Wednesday 19th August 2015.
Treharris Athletic Western 0-2 Pontypridd Town.
Welsh League Division Three.
The Athletic Ground, Treharris.
Attendance: Circa 120.
There’s something romantic and quite lovely about Treharris Athletic Western’s home ground ‘The Athletic Ground’ It’s become something of a ‘must do’ football ground for groundhoppers like myself. It’s one of the football grounds that gets mentioned by pretty much every single other hopper I meet when they find out that I live in South Wales.
“Have you been to Treharris’ ground?” They’ll ask.
“Yeah, quite a bit actually. I played on it as a kid” I reply.
“Well why haven’t you written about it yet?” They quip.
“Because I haven’t been up there this year yet. Soon I will though”
The match day programme on offer today even goes as far as to mention this point in an article referring to a proposed new 3G pitch for the club half a mile down the road, planned for a 2017 opening.
“It is [The Athletic Ground] the marmite of Welsh League grounds, you either love it or hate it. Ground Hoppers seem to love it, judging by their reports, comments like it’s a proper football ground. In fact it will feature in a book on the 100 grounds you must see before you die”
The ground is truly beautiful in a way that somewhere like Ninian Park, the previous home of Cardiff City was considered beautiful. It’s a small intimidating ground with very little space between the playing surface and the stand. On a night like tonight with a large Treharris following it’s very likely that opposition wingers and full backs without a bit of gall about them may find themselves being shouted off the pitch.
This in itself is what so great about grounds like this, they represent the antidote to the sanitised, safe, corporate friendly football environment of the 21st century. I know we can’t go back that way – but standing on the stand at Treharris reminds me so much of standing on the Bob Bank at Ninian Park as an eight year old kid. It’s small, it’s enclosed but at it’s core it is the very essence of lower league football.
The ground is a two minute walk away from the main road that cuts through the village, taking you from the roundabout at Abercynon on the A470 through to nearby Edwardsville, which eventually leads through to Troedyrhiw and right into the centre of Merthyr Tydfil.
You enter the ground through a small gap in a terraced street and you find yourself immediately in the main stand, looking down on the pitch right on the shoulders of the opposition’s dug out.
I must confess that I have in fact been to The Athletic Ground on a number of occasions. I’ve also played on the ground as a youth player but for the purposes of this blog I haven’t visited the ground this year so I’ll continue writing this blog as if it were the first time I’d ever visited the ground.
To the side of the main stand is a balcony leading to a clubhouse. The balcony is highly spoke of in the ground hopping world as offering superb views and offers rebellious ground hoppers the chance to take a photo of the “The balcony is not for public viewing, do not stand here” signs which always seem to make their way into every hoppers blog entry. I unfortunately, don’t get an opportunity to commit such a crime due to my eyes being focused solely on this evening’s game.
The stand is pretty busy this evening, local derbies like this one tend to add a fair number onto the gate that would have normally been scared away by the terrible weather. I have no doubts that in the return fixture next week the attendance at Ynysangharad Park will rise a little on usual numbers due to the ‘derby factor’
Treharris is a lovely town nested on the right hand side of the A470 (assuming you’re driving up from Cardiff) somewhere about half way between the nearby towns of Pontypridd and Merthyr Tydfil. Shamefully I only learnt this morning that Treharris actually falls within the Merthyr County borders when my friend Rhys Lewis (a Labour Party candidate for next year’s Welsh Assembly elections for the Cynon Valley) asked me when I would be visiting his fine valley to take in a match. I proudly and quite smugly replied that I would be attending one on his doorstep that evening only to find on his reply that my county borough geography was perhaps a little ‘off’ to say the least. The Cynon Valley unfortunately has to wait another week for a visit from yours truly. Although I was only about a mile or so out!
The ‘Harris’ part of Treharris as it happens actually originates from F.W Harris and his Navigation Stream Coal Company, a company which brought in a large migrant workforce from the English side of the border who brought with them a sport called football, something that until 1873 wasn’t really played in this part of the south Wales valleys.
I have a lot of non-Welsh readers of the blog, so it’s probably worth pointing out that the village name of Treharris, when literally translated into English roughly translates as ‘Harris Town’. This is a quite common practice, particularly in the south Wales valleys, to have names beginning with ‘Tre’. See also: Treherbert – Herbert’s Town, Treforest – Forest Town, Trehafod – Hafod’s Town etc.
The town, like many of a similar size in the surrounding area, was once a town with a very rich heritage in the coal mining industry, much like where I come from in the Rhondda Valley and is still suffering the knock on effects of the closure of the pits but it is important to point out that these towns were once thriving villages that were for all intents and purposes the ‘go to’ place if you found yourself in need of a career for life.
At the centre of the community was the football club, formed in 1889 the club still acts as the hub of its community and attracts a large following for matches such as this evenings derby match.
It happens to be a well talked about fact that Treharris Athletic Western are in fact, the oldest registered football club in south Wales, pre-dating the likes of Cardiff City, Swansea City and others by a fair number of years. They actually played some of their football in the first decade of the 1900’s in the English pyramid system alongside a club called ‘Riverside’ who later changed their name to Cardiff City.
The club have been playing in the Welsh Football League for 110 seasons as of this year and have made ‘The Athletic Ground’ their home for over 100 years such is the proud history behind the club.
The Athletic Ground, as touched upon earlier, is a ground like no other. It’s easy to see why groundhoppers are so attracted to it. In the age of soul-less all-seater stadiums and Sky Sports pretending football didn’t start until 1992 it represents something of a hark back to a simpler time for hoppers like myself.
The beauty of the ground actually presents something of a problem for Treharris in the modern day. Anyone who visited the village will know that finding enough flat land in the town to plonk a football pitch down is a near impossible task. The pitch was constructed in a time before Welsh League regulations were such a thing. As such one side of the ground is directly backing onto the back gardens of surrounding terraced houses, the other three sides have similar problems.
The pitch itself is one of the narrowest I’ve encountered on my travels, such are the dimensions on this pitch that there was was a rumour floating around the Welsh League a xouple of seasons ago that the club were afforded membership to the Welsh League with the pitch on what had been deemed by many to be ‘Grandfather Rights’. What this basically meant is that the club were apparently allowed to continue playing on the ground as long as they maintain their Welsh League status. Should the club ever have found themselves being relegated to the South Wales Alliances then they would not be allowed readmission to the Welsh League with their current ground due to the playing surface regulations.
A senior figure at the club dismissed this rumour as being something of a myth in the Welsh football world that has taken on a life of it’s own.
The reality being that the pitch size does actually meet current regulations but the club does acknowledge that there is extremely limited space to expand the playing surface should the Welsh League or FAW ever increase the size regulations further.
This would have presented a bit of a problem to Treharris in recent years as the club have admittedly struggled in recent seasons. Last year they finished 17th place in Division Three, which under normal circumstances would have spelled relegation to the South Wales Alliance. Luckily for the club, a lack of clubs applying for promotion to the Welsh League and the loss of Division Three clubs Rhoose and Cardiff Grange Quins lead to a situation where no clubs were actually relegated from Division Three and Rhoose and Grange Quins’ places were taken by the promoted Abergavenny Town and STM Sports.
The season before last, the club were saved on the last day of the season, drawing level on points with the relegated Abertillery Bluebirds but with a better goal difference Treharris were saved for another season.
Something at the club has appeared to have changed over the Summer break. I remember being at a friendly match between AFC Porth and Pontypridd Town three weeks ago and at a quiet moment in the game checking my Twitter feed to find out some of the scores from friendlies being played all over the place.
One such result stood out above all of the others. The Treharris side who right up until the end of the season (admittedly, the club finished the season in fine form) struggled for a win had only gone to Second Division Tata Steel and delivered a quite unbelievable 12-0 victory which my fellow ground hopping buddy Matt happened to witness in person.
What followed this were impressive results in their remaining friendlies including an excellent 4-2 victory against South Wales Alliance Premier Division outfit Porthcawl Town Athletic which seemed to show a new competitive side of the club emerging just in time for the 2015-16 season.
The Welsh League started again on Saturday and both of tonight’s sides impressed in their opening fixtures. Pontypridd Town took their place at the top of the table with an impressive 6-0 thrashing of Treowen Stars whilst Treharris Athletic Western stunned the league with a mighty 4-0 victory over a good Llantwit Major side, earning them second spot in the league.
Having already taken in one Pontypridd Town vs. Treharris Ath. match this year, it’s fair to say that if I had predicted back in March that come the Summer we’d be watching a top of the table clash between these two sides then you quite rightly would have tried to have me committed to a mental asylum. As it happens, both sides look to be very decent outfits this season with ambitions of their own.
Treharris have recognised the risk of falling out of the Welsh League and have made several key signings that show just how much Welsh League football means to them. It’s important to remember that the FAW have this year demanded that Division 3 of the league be reduced back down to it’s normal operating level of 16 teams (The league was temporarily increased to 19 teams following the late court case that granted Barry Town United and Llanelli Town access into the league at the 11th hour in 2013). The figures are a bit speculative at the moment and everyone seems to pull a different number out of the air, but it’s believed that with the league being reduced by 3 teams and the need to admit a certain number of teams from the feeder leagues that as many as 6 teams may find themselves being relegated come next May.
As is the case with south Wales, when I started planning the matches I would be attending the prospect of a midweek game between two local rivals seemed like a lovely way to spend a fine sunny Summer evening. No doubt I’d be sipping on a lovely coffee on the balcony at The Athletic Ground, watching a great game of football in the sun whilst topping up my tan.
This wasn’t to be the case and I feared the worst as I checked my Twitter feed and saw game after game fall foul of the heavy rain that had attacked south Wales over the course of the day I worried that tonight’s game might have fallen foul of the gods.
As it happened or as a Treharris official told me when I walked into the ground “Nah, the rain never really hits up here. We rarely get postponements here, the ground takes it quite while”
Admission for tonight’s game was a very fair £3 with a match day programme costing an extra pound. Due to the heavy rain I immediately stowed the programme away into my camera bag so it didn’t get damaged, but it’s fair to say that the club have definitely put quite an effort in with the match day programme.
Occasionally you’ll find match day programmes at grounds at this level that you get the feeling are made purely to meet the Welsh League requirement (It’s actually a requirement of the Welsh League that a match day programme is offered, which leads some clubs to produce programmes that are little more than a squad list). Treharris’ effort goes above and beyond all of this and on my arrival home later that evening actually keeps my interest for a good hour or so.
The programme covers a wide range of interesting subjects, from the clubs formation, news from the FAW and Welsh League, notes from the Club Secretary Peter Williams, articles on players from yesteryear, plans for the new ground as well as a “Meet today’s referee” article which wouldn’t look too out of place in a Premier League match day programme to be fair.
Pontypridd Town started the game with what I believed to be a mostly unchanged lineup from Saturday’s opening day victory save for the absence of assistant player manager Dominic Broad who was absent due to a family holiday and was replaced by Daniel Hooper.
Ponty Town also had the difficult task of going into this evening’s match without their manager Damien Broad, away on family duties or coach Sam Houldsworth who was conspicuous by his absence on holiday in Cape Verde! However I did later come to learn that Damien Broad was in fact issuing managerial instructions to his dad Paul via a hands free mobile kit driving down the M6, on the touchline via mobile phone! This surely must be the furthest length gone to play a game of Football Manager in the world.
What became clear when the match started was that although the Treharris surface had held up well to the terrible weather, both sides were struggling to control the ball for the first quarter of an hour or so, many players found themselves slipping when changing direction and the ball quite often went out of touch when players thought they were playing fairly simple square balls to colleagues.
The first action of note came in the 11th minute when Treharris striker Chris Calvin-Owen hit a long range speculative effort from about thirty yards high at goal. It looked for a second like Ponty Town keeper Ryan Griffiths was going to slip while jumping for the ball but he quick regained his composure and safely controlled the ball.
Pontypridd Town pushed forward with their trademark style of passing attacking football and were nearly rewarded through striker James Hill who did well to control the ball on the edge of the box and fire a volley towards goal which tested Clint Forbes in goal for Treharris but went a couple of yards wide.
Clint Forbes would be quite the player for Treharris it would turn out as he kept the scores level in spectacular fashion on 20 minutes. Pontypridd Town looked to be certain to score on two occasions, first a powerful effort from James Hill and the second a poked effort from Luke Gullick which were both saved gymnastically by the Treharris stopper before he palmed a third close range effort out for a corner.
Matthew Hibbs, a striker who put in a brilliant performance on Saturday for The Dragons was nearly rewarded with a goal midway through the half after a testing effort from all of thirty yards out. He spotted Forbes well off his line but was unable to keep his shot from going over the bar.
Treharris for large parts of the game played long balls deep into the Pontypridd half which made sense given the height of their two attacking figures. They nearly took a first half lead when a long throw was sent deep into the Pontypridd penalty area and the resulting shot was slotted a yard or so wide by Matthew Sellick.
Treharris committed men forward on the attack and were nearly caught out when a loose ball lead to Ponty Town breaking forward on the counter attack. A long ball towards the Treharris penalty area lead to a two man race between Clint Forbes and James Hill. Forbes having a five yard head start made it out to the ball a second earlier and was able to boot the ball into safety 40 yards from goal.
The last action in a quite frenetic first half came from Matthew Sellick of Treharris who for all intents and purposes hit a ball that beat Ryan Griffiths in the Pontypridd goal only for defender Alex Williams to put his body on the line and block the shot with his thigh on the goal line.
Both sides came out for the second half with attacking intentions, neither really wanting to settle for a point which was admirable and made for an exciting second half of end to end action.
Treharris had the chance of note in the second half on 50 minutes when a lovely bit of play in the Pontypridd half lead to the ball falling to Chris Calvin-Owen who hit a decent effort from ten yards which was well saved by Ryan Griffiths.
Early in the second half we saw the first appearance of the season for Pontypridd’s Matthew Escott, a neat player who usually fulfils a full back position for The Dragons but can quite often be seen anywhere in defence or midfield. Escott made an impact immediately and was unlucky not to score with one of two decent long range efforts with his left foot.
The breakthrough in this match came for Pontypridd Town in the 64th minute when Danny Hooper hit a curling left footed cross into the middle of the Treharris penalty area for Division 3’s top goal scorer Luke Gullick to head home into the far corner of the goal past the helpless goalkeeper who could do little to stop the effort from close range.
With the lead, Pontypridd Town looked the calmer of the two sides as Treharris pushed forward in numbers in the search for the equaliser and Treharris were almost rewarded in the 68th minute when a breakaway counter attack lead to a two against two scenario on the edge of the penalty area. Treharris’ Ryan Hocking had a brilliant opportunity to put his side level but could only look on in despair as he fired his shot well over the bar from 12 yards. Hocking had a little more time to craft his effort than I think he thought he had and his side would surely be wondering whether that was ‘the’ chance.
Pontypridd’s remote management team reacted by bringing on returnee to the club after a year away from Ynysangharad Park, Omar Abdillahi, in an attempt to make the ball stick up the final third of the pitch a little more and to give a respite to striker James Hill who had spent the first hour of the match endlessly running for the cause.
Abdillahi made an immediate impact on his arrival and was unlucky to have a goal struck off for offside after being on the pitch for about two minutes. As you can see from the video link above, it was a tough decision to make. Some people I spoke to on the night agreed with the decision, some didn’t. The referee was in the right place to make the call and the goal was chalked off but showed us just how keen Abdillahi is to make his mark at the club.
Omar Abdillahi would again find himself in a similar position in the box, this time poking home a placed effort in the far left corner of the box which looked to have secured the three points for Ponty Town. Again, the referee judged Abdillahi to be offside when making the shot. The first decision may have been correct but the second looked very much to be onside, something that a keen Treharris fan stood next to me commented “Looked OK to me. I think we got out of jail free there”.
With only the one goal separating the sides, Treharris predictably pushed forward in numbers as the clock ran down and came exceedingly close to levelling the score on a couple of occasions. Ryan Griffiths made two tremendous tipped saves and a couple of defenders stuck a leg in the way here and there to keep the Merthyr Valley side at bay.
Deep into stoppage time at the end of the second half, Pontypridd Town secured the three points and a place at the top of the table when a Treharris attack broke down and midfielder Rhys McCarthy hit a lovely defence splitting pass through to man of the moment Luke Gullick who hit a deft chip over Clint Forbe from the edge of the box to give his side a 2-0 lead with only seconds left on the clock. Gullick found himself being mobbed by his team mates as the dejected Treharris side could only look on and rue what might have been.
A minute or so later, referee Mark Hulbert brought this entertaining encounter which was to be fair – a superb advert for the division to a close. I suppose for the neutral this would have been quite the spectacle, for anyone with even an passing interest in either side it was a horrific game to watch such was the frantic end to end nature of the game.
With cup commitments dominating proceedings this weekend, both clubs return to Welsh League action in the reverse fixture next Wednesday at Ynysangharad Park in Pontypridd.
Overall, this was a fairly equally fought affair. Treharris had the advantage of familiarity with their pitch and it’s dimensions. Pontypridd were a little more clinical in front of goal and that was about the difference between both sides this evening.
Having seen the Treharris Athletic Western of previous seasons and the Treharris of this season, I’m going to go out on a limb and potentially stake my reputation in stating that they will be more than fine this season, they may even surprise a fair few people in the Welsh League this year. They’ve got the players to do so, I guess it’s just a case of whether they can kick on and do so.
Pontypridd Town again showed why they are considered a good shout for promotions among regular supporters of the Welsh League. The ability to win difficult games like this in difficult conditions will be key to whether they can ultimately realise their goal of promotion to the third tier at the end of the season.
I would like to wish the very best of luck to both sides for the season and would like to also thank everyone at Treharris Athletic Western for your hospitality and kindness.
My Man of the Match: Although Luke Gullick will take the headlines (and rightly so!), the Pontypridd Town defence helped keep another clean sheet with some great performances at the back. In particular that of Ilias Doumas who was set a big task this evening with the height of some of the Treharris front line but he won most challenges he took part in.