Saturday January 24th 2015
AFC Porth 2-5 Haverfordwest County.
Welsh League Division One.
Dinas Park, Dinas (Rhondda).
Attendance: Circa 30.
Porth, and more specifically, Dinas Park, has always been a special place for me. I played my first real game of football on the pitch as a 8 year old, turning out for Penygraig Boys’ Club back in 1990. This was long before kids started playing on smaller pitches with smaller goals, so as 8 year olds we’d play full length on an adult pitch, with size 5 footballs and adult goals (the amount of lobbed goals that would be scored was quite ridiculous).
When I stopped playing for Penygraig Boys Club a couple of years later, on the recommendation of my dad who knew the-then Under 12’s manager at AFC Porth, I moved to AFC Porth and played on this pitch as well. My primary school, Williamstown Primary School also played on the pitch and finally when I represented Rhondda Schoolboys a couple of years later, I also played on the same pitch.
I chose not to go down the football route in the end (instead opting for the glamorous world of Systems Architecture), limiting myself to some sterling appearances for my works 5-a-side team ‘Real Madras’. So as the AFC Porth and Haverfordwest County players were arriving at Dinas Park for this afternoon’s match at about half past twelve on this sunny January Saturday I found myself enjoying a cold pint of Coors at the Llwyncelyn Hotel, a nice pub on the outskirts of the town centre.
The Llwyncelyn is a decent pub, and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Dinas Park. The pub offers a wide beer range, it’s lively (there are about 25 people in, which for just after midday in Porth – is great) and today they are showing the Blackburn Rovers vs. Swansea City FA Cup match on the TV.
The Llwyncelyn is also the very same pub that I managed to see acoustic punk band Even In Blackouts at, almost ten years ago to the day! Even In Blackouts were a short lived band made up of ex-members of seminal 90’s pop-punk groups Screeching Weasel and Teen Idols (Google them).
I make my way up to Dinas Park through Porth town centre, which has improved greatly since my last visit. My wife actually works in the the old Pop Factory in Jenkin Street, she owns and runs an art studio in the basement – as such I tend to visit Porth a fair bit, but I’m rarely there in daylight hours, so I never get a chance to check out any of the shops or offerings available on Hannah Street.
AFC Porth have suffered greatly due to the terrible weather in the south Wales area this month, I believe today’s fixture was their first to not fall foul of the rain in several weeks. So today’s match would be a great chance to blow the cobwebs away. Finding themselves at the bottom of Division 1, with only 1 point to their name after just over half of the season. AFC Porth would have to pull off an upset of some magnitude to take any points away from Haverfordwest County this afternoon. County went into today’s match sitting 2nd in the league, they lie two points behind leaders Cardiff Metropolitan University, but with two games in hand.
Dinas Park is a charming ground, nestled in a natural valley between two peaks – one side leading to Edmondstown, Williamstown and Tonyrefail, while the other leads to Trealaw and the Rhondda Fawr valley. Admission is £4, which is pretty good value for a Division 1 match.
With the ground sitting at the bottom of a valley the pitch is surrounded by grass bankings, which naturally make for an excellent view from all sides of the ground. There are a few park benches spotted around the place for seating. A refreshment hut serving hot and cold drinks and snacks sits behind the goals on one end of the pitch. A single stand, four or five rows deep, which I seem to remember was built in the mid 1990’s stands in the middle of another side of the pitch. The stand is painted in AFC Porth’s maroon and light blue colours and could probably shield around 200 supporters from the rain.
Today’s match draws a reasonable crowd, as a rough guess estimate we’re probably looking at around 40-50 people, with a fair chunk of the number being made up of visiting Haverfordwest County fans. I even manage to spot an Aberystwyth Town scarf somewhere!
I’m just in time to grab a coffee from the refreshment hut before kick off. A coffee sets me back 80p, and as with Pontypridd Town at Ynysangharad Park three weeks ago, I’m served my coffee in a real mug. Coincidentally, my coffee is served in a Double Decker easter egg mug, the very same model of mug I was offered by my friends in Ponty.
It’s a basic white coffee, but the girls in the hut have done the best they can with a basic instant coffee. I find myself going back quarter of an hour later for another cup of that wonderful stuff. Don’t get me wrong, this is no Penybont FC Cappuccino! But AFC Porth have definitely served up the second best coffee I’ve ran into on my 2015 journeys.
The game kicks off at 2pm sharp. AFC Porth, who as I mentioned earlier, find themselves bottom of the table, ten points adrift of Pontardawe Town in 15th place. Porth start the match on the leading foot, they hold off a couple of attempted County attacks, and even look like building up some dangerous attacks of their own, only for a trailing foot here and a brave header there, by a County defender to stop them dead in their tracks.
The first ten minutes prove to be a tense period, with neither team particularly coming out on top. Both teams pass the ball confidently through the midfield, but there are no obvious chances by either side. You get the sense both teams are trying to get a feel for the way the other team is lining up.
This tense stand off is broken after 12 minutes, as Haverfordwest striker Jordan Follows is brave and meets a good cross cleanly, despite being second favourite in the challenge, to slot the ball past the Porth keeper to make it 1-0 to the men from the West.
Haverfordwest keep the pressure on immediately from the kick off, forcing the Porth midfield to make a mistake and lose possession. A good cross from the Haverfordwest winger is met by Luke Borrelli who unleashes a beautiful volley which leaves the Porth keeper with little chance to stop the ball on its way to the back of the net.
Until this two minute block, the game was fairly equal and AFC Porth were more than matching their West Wales counterparts in all areas of the pitch. Finding themselves 2-0 down in a short space of time, it’s clear for all to see that some of the AFC Porth heads have started to drop. It’s perfectly understandable given their league position. From this point Haverfordwest really begin to turn on the style, playing some really lovely stuff in the midfield, their passing game is sublime at times and it’s obvious to see why they find themselves being strong contenders for the Division 1 title.
A comical moment occurs around 17 minutes into the game. A wayward shot by a County striker sends the ball into the grounds of the nearby council flats. The referee, keen to keep the match flowing, requests a replacement ball from the Porth dugout. He takes hold of the first replacement ball offered up by the Porth staff, deems it to be not good enough and asks for a second ball. The referee then deems the second ball of not high enough quality, before finally settling for the third ball kicked in by the Porth staff. A Porth official is duly sent over to the flats to reclaim the original match ball.
Haverfordwest go three goals to the good after 27 minutes as an audicious overhead kick attempt is made by their centre forward Jordan Follows. Unfortunately he doesn’t make a good enough contact with the ball initially, denying the spectators a chance to see, potentially, the greatest goal in the history of Dinas Park. The rebounding ball falls conveniently at the feet of one his team mates who takes a shot at goal, Follows leaves his foot out and the ball takes a wicked deflection to send the Porth keeper the wrong way.
With a minute to go before half time, County put the game beyond doubt and take a 4-0 lead when the AFC Porth defence make a series of mistakes with the ball at their feet. The ball falls to County’s Jordan Follows who slots the ball home from six yards out and takes a hat trick in the first half.
With the score at 4-0 at half time, AFC Porth manager – and ex-Cardiff City professional Richard Haig has a hell of a team talk to make. It’s fair to say, they’ll have their work cut out to make this game a contest again, but if the Porth team doesn’t come out with renewed vigour, the scoreline could become ridiculous very quickly.
The team talk seems to have done the job, as AFC Porth come out for the second half looking a much better team. Sometimes I’ve found once a team losing heavily put the scoreline to one side, and look at the second half as the game starting 0-0, then they tend to look like a completely different side after the restart.
AFC Porth do look a lot tighter as the second half progresses, their defence are using their physicality a great deal more and their passes are starting to find feet instead of the ‘hit and hope’ of the first half. They even begin putting together some pretty attractive passing football and find themselves in possession of the ball in their opponent’s final third more often.
AFC Porth, perhaps controversially on one occasion, pick up two bookings in quick succession. The first of which sees their No. 10 getting booked for going straight through his Haverfordwest counterpart. A few moments later, perhaps unfairly, their No. 3 is booked for a fairly innocuous challenge. The referee has no hesitation in putting his name in the book, he will have his reasons. I saw this as a decision taken as a reaction to the number of fouls committed by the whole team in a short period of time, rather than the individual player – as I’m sure this is the first time the No. 3 has set a foot wrong all match.
Richard Haig, AFC Porth manager, is clearly irritated by the referee’s decision – as to be fair, both teams have committed a lot of fouls today, probably of equal amounts if I’m being honest. He questions the linesman, but gets no reply.
On 70 minutes, a well worked piece of play by AFC Porth results in a corner. The resulting corner is fizzed into the box, the ball meets the head of a Haverfordwest County defender who can only watch as the ball runs into his own goal. The own goal making the score 4-1 to the men from the West.
In a cruel twist, especially after playing so well in the second half, a defensive mix-up on the edge of the box lead to Haverfordwest’s hat-trick hero Jordan Follows stealing through to poke the ball home into an open goal. An elderly gentlemen wearing an AFC Porth jacket on the grass banking is left absolutely fuming, firing all sorts at the referee after this coming together, insistent both of the Porth players were fouled in the build up to the goal.
A few minutes later, AFC Porth are denied by the woodwork, as a shot comes back off the bar and rolls into touch.
As the match comes to a close, AFC Porth get another consolation goal in the 90th minute. Porth’s James Gronow gets hold of the ball about 25 yards out, takes on two players before lobbing the keeper from the edge of the box. To be fair to the guy, this goal was a gem.
The final whistle blows and Haverfordwest County deservedly take the three points and take a further step towards potentially winning Division 1. They surely have Welsh Premier League ambitions, and will no doubt be in the mix come the end of the season.
AFC Porth, although in the end beaten fairly convincingly, can be very proud of their second half performance. They limited County’s chances in the last half, and aside from the one defensive mix-up which lead to County’s goal, they didn’t do too much wrong after the restart.
Once Porth came out for the second half, not playing with the pressure of an impending defeat, they played football of a much more open nature, which was more attractive and with some pretty good chances being created on a fairly regular basis.
Given their league position, they are always going to be favourites for the drop, but I’m convinced that if they could replicate today’s 2nd half performance, there are at least six or seven teams in this league they could steal points from. There are 13/14 games left of this season, and they still find themselves just ten points adrift. It’s a big ask, of course, but who knows? If they managed to string together a couple of victories, I’m sure they’ll find teams looking over their shoulders, starting to feel the pressure.
I’ve enjoyed today’s match, and I always love a visit to Dinas Park. I must have played on that pitch 100 times or more, but I do love coming back as a spectator.
Massive thanks to all at AFC Porth for your hospitality, and I wish both teams the best of luck for the rest of the season.
My Man of the Match: Scoring four goals, it would be hard to give it anyone other than Haverfordwest’s Jordan Follows.