Tuesday 4th August 2015.
Bridgend Street 3-1 Pontardawe Town
The Willows, Cardiff.
Attendance: Circa 25.
“Think I’m off to Bridgend Street v Pontardawe Town tomorrow evening if you are bored” read the message from my fellow groundhopping buddy Matt Harrison (of Lost Boyos fame).
I must admit that I found it hard to resist a visit to The Willows, the home of Bridgend Street, a ground that had been on my “wish list” for quite a while. I hadn’t planned to attend a game this evening and was looking forward to catching up with my 10+ recordings of The Simpsons but plans change and all that!
I knew vaguely how to get to The Willows (i.e Get yourself near the Steelworks and then use the Sat Nav for the last mile or so!) but worried about potentially coming up against the rush hour traffic in Cardiff so I left Porth just after 5.10pm.
This resulted in me arriving at The Willows at the quite spectacularly (and sad..) time of 5.45pm and this included a cashpoint stop in Treforest and a Mars Bar on the way.
I could see on the drive in why some teams find Bridgend Street a bit of a daunting away trip, even sides like the promoted Llanelli Town went to The Willows last season and came away with a bit of a bloody nose when they had probably expected a comfortable 3 points in their promotion campaign.
If you follow the way the Sat Nav takes you (or at least how to took me!), along the A4232 you’ll pass through Cardiff’s industrial heart, passing factory after factory after factory before travelling past the many large, intimidating and daunting buildings that make up the Cardiff steelworks along Rover Way. I could imagine many a side travelling here on a wet Tuesday night, stuck in the rush hour traffic, not quite fancying facing 90 minutes in these intimidating surroundings.
Matt arrives at The Willows with about five minutes to spare before kick off. He’s brought his mate Sean along for the heady exciting groundhopping ride, who I’m pleased to find is a big Cardiff City fan and has quite the encyclopedic knowledge of the club.
Bridgend Street are a club with a rich heritage in the area and Matt, Sean and I are pleased to be met at the ground by club secretary Alun Vaughan-Thomas, who over the course of the 90 minutes gives us a well received and in-depth history of the club. I learn that the club took on their nickname “The Mish” from the Bridgend Street Mission, a hall that acted as the hub of the community and was a focal point in what used to be Bridgend Street until it was demolished in 1973 as part of a regeneration program to demolish several of the streets surrounding the club’s current ground, including the old Bridgend Street.
Throughout the course of the match, Alun gives us other little nuggets of trivia, the highlight of which being that The Willows was once home to a aeroplane runway before the second World War. Apparently it was only decide to further utilize the runway at Rhoose Airport due to there being a larger space surrounding the runway.
The Willows, as I previously mentioned, is the home of Welsh League Division Three outfit Bridgend Street. The Street or “The Mish” as they are affectionately known amongst their passionate throng of followers are club steeped in tradition. The ground is an attractive, nice little ground set within the grounds of the Willows High School, a secondary school.
The Willows is a tidy ground which is a great credit to the club. On your entrance to the club the first thing you notice as a spectator is the refreshments cabin which also acts as a sort of museum to Bridgend Street’s past.
The walls of the refreshment hut/museum are lined with team photos from the last thirty years of the club’s history and assorted memorabilia from other clubs. Matt and I spot an Olympique Lyonais flag adorning the wall, but despite our hopes and dreams, Alun admits that he has no idea how the flag came to be – smashing all of our dreams that the club had some kind of tenuous link with the French club.
It really is the kind of place where you want to spend a fair bit of time checking out everything and that is certainly something I will be looking to do on my next visit to the club. The attraction of the memorabilia of course makes it easy to miss the refreshments on offer on the other side of the hut. Matt was chuffed to find that one of the refreshments available to purchase on the night was a welcoming cold can of Carling. Being the designated driver for the evening I elect against getting on the beer and opt instead for a relatively safe pack of Mini Cheddars. All credit to the club here as I’ve never seen Mini Cheddars offered at any other football ground, not even Premier League grounds.
Going back outside for a moment, The Willows has a single stand named The Lollar Marshall Stand. A neat little stand named after Lawrence “Lollar” Marshall, an important figure at the club whose currently fulfills the role of Treasurer but has previously held down a number of roles at the club including a stint as manager of the club in the mid 1980’s. Now in his 70’s, his involvement with the club goes back to his teenage years and is held in deserving high regard in the community.
Today’s visitors Pontardawe Town are preparing for life in Division Two of the Welsh League following last year’s relegation from Division One. They finished last season ten points adrift of safety, which might have been as high as fifteen points from safety had neither of Haverfordwest County or Cardiff Met. University applied for promotion to the Welsh Premier League. Like AFC Porth who I’ve blogged about a couple of times in recent weeks, they will no doubt be looking to bounce back to Division One at the first time of asking, so I was quite interested to see what they were about.
Admittedly I’ve been a little bit lax with my groundhopping as of late. Aside from last week’s trip to Ystrad Mynach and one or two other grounds I haven’t really been venturing much into new grounds and new teams, so I was excited to watch a game involving two sides I’d never watched before at a new ground.
Bridgend Street lined up for this evening’s match in an unfamiliar black and white striped kit. We later found out that there was a spot of kit confusion, coupled with their traditional red and white shirts not being quite ready for tonight’s game. Pontardawe Town lined up in their away kit of blue and white.
Bridgend Street, despite perhaps being the underdogs in this match due to them playing their football a division below Pontardawe, started the match strongly and took a deserved 1-0 lead four minutes into the game after a spot of messy defending from the Pontardawe back four lead to Ryan McHugh stealing in and slotting the loose ball into the bottom left corner past the flailing Pontardawe goalkeeper.
Street continued to push forward and impressed me with their passing game and fitness considering that we are still two weeks away from the start of the Welsh League season.
Jason Martin, a neat creative player almost doubled his side’s advantage midway through the first half with a spectacular diving header which he was unable to connect with by a matter of centimetres.
Pontardawe showed their experience and carved out a goal a couple of minutes later when they put together a lovely piece of play that lead to their No.16 hitting a looping, testing cross into the penalty area which went over the head of the Street goalkeeper only for his No.12 to head in from two yards to level affairs.
A lot of Pontardawe’s creative attacking play came from their No.16, a young lad with quite the hairstyle (I apologise for this but at this level of football and without teamsheets, things like this will make players stand out!).
As the first half came to a close we set out on a ‘lap of honour’ walking around the pitch to take in the views. Along the way I got chatting to another one of the officials at Bridgend Street. We chatted for a few minutes about the club and the league in general and I was pleased to learn that Street are quite a family affair, with several members of the same family being involved in the club in both an organisational and playing capacity, which makes me like them even more.
As we make our way around, we find the picturesque relative beauty of the nearby steelworks towering over the pitch which makes for a more than daunting atmosphere for visiting clubs, as I touched upon earlier.
We watch the second half from our spot near the refreshments stand with club secretary Alun who feeds us additional little bits of club trivia and acts as a valuable resource in tying up shirt numbers to names for the match report portion of my blog entry.
The first action of note in the second half comes from Street’s Jason Martin who beats his marker and launches an audacious lob from well outside the box. Although his shot beats the Pontardawe goalkeeper, it unfortunately is hit too high to put his side back in the lead and the ball ends up landing 20 yards behind the goals.
Such is the frenetic nature of the action in the second half that only 30 seconds after this incident, Pontardawe Town pushed forward and forced the Street goalkeeper to abandon his station and leave the box to try and pick up a loose ball. Pontardawe’s No.12 rounded the goalkeeper and looked to have put his side ahead, only for a Street defender to clear the ball off the line with his head.
Midway through the second half, Street retake the lead through Jason Martin who runs through the Pontardawe defence and neatly chips the oncoming goalkeeper and is mobbed by his team-mates for doing so.
Two minutes later, our faces light up when Alun pipes up, “Two of you are City fans yeah? Do you remember Nicky Fish over there?” as he points to his No.9.
It’s strange how coincidences work out, as Matt and Sean mentioned earlier in the first half that the pub they were drinking in on their walk up the ground had a signed Nicky Fish Cardiff City shirt adorned in a picture frame.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Nicky Fish is an ex-Cardiff City professional whose career at the Bluebirds was tragically brought to an abrupt end after he was critically injured in a horrendous car crash on the way home from a reserve team fixture in Hereford.
In the prevailing years, Fish bravely recovered from his injuries to the level where medics gave him approval to start playing again and he restarted his playing career at his boyhood club, Bridgend Street.
Watching Fish on the ball, it’s clear to see why he was so highly rated as a youngster. He possesses a marvelous first touch and looks so comfortable with the ball at his feet. He whips a lovely free kick into the box and is unlucky to see his pass missed by just inches by one of his striking colleagues.
Pontardawe were unlucky not to level affairs again in the 70th minute after a twenty second goalmouth scramble ensues after a defensive mix up in the Bridgend Street back line. How the ball doesn’t end up in the back of the net I’ll never know as it rebounds around the penalty area like a pinball.
Pontardawe come even closer to equalizing with ten minutes of the match left to play when their No.8 hits a beautiful effort against the cross bar, only to watch the ball leave the field for a Bridgend Street goal kick.
After riding the storm for about ten minutes, Street confirm their deserved win with a third and final goal from Liam Jeremy. Jeremy cleverly goes un-seen through the Pontardawe Town defence about thirty yards out from goal and latched on to a lovely defence splitting before rounding the goalkeeper and slotting home into an empty net to give his side a 3-1 victory.
The final whistle blows a few minutes later and we make our way back to the refreshments hut to wish our farewells to Alun, who has been a superb host this evening and was a real credit to the club.
I offer the boys a lift back to Cardiff Central and car chatter turns among other things to: Hipster footballers, New York City FC, Gareth Delve and interesting fixtures coming up in the area.
Again, another cracking night with The Lost Boyo himself. He’s in South Wales for another week at least, so I’m hoping to try and catch up with him at least once more before he departs for home again.
All in all, a very enjoyable hop and a great evening with great company.
I’d like to thank all at Bridgend Street for your hospitality, especially Alun and all in the refreshment hut. I’d also like to wish the very best of luck to both Bridgend Street and Pontardawe Town in their upcoming Welsh League campaigns.
My Man of the Match: There were several good performances on both sides and this is really only the opinion of a loser on the sidelines, but Jason Martin of Bridgend Street stood out for me as being a bit special, to say the least.