Saturday 28th March 2015.
Barry Town United 5-2 Penrhiwceiber Rangers.
Welsh League Division Two.
Jenner Park, Barry.
The last time I took in a Barry Town match happened to be 22nd September 2012. I decided against heading up to Croydon for Cardiff City’s away match at Crystal Palace (luckily in the end, as we were poor that day). It was a warm and sunny late Summer match against fellow Welsh League Division One side AFC Porth at Dinas Park.
AFC Porth, who would go on to finish in a very respectable sixth place that season, would lose that afternoon by 2-0 to a very impressive Barry Town side who bossed possession and probably felt a little frustrated they didn’t add to their two goals in a second half against the ten Rhondda men.
I remember walking away from Dinas Park that afternoon and mentioning something to my wife about how Barry Town could seriously win promotion back to the Welsh Premier League that season if they continued playing in such fine form.
So what happened in the following months that meant the Barry Town side, who looked like such strong candidates for promotion, didn’t even finish the Welsh League Division One season that year?
A lot has been written about the controversy surrounding previous club owner Stuart Lovering, who inexplicably withdrew the club from the Welsh League in the 2012/13 season with only two games left to play. As someone who keenly followed the ongoing saga while it played out in front of me on Twitter and Facebook I took a great interest in the resurrection of the club under a new name of ‘Barry Town United’ and got friendly with several members of the Barry Town Supporters Committee, who had until that time been running the club for a large period of time.
As Barry Town United, the somewhat unsympathetic FAW chose not to recognise Barry Town United as a continuation of the previous club Barry Town (despite the same committee running the side, the same playing staff, same management staff, same stadium, even the same kit). Instead ruling that they start playing their football at the lowest level of Welsh football pyramid in the ‘parks’ leagues that normally attract pub teams and players of a more ‘amateur’ level (think hungover men pissing against a goalpost at half time). A daunting possibility for a side who had defeated the mighty FC Porto in the Champions League with an impressive 3-1 victory only a decade earlier (admittedly they did lose the tie over two legs by 9-3).
The situation got very ugly during the Summer of 2013 and Barry Town United started the 2013/14 season being completely unsure of what league they would play their football in.
Finally in early August of 2013, Barry Town United won their court battle with the FAW and were re-admitted into the Welsh League, albeit at Division Three level. The court judged that the FAW were wrong in accepting a league withdrawal from Lovering, who couldn’t be considered as ‘running’ the club.
The Barry side won promotion to Division Two last season in emphatic style. They weren’t as dominant in the league as some had predicted (some pre-season predictions from more optimistic types said they might win every single game of the season!), but they did manage to accumulate a massive 90 points from a possible 108, losing four matches all season and drawing just three. They went on to win the Division Three title, finishing two points ahead of Llanwern.
This year while playing in a tougher league, Barry Town United have dominated the season. Their only defeat of the year coming a couple of weeks ago by way of an ‘off-the-boil’ defeat to Undy Athletic. Such has been their dominance of the division that this afternoon that with four matches to go until the end of the season they could wrap up the Division Two title if they take all three points against a Penrhiwceiber Rangers side caught up in the midst of a tough relegation fight and if second placed Caldicot Town fail to beat third placed Aberbargoed Buds.
I’d planned to visit Jenner Park much earlier in the year, January in fact. The weather had different ideas though, so it took me a mere 32 matches before finally being able to fit a Jenner Park visit in.
The weather played the traditional role of the pantomime villain again today. My wife and I had planned our traditional pay day blowout. We planned to spend the morning record shopping in Cardiff, partaking of a beverage or two at the Urban Tap House before getting the train to Barry for a few more drinks and spot of football by way of this afternoon’s Barry Town United vs. Penrhiwceiber Rangers match and then hopefully finding a pub in Barry showing the Israel vs. Wales European Championship qualifier before getting the train back to the Valleys for more drinking.
As we rose on Saturday morning, the grey skies above Pontypridd were bellowing out lashings and lashings of rain, which had the potential to spoil the 1 mile walk from the nearest train station to Jenner Park. We waited until the very last minute before deciding to drive down instead and forgo the drinking until later on that night.
Cardiff was great. A quick visit to Spillers Records gave us a chance to spend some gift vouchers some good friends gave us last year as a wedding present. As a collective and somewhat unanimous choice we settled for Pixies – Wave of Mutilation, The Smiths – The Smiths and ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’ and ‘Futurology’ by Manic Street Preachers. All albums we already own, but it’s lovely to have them on vinyl record.
By the time we parked up on a side street surrounding Jenner Park we’d started regretting not taking the train down in the end. Aside from a strong and furious wind in the coastal air, the rain had all but subsided and dare I say a spot of unseasonable sunshine filled the sky.
Jenner Park is an impressive ground at this level of the Welsh pyramid, harking back to the days of winning the Welsh Premier League a magnificent seven times and European nights under the floodlights.
Admission for this afternoon’s match is £5 with a impressively put together match day programme costing an extra £1.
Jenner Park is a large ground, I’m reliably informed it has a seating capacity of 2,500, housed in two stands that run the length of both touchlines. A running track surrounds the playing surface and has room for a couple of thousand standing spectators surrounding the running track.
As I’ve mentioned previously. Barry Town United went into the match knowing that a win here and an Aberbargoed Buds draw or win would see them crowned as Division Two champions.
Penrhiwceiber, a side I saw a few weeks ago lose at Aberbargoed, are having completely different fortunes at the opposite end of the table. They sit just above the relegation places but their nearest rivals Caerleon have the games in hand to draw level with them. So getting something from today’s game is vital for the Rangers.
The match couldn’t have started any better for Barry Town, who took the lead just three minutes into the game. TJ Nagi, a sharp striker who I seem to remember scored at that AFC Porth game three years ago, beat a couple of men before rounding the Penrhiwceiber goalkeeper and slotting home from the edge of the box into an empty goal.
Somewhat against the run of play, Penrhiwceiber equalised in spectacular fashion after ten minutes. Penrhiwceiber’s No.10 picked up the ball about thirty yards from goal and skillfully took on two Barry defenders before dispatching a fizzing shot into the bottom right corner of the goal giving Dan Bradley, keeping goal for Barry, little chance of stopping his effort.
Not wanting the lowly Penrhiwceiber side to potentially spoil their chance of clinching the league title at their home ground, Barry Town pushed forward and stepped their game up a gear.
Barry were desperately unlucky not to re-take the lead a couple of minutes after Penrhiwceiber’s opener. TJ Nagi rounded the goalkeeper again in a similar way to his first goal. Unfortunately for Nagi his shot was blocked on the goal line by a Penrhiwceiber defender.
Barry Town United re-took their lead after fifteen minutes when a Barry player got his head onto a well taken corner kick and made no mistake from about twelve yards. There was a bit of a debate for the goalscorer. I was convinced the same TJ Nagi had headed home but the stadium announcer gave the goal to Dale Howarth. Although looking back at my notes of the game, I’m still not sure myself!
The champions elect would come close to extending their lead twice before the half came to a close, both from well taken free kicks that forced brilliant saves from the Penrhiwceiber goalkeeper.
During the half time break we made our way to the clubhouse, overlooking the Jenner Park pitch.
The clubhouse is a nice building, as the cliche I will always use goes – it’s nice for this level of the Welsh pyramid. The clubhouse exudes ghosts of a Barry Town past, a disused bar in the middle of the clubhouse whose taps have long since been covered up.
Let it be known that Barry Town is certainly a club with ambition. Shown no more so than the impressive merchandise stall in the clubhouse selling all manner of club merchandise in the form of replica shirts, training wear, pin badges and other assorted Barry Town branded items. I make the relatively safe purchase of a coffee and a Mars bar.
We choose to watch the second half from the other stand near to the more vocal element of the Barry Town support. These supporters are great. They make themselves heard throughout the whole game and even have a sole brass player accompanying them for certain chants.
The second half started in frantic fashion. TJ Nagi found himself being given a golden opportunity to make the three points safe but could only fire his shot from six yards straight into the hands of the goalkeeper.
TJ Nagi would come close to adding to his opening goal again half way through the second half. His effort from just outside the box beat the goalkeeper but unfortunately didn’t beat the post and went inches wide.
With twenty minutes of the game left, Barry Town seemingly made sure of the three points when Rob Blatchford, a skillful midfielder with bags of tricks up his sleeve, picked up the ball about thirty yards out from goal and dispatched a deftly placed shot into the top corner of the goal to jubilant scenes from the Barry Town support, who now sensed the title was theirs.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Barry side in the closing stages however, as Penrhiwceiber threatened to stage a late comeback. Penrhiwceiber’s No. 11 latched onto a cross and headed against the crossbar. The ball rebounded kindly back to his feet whilst a Barry defender and the goalkeeper got themselves in a bit of a muddle. The Penrhiwceiber man wheeled away celebrating whilst the two Barry men found themselves trying to untangle themselves in the goal.
With the score at 3-2 going into the last ten minutes someone in the crowd, perhaps someone with a friend at the Caldicot Town vs. Aberbargoed Buds match started spreading the word throughout the stand that Aberbargoed were winning, meaning a second championship in a row was now potentially only ten minutes away.
Seconds after this news started spreading in the stands, Barry Town’s No.7 beat his marker to get on the end of a cross to poke the ball home from six yards out to widespread celebrations in our stand from fans who surely now started the believe the title was really theirs.
TJ Nagi wrapped up what for him was a great personal performance by scoring in the last minute of normal time. A Barry Town free kick was tapped over the cross bar by the goalkeeper. Nagi would get his head on the resulting corner to give his side a 5-2 lead.
The referee blew the whistle a couple of minutes later to bring this entertaining match to a close and thoughts turned to affairs at Caldicot.
Unfortunately, having to drive back to Pontypridd in 35 minutes to make the Israel vs. Wales kick off meant I wasn’t able to wait around to find out whether Barry Town United did win the title.
As we walked away from Jenner Park up the hill towards our car we heard the sounds of celebration emerge suddenly from the clubhouse and changing room building. We’d have to wait until we got home to find out that the celebrations meant Caldicot Town were beaten and the title was officially Barry Town United’s.
I could go on about how we watched Wales defeat Israel in superb style at The Pick & Shovel in Treforest before taking a train up to the Rhondda to celebrate our important victory in fine surroundings with several too many beverages.
A massive congratulations to all at Barry Town United on your continued success and I wish you all the best of luck in Division One next season. Hopefully it won’t be another three years until our paths meet!
My Man of the Match: TJ Nagi was pretty clinical in front of goal, and it’s still clear to see why he is so loved at Jenner Park.