July 2016, 2.30pm)

Att: 40 (approx.)

As is now becoming something of a tradition, this being the third straight year following the prior Prestatyn & infamous Glan Conwy trips, I was off on an Eagle Sports pre-season venture to Wales. Having, surprisingly, been able to remember vast amounts of both (especially the Conwy one), it remained to be seen what this trip had in store.

Setting off towards Sankey, I arrived in the town at a little after 10am and walked over to Eagle’s Thornton Road ground from where the coach would be departing. After a bit of a delay, we eventually got underway and after the usual quiz-related shenanigans, all for the grand prize of Wispas, it wasn’t long until we were pulling up outside the dirt track which leads up to Penycae’s home.

Prices

Prices

Aiming to emulate?

Aiming to emulate?

Afoneitha Road is a small ground, housing only a couple of small stands, both of which sit side-by-side on the far side of the ground. One is an all seater stand and this is flanked by a covered standing area, both of which sit toward the end of the ground where you enter from. The rest of the ground is open, hard standing. The food area/changing rooms sit to the rear of the  ground, behind the clubhouse building. As for Penycae FC’s story, well…

History Lesson:

Penycae Football Club was founded in 1982 and the team currently play at The Riverside/Afoneitha Road within the small village of Pen-y-cae. They currently compete in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area), where they achieved a 9th placed finish at the end of the last campaign, having spent the last four seasons playing in the Cymru Alliance. They won the league prior to them joining the Cymru Alliance in 2011, but dropped back into the WNL last season. The only previous time the club haven’t played in the WNL was a previous 4 year spell in the Cymru Alliance between 1994 & ’98.

They have been relatively successful during their short existence. Upon their founding in 1982, it took them two seasons to be promoted from the Welsh National League (WNL) Division Four, as runners-up. They immediately won Division Three, before being in the newly named Division One and achieving a third straight promotion, again as runners-up. It took them nine years to win the Premier Division (1994), and a further 17 years (2011) to repeat this feat.

The club have also won a few other cups in their history, namely a Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Division Three Cup (1983-’84), a hat-trick of North-East Wales FA Horace Wynne Cups (1982-’83, ’83-’84, ’84-’85), the Dave Bennett Premier Division Cup (1993-’94) and the FAW Welsh Trophy in 2003-’04.

Welcome

Welcome

Tunnel/food bar

Tunnel/food bar

In the bar

In the bar

Upon arrival it was straight to the bar for a cider, while evading the odd, light shower which crossed the ground from time to time. It was a bit of a grind to waste away the best part of two hours while being subjected to, quite possibly, the most boring mainstream sport of all time (any guesses?). Anyway, somehow I managed to endure this tortuous test and as soon as the clock moved towards the 25 past 2 mark, I scarpered outside. Safety.

After a short delay, the two sides emerged from the rear building, which serves as both food bar and changing rooms, before making the, rather lengthy, walk to the pitch. Once all had arrived, we were underway with the visitors having slightly the better of the early openings. Despite there not being all that much in terms of cut-and-dry openings, it was an easily watchable game. The best of the chances fell to Eagle, with a weak back pass being seized upon, but the home ‘keeper making a fine one-on-one stop.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Eventually, though, the visitors did get what their first half play deserved, when Nathan Gallagher rifled home into the top corner after Penycae could only half-clear a set-piece. 0-1 at the break, during which I made a visit to the aforementioned food bar to get some much needed cuisine. £1.50 lighter, I was in possession of a decent sized hot-dog, which was pretty good, which made my battle with the tomato sauce bottle all the more worthwhile.

After taking up a position in the small covered terraced stand, the second half was underway, with the visitors bench vacated due to the discovery of a wasps nest within it. I’m sure this isn’t the sort of “sting in the tail” visiting sides will be looking for!…No? Ok.

The second half saw a much more attacking home side, with the hosts dominating the first 15 minutes of the period. The Penycae right back should have drawn his size level when left one-on-one but blazed well over, but they eventually go their goal when a deep cross evaded Eagle’s “Great Dane” Rasmus Neilsen and dropped over his head and into the bottom corner. They could have had the lead soon after too, but a combination of Neilsen and a defender on the line prevented the ball from crossing it and maintained a status quo.

Heads!

Heads!

Safe Hands

Safe Hands

The last 25, though, belonged almost exclusively to the visitors who, once more, grew into the game as the roll-on, roll-off subs took more effect. After a brilliant goal-line clearance by the impressive Penycae #5, an inspired performance by the ‘keeper saw him thwart two more efforts with brilliant saves, one at almost point blank range to ensure his side earned a draw in a highly entertaining friendly contest. The only question was just how there’d only been two goals!

Back in the bar afterwards, the brief peaceful atmosphere was soon shattered by the loudspeaker which had joined us on our journey and the beers were soon in for all and sundry. Bar me, as I am still going through a self-imposed cut down as I look to maintain something of a budget cut. Of course, I was bought a pair through the evening and these will be returned at some point in the near future! Cheers lads!

Following Guinness related things and chips arriving for the after match meal (I didn’t have a full bag, honest), it was back to the coach and onwards to Wrexham for a short stop which, naturally, would entail nothing bar quiet drinking and return. Right? Well…sort of.

First stop was the Wynnstay Arms, which featured some well dressed military types (in uniform) and their partners (I guess as there was no uniform on show). Here was relatively subdued and not much to speak of, apart from me fleecing secretary/midfielder Danny for a Desperado, sorry mate. Anyway, tipped off by our Welsh guides, our next stop was the Golden Lion which is apparently the oldest public house in Wrexham. See, it’s about culture, not drinking…

Roaming in Wrexham

Roaming in Wrexham

Wrexham

Wrexham

The Golden Lion was slightly less quiet, with a multitude of different songs being released when demanded by the rest of the group. I was more than pleased when my offering of Europe’s anthem The Final Countdown was seemingly accepted as a good choice, though this was admittedly because there aren’t many words to it. One local, Steve, who I must have offended by totally murdering the pronunciation of Penycae (said as Pen-e-ceye), despite having made a point of saying it properly once hearing it said earlier in the day. In all seriousness of course, Steve was enjoying the scenes and even got involved at one point! Legend!

Sadly, it was soon time to say goodbye to Steve and to the Golden Lion, as we made our way back towards the coach’s location. There was to be one last stop, however, and this was the one where things got a bit more surreal. Having led the way, I entered the Welch (correct spelling) Fusilier in the midst of a karaoke night, it’s only natural that we’d all join in with the songs, though there was one that no-one seemingly knew and the DJ also told someone off for taking the mic. This was his swamp.

Off to indulge in a Japanese pastime!

Off to indulge in a Japanese pastime….

It's calm at the moment...

It’s calm at the moment…

After a few more songs had been murdered, it was soon time to leave Wrexham to its, surprisingly poor vocal tones, though one moustachioed Wales fan was just as appalled with his local’s performance, and it was back off to the great yellow-beige chariot, though I was forced into proclaiming right-back Robbo (I jest) as man-of-the-match, after his performance up against the fleet-footed winger of Penycae.

The journey back was quiet as everyone settled in for the hour back….okay, not quite. With “Play Your Cards Right” in full swing, chants about different er…places and an appearance by a legendary member of the team, Boris,  we eventually made it back to Sankey nicely in time for my train back too, so thanks for the guys for ensuring it and to the driver for dropping me off on his way back.

So a third trip done and with ideas already being floated for next year, who knows what is still to come. All I know is, if there’s no “lemonade”, I should be ok….

DSC02637

RATINGS:

Game: 7- Good, entertaining watch.

Ground: 6- Quite a simple ground, but a smart one.

Food: 6- Decent enough, as I said.

Programme: N/A, though one is issue, it seems, in league season.

Value For Money: 9- Always a good day (and evening).

Manchopper in….Holyhead

Holyhead HotspurWest_Didsbury&Chorlton A.F.C._logo

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.

Early view of the old ground

Early view of the old ground

View from the old ground, of the new one.

View from the old ground, of the new one.

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….

Holyhead Hotspur FC. Old Stand

Holyhead Hotspur FC. Old Stand.

The train carriages

The “train carriages”

Enter, if you dare...

Enter, if you dare… Look at that bee!

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….

HH

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!

Main Stand and Clubhouse

Main Stand and Clubhouse

Looking across to the Stena Line Stand.

Looking across to the Stena Line Stand.

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….

History Lesson:

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.

HHFC

HHFC

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.

View from the Main Stand

View from the Main Stand

View from the Stena Line Stand

View from the Stena Line Stand

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.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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:

Elvis is in the building

Elvis is in the building

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.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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!

The terrifying plaque at clubhouse entrance.

The terrifying plaque at clubhouse entrance.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse

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…

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RATINGS:

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.

Programme: N/A

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.

Manchopper in….Prestatyn

PrestatynEagle Sports

Result(s): Prestatyn Town 3-0 Eagle Sports/Prestatyn Town Dev. 1-1 Eagle Sports Res. (Pre-Season Friendly)

Venue: Bastion Gardens (Saturday 25th July 2015, 12.30pm/3pm)

Att: 124

The first of the Welsh double header of the season saw me heading into the north of the principality, more specifically to the town of Prestatyn. Prestatyn is about halfway along the northern coast of Wales and is a popular resort town and has been involved in major historical events including being a rare British town to be bombed by the Italian Air Force and was home to the first ever KwikSave. However, the KwikSave was eventually replaced by the monster that is TESCO. The town’s Pontin’s was also the location for a film of “On the Buses”. It has also been home to the glamorous pairing of Carol Vorderman and The Lord Prescott.

As for myself, I was to be joining the Eagle Sports team on the trip to the seaside, and was to be picked up near Sankey station after some train issues. After arriving at around 10am, I was picked up on the roadside and soon we were on the way. After a few traffic issues had delayed our arrival but extended the quiz on the way, which I didn’t win, unsurprisingly, we eventually pulled into Prestatyn, not before the coach had forced a number of cars into the hedgerows along the tight country lanes of North Wales.

No game?

No game?

Upon arriving, there was a number of comments as to how a few of the players had chosen the wrong wardrobe to wear, having been tricked by the balmy appearance of the weather, but having not factored in the likelihood of the bracing wind from the Irish Sea. Luckily for the reserves, they were immediately into the warm-up ahead of their game against Prestatyn’s Development Squad, which allowed me to have a look around the ground.

Bastion Gardens, which is named after the road on which it stands, is a rather basic ground in terms of stands and spectator areas. It has two stands, the main one, The Martin Walsh Stand, stand which houses runs the length of the far touchline. There is another small stand which houses Prestatyn’s “Buy a Brick” display, and is mostly a covered standing area, though it does have a couple of seats. Alongside this are the facilities, with the adjoining clubhouse, tea bar and dressing rooms all standing, inter-connected, behind the near-end goal from which you enter. There is also a mobile room, which appears to house the interview room. As for Prestatyn’s history…

History Lesson:

Prestatyn Town were formed in 1910, playing their first game in October that year, a 3-2 win at Rhyl Amateurs. Their first silverware came in the form of the 1929 NWCFA Junior Cup. After switching from their original Bastion Road ground in the 1960’s to their current home, the club competed in the Dyserth Area League, under the title of Chandypore FC, winning it three times (1972, ’73 & ’74) before reverting to Prestatyn Town and competing in the Clwyd Premier League, winning six league titles between 1974-’75 & 2006-’07, as well as winning the Clwyd League’s Division One (1992) & Two (1989-’90 & ’93-’94). They added cup titles to these wins in the shape of five Clwyd Premier Cups, three President’s Cups, two Alves Cups and three REM Jones Cups, all between 1975 & 2001, despite an acrimonious split in 1999, which led to the formation of the terribly named Prestatyn Nova.

After a short stint in the Welsh Alliance, winning the league in 2006, the club joined the Cymru Alliance League, the North Welsh feeder league to the Welsh Premier. After winning the 2007-’08 Alliance title, Town were promoted to the Welsh Premier League. However, promotion was dependant on ground improvements.

After floodlights were installed in May 2008, the club were allowed into the WPL, where they finished their first season in 15th. They won the 2013 Welsh Cup, with a 3-1 triumph over Bangor City and the NWCFA Challenge Cup the same year as well as reaching the second round of the UEFA Europa League, where they lost out to Croatian side HNK Rijeka, after defeating Liepajas Metalurgs, from Latvia, on penalties.

Following restructuring, the club just managed to retain their place in the WPL with an 11th placed finish at the end of 2013-’14 season, but were not as lucky last season, as they finished up in 12th place and dropped back into the Cymru Alliance for this season, their place in the Welsh top-flight being taken by Llandudno, ending a seven-year stay in the top division.

Back onto today’s games then, and the first game between the reserve sides saw a real game of two halves. The first period belonged solely to the visitors, who dominated the young development squad and led by a goal to the good at the break, via a front post header from a long throw.

Development vs Reserves

Development vs Reserves

Development vs Reserves

Development vs Reserves

Police Box

Police Box

The second half was a totally different story as the home side, with the wind at their backs took the game to their visitors and deservedly drew level through a good shot from just outside the box. I was particularly impressed with the young blond haired winger, who had more energy than I’ve used in my entire life so far!

So, the first game came to an end with the score a fair 1-1. Now, for the MAAAAAAIIIIIN EVENT. The Prestatyn Town first team would’ve thoroughly expected to comfortably defeat their visitors. But, it wasn’t to be the case. For the meantime, I purchased some chips from the tea bar for £1.50, which were pretty decent, and watched a bit of the cricket on the pitch that backs on to the ground behind the stand. Such is my dramatic life….

Tea Bar, Tunnel and Clubhouse

Tea Bar, Tunnel and Clubhouse

Swapping of penchants

Swapping of penchants

Anyway, back onto football matters and the game was underway at a good pace. Eagle proved more than a match for their hosts for the vast majority of the game and probably edged the first half, going close on more occasions than their opponents. However, they were unable to make the breakthrough past the Prestatyn ‘keeper, despite causing numerous issues, with some Prestatyn fans bemoaning the team’s newcomers, with a few guys behind me arguing the case of why and why not one of them should be in the team. I will relent in naming said player!

After the break, it was a different story. Despite Eagle gamely battling on and causing the watching reserves and support to break into song, they eventually capitulated to lack of numbers and fresh legs, with Prestatyn gleefully accepting their chances. First, a nice move through the Eagle backline saw the forward break clear and finish past the exposed ‘keeper, Craig Clare.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

This looked to break the spirits of the tiring visitors and the offside trap was broken, albeit contentiously. The second looked to be just onside, as Clare was again left helpless before a clearly offside third was added, with Eagle’s defence vocally showing their displeasure at the assistant referee’s decisions.

The visitors did find the net, but were denied by their own offside decision against them, as Prestatyn showed their experience to wait for and take their chances.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Goal-Kick

Goal-Kick

At full-time, there was a short wait for the team to take on the hospitality laid on, before it was time to leave and head into Prestatyn itself and wake up a few locals who were having a quiet pub dinner. The first stop was the CookHouse, where you could see the mix of intrigue and dread fill the eyes of those enjoying the sun in the beer garden. After we swarmed in to the bar to the amusement of the girls on carvery duty,we all ordered our drinks and headed out to conquer the tables. After a quick one there, the decision was made to head up the high street and we came upon the William Morgan, where we once again headed through to the outside seating area. It was here that I was chosen as the reasonable one, as I was given the message that the manager wanted them to calm down a little, on account of the families eating. It was a fair request and one that was immediately followed, as we can all empathise on the account of that!

Conquering Prestatyn

Conquering Prestatyn

Prestatyn

High Street, Prestatyn

High Street, Prestatyn

High Street, Prestatyn

After some common ground was found on the basis of rugby league, an old lady was repulsed by language and a guy from Stockport was cheered, I was given the “you can’t down that!” challenge with a bottle of Desperados. Could I down it? You can be damn sure of it! Afterwards, we set off up the hill, much to the displeasure of Eagle’s Ged, who had injured his foot in the game and was struggling with the incline. He was rather pleased when the next stop off was discovered, where we all entered en mass into Archie’s Bar and Restaurant, where we were even given a reserved table as to accommodate us, which was seemingly due to the late showing of those who’d gotten the reservation. The waitress was more than happy to remove the sign and so we had a further two drinks there, on account of Craig’s earlier football card win, before it was time to head back onto the coach, where absolutely nothing of note happened*

Nothing happened on here....

Nothing happened on here….

Upon arrival, you may be happy to know that I was able to leave under my own power this time, and without any plastic bags in sight! I had seen that it was tight time was walking to get the train, so I negotiated a lift with Craig, or more specifically, his missus, to what turned out to be Warrington. It looked as though I’d missed it and would have an hour to wait, until I saw it was six minutes late. I had five minutes to get to Central. This was going to be close. The drama was at its highest!

I arrived at Central with the bridge over the road in sight, and with no train in view, I knew I had a good chance. After hastily thanking and saying goodbye to the pair who’s journey home I’d hijacked, I charged up the steps and through the station, onto the platform with a minute to spare. Phew! A nice, easy journey back followed after the stresses of getting to it in time, and so ended my first trip into Wales this season. Thanks, again, to the Eagle Sports lot for another fine day out, and I’ll see you all again on the fun bus next season!

*unless you count nudity.

wpid-20150725_154900.jpg

RATINGS:

Game: 6- A decent contest, overall for a friendly.

Ground: 6- Facilities good, ground fairly basic other than that.

Fans: 6- Seem a good bunch, with humour too.

Programme: N/A

Food: 7- Portion of chips was decent for the price.

Value For Money: 7- All in all, a fairly decent day out.

Manchopper in….Flint

wpid-20150228_142237.jpgLWAFC
Result: Flint Town United 0-1 Llandrindod Wells (Huws Gray Cymru Alliance)

Venue: Cae-y-Castell (Saturday 28th February 2015, 2.30pm)

Att: 77

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.

Fflint Castle

Fflint Castle

Road Sign

Road Sign

FTU Social Club

FTU Social Club

Turnstiles

Turnstiles

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.

One of the twin stands

One of the twin stands

The other one.

The other one.

Main Stand. Spot the Castle?

Main Stand. Spot the Castle?

The small stand

The small stand

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.

History Lesson:

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.

Today's Programme

Today’s Programme

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.

Kick-off. The ball was in the net 23 secs later.

Kick-off. The ball was in the net 23 secs later.

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?!

Match Action

Match Action

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.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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.

Flint Town United

Flint Town United

My Flint Town United M.o.M.- Luke Camden. (If only for his Terry Butcher impression.)

My Llandrindod Wells M.o.M.- Chris Murphy

RATINGS:

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.

Manchopper in….Cefn Mawr (Cefn Druids)

Cefn_Druids_F.C

Result: Cefn Druids 1-5 Aberystwyth Town (Tenovus Welsh Cup 3rd Round)

Venue: The Rock (Saturday 29th November 2014, 2.30pm)

Att: ?

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.

Indiana Jones would be proud.

Indiana Jones would be proud.

Looking into the village

Looking into the village

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).

Village Mural

Village Mural

The road sign & tourist info

The road sign & tourist info

Cefn Albion FC

Cefn Albion FC

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!

The Aqueduct from Ty Mawr Park

The Aqueduct from Ty Mawr Park

The Alpacas/Llamas stare menacingly at me.

The Alpacas/Llamas stare menacingly at me.

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…

Match Day

Match Day

Turnstiles & Social Club

Turnstiles & Social Club

History Lesson:
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.
Honours:
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

The "Main" (only) Stand

The “Main” (only) Stand

The North End

The North End

The South End

The South End

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.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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.

#PutOutYourBats. RIP Phil.

#PutOutYourBats. RIP Phil.

The Interview Room.

The Interview Room.

Directors' Box

Directors’ Box

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.

In The Druids Social Club

In The Druids Social Club

In The Bridge End Inn

In The Bridge End Inn

Goodnight Ruabon.

Goodnight Ruabon.

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

The Rock.

RATINGS:
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.