Saturday January 3rd 2015
Pontypridd Town 2-0 Caerleon.
Nathaniel Car Sales League Cup Round 2.
Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd.
Attendance: Circa 20
Whilst powering our way back from our week in New Quay, as we battled against the furious rain on the M4, it became more and more apparent that today’s Welsh League fixture list was going to take a battering. I didn’t know Pontypridd Town were playing at home, so my original plan was to head up the top of the Rhondda Fawr to watch Ton Pentre play at home against Caerau (Ely), I found out pretty early on in the day through Twitter that the game had been postponed due to the inclimate weather.
I checked Twitter throughout the journey home to find game after game falling foul of the ‘foul’ weather. I’d set myself up for taking in at least one match today and I’d have been gutted if they were all postponed, especially after Thursday’s thriller between Aberystwyth Town and Carmarthen Town at Park Avenue.
I did find the one match still on, conveniently located less than a mile from my front door.
This just happened to be music to my ears.
We arrived home at about midday, we unpacked and put everything back sort of in it’s place and I walked down the mile or so down the road to Ynysangharad Park, the venue for this afternoon’s important cup tie between Pontypridd Town and Caerleon.
It’s worth pointing out at this point in this piece, that the idea of this blog is to be a bit more adventurous with my football-watching, it’s supposed to be a year long new year’s resolution. The very idea of going to visit new places and to uncover hidden gems in the Welsh football pyramid. So then, perhaps going to watch a match less than a mile from my house in a park where I regularly jog three or four times a week is, to be honest, not all that adventurous in the grand scheme of things?
Having said all of this, I’ve still never seen Ponty Town in action, and I’ve still never watched a football match in Ynysangharad Park, despite living so close to the park for my whole life, so it still counts! Also, as I’m hoping this blog will be used by some people as a “newbies guide” to some of these grounds, I’ll present this as “out of towner” as I can for someone who has lived in the Pontypridd area for the whole 32 years of my life thus far.
Ponty Town have become (very) minor celebrities of sort in the non-league world in recent years. They were championed by TalkSport’s Colin Murray who caught wind of their plan to play La Liga’s Valencia in a pre-season friendly last Summer. Colin Murray took their story to the airwaves, got Wickes and Danny Murphy involved and the rest is history.
Pontypridd Town currently lie 10th in Division Three of the Welsh League and today’s Cup opponents Caerleon sit 12th in Division Two. So on paper, the Newport side seem to be favourites.
For those who haven’t visited Ponty Town before, their ground sits within Ynysangharad Park, a large green park that lies between Pontypridd Town Centre and the A470 which takes commuters into Cardiff, or up North to Merthyr Tydfil, Brecon and beyond. Ynysangharad Park; a usual hangout for middle-aged joggers, mums with strollers and teens with cans of Aldi Apple Cider and where I’ve quite often been known to take part in the weekly Parkrun (admittedly I haven’t been for about 9 months!). Tom Jones also came back home to play on the cricket pavillion in the park to celebrate his 65th birthday. He also invited 15,000 of his close friends.
Walking in from the Treforest direction, I walked into the park the “back way”, as mentioned previously, this is a route I jog along three or four times a week. This walk straddles the River Taff and eventually leads under the A4058 where you’ll be met by some absolutely brilliant graffiti and some absolutely shit graffiti.
As I walked towards the ground, this morning’s violent rain was still troubling the Ponty skyline, and Ynysangharad Park had taken an absolute beating, the Ponty Town staff, intent on protecting the pitch insisted that both teams do their pre-match warmup on the pitch next door – normally reserved for age group matches and reserve games in order to give the already waterlogged pitch the best chance of holding up for 90 minutes.
After happily handing over my £3 admission, it became clear to see that Ponty Town’s Ynysangharad Park ground was a charming lower league ground with plenty of character. It has a decent pitch (admittedly the surface has taken a beating since the start of the season) surrounded by fencing and a path that runs around the pitch.
The first thing you notice on your entrance to the ground are the changing room buildings, which also house a refreshment stall/bar (walk through the door past the changing rooms to the end to find of the corridor to find the refreshments/bar – manned by volunteers and club staff, as is my understanding).
With the dreadful weather, kick off was put back 15 minutes. So I used this time to do a lap of the ground for the blog.
Ynysangharad Park boasts one main stand that runs down the centre of one side of the pitch, it’s probably able to cover about 200 or so people at a guess, the rest of the pitch has what I’ve always called “resting fences”.
Like pretty much all grounds at this level at this time of year, there are some muddy patches – but nothing that I didn’t play in on a daily basis when I played at youth level in the local leagues.
As kick off approached the stand started to fill up a little, including several other fellow groundhoppers whose planned games had fallen foul of the foul weather. Hardy souls who found their way here, with this afternoon’s game being one of the only games in south Wales to not have been postponed.
The idea of visiting these games is to attend as a neutral and not have any club allegiances of any form. However, as any sane football fan will tell you, there is no such thing as a neutral fan! I don’t care what you say, there is no such thing! Whether you take a fancy for the underdog, or whether you have a little something for a team that includes one of your ex-players or something… I don’t care what it is, there is no way you can simply be a neutral in any game!!!
Since I’ve actually lived in Pontypridd for five years, and in the surrounding area for the rest of my life, I found myself supporting Ponty Town without any shame and after ten minutes or so of a reserved and dignified hush, I slowly find myself on the stand kicking every loose ball and bellowing out the usual “spectator that used to play parks football” spiel (e.g “Man On!”, “Go With It!”, “All Day!”, “Time!” “Have a pop!” and “Switch It!”). When a Caerleon player goes in from behind on one of Ponty Town’s creative midfielders I find myself bellowing “That’s a booking all day ref!” at the poor referee, who no doubt doesn’t give a hoot what I think about the challenge.
As I mentioned earlier, Caerleon currently ply their trade in Division Two of the Welsh League – so it goes without saying they were probably the favourites this afternoon on league placing alone. However, Ponty Town start very strong and come out of the traps sprinting, the highlight of which being an absolute belter of a shot by Ponty’s Number 11 (whom I later learn to be Tom Rutherford) from about twenty yards out that is saved acrobatically somehow by Caerleon’s keeper Richard Lancaster.
Only two minutes later, James Hill of Ponty Town missed what I wrote in my phone’s memo application as a “glaring miss”. It was one of those efforts that was probably harder for the boy to miss to be fair. At this point it was clear to all watching that Caerleon were struggling to even get out of their own half. All of their clearances managed to find their way to a Pontypridd foot.
On 25 or thereabout minutes, a lovely layoff by Ponty’s Dominic Broad on the edge of the box led to a superb finish from about 25 yards out by striker James Hill, Hill making up for his miss only a few minutes earlier. How he managed to put this chance away so brilliantly, yet miss the earlier chance amazed me!
After the goal Ponty Town had to endure a period of Caerleon pressure lasting around ten minutes. This, despite a large period of Caerleon possession which didn’t result in an equaliser, only a deflected shot which lead to a fruitless corner.
As the game approached half-time, Ponty Town took a hold on the game again as James Hill laid a tasty pass across the box to be headed in calmly by Luke Gullick with about five minutes to go before the half time whistle.
At half time, I found myself in amazement again (like at Aber earlier this week) at being charged the ridiculously low price of 50p for a cup of coffee at the club bar, served in a real mug. You don’t get this treatment down at Cardiff, that’s for certain. The personal touches and friendliness of volunteers at clubs like this are what I’ve come to learn make the Welsh leagues an amazing place to watch football.
As the teams emerged for the second half it was clear Caerleon re-entered the pitch re-invigorated. It might have been the half-time Lucozade, I also strongly suspect it might have been what we called a “half time bollocking of the highest magnitude” in my day. Caerleon held onto possession a great deal more than the first half and remained a little calmer in their play than they had previously. On around 55 mins, a well worked piece of play resulted in Jamie Davies having a great opportunity only to scupper it by chipping the ball well over the bar from the edge of the box.
A messy goalmouth scramble on the hour resulted in Caerleon nearly pulling one back only for the ball to be deflected wide off a Pontypridd Town foot.
Dominic Broad for Pontypridd Town had been giving Caerleon defender Simon Bolton a torrid time in the first half with his creative runs through the midfield, and this continued throughout the second half. However, these runs didn’t result in a goal, as the longer the game went on, the less chances Ponty found in front of goal – the chances that presented themselves from distance were more often than not blocked by a Caerleon trailing foot.
With ten minutes or so left Caerleon pushed forward in their numbers in search for the goals to restore parity, however this left massive spaces which were counter-attacked on a regular basis by the Ponty Town side who sensed they were one push away from an excellent cup victory. One such move resulted in a cheeky lob from 25 yards out by Ponty striker Luke Gullick, who found his shot go mere inches over the bar.
Caerleon tried their best to score with a couple of well worked crosses – most of which were met by the heads of Ponty defenders, who it must be said, defended pretty resolutely. I did fear that Caerleon’s strength would show in the second half and they would outnumber the Ponty defence, but they held tight and held a disciplined high line.
As the referee blew the final whistle, the joy on the Ponty Town players faces was clear to see. On the same day as the FA Cup 3rd Round kicked off in England and journalists fantasized over potential banana-slip upsets, Ponty Town themselves carried out a cup upset of their own.
Overall I would consider this to be an absolutely great Ponty Town performance to round off a great afternoon at a lovely Welsh league ground. Pontypridd Town, this afternoon gained themselves a fan and I cannot wait until the next time I visit Ynysangharad Park for one of their matches. They now go to Division One’s Monmouth Town next Saturday for the next round of the cup.
My Man of the Match: Ponty Town’s Dominic Broad. A calm but energetic performance from a midfielder who looked for every inch to be well above the level he is playing at.