Manchopper in….Gronant (Prestatyn Sports FC)

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.

Arriving in Prestatyn….

…before moving on to Gronant

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 Beachcomber

Upper Gronant

Gronant Inn

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).

It truly is….

Stuff about Sports

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….

History Lesson:

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.

This season’s champs, pre-match

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.

Guard of honour

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.

Match Action

Match Action

Gaerwen open the scoring

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!

Match Action (includes ‘Massiv’ spotting!)

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.

Match Action

Match Action

Match Action

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!

Are they old enough for those Buds?

Bubbles are sprayed….

….before a flare (& Non-Lg Dog) joins the party!

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….

Post-match tour starts at the Cookhouse

Nant Hall Hotel

Inside the Nant Hall

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.

William Morgan

Prestatyn

Royal Victoria

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….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 5

Food: N/A (crisps and muffin – no, I’m not talking about it)

Programme: 6

Value For Money: 7

Manchopper in….Rhyl

Result: Rhyl 2-1 Flint Town United (Cymru Alliance)

Venue: Belle Vue (Saturday 10th March 2018, 2.30pm)

Att: 334

This weekend was supposed to see me staying local and heading up to Radcliffe Borough’s Stainton Park ground just short of Bury, for the Boro’s clash with NPL Division One North leaders, South Shields. However, the Great British weather once again had other ideas and, come Saturday morning, I was looking for an alternative with the game having fell foul to heavy overnight rain. In something of a saving grace, the game had been called off at around 9am, leaving a good amount of time to sort something out. Not that this happened, however, and I was still pretty much none the wiser as to where I was headed once I arrived at the platform and boarded the train towards Warrington.

I did offer up a few options to the twittersphere these being Stafford Rangers, Rhyl and Chesterfield. I gave the time limit of 25 minutes for my fate to be decided, by which time I’d be arriving into the Cheshire town and have time to make a connection to one of the above. Come the close of the first leg of my journey, my destination had been decided and I was back off over the border for the second week in succession. To Rhyl it was!

Having passed through Rhyl station just six days earlier whilst on my way to Bangor City’s Welsh Cup quarter-final tie with Penydarren, I had thought to myself that I’d like to visit Belle Vue at some point soon. I didn’t think it would be quite so quickly though! But here I was back on Arriva Wales service whose staff again fell on the wrong side of mine and a guy’s opinions when giving some slight shade due to us being in the doorway area with most rows being taken, but there being odd seats available. I don’t particularly like sitting next to people I don’t know and I reckon I don’t need to do what a non-flying stewardess prefers. The other fella, who was on his way to a beer festival in Helsby (no, I didn’t know of it either) stated that “She’s not the happiest of people is she?”. Arriva Wales are really trying me!

Croeso i Rhyl

Rhyl

Eventually I was able to bow to her wishes and grab a seat alone in the main carriage and around 40 minutes later was arriving into the Welsh coastal town. Due to my later than normal arrival, I had time for a quick one or two only pre-match and quickly set about making my way over to the first stop of the day, the Cob & Pen where I opted for a pint of the ever-fine Hop House 13 for the decent price of £3.30. Well, that was my thoughts at the time anyway, though this was to remain my most costly drink of the day! Anyway, I remained in here for the next 15 minutes or so whilst watching the United-Liverpool clash from Old Trafford, which took in the unbelievable Eric Bailly own-goal which provided some large cheers from the Liverpool-dominated spectators within. This, I reckoned, was my cue to depart also and I continued on over the neighbouring bridge and to Caskey’s just down the road and around 5 minutes walk from Belle Vue. Carlsberg for £2, you say?! I’ll be having some of that!

After swiftly polishing the cheap pint off it was time to take the short walk over to Belle Vue. Upon arriving, it sounded as though the game had already kicked-off, such was the noise being created from the warm-ups. Walking through the gates emblazoned with the ground’s traditional name, rather than its current sponsored one, I turned over my £8 entrance fee at the turnstile prior to handing £2 to the guy at the programme booth just within the ground.

Cob & Pen

Caskey’s

Arriving at Belle Vue

Upon entering in the corner of the ground, you are immediately met by the frame of the (mostly, bar the bit near the food bar) all-seater stand that runs the length of the right-hand touch-line. To the left is some open terracing which is a bit higgledy-piggledy in its make up and this also plays host to some toilets, hospitality, the bar (raised up over the pitch) and a second food bar to the far side. The far touch-line plays host to another all-seater stand which runs the majority of the length of the field, though there is a section of seating at the far end that, interestingly, protrudes outside from the roof that covers the rest of the seats and at the near side is a little more uncovered terracing. The far end features yet another seated stand, though this is slightly smaller than the other two, though has a number of unused seats piled up behind it in a disused area which points to the fact it could possibly be extended at some point. All this comes together to provide what must be one of the most impressive grounds currently in the Cymru Alliance. That’s Belle Vue then and this is Rhyl Football Club….

History Lesson:

Rhyl Football Club (Clwb Pêl Droed y Rhyl) was founded in 1879 during a time when a number of clubs were prevalent in the town’s footballing scene. Rhyl FC became founder members of the Welsh League in 1890, though did withdraw after a sole season and folded prior to reforming in 1893 as Rhyl Athletic who then became founder members of the North Wales Coast League and won the title in 1894-’95. Athletic then merged with Rhyl Town in 1898 with the view of undertaking the move into the Anglo-Welsh league – The Combination. This was duly done and they remained in the league through to 1911 when the league eventually disbanded and the club then went on to re-join the North Wales Coast League as Rhyl United and remained here through to the outbreak of World War One and the eventual pause of football during the war years.

Following the end of hostilities, Rhyl United would move into the North Wales Alliance for a short time before moving into the Welsh National League (North) as founder members in 1921. They won the title here in 1925-’26 before becoming a limited company in 1928 and renaming themselves Rhyl Athletic once again. The following year saw Rhyl apply to join the Football League but saw only York City be elected from the non-league ranks. This preceded a downturn in fortunes for North Walian football in the early 1930’s and this led to a second application to join the Football League being issued in 1932. However this was again unsuccessful and the club instead joined the Birmingham & District League though travel quickly proved an unsurprising issue and Rhyl moved to the Cheshire County League in 1936 and returned to the Rhyl FC name, which saw the club embark on one of their most successful periods.

After the end of WWII, Rhyl won the Cheshire County League title twice (1948 & ’51) whilst also lifting the Welsh Cup on two successive occasions (1952 & ’53), the latter triumph meaning Rhyl became the first non-league side to retain the trophy in the “modern era”, but they wouldn’t reappear in the final until 1993. After becoming regular FA Cup First Round appearance makers, Rhyl made it to the Fourth Round of the Cup in 1957 where they lost out at Bristol City.

Belle Vue

After a lean spell with regard to silverware, the club eventually won the Cheshire County League’s Challenge Cup in 1971 before lifting the title for a third time in 1972 (and the Welsh Amateur Cup in 1973) before it merged with the Lancashire Combination to form the North West Counties League in 1982, of which Rhyl duly became a member. They went on to finish runners-up and win promotion to the Northern Premier League come the end of their first season in the Counties. Their NPL stay would yield another piece of silverware, in the form of the 1985 NPL President’s Cup, though this would prove to be their final success in the English game, prior to a reluctant return to the Welsh pyramid in 1992. Despite planning on joining the League of Wales, the club’s application was received too late and, as a result, Rhyl were placed in the Cymru Alliance instead. They weren’t there for long, though, and after winning the 1993 Cymru Alliance Cup, 1994 saw them win the title and thus achieved promotion to the League of Wales.

Despite struggling for the most part, Rhyl retained their place in the Welsh top-flight and eventually turned into a leading outfit upon a change in ownership. 2003 saw the first success, via the Welsh League Cup, and 2004 saw the club win the, now renamed, Welsh Premier League and qualify for the Champions League’s early stages (though they would lose handily to Latvian side Skonta Riga). The season saw them also defend the Welsh League Cup and add the Welsh Cup & North Wales Coast Challenge Cup titles to their cabinet and secured a quadruple in doing so, though lost out in the final of the FAW Premier Cup to Wrexham. The season was somewhat tainted shortly afterwards following the revelation that leading scorer Andy Moran had been taking a banned stimulant throughout the season, which led to rumours surrounding the rest of the team with regard to the club’s many late winners. These latter allegations were unproven though and Moran was the only player punished with the striker being stripped of his Golden Boot award.

Rhyl finished WPL runners-up in 2005, missing out on the title to TNS and lost out in the final of the Welsh League Cup to Carmarthen Town. Their league placing did lead them to UEFA Cup qualification for the next season and this provided he club with their first ever win in European competition as they defeated Lithuanian side FK Atlantas 2-1 at Belle Vue. They went on to lose the away leg but progressed via the away goals rule becoming the second Welsh side to make the second qualifying round since Barry Town nine years earlier. However, this was as far as they’d get as they bowed out to Viking F.K. of Norway, 3-1 on aggregate.

Rhyl FC

2006 saw the Welsh Cup return to Belle Vue along with North Wales Challenge Cup. A third-placed finish in the Welsh Prem saw Rhyl back in Europe, though their campaign was again a short one, this time losing out to Lithuanian competition in the UEFA Cup – FK Sūdova. 2008 saw another UEFA Cup appearance where they beat Finnish side FC Haka 3-1 at Belle Vue, but agonisingly went out on away goals following the return leg. They also competed in that years Intertoto Cup (bring it back), though lost out in the First Round to Irish side Bohemians.

2009 saw Rhyl take their second WPL title and, in doing so, recorded the club records for most wins in a season and most successive league wins. They thusly qualified for the Champions League qualifiers again coming up again Partizan of Belgrade. They were duly handed a walloping by their Serbian opponents, bowing out 12-0 on aggregate. 2010 then saw a bump in the road for Rhyl as they had their Welsh Premier League license revoked and, following an unsuccessful appeal, were relegated to the Cymru Alliance. After finishing runners-up in both 2011 and 2012 (though the latter year did see Rhyl lift their second Cymru Alliance Cup) to Connah’s Quay, the latter eventually achieved their license and were promoted after their 2012 triumph, leaving Rhyl to take the 2013 title, going the whole league season unbeaten with 24 wins and six draws being recorded, along with 100 goals.

Returning to the Welsh Prem for 2013-’14, a few swift changes of management would follow between 2015 and early 2016. After finishing up 11th in both 2016 and 2017, it was last season’s finish of second-bottom that saw an end to Rhyl’s most recent top-flight run and they returned to the Cyrmu Alliance for this current season. They sat 5th ahead of this game, though a little outside the promotion chase. Rhyl have won the North Wales Challenge Cup on a total of 14 occasions (1928, ’30, ’34, ’35, ’39, ’48, ’50-’52, ’54, ’55, ’70, 2004 & 2006).

After visiting the previously mentioned food bar for some fine chips & curry (which ended up as gravy, but no complaints here), the sides entered the field to a guard of honour provided by some flag-bearing kids. Underway soon afterwards, it took quite some time for anything of note to happen. Indeed, by the time I’d headed round to the far side of the ground, nothing had really happened to interest any of the spectators in Belle Vue on this day of mixed-up weather.

Eventually, around a quarter of an hour in, the action got going somewhat, as visitors F(f)lint Town United (whose Cae-y-Castell ground I visited a few years back) won a corner and then saw Richie Foulkes’ header from the set-piece blocked on the line and from the resultant counter, Aaron Pomeyie forced a stop of out of Flint ‘keeper Nik-Lee Bulmer. This was to prove as exciting as a pretty dour first half got, really, with my highlight being the sighting of a pirate mascot briefly making an appearance before never being seen again. I don’t think I’d drank anything I wasn’t aware of….

View from the Main Stand

Match Action

The uncovered seating. Not overly used today!

Just before half-time, I made my way up and into the bar area to see what was on. Carling and Strongbow for £3.50 a pop didn’t interest me too much (and not at all in the former’s case) so I decided to save it for now and keep some back for my Tour de Rhyl after the game. Back on the pitch, Flint had another chance just prior to the break, with Shaun Beck getting into the area but he was forced wide. He did however fashion a low ball in which was met by Andy Brown, but he couldn’t make a clean connection and the home stopper Rory Crowther was able to gather and send the sides in at nil-nil. I thought to myself ‘This is the most nailed-on nil-nil I’ve seen in ages’. Honestly, I had little hope in seeing a goal today on the first half showing.

After waiting inside the clubhouse and out of the drizzle that was falling during the interval, I eventually ventured outside as the teams made their way back out from the bowels of the Main Stand. Rhyl started the second half on the front foot and rattled the crossbar early on as Danny Holland’s header thudded against the woodwork with Bulmer beaten. This looked to have confirmed my half-time lament but the dangerous, pacey Pomeyie had other ideas. On around 55 minutes, the winger was released by a through ball and advanced, unopposed, into the Flint area before coolly slotting past Bulmer to break the deadlock and I could breathe a sigh of relief. No nil-nil here!

This goal opened up the game from then on in and Flint were soon on a quest to draw themselves back level. Kyle Smith went close when he fired just wide before Mark Cadwallader would level for the visitors, apparently seizing on some defensive mistakes to lift the ball over Crowther, the ball nestling into the back of the net. I hadn’t seen the initial part of Cadwallader’s strike, but had looked up from my camera just in time to see the effort dipping under the bar with the ‘keeper stood rooted to the spot. Anyway, one-one it was!

Match Action

Match Action

Flint go close at the end

However, the sides weren’t back level for long as, around ten minutes later, Rhyl forced a corner at the far end, where I had happened to have situated myself. The initial set-piece delivery was cleared out but once again it was that man Pomeyie who provided the quality, crossing in for Phil Marsh to force the ball over the line from close range to restore the hosts’ lead.

To be honest, despite some late, invited pressure from Flint, they didn’t get too close to a second leveller, outside of a shot being blazed over late on and Rhyl duly held on to take the points and I headed back off into Rhyl for a quick look down the seafront. There wasn’t much to see at this time of year, though, with only a few people out and about on the beach and so I swiftly headed onwards and into the town centre where I came upon the George and, opposite there, the town’s Wetherspoon’s offering – The Sussex. Coors at a tick over £2 in the former was again proof that Rhyl was going to be one of those great town’s that is cheap everywhere you go, with the ‘Spoons Hooch at the standard £2.19 being just the norm for once, though the barman in here was mighty chipper!

Rhyl

Rhyl

The George & The Sussex. Dixie Dean too…

I wasn’t too far from the station at this point (I had to leave fairly early as I was heading to a party later in the evening) and so I figured I could squeeze a couple more in due to the fact the pubs were very nicely laid out en route. First up was supposed to be either the Wellington or the North, but with the Welly well and truly shut, the North was next up. Yet again the Tuborg came in well within the £2 bracket and this proved a nice accompaniment whilst watching Chelsea’s clash with Crystal Palace for a short time before popping round the corner to my final stop, the Bodfor. The large place was rammed full, so I was lucky that I got served just as a group left a table meaning I could swiftly take their place and enjoy my final pint before heading just up the road to the station where I arrived just a minute or so before my train rolled in. Planning pays off sometimes!

The North

The Bodfor

A problem (and rat) free-journey followed on this occasion, with a couple of drinks back at the aforementioned party rounding off a fine (and shockingly cheap beer-wise) day. The game ended up being a rather decent one and the ground is definitely well worth a visit. Food and programme were both good and Rhyl’s beer offerings were so cheap I couldn’t quite believe it! Travel was easy too and so, hopefully, next week’s double-header doesn’t throw up any late postponement surprises. The two club’s W’s will hopefully stand for warm….

RATINGS:

Game: 6

Ground: 7

Food: 6

Programme: 7

Value For Money: 8

Manchopper in….Bangor (Gwynedd)

Result: Bangor City 7-0 Penydarren BGC (Welsh Cup Quarter-Final)

Venue: Bangor Stadium (Sunday 4th March 2018, 2.45pm)

Att: 694

Following my on-the-fly trip to Carlisle the previous day, so it was that my back-up plan of Bangor City’s Welsh Cup tie with minnows Penydarren was now not required. However, as so often happens, I awoke in the morning to find an urge to venture over the border too much to ignore and as such, by 10am, I was off and heading into Liverpool where I’d change and head westwards.

After arriving in Merseyside, I was left with a good twenty minute wait down in the underground platforms of Lime Street. However, this wasn’t too appealing and so I instead hopped on the earlier train which ran up the line to Hooton before peeling off to Ellesmere Port. With me requiring the intermediary of Chester I got off at the aforementioned Hooton where I was still faced with the wait, but with a little more to look at. Meanwhile, the delay crept closer and closer to the train to Bangor’s scheduled departure time from the border city and so nerves began to creep in as to whether I’d make it in time.

The Merseyrail train eventually rolled in and we arrived in Chester around fifteen minutes later and with just two minutes to race across the footbridge and to the platform opposite. The whistle blew to send it on its way just as me and this other guy made the stairs down but we looked to have made it as the conductor was just about to step onboard. Both she and the station staff guy saw us as we pegged it down the platform but, upon arrival, we were told that the doors could not be opened. It then proceeded to sit prone, almost mocking us, for the next twenty seconds or so before eventually heading off. We were now subjected to an hour’s wait for the next service which, all being well, would get me to Bangor’s ground just in time for kick-off. I wasn’t happy, gave the guy some lip and headed off in a huff for a much-needed pint. I felt it was poor to punish us for delays not of our making and then to not let us on when it remained safe to do so. I understand if the service is regular – every half-hour, say – but t0 expect us to wait a further hour was very poor on Arriva Wales’ part. In my opinion.

Rant over and I spent the next 45 minutes watching the highly entertaining top-of-the table clash between Blackburn and Wigan over a pint of Amstel while venting to all that would listen on my phone, be that by voice or by text! Soon enough, though, the time had passed and it was back off to the station where I was denied my planned sarcastic comment due to the fact said staff person was nowhere to be seen unfortunately. Anyway, after passing by the castles of F(f)lint and Conwy along with the grounds of the latter’s Borough, Penmaenmawr Phoenix and the interesting looking Llanfairfechan Town before eventually arriving into Bangor at just past 2pm. With half an hour to kick-off, it was time to get a move on….not before getting lost of course!

It’s down here somewhere

Finally arriving at Bangor Stadium

I eventually found my bearings and was soon surrounded in trees while navigating a dirt path high over a road and around the rear of the university housing. It finally began to descend when I was having serious doubts it ever would and I quickly made my way down the access road and to the Bangor Stadium turnstiles. Here I was relieved of £11 (£9 entry, plus £2 programme) before I entered into the first ground of my next block of 50. Visit to ground 251 was underway…and I reckoned I could do with some chips. For just £1.50, I had a very generous, curry-covered, portion in my hands and was all set for the game to get started. The teams were out, pleasantries had been exchanged and we were ready to go.

The Bangor Stadium is a tidy, new-build ground on the banks of the Menai Straight. It has a large, raised main stand which is all-seater, with the vast majority of these covered but, interestingly about 100 at each side protrude from out of the reach of the roof. Behind both goals are a set of a few steps of terracing, with apparent plans for at least one to be covered in the near future. The Menai Straight side plays host to a pair of small seated stands which both beared “Family Stand” upon them, but this didn’t seem to be a particularly enforced rule. With the hill towering above on one side and the coast of Anglesey on the other (with bridge in the distance), it is certainly a ground with character, which is good considering the former city-centre ground of Farrar Road (now a Tesco) is seemingly much missed. So, that’s the Bangor Stadium and here’s the story of Bangor City FC….

History Lesson:

Bangor City Football Club (Clwb Pêl-Droed Dinas Bangor) was founded in 1876, but their first season was played under rugby football rules, before the switch to association football followed after that one sole year. This was due to the large amount of injuries sustained by the players! They began life playing at the Maes y Dref ground and initially played friendly and occasional cup games. This included a game on Easter Monday of 1880 when Bangor took on Blackburn Rovers, falling to a narrow two-one defeat.

Nine years later, Bangor lifted their first Welsh Cup though their opponents in the final were not Welsh but, in fact, happened to come from Cheshire in the form of Northwich Victoria. A 2-1 win was enough to take the silverware and won it again in 1896, defeating Llandudno to lift the second oldest cup competition for the second time. This was after they had become a founder member of the North Wales Coast League in 1893 and they would spend five seasons here and winning it once (though they have won a further four titles here, presumably their reserve side) prior to a switch to England and the Combination, where they finished as runners-up in 1911, their last season of note before the outbreak of World War One.

BCFC

Their initial ground would go onto receive complaints from visiting sides during this period and this enforced the club to move to what would become their long-term home on Farrar Road, where they would share with Bangor Cricket Club. However, this share would only last until just after WWI when the cricket club moved out to their own venue once again leaving Bangor City as sole tenants at Farrar Road, when the club were playing in the Welsh National League which they were again a founder of in 1921.

After a spell in the North Wales Football Combination from 1930-’32, which yielded a runners-up spot in 1931, the club became a part of the English pyramid and joined the Birmingham and District League in 1932, prior to also having spells in the Lancashire Combination which was joined in 1938, with Bangor ending their first year there as runners-up and the Cheshire League from their Combination departure in 1950 through to 1968 which, again, saw a best placing of runners-up, in both 1954 & 1959. These sandwiched a spell in a Welsh League from 1935, of which Bangor were again a founder, and this presumably spanned through to the outbreak of World War II. City’s successes continued to come in the form of Cup competitions and they won a third Welsh Cup title in 1962. This led to the club famously playing Napoli in the European Cup Winners’ Cup where they beat the Italians 2-0 at home but lost both 3-1 back in Italy prior to bowing out 2-1 in the play-off game at Arsenal’s Highbury.

Following the re-organisation of non-league football in England during the 1960’s, Bangor stepped up to become a founder member of the Northern Premier League in 1969 and won the NPL’s Challenge Cup that same year. A decade later, a founder member of the Alliance, the forerunner of the Conference and latterly National League. However, they remained in the Alliance for only two years before being relegated in 1981, but bounced back immediately by winning the NPL title the next season. They would go on to have another three seasons in the Alliance following this before again being relegated in 1984, never to return (to date, anyway!), though they did have a close-call, finishing as NPL runners-up in 1987. That year also saw the club lift the NPL’s Premier League Shield before they also won the 1989 NPL President’s Cup.

CPD Dinas Bangor

The club would continue playing in the English system for another eight years after this, reaching the FA Trophy Final of 1984 where they played Northwich Vics once again. Played at Wembley, the club became only the second Welsh outfit to appear at the ground (after Cardiff City in 1927) and the sides drew one a-piece before Vics would go on to win the Trophy in the replay at Stoke City’s home. They again qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup for 1985/’86 as the previous season’s Welsh Cup champions and defeated Norway’s Fredrickstad before going out to Atletico Madrid, with 7,000 fans watching the home leg at Farrar Road.

1992 saw Bangor join the newly formed League of Wales where they won the title in both 1994 & ’95 under Nigel Adkins’ management. Both these triumphs saw the club enter the UEFA Cup for the first couple of occasions, though little success followed. The successes continued for Bangor, with 1998 & 2000 both seeing the Welsh Cup arrive at Farrar Road. They returned to the Cup Winners’ Cup after the first of these two wins, but lost out to the first of their Finnish opponents, FC Haka.

Triumphs soon came harder to come by though and it took until 2008 for the next silverware to be won by the club, but good things come in threes and the Welsh Cup did just that, being lifted in each of ’08, ’09 & 2010. The first saw them back in the UEFA Cup, where they bowed out to Danish side FC Midtjylland (who famously beat Manchester United in 2015). The middle success saw them drawn against Honka Espoo of Finland – Espoo being famed, of course, as the birthplace of 2007 Formula 1 champion, Kimi Räikkönen. That interlude has nothing to do with him being my sporting hero. Zero. Nada. Nil….maybe a little. They drew the same side again the next year, this time overcoming the Finns before bowing out to Marítimo of Portugal in the Europa League’s Third Qualifying Round.

Cwpan Cup

2011 saw Bangor City’s first league title (and first as the Welsh Premier League) since the mid-nineties arrive and this saw City take part in the early stages of the Champions League. Drawn against yet another Finnish team, HJK Helsinki, Bangor suffered a heavy 10-0 defeat in the Finnish capital. The final season at Farrar Road saw the club finish as WPL runners-up, keeping the title race alive to the last game – a decider against TNS, who ultimately took the title – before they departed their traditional home and moved to a new site, their current home – the Bangor Stadium – in 2012. This season saw another Europa League appearance, a narrow defeat to Moldovan club Zimbru Chisinau but the following season saw them miss out on Europe, being defeated in the play-off game for the spot by Bala Town. 2014 saw them back in European competition, though, as they drew Icelandic side Stjarnan who are another famed side, with their outlandish goal celebrations being viral hits (see the fish one if you somehow haven’t already).

2016 saw Bangor fall away in the league, ending in a lowly 10th place before a bit of a managerial merry go-round led to the departure of pretty long-term boss Neville Powell, with successor Andy Legg, Ian Dawes and Gary Taylor-Fletcher all leaving the role for a multitude of reasons, prior to current incumbent Kevin Nicholson taking the hot-seat and looking to bring stability. Last season saw the Citizens regain their form to finish up in 4th place but again went out in the Europa League’s First Qualifying Round, to Denmark’s Lyngby. The club have also won 13 North Wales Coast Challenge Cups (1927, ’36-’38, ’47, ’58, ’65, ’68, ’93, ’99, 2005, ’12), nine North Wales Coast Amateur Cup (1895, ’96, ’98, ’99, 1901, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’12) and a North West Wales Challenge Cup in 1886.

The game got underway and it quickly became apparent that Penydarren, who only entered the Cup for the first time this season, weren’t just here to make up the numbers. Both sides traded early chances, with the visitors’ star-man in this cup run Chris Owens nodding a cross just wide within the first couple of minutes before the hosts responded with a couple of efforts before they opened the scoring in the 11th minute via a barnstorming strike by Luke Wall who fired in a shot from all of 25 yards that flew into the top corner with the Penydarren ‘keeper, Jonathan Green, helpless. It didn’t silence the boisterous band of visiting supporters for long, though, those who’d travelled up from Merthyr Tydfil being spurred on by their very own Captain America.

Bangor’s own vocal support was awoken after this strike and both lent themselves to create a fine atmosphere in this quarter-final. However, the 23rd minute saw the Citizens double their advantage when Steve Hewitt thumped home a loose ball, after Green had pulled off a decent stop to deny George Harry’s initial shot. A two-goal lead for the Welsh Premier side against their Step 5 visitors looked to be the beginning of the end of their fairytale cup run.

Match Action

Menai Bridge in the distance

Match Action

Despite getting into a number of decent attacking positions, the final ball or decision was lacking for the visitors for the most part, though they did force City stopper Matt Hall into a good stop with around five minutes left before the break, the impressive Ben Jones cutting inside and firing in an effort aimed at the top corner, only for the diving frame of Hall to divert the ball away. That was pretty much that for the first period and the sides headed in with the game, just about, still alive.

Half-Time saw me relocating into the Main Stand after a lap of the ground, which proved to be a shrewd move as the rain began to fall over the North West Walian city. It was also a good move for another reason, as it allowed me to make the acquaintance of ground/bowling lane hopping couple Ben and Flora after Ben had recognised myself from a few seats away. Fame at last! It was good to meet them both and they were great company throughout the break, even giving me a pub recommendation of the Tap & Spile down near the pier, which they’d visited on a prior visit to Bangor. This was duly noted before the pair braved the rain and headed off on their own lap of the Bangor Stadium with the teams getting the second half underway.

I opted to camp out in the stand for the second half with Flora and Ben choosing to stand behind the City End goal early on. This was a good move as they were in the right place for all the early action, the first part of which occurred as soon as play had restarted. Bangor attacked straight down the left-flank and Tom Kennedy’s whipped ball found the unmarked Yves Zama in the six-yard box and the Frenchman had the simple task of directing the ball into the bottom corner. Disaster for the black-and-white striped-clad visitors who had seen their slim chances all but snuffed out almost immediately.

View from the Main Stand

Looking across to Anglesey

Match Action

And just four minutes later Bangor had cemented their spot in the semi-finals as Wall netted his second of the game, advancing into the area and curling a lovely effort across the despairing Green and into the far top corner. That really was that for the game as a contest but, to their credit, Penydarren kept on striving for the goal that I felt they very much deserved and went agonisingly close around the hour mark when Alex Lloyd met a ball into the area but saw his header cleared off the line with the travelling band all ready to well and truly reach their crescendo. As it was, they had to be content with banging an advertising hoarding….very loudly!

With the rain abating, I decided to continue on around to the Family Stands once again and watch the last twenty or so from the Menai Straights side of the ground Before I was able to do so however, goal number five arrived with Wall feeding Zama who hammered the ball home from close range. This prompted the lesser seen triple substitution (which sadly didn’t involve player/assistant manager Gary Taylor-Fletcher) and, even rarer, a non-injury enforced ‘keeper sub which saw Hall replaced in goal by Connor Roberts and the sub was quickly forced into action, pulling off a great save to deny Nathan Williams’ effort and equalling that by tipping over Josh Brogden’s hit which looked destined for the top corner, me stood directly behind. Indeed, this save drew praise from the visiting supporter behind which was duly appreciated by the gloveman.

Sadly for Penydarren this was to be their last truly dangerous attempt as they began to seemingly tire during the last fifteen minutes or so and Bangor took advantage to net a further two goals and add some further gloss to the score-line. Not only that, but both strikes also saw hat-tricks secured. Wall’s trio of strikes came first with the midfielder receiving the ball around 25 yards out, before continuing on into the box and firing beyond Green and then Zama rounded off the scoring, converting a penalty after sub Gethin Thomas was felled – placing the ball past the ‘keeper who guessed correctly but couldn’t get to Zama’s kick. The pen happened to be the final kick of the game too, as the referee blew as soon as the ball hit the net and it was left to Penydarren to take the acclaim of their fans in front of the tunnel. Their adventure was at an end, but they went down fighting and with heads held high. They are still unbeaten otherwise too, so it could be the start of a rise for the club, perhaps?

The Penydarren Army

Family Stand views

Players get their dues

So it was time to head out and my pre-laid plans were to head to the Menai Bridge neighbouring pub, the Antelope Inn. But with the rain falling a bit heavier, I decided to not risk the weather worsening and lengthening the walk back to the city centre and so instead headed straight back to Bangor itself. After a twenty-minute walk, which afforded views over to Anglesey and the bridge, I found myself back in view of Bangor’s pubs. I first set eyes on the large Belle Vue, decked out in copious amounts of the flag of St. David (I think) and so headed there to plan out my walk round to the pier, which I hoped would take in a stone circle of some sort and the “Roman Camp”. A pint of Hop House 13 was enjoyed in here – a strange mix of bistro-like tables and chairs and traditional décor – as the weather nicely cleared up in time for my departure back out and towards the pier.

After passing said stone circle, I discovered when walking down a cliff-side lane that the Camp was right up at the top of the sheer rock face. Some climb, though I did fancy a visit and it just so happened to only be a short walk from the aforementioned Tap & Spile. Ben was spot-on with his recommendation, the place was a fine little establishment and is also a hotel. I opted for a pint of Moretti in here (£4), though was ensured I wasn’t at fault for the door sticking open on the rug in the porch. I may have been more at fault for dropping money over the bar though!

Belle Vue

Stone Circle

Tap & Spile

After a quicker than expected pint in here (I had to move on closer to the station), I headed up the steep incline of Upper Garth Road and the even steeper tree-lined dirt path up to the Roman Camp. It was well worth the effort, though, the place affording superb views to each side, most notably over the city and out over both the water and to the snow-capped peaks of Snowdonia. Lovely. The climb had made me thirsty again though, and so I went off in search of another pub to help me out. That’s my story anyway….

The city centre was my next target and my walk was in the shadow of the imposing structure of Bangor University, the building towers impressively over the surrounding area from its raised position. I soon came upon the Waterloo pub which looked interesting, but also looked shut from a distance and, with time against me, didn’t want to take the risk of it being so and instead continued on through the Cathedral grounds and to the brightly lit Castle. The Castle had that sort of chain-like feel to it but was very cheap, the pint of Amstel in here coming in at around £2.50. Not too shabby. It was decent enough for a swift one, but I was soon onwards on my extended route back to Bangor station.

View from the Roman Camp

Bangor

Bangor Cathedral

Bypassing a number of other pubs and bars which looked decent too (if only I had that earlier hour, I thought to myself), I opted for the pair of pubs nearest the station, just to be safe. These were, namely, the Harp and the Black Bull, the latter being Bangor’s own Wetherspoon’s outlet. As it was, the Harp was the closer of the two to the station, but I reckoned I’d visit the ‘Spoons last on account of me having to have a Hooch or something considering the time. The Harp was up then and my pint of Carlsberg was another to come in under the £3 mark. The snug was a nice and quiet place to reflect on the day for a short while, whilst being overlooked by Charles Dickens’ face for some reason, before I crossed back over the road and to the Black Bull – an old church which was built on the site of a previous inn known by the same name. A solid ‘Spoons offering it was too, especially considering the blandness of the few I’ve done recently, but my stay lasted all of ten minutes as I was off to catch the effective last train back, or I was facing shelling out some extra cash on a bus and having already paid £30 for the privilege of using the rail network, I didn’t fancy doing so. Maybe that should be factored into what trains you are allowed onto as well?

A five-minute walk later and I was climbing up the slight incline to the station, following another group who were walking fairly slowly, so I reckoned I was in time easily. This changed to slight worry when I heard the sound of a train emanating from behind a wall, before spotting the very train I was due to get sitting at the platform. Deja vu came to mind immediately as the group and I all set off running to the nearest door, though we needn’t have worried, as we sat there for a good two minutes afterwards. Just as planned. No problem…..Phew….

Y Castell

In the Harp’s snug

Black Bull

The remainder of the journey was completed via Liverpool once more, making the train back easily. So ends what was only my second trip into Wales this season, following my earlier trip to the outskirts of Wrexham for a Welsh Trophy tie at Rhostyllen. The game was pretty good too, with the atmosphere created adding to the occasion. The ground, as I said earlier, was a good new-build which already has attained its own feel and, to paraphrase Ben, was like “the Rock but with water instead of a….rock”. Travel was a bit shit on the way, but fairly serene on the return leg and Bangor itself is a lovely city and well worth a visit. So that’s the first of many two-game weekends that are to come between now and the season’s end. Next up is a familiar venue and one that is a fair bit more local, though may still feature an ex-Premier League star from South America….

RATINGS:

Game: 7

Ground: 7

Food: 9

Programme: 8

Value For Money: 7

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.