Sunday 18th January 2015
Port Talbot Town 4-3 Bala Town
Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League.
The Genquip Stadium, Port Talbot.
You know you’re a sad person when you consider driving over Gilfach Goch and Blackmill through the country lanes, as opposed to going straight down the M4 to Port Talbot from Pontypridd as a bit of a treat. I realised this as I found myself heading down to the Genquip Stadium for today’s Port Talbot Town vs. Bala Town match in the Welsh Premier League.
I’d only ever been to the Genquip Stadium once before today’s match. It was for a pre-season friendly between Port Talbot Town and a Cardiff City XI in August 2011 that was a fairly unspectacular match ending 2-2 and mainly revolving around the then Port Talbot defender Cortez Belle kicking various members of the Cardiff City Development squad 6ft in the air repeatedly.
That game was notable however as being the last time Cardiff City legend and myth, Gavin Rae, lined up for the team. He was technically a free agent, but my understanding was that he was still training with the squad while he lined up a new club.
Port Talbot is a seaside town, which lies around half way between Bridgend and Neath. The town’s skyline is dominated by the steelworks, the same steelworks where Port Talbot Town take their nickname “The Steelmen”. The town has always had a bit of questionable reputation in the South Wales area, but most of these tend to revolve around the questionable smell from the sulphur being exerted from the steelworks into the sensitive nostrils of passing motorists on the M4.
The Genquip Stadium is located about a mile or so out of the town centre, which makes it very easy to find convenient parking, and the stadium is pretty well signposted. To be honest, I only set the Sat Nav for memory purposes, once I left the M4 I found myself remembering the route from my previous visit three and a half years ago.
Port Talbot actually represents itself pretty well in the Welsh football stakes. Port Talbot Town themselves are a well established Welsh Premier League team and only last year were their local rivals Afan Lido relegated from the league. Afan Lido currently ply their trade in the top tier of the Welsh League.
The Genquip Stadium, or Victoria Road if you’re against the corporatism of modern football stadia is a nice little ground. The main entry reminds me a lot of the Vetch in Swansea, in the fact that you enter the ground through a break in a terraced street.
The first thing you notice as you enter the ground from Victoria Road are the painted murals, presumably painted by the Port Talbot Town supporters, who are well known in the Welsh Premier as being one of the, if not the most passionate supporters in the league. The team even have an group of “Ultras” naming themselves the 1901 Ultras in honour of the clubs birth.
The club have been trying to encourage more spectators into today’s match, inviting Swansea City season ticket holders to the ground for free, as well as offering freebies for existing Port Talbot Town season ticket holders with mates. Being a Cardiff City season ticket holder, I’m paying the standard adult admission – which is a fiver, which for Welsh Premier games is a pretty fair and standard price. A match day program sets me back £2 and I’m given a free half time raffle ticket.
I’m about half an hour early, so I take a walk around the ground and try and hunt out a coffee or a pint. I’m met by the clubhouse which sits behind one of the goals.
The clubhouse is fairly busy and is full with supporters having their last pint before kick off. The place reminds me a lot of Valleys rugby clubs, featuring lots of wooden feature walls and framed photos of ex-Port Talbot players in their Welsh Under 21 kits and the like. I decide to go for a coffee, which sets me back £1 and must be easily pint sized. It’s okay, nothing special – but then I consider myself a bit of a coffee connoisseur – and today’s offering comes nowhere near Penybont FC’s Cappuccino yesterday.
Today’s match is an important one for two reasons: 1. This is the last match for Port Talbot Town before the Welsh Premier splits in half for the last third of the season. The complex nature of the league means that with a third of the season left, the top half of the table are safe from relegation and only play each other until the end of the year, while the bottom half are protected from potentially winning the title and only play each other until the end of the year. If Port Talbot Town take all three points against 3rd placed Bala Town this afternoon, then they will be safe in the top half and find themselves in the end of season playoffs for a Europa League spot – regardless of where they end up in the league. 2. The S4C Sgorio cameras are in town to show today’s match live, which is ironic as this happens to the only fixture in this afternoon’s full list of fixtures to not fall foul of the big freeze. The freeze making today’s “Last day before the split” seem a bit of a damp squib.
The pitch is flanked by two stands that run alongside most of the touchline, the first being the main stand which the players emerge from prior to kick off. An all-seater stand that could probably house about 400 spectators, although this just a random guess rather than some actual figure I’ve picked up somewhere.
The other stand, named the Gerald McCreesh Stand (who I later learn was a previous vice-chairman of the club) on the other side of the pitch is a bigger building that can probably house about 700 or so, it also houses the Port Talbot Town 1901 Ultras who take their place at the top left of the stand, resplendent with their banners, drums and a sole trumpet player.
I know they split opinions all over the place, but I’m a big fan of the Port Talbot Town Ultras. They add something special to the game, validating the fact that this league is just as important as any other league in Europe and supporters showing some passion should always be encouraged. There’s little worse than seeing ‘shy’ supporters meekly clapping as their team score a vital last minute goal against their local rivals. You won’t find any of that at Port Talbot Town.
The Ultras are also pretty entertaining to be fair, and lighten up moments in the game where the action dulls a little (admittedly being a 4-3 finish, there are precious few of these moments today), besides from some of the usual Port Talbot chants, they also include a few numbers poking fun at the state of Bala Town’s pitch and its similarity to a cabbage patch. The Ultras also manage to squeeze in a few “You can stick your Sky Sports up your arse!” chants, before launching into a trilogy of “S, S, S.4.C”, “We love you Sgorio, we do!” and “Nicky John’s Barmy Army” chants for the Sgorio cameras present today.
I watch the first half from the main stand, and the games kicks into life immediately as Port Talbot’s centre forward Martin Rose gets on the end of a great cross to put the Steelmen 1-0 up on 2 minutes.
Bala Town come close on 5 minutes as a cross/shot is missed by the entire Port Talbot defence and rattles the bar.
At half time I make my way over to the Gerald McCreesh stand in attempt to not have to keep my arms raised constantly blocking the low sun shining over us. I check my mobile and find a text from my mother, she’s text me to let me know that she has seen me on S4C and asks if I was at the game?
The second half kicks off, and Port Talbot start strongly, they come close a handful of times before scoring a second through Chad Bond who gets onto the end of a good Martin Rose cross.
Bala Town’s Lee Hunt scores what at the time seemed like a consolation goal from close range, but Port Talbot’s problems are compounded with 15 minutes to go as Mark Connolly latches on to the end of a loose ball to level the scores, only seconds after Port Talbot had cleared the ball off the line.
The Ultras are incensed as Mark Connolly and several Bala colleagues run over to them to celebrate furiously. They have the last laugh as no more than two minutes later, full back Corey Thomas picked up the ball on the half way line, skipped past two players, played a neat one-two and then fired a fizzing shot across the Bala keeper to make it 3-2 to the Steelmen with about ten minutes left on the clock. In that moment, Port Talbot’s Europa League dreams are back alive and the Ultras go berzerk.
The action slows down a little as Port Talbot try to take the sting out of the game for the last ten minutes, playing close possession football rather than going all out for a fourth. This kind of play results in several Bala Town fouls which leave a mark on some Port Talbot legs.
Port Talbot striker Martin Rose puts the game beyond doubt again a few minutes later as he meets a cross from Luke Bowen. At 4-2 with only stoppage time left, surely the game is beyond doubt now and the Steelmen can start putting their minds on potentially qualifying for next year’s Europa League?
Of course they can’t, as Bala Town striker Mark Jones pulls free and unleashes a decent half volley that beats the Port Talbot keeper to make it 4-3. The fourth official announces there will be five minutes of additional time, which makes the finish even more nervy – even as a neutral I find my heart beat a little faster as the closing minutes start.
Despite a couple of scares, Port Talbot manage to hold out for the remaining minutes to take the three points against a Bala Town side who would feel they should have done better and come away with the three points. The relief on Port Talbot supporters faces is clear for all to see, and the Ultras are no doubt chuffed. The Port Talbot players and manager make their way over to applaud them for their relentless support for each and every one of the 95 minutes this afternoon.
All in all, this match, like the Aberystwyth Town vs. Carmarthen Town match earlier this month, was a perfect advert for the Welsh Premier League as a serious league with some excellent and entertaining football.
I’ve enjoyed my afternoon in Port Talbot and will definitely make sure it’s not another three and half years before my next visit.
Thanks to Port Talbot Town and their staff for their hospitality this afternoon and I wish both clubs the best of luck for the rest of the season.
My Man of the Match: Port Talbot Town’s Martin Rose, who had an absolute stormer of a game. He was ran ever so closely (I struggled to separate the two to be honest) by full back Corey Thomas who didn’t really put a foot wrong all day. His goal also happened to be beautiful.