Sunday 26th April 2015.
Port Talbot Town 1-2 Aberystwyth Town .
Welsh Premier League.
The Genquip Stadium, Port Talbot.
I’d planned to take in two matches today, the first of which being an 11am kick off in the South Wales FA Sunday Intermediate Cup Final at Bridgend Street between the fabulously named Pengam Pigeon and Rage FC.
Unfortunately I fell foul of my own planning when I realised early in the morning that the later game of the two I had planned, the last game of the normal Welsh Premier League season for both Port Talbot Town and Aberystwyth Town at The Genquip Stadium would kick off at 1pm, an hour and a half earlier than the originally scheduled kick off time when I first planned to attend the fixture. This was due to the Welsh Premier League bringing all of the final games of the season forward to kick off at the same time as the TNS vs. Bala Town match being screened live on S4C this afternoon.
So with a heavy heart I decided against the Pengam Pigeon match and headed down the M4 for my third visit to the Genquip of the season.
Port Talbot gets a bad press, due mainly to the smell of the steelworks emanating into the cars of passing motorists either making the way up to Cardiff or down to Swansea on the M4.
Myself? I’ve always liked Port Talbot. It’s an industrial seaside town with a lovely beach and it’s a great football town.
Up until last season, South Wales’ only Welsh Premier League sides (Afan Lido & Port Talbot Town) played within half a mile or so of each other (Carmarthen Town although technically in the South, is West Wales in my books!). Within the county boundaries the sides of Afan Lido, Briton Ferry Llansawel, Goytre United and Tata Steel represent the county in the Welsh League, so there’s definitely a big football heritage in the area and this isn’t counting the sides plying their trade in the Neath & District and Port Talbot & District leagues.
Over the course of recent months I’ve become friendly with a few members of the infamous Port Talbot Town 1901 Ultras via Twitter and Facebook and I know a good number of the guys follow this blog and are big supporters of what I’m doing with it, so they’re always a great bunch of guys to see at matches.
There’s a bit of a stand off for a lot of clubs with groups like the vocal Port Talbot Town and Barry Town United fans and I’m not a big fan of this. I’ve written previously in great detail about how it’s great to see supporters exude such passion for their clubs and it really validates the Welsh pyramid as something valuable that means something to people. This point even more so when you consider how many Welsh football fans simply have no interest in the Welsh game outside of watching Manchester United and Liverpool on Sky Sports from the comfort of their armchair.
I’ve seriously lost count of the amount of people I’ve spoke to along my journey who have shot down any idea of the Welsh pyramid meaning anything and admittedly this is mostly done by Manchester United and Chelsea supporting work colleagues, so it is great to see supporters like this who sort of, in a way, justify everything I’m intending to do with this blog, to show that there are supporters of all these clubs who seriously care and devote their lives to supporting them, regardless of what level of football they find themselves playing in.
Admittedly I’m finding one thing hard today.
I’ve blogged before about how you can never be a true neutral at any match. There’s just no way to do it. You’ll always want one side to win a match, even that win involves going to a 37-36 penalty shootout. You will always want one side to be victorious!
Whether this is because you support one side, you live nearer one of the teams, you have a family link to a team or even because you one visited the town the club play in and you had a nice pint at a local pub… You will always want one side to win more than the other.
This is where the trouble lies for me this afternoon. I’ve grown very close to Port Talbot Town as a club, their fans are brilliant with me on Twitter and this blog, I love the town and over the course of the games I’ve actually watched them, I’ve come to like them as a team. Unlike their fans, I unfortunately do not believe that Martin Rose is better than Pele, but he is a brilliant centre forward. I also believe that midfielder Liam McCreesh is a phenomenal player who nine times out of ten would find himself playing in the Football League without any questions.
However, I have a firm and deep rooted love for the town of Aberystwyth that has grown since my childhood.
As a child, my family holidayed in the nearby seaside village of New Quay. One of the highlights of our week’s stay would always be the visit to Aberystwyth, which was always a bit more lively than New Quay which is fairly remote in the scale of things.
My family also has family ties to the town. My Father-in-law studied at Aberystwyth University in the late 1970’s and we recently visited the town with him and let him give us a guided tour of the town showing us all of his old haunts, which meant a great deal to all of us.
Truth be told, Aberystwyth is one of those few places in the world where given the opportunity I would move to in a second, even if it involved taking a pay cut to do so. My wife and I try and visit the town every three months or so and always feel sad when leaving. On our most recent visit to New Quay for a week long holiday between Christmas and New Year we spent four of the seven days in Aberystwyth.
I ramble, but it’s safe to say therefore that I’m having a real moral dilemma where to throw my support for this afternoon’s match. I torture myself and decide to sit on the fence as much as is possible. Truthfully, I’d be happy whatever the result, but if both sides were to come away from the game with a point I’d be a happy man.
Admission for this afternoon’s match, as has been the case for previous games is £5. A match day programme costs an extra £2. I haven’t had a chance to have a look through it yet, but the match day programme at Port Talbot is always a well made and professional effort and I doubt that today’s programme will be any different.
Prior to the match we make our way to the Clubhouse to grab ourselves one of Port Talbot Town’s infamous Chip Butties. A giant tray of fried chunks of potato resembling chips presented neatly with a huge fresh bun filled with butter. It defies me how the club can sell this for the low price of £1.70, considering it fills me enough to not even considering eating again for another 8 hours, but they offer an excellent deal.
If each club and ground has their trademark then Port Talbot Town’s is definitely the Chip Butty, a thing of myth and legend.
Both of this afternoon’s sides are sure of a place in the end-of-season Europa League playoffs that bring down the curtain on another Welsh Premier League year and both sides final position in the league have already been confirmed, so today’s match in the grand scale of things means very little apart from being a potential warm up for another meeting between the clubs in a few weeks. This of course all depends on whether Newtown are able to defeat the seemingly invincible TNS in the Welsh Cup Final next week.
There’s a touching moment at the start of the game when both sides sportingly form a guard of honour for referee Mark Whitby, who this afternoon would be officiating over his last ever match before starting his new life as a referee’s fitness coach among other things.
The guard of honour is met with similar applause from the assembled Port Talbot Ultras, which must be one of the only times in the history of football where a referee is cheered onto the pitch louder than the teams.
A surprisingly tense atmosphere surrounds the opening ten minutes of the game, surprising given the relative lack of importance in the scale of things of this league match, however if these sides were to meet again in the Europa League play-offs the winning side today would surely go into any eventual match with a massive psychological advantage.
Liam McCreesh of Port Talbot has the first clear cut opportunity of the game. McCreesh picked up a loose ball inside the box but fired well over from about ten yards out.
A minute later Aberystwyth Town took a 1-0 lead after a powerful shot from Chris Venables proved too hot to handle for Conah McFenton in the Port Talbot goal. The resulting parried shot fell conveniently to the feet of Geoff Kellaway who fired the ball into an empty net from 6 yards out.
Martin Rose was unlucky not to get in on the goal action on 16 minutes when against all odds he managed to fire a shot at goal from a very tight angle which forced Mike Lewis, the Aberystwyth goalkeeper to think on his feet and perform a good save to stop the Steelmen from leveling affairs.
Midway through the first half, Chris Venables was unlucky not to double his side’s advantage when his header from a free kick went just over.
On 26 minutes Port Talbot’s Daniel Sheehan went on a mazey run that threatened to level the scores. Sheehan weaved through a handful of Aberystwyth players on his way to the penalty area but unfortunately his shot from the edge of the box was a little tame in comparison and proved easy pickings for Lewis.
With ten minutes of the half left, Port Talbot Town were punished when Geoff Kellaway found room to fire a powerful shot towards goal. In almost identical fashion to the opening goal, the shot proved too powerful for the Port Talbot keeper who could only watch in horror as the ball fell to the feet of Craig Williams who fired home to double his side’s advantage.
I don’t know what Andy Dyer said to his players at half time but it certainly worked as Port Talbot Town came out for the second half a completely different looking side. Every pass went to feet, they seemed to win every 50/50 and were unlucky not to be level, or even ahead in the first five minutes of the second half.
Luke Bowen had a good opportunity to score an opener for Port Talbot within seconds of the half starting. He picked up the ball on the edge of the box and fired a shot that beat the goalkeeper, but unfortunately went out for a goal kick.
Minutes later, Port Talbot Town felt aggrieved not to be awarded what looked like a penalty when Liam McCreesh was taken down by a defender just inside the box. Among the resulting melee the ball went out for a corner kick. The corner kick was sent into the box and met by the head of Luke Bowen who put his side right back into the game with a superb goal.
A minute or so later, Luke Bowen came within about 10 inches of leveling the scores. He fired a testing effort from the edge of the box which took a wicked deflection off an Aberystwyth foot on the way to goal. The deflection beat the stranded goalkeeper but rolled out agonisingly for a corner kick.
The audible Port Talbot Town crowd, who by now had made their way over to the Burns End of the ground, standing behind Mike Lewis in the Aberystwyth goal had a moment of tongue-in-cheek humorous banter with the Aberystwyth goalkeeper, resplendent in an all pink kit. One of the assembled throng shouted at Lewis, “Is that your car up there Lewis?”, whilst pointing at a baby pink Fiat 500 in the car park.
Mike Lewis, taking the gentle abuse in good nature gave the Burns End a thumbs up and a smile.
On 55 minutes, Aberystwyth Town must have thought they had wrapped all three points when their twice Golden Boot winner Chris Venables got onto a corner kick and slotted him clinically in the box. Venables effort was ruled out by Mark Whitby for a foul in the build up.
When you watch Chris Venables play, it’s clear to see why he gets so many goals. Venables of course generated a fair bit of media interest around the turn of the year when it transpired he actually scored more goals in 2014 than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Venables’ achievements with his goal scoring look even more impressive when you consider that he is an attacking midfielder. His advanced positioning and ability to hunt out a goalscoring opportunity makes me wonder whether professional clubs would consider taking him on their books.
Martin Rose had probably the best opportunity of the half to put his side level when he beat two defenders to find himself looking down on Mike Lewis in a one-on-one on the edge of the box. Mike Lewis made the mistake of going to ground early, giving Rose a gaping wide goal to slot the ball into, unfortunately Rose fired his effort a couple of yards wide at the near post, much to the dismay of the fans behind the goal.
I positioned myself near on the touchline being flanked by linesman Phil Thomas in the second half. Mr. Thomas officiates a lot of matches in the Welsh League and I’m sure I’ve seen him referee at least three or four matches this year. He’s a really good official.
I also realise how sad it is that I’m starting to recognise referees that I’ve seen on my travels.
The game closed out with two almost identical chances for Chris Venables who found wide spaces in the Port Talbot defence as they pushed numbers forward to try and get that vital equalizer. The first one-on-one effort lead to Venables lobbing the ball well over the goal. The second effort lead to Sheehan making a brilliant save to keep his side in the game.
Five minutes later Mark Whitby called time on the game and his refereeing career, bringing this Welsh Premier League season to a close.
After both sides applauded their assembled support, Mark Whitby walked off the field and was admirably appreciated by the Port Talbot support who made chants of “There’s only one Mark Whitby”. The emotion and appreciation for this was clear to see on Whitby’s face as he walked towards the tunnel.
So this wraps up another season for both sides. They will both take a couple of weeks to prepare for the end of season lottery of the Europa League playoffs where qualification becomes a cup tournament.
In an attempt to take advantage of the sunny weather, my Wife and I drove down to the Gower straight after the match to try and take a quick look at the venue my cousin Gareth is getting married at in a months time.
On the way back we made our way to The Gower Inn for a much needed and refreshing pint of Strongbow and Blackcurrant in their lovely beer garden before heading back home.
As always, a massive thanks to all at Port Talbot Town and Aberystwyth Town for your kindness, hospitality and ongoing friendship.
My Man of the Match: Liam McCreesh, although he ended up on the losing side. McCreesh had a great game and was always lively in midfield.