Wednesday 11th March 2015.
Llanelli Town 2-0 Ammanford.
Welsh League Division Three.
Stebonheath Park, Llanelli.
Attendance: Figures of 323, 350 and 373 were quoted. Who knows?
My weekend high, following the Ceredigion groundhop where I took in matches at places such as Llandewi-Brefi, Felinfach, Aberaeron, Newcastle Emlyn, Pencader and Llanboidy, was brought to a crushing end on Sunday when we arrived home to find our boiler had decided to retire early whilst still at the top of its game.
I’m not going to string you along on some wild and obscure theory, comparing my boiler to Eric Cantona retiring from football at the age of 30. So I’ll just say that luckily being a private renting tenant, one of the only benefits we have is the fact that we can call on our landlord any time of day or not and they have to put it right for us. Luckily for us, the heating engineer our landlord uses, Tim, is a really nice guy and he knows his stuff and always gets things sorted for us.
He’s changed the circuit board in record time and put our heating back on (Don’t ask about my experience of boiling up 15 kettles and 15 pans worth of water to have a bath the previous night!) but Tim likes a chat. It’s a massive fifteen minutes after he’s finished the work at 6.30pm that I manage to show him through the front door and I can get the journey down to Stebonheath Park started.
I manage to fill up with fuel, get some cash out, make the journey from Pontypridd and park up on a side street in Llanelli at 7.29pm sharp. I make a heavily brisk walk from the car to the ground and by my calculations I’ve got about 5 seconds to go before the match kicks off.
As I walk closer to the ground the eery quietness being emitted from Stebonheath throws me a little. I was expecting both teams to be out by now, possibly already into the first minute of the match?
Luckily for me, I’d failed to realise that tonight’s kick off is scheduled for 7.45pm and has been well advertised as such. I just chose not to pay attention for some reason! So I walk into the ground a sweaty, stressed mess for no reason at all. My own fault!
Tonight’s match is a local derby of sorts, just 13 miles separates the sides physically and in terms of their league positions, occupying 1st and 2nd places, just a mere 5 points separates them in the Division 3 table.
Ammanford started the season in a blinding fashion, winning their first 14 games on the spin. Unfortunately their form has taken a few hits in recent weeks with 4 losses in the last month, including defeats to Pontypridd Town and today’s home team having a big affect on their title credentials.
Llanelli Town have also had a very good season, losing only 3 matches all season and looking more and more likely to make the jump into Division Two next season. With their current points tally and excluding the maths of it all, they could be looking at promotion with as little as four victories from their remaining eleven matches.
Llanelli Town have an illustrious history in the Welsh game, a history built on the back of their achievements under the previous guise, Llanelli AFC.
Llanelli AFC were a founding member of the League of Wales, which would later become the Welsh Premier League. They actually won the league in the mid 2000’s and finished in the runners up spot a handful of times. Llanelli AFC actually represented Wales in the Champions League on one occasion and were regulars in the Europa League contest.
Money troubles followed, and eventually the club were wound up in a court case with the HMRC in 2013.
The club were involved in a similar controversial situation to Barry Town in the Summer of 2013. The Barry Town story is a long and convoluted story that I intend to cover in detail when I visit Jenner Park in the near future, so it’s fair to say that anyone interested in that story can easily Google the story to find out if they are that way inclined. What it all boiled down to in a nutshell was that the FAW saw both the newly-guised Barry Town United and Llanelli Town as completely new clubs, rather than continuations of their old entities (Barry Town particularly felt aggrieved, and rightly so, due to the fact their previous owner Stuart Lovering withdrew the side from the Welsh League and had their record expunged from the league) and as such, judged that both sides should be forced to play in the lowest tier of Welsh regional football (for Barry Town, this would have meant potentially lining up in the Cardiff & District ‘parks’ league).
Eventually common sense prevailed (via the court room) and both clubs were later admitted in to Division Three of the Welsh League for the 2013/14 season. Barry Town United would end the season as champions with an impressive 90 points from 36 games, whilst Llanelli Town finished 6th place on 54 points.
On entering Stebonheath, it’s clear to see that Llanelli Town are a very big club, who still hold the same ambition they held in their Llanelli AFC days. The ground is still as impressive as it was on my last visit, it has the potential to hold approximately 4000 spectators, 1000 of which are seated.
Admission for tonight’s game is £4, with a match day programme costing an extra £2. It’s the most expensive match day programme I’ve come across on my travels in the Welsh League, but it must be said it is a chunky publication, even writing this the afternoon following the match I’ve still not found the time to sit down and read it all, such is the size of the programme.
Stebonheath Park, or simply “Stebo” to those in the know, hosts two large stands. The first of which, the main stand is the much larger of the two, housing the majority of the ground’s seats. The main stand also places host to the “Red’s Cafe”, a pretty big cafe/tuck shop to the left of the main stand and “The Jock Stein Lounge”, which was sadly closed on my visit.
The smaller stand on the other side of the pitch hosts an executive box, creatively named “The Carlsberg Suite” and a smattering of seats to one side and standing terraces on the other. The pitch is surrounded by a very narrow running track, so narrow in fact I didn’t even notice it was a running track until deep in the second half of the match when I walked around to take photos of the ground.
Llanelli certainly started the match the brighter of the two sides, no doubt chomping at the bit following defeat at the hands of Lliswerry at the weekend. The Reds playing some lovely passing football but not being afraid to go direct if need be.
Ammanford’s biggest threat, if the previous time I watched them is anything to go by, would be Brett Enoch who looked very tricky when he found time on the ball but he found his chances limited by some very effective Llanelli defending.
Both teams had very vocal support in this match, which brought out a superb 323/350/373 (3 different figures I’ve read at different places since last night!) spectators and their voices rose on 6 minutes after a mistimed challenge by an Ammanford defender on Luke Jones. The referee chose not to book the defender, only giving him a ticking off.
Ammanford would come close shortly afterwards by way of a good effort by Alex Squires which went wide of the post by an inch or two. Ammanford will surely feel that had they taken the lead at this point, they may have gone on to take all three points.
As I alluded to earlier, these sides met each other a few weeks ago, the match ending 5-3 to Llanelli Town. It was clear that today’s match wouldn’t offer up quite as many goals as both defences were relatively steady.
Bruno Forkuoh, a pacey midfielder would threaten the Ammanford goal on a number of occasions and always seemed comfortable with the ball at his feet. He offered a good mixture of threatening attacking play and sensible calm passing when needed. He also possesses the skill to beat a man or two with little trouble. Llanelli Town may have found themselves a bit of a star there!
Jamie Evans opened the scoring for Llanelli midway through the first goal as he rose above others to meet a corner and head beyond Jamie Rano in the Ammanford goal.
Llanelli closed out the half dominating the rest of play, perhaps feeling a little frustrated they were unable to add to their opening goal.
Sensing the possibility of a lengthy queue at the Red’s Cafe with 373 hungry souls in the vicinity I decided to break character for the night and get a snack while the first half was still under way.
The cafe is lovely, reminding me very much of the old valleys chip shops I used to spend so much time in as a kid growing up in the Rhondda. They offered a pretty impressive choice of food and drink, which is definitely admirable for this level. I went with the safe option of a cheese and onion roll for £1.30, which was excellent, even if I despise onions and would later pick them out by hand (What can I say, I’m a vegetarian, I have to take what I can, when I can!).
Ammanford made a big call for their first substitution, replacing goalkeeper Jamie Rano with James Kirkwood. Replacing a goalkeeper during the course of a match is always a brave decisiona and the more curious among the crowd questioned this decision since there seemed to be an issue with their goalkeepers at the Pontypridd match I took in a few weeks back.
Ammanford came out for the second half with renewed intent, Brett Enoch turning from goal poacher to provider when he laid on a superb ball for Alex Squires, who was unable to convert and saw his chance go begging.
I made the decision to watch the second half of the game in the standing terraced area, near the vocal Llanelli support, who by now were resplendent with a snare drum amongst their numbers. The Llanelli fans, to be fair to them, made themselves heard for the whole 90 minutes and can only be applauded for doing so.
Bruno Forkuoh would again terrorise his opposite number throughout the second half, growing in stature as the game went on. On the hour he set off on a mazey run down the right wing and unleashing a furious shot which Ammanford goalkeeper Kirkwood could only parry wide for a corner kick.
A few minutes later Forkuoh was unlucky not to get on the score sheet after Kirkwood fumbled a shot and the ball rolled to his feet. Forkouh perhaps not anticipating the ball falling so kindly in front of him could only force the rebound wide.
Ammanford threw players forward in the closing stages of this match and Llanelli counter attacked the open spaces left by their rivals. Ross Jones and Richard Lewis strung together a series of passes before laying the ball off to Anthony Owens, who from about 15 yards out placed the ball delicately around Kirkwood, beating the sprawling goalkeeper to his left to make the score 2-0 and all but guarantee the three points for Llanelli.
Llanelli were unlucky not to add a third in the last minute after a lovely cross was sent into the box, Anthony Owens was unable to control his header and it went just over the bar.
Llanelli Town were worthy winners of a very intriguing match, the 2-0 scoreline doesn’t perhaps fully reflect their dominance in this match, but it is worth noting that there isn’t a massive gulf in quality between the two sides, it just seemed that Llanelli Town were the better side on the night.
Both sides will go into the closing third of the season feeling confident that they can both go up to Division Two come the end of the season. I’m certain that both teams will achieve promotion, but for my money, Llanelli Town look for all intents and purposes, like champions elect. There is an old adage “The league table never lies” and tonight, that adage is probably true.
I had a great time at Stebonheath and it’s great to see this great club back on the road to where they belong in the Welsh pyramid. Thanks to all at Llanelli Town for your kindness, hospitality and convenient kick off times!
My Man of the Match: There were several excellent performances from Llanelli Town players, but for me I have to go with Bruno Forkuoh, who didn’t give the Ammanford defence a minute’s rest. A real talent.