Friday 6th February 2015
Afan Lido 1-2 Haverfordwest County
Welsh League Division One.
The Marstons Stadium, Aberavon.
Attendance: Circa 60.
My workmate Mike, he sits next to me at work and is a lovely guy, but could talk you to death. Mike turns to me at about half past three and pipes up
“Are you looking forward to the big match tonight?”
Mike, is of course referring to tonight’s Six Nations curtain opener between Wales and England, everyone is! The whole office has been encouraged to wear red for the day in order to support the team. Co-incidentally, my decision to go with the blue Cardiff City/South Wales Echo promotion shirt from 1993 therefore goes down like a turd in a swimming pool around the office.
“Oh yeah, definitely. What with Afan Lido coming down from the Welsh Prem and Haverfordwest going top if they win! I think it’ll be cracking”
Mike looks at me dumbfounded, the sheer idea that someone would entertain the idea of doing anything other than watching the Welsh rugby team annihilate their English cousins is palpably laughable.
I must confess, I love Wales. I’m one of the proudest Welshmen you could find. Born and raised in the Rhondda Valleys. I want Wales to be the best at everything. I want us to win the World Cup, the Euros in 2016, I want us to be the best country in the world at Chess, Draughts, Monopoly and Tiddlywinks.
I just don’t get Rugby, even as a concept, and I further detest the idea that I should let myself go and catch “Rugby Fever” just because the Six Nations ‘event’ has come around. The idea that 80,000 people cram themselves into the Millenium Stadium to watch these matches, despite the fact that tomorrow morning no more than 600 brave souls will walk through the gates of Sardis Road to watch Pontypridd RFC play, if that.
I digress from the point, because if I’m not careful I’ll spend the whole day blogging about the perils of dafodil hats.
So as the rest of the country settled down in the pub, or on the settee to watch the other match, my Wife and I propped up the bar at the Afan Lido clubhouse.
Afan Lido play at the Marston’s Stadium, which is about a mile and a half from the town centre and a couple of minutes walk from their close rivals Port Talbot Town’s ground on Victoria Road. I was a little lost on the way down, as I was still mentally looking for the Afan Lido Leisure Centre, where I went to watch Manic Street Preachers as a 16 year old. Needless to say, that very leisure centre burnt down a couple of years ago!
As we walked into the ground a few minutes earlier, we came across two guys, clearly fellow groundhoppers (You can always tell a pair of groundhoppers. If two guys walk in together, and they both buy programmes then they are going to be groundhoppers. If they put the programme straight into a cellophane wrapper, they win extra points).
Admission was a very fair £4, with the match day programme setting us back a further pound. This is coupled with the fact that just before kick off a club official hands out teamsheets around the clubhouse, which makes for an excellent bargain!
Afan Lido’s clubhouse is of a good size, warm and welcoming, the bar staff were very helpful and friendly, and the bar was pretty busy. The clubhouse served a lovely pint of Strongbow, which set us back £3.
We finished our drinks and started to make our way to the ground just in time to watch the teams come out onto the pitch.
The Marstons Stadium is a pretty good stadium, one of the better on my journeys. The pitch is flanked by two stands. The first of which is a smaller stand that sits behind the dug-outs. This stand is probably able to hold about 50 or so spectators. The other stand is a bigger fully covered building which is probably able to hold a few hundred spectators.
It’s a bitterly cold night, and the attendance has obviously been affected by the ‘other’ match in Cardiff tonight, but on my visual estimate, there are probably about 50-60 or so paying spectators through the gates.
The match kicks into life immediately, and within 2 minutes Afan Lido lose a man through a straight red card. The incident happened so quickly and so surprisingly that I didn’t even have time to make a mental note over which player was dismissed. It was truly one of the incidents where you’re talking to the person next to you at a match, thinking nothing is happening on the field, and the next thing you know – an Afan Lido player is walking into the changing rooms!
From here on in, it would always be difficult for Afan Lido. Haverfordwest County, the side who find themselves 2nd in the league with 2 games in hand over leaders Cardiff Met, are in top form this year. Haverfordwest are the first side I’ve managed to see for a second time this year, and they impressed me greatly in the first half against AFC Porth a few weeks ago.
The deadlock is broken after 11 mins as Haverfordwest’s Sean Pemberton headed in from a corner.
With the lead in their hands, Haverfordwest pile forward in search of a second. Afan Lido, down to ten men struggle to produce anything in the final third of the pitch and struggle to keep hold of possession.
Haverfordwest manage to put the ball in the back of the net again on 23 minutes only for the goal to be disallowed after the linesmen adjudged the striker to be offside by a couple of yards.
The game is a high-tempered affair. Tackles fly in from all angles, but the referee seems to be losing control of the game if I’m completely honest. After about 35 minutes my rough count estimates 4 Afan Lido players with bookings and 3 Haverfordwest players.
The referee is called into action again on 37 minutes as tricky striker Jordan Fellows beats his man and is brought down inside the box. Afan Lido’s Callan Bowden becomes the second player to be shown a red card and is sent to join his colleague in the changing rooms.
Haverfordwest’s captain Dale Griffiths makes no mistake from the spot and puts the men from West Wales two to the good, slotting the ball just to the left of the keeper, who makes a decent attempt at saving the penalty.
Just before half time, the match descends into further madness as Haverfordwest’s Luke Borrelli is sent off for what looks like an elbow on an opponent.
At half time, with the score at 2-0 and down to 9 men, it’s beginning to look like too big a mountain to climb for the Afan Lido side, who have performed a lot better than the 2-0 scoreline suggests.
We make into the clubhouse at half time for another Strongbow, which goes down amazingly. The clubhouse is showing the Wales-England match on the big screen, which has drawn a rather large crowd and the clubhouse is now standing-room only. Wales are winning 10-0, which is lovely for them. Luckily the pitch is still visible from the clubhouse, so we can watch the substitutes warm up and potter the ball around.
As the second half starts, Afan Lido come out the stronger side, despite their numerical disadvantage. Joe Jones comes painfully close on 52 minutes as he unleashes a storming shot from the edge of the box, only to see his shot hit the bar and go into touch.
Afan Lido push forward, but their numerical disadvantage plays a key role in their inability to bring the scores level, as every corner and free kick the side have they find themselves over-marked and stifled.
Haverfordwest County show moments of class in their play, and as I mentioned a few weeks ago at AFC Porth, it’s clear to see why they find themselves in the position they are in. Jordan Fellows, who I believe scored 4 at AFC Porth when I saw them last, is a dynamic striker who is skillful with the ball at his feet but also fairly entertaining as he has a habit of making involuntary laughing noises as he takes players on.
Afan Lido pull a goal back with 10 minutes to go as Elliot Thomas (The Pembrokeshire Report newspaper has a different goalscorer listed, but I’m certain this guy scores – I stand to be corrected!) produces a truly sublime lob from the edge of the box and leaves the keeper standing. With the score at 2-1, going into the last ten minutes, could there be time for an Afan Lido comeback?
The game pauses for a moment as the match descends into near-chaos as Haverfordwest’s Chris O’Sullivan is sent off for what looks from my position like a headbutt against an Afan Lido stomach! As he walks to the changing rooms, Afan Lido’s Arwel Rees is also sent off, again I have no idea why, as I don’t believe he did anything physical, so I’m assuming he is giving his marching orders after something he said?
Haverfordwest close the game out in a professional manner, ebbing Afan Lido counter-attacks and edging the ball into the corners to run down the clock.
The final whistle blows, and Haverfordwest County take all three points and go top of the table, at least until Cardiff Met. play tomorrow. At this stage you have to say that Haverfordwest County look very strong contenders for the Division One title and the associated promotion to the Welsh Premier League.
Afan Lido can be proud of a very brave performance, especially in the face of ending the match with 8 players. They will wonder how things would have ended if they had kept all 11 players on the pitch.
A highly recommended ground with a lovely clubhouse for any ground-hoppers out there. I look forward to the next time we find ourselves in this part of the world.
Thanks to all at Afan Lido for your kindness and hospitality.