Saturday 22nd August 2015.
Penybont 0-2 Barry Town United.
Welsh League Division One.
The Kymco Stadium, Bridgend.
Attendance: Circa 140.
A lot has changed since I last watched both of these sides. Penybont recovered from their 3-0 defeat against Briton Ferry Llansawel (all the way back in my third game of the year) and finished the season in an incredibly respectable 5th placed finish in Division One of the Welsh League.
Barry Town United, by all accounts, had a phenomenal season, winning Division Two by 8 points and only losing two games along the way. Those two losses if my memory serves me right came by way of two losses late in the campaign by which point their title win had been all but confirmed.
The title win for Barry Town United meant that a return to their rightful home of Division One of the Welsh Football League had been confirmed only two years after facing the very real threat of being forced to start playing their football at ‘parks level’ in the Vale of Glamorgan recreational leagues.
I’ve covered the trials and tribulations of Barry Town United in greater details in a previous blog covering the side but for the purpose of context I feel a need to at least touch upon events here.
You see towards the end of the 2012-13 season the then named Barry Town were ploughing along just fine in Division One of the Welsh League. I’d watched them earlier on that season play out a deserving 2-0 victory at Dinas Park against what was a very strong AFC Porth side, I believe the two goals came from Barry striker TJ Nagi who has become something of a cult hero at Jenner Park in the preceding years.
The Jenner Park side hadn’t set Division One alight that year but again unless my memory fails me again I’m convinced they sat around mid-table (It’s hard to confirm this as the ‘Past Seasons’ section of the Welsh League website simply confirms that they dropped out of the league and expunges their record).
I’m aware that the club, or at least the supporters trust (rather a collective of supporters reaching into their own personal wallets to fund the running of the club) had been struggling under the helm of previous owner Stuart Lovering who in the most legal sense of the term ‘owned’ the club, or at least the Barry Town trademark. Several high profile disagreements between ‘owner’ and supporters were played out that season on my Twitter timeline.
What this all lead to was the cruel and needless withdrawal of the club from the Welsh League by Stuart Lovering after his refusal to co-operate with the supporters group handling the day to day management and running of the club. This all came in a season where Barry Town actually reached the semi-final of the Welsh Cup losing 2-1 to eventual winners Prestatyn Town, who at the time were a Welsh Premier League outfit.
Barry Town’s record for the 2012-13 record was expunged from the Welsh League records, all game results were cancelled and removed from the records and doubt arose as to whether the club would be allowed to continue as a Welsh League club the following season under the helm of their supporters trust.
Renaming themselves ‘Barry Town United’ the club, now finally free of the chains of the Lovering era, sought to finally operate as a completely supporter owned club in the Welsh League only to later find that the FAW saw their renaming and change of ownership as amounting to what they described as ‘a completely new club, independent of the previous club Barry Town’ despite employing the same players, the same manager, playing in the same kit at the same stadium, cheered on by the same supporters and being run on a day-to-day basis by the same group of supporters.
The FAW didn’t see it this way and they mandated that should Barry Town United wish to continue playing competitive football in Wales they would need to start from the very bottom of the Welsh football pyramid at a regional level – a level of the pyramid known informally as ‘parks football’. This could have lead to Barry Town United, a club who only ten years earlier defeated the mighty Porto of Portugal at Jenner Park in a Champions League tie having to re-start their climb up the Welsh pyramid at Tier 10 in the Vale of Glamorgan League Division Two. The club would have needed promotions over 8 consecutive years to return to their previous home of Division One of the Welsh League!
Eventually common sense prevailed, albeit via the court rooms and in August 2013 a judge came to the conclusion that the FAW acted incorrectly when failing to recognise the continuation of the club after Lovering’s actions. Whether it was right or wrong, Barry Town United were eventually afforded a place at Tier 4 in Division Three of the Welsh League where they would need to earn two promotions to regain their Division One place.
Their actions also lead to a reprisal for ‘new’ club and ex-Welsh Premier League club Llanelli Town who after the liquidation of Llanelli AFC were nearly forced to play their football in the Carmarthen District Leagues after the FAW also decided not to recognise their continuation under a different name.
Admirably and in a case that shows what commitment lies at the heart of the Barry side, for the large part they actually kept hold of most of their players when they started playing in Division Three and even attracted new impressive signings. Some say that getting back to their rightful place was inevitable, but the games needed to be played and the titles needed to be won and even though Barry Town are quite a side, to simply assume promotion at the first times of asking would have been foolish.
You see, Barry Town’s recent history has been blighted with incidents like the above. Whether right or wrong, they’ve attracted a bit of a ‘Leeds United’/’Cardiff City’ tag with some of their troubles over the last decade or two.
Initially a club who played their football in the English pyramid, Barry Town were part of a collective group the FAW dubbed ‘The Irate 8’ back in the early 90’s.
FIFA were not impressed with the FAW to say the least, to be truthfully honest FIFA have never really been comfortable with the British nations playing as independent countries and put down a lot of pressure on the FAW to form a national league. Wales is a funny country in terms of Geography. I live in the Rhondda Valleys and on a good day I can get to Central London (160 miles) quicker than I can get to Newtown in Mid Wales (90 miles).
Until the formation of the ‘League of Wales’ in 1992, domestic football simply wasn’t played at a national level save for the annual Welsh Cup competition. In the North the Cymru Alliance was the highest tier and in the south, clubs made do with the Welsh League National Division. Travel between the north and the south of Wales has always been a logistical challenge due to the lack of a north to south motorway or at least a road of suitable quality (Anyone who has travelled on the A470 north of Brecon will no doubt understand my point on this one)
So until 1992, football in Wales simply existed in two different areas, north Wales and south Wales. That is until FIFA had a quiet word in the ear of the FAW and threatened to pull the national team unless they made plans for a proper national league. The FAW, perhaps unsurprisingly and somewhat hastily put together plans to form a real bona fide national league within months of this threat.
The problem with the League of Wales idea at it’s very core was the simple fact that whether it’s right or wrong the better teams in Wales just happened to play their football in the English pyramid and always had done. This included not only the likes of Football League clubs Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham but also clubs like Merthyr Tydfil, Bangor City, Newtown, Rhyl, Caernarfon Town, Colwyn Bay and Barry Town who all had a great deal of history and success in the slightly lower reaches of the English pyramids.
The Football League clubs were afforded their English pyramid status but the FAW made strict demands on the remaining clubs to play their football in the new League of Wales and the Welsh pyramid or face forced exile to England.
These eight clubs became known as the ‘Irate Eight’ due to their hesitance to move back to the Welsh pyramid. Eventually under varying levels of duress, Bangor City, Newtown and Rhyl agreed to return to the Welsh pyramid.
The remaining five clubs held tight and played under exile from Wales. In the case of Barry Town, for a single season they played as ‘Y Barri’ at Worcester City’s home ground in the English pyramid before eventually returning to Wales.
A year later another high profile court case lead to these exiled clubs being allowed to ‘come back’ to Wales to play their football in the English pyramid but by this point Barry Town and Caernarfon Town had both agreed to move back to the Welsh pyramid. Merthyr Tydfil, Colwyn Bay and Newport County remained in the English pyramid.
Barry Town were the success story of domestic football in the 1990’s. Their first League of Wales title win came in the 1995-96 season after only joining the league the previous season. The club followed this victory with a further three title wins, their title winning run was only brought to an end in the 1999-2000 season when they lost their title by 2 points to the-then named Total Network Solutions (see: TNS/The New Saints). Incidentally the club recovered from that ‘poor season’ by going on to win the league convincingly for the following three seasons.
What followed was a dramatic fall from grace in which Barry Town, in the space of a single season went from title winners to finishing bottom of the Welsh Premier League and facing relegation to the Welsh League following the break up and disintegration of their professional side of players, which forced the club to rebuild with a group of players taken from what we now call the South Wales Alliance (Tier 5 of the pyramid). In real footballing terms, this would be akin in the modern day to someone like Manchester City having all of their players walk out on them and having to pick up players from the likes of Wrexham, Forest Green Rovers and Boreham Wood!
A dalliance with John Fashanu playing the role of ‘high profile chairman’ lead to the club being left in a perilous financial state around the mid-2000’s. All of these events lead to the club eventually being picked up by businessman Stuart Lovering which is where I started this blog a couple of thousand words ago.
There were very few neutral fans happier than I was when Barry Town won promotion from Division Two in April of last season. For me it represented one of those infamous ‘good guys getting back where they belonged’ kind of tales. The club shouldn’t have ever been put in that place but they dealt with it in a dignified fashion and came out of the story with a fair few friends all over the footballing world.
So it was important for me to take in one of their first matches back in Division One of the Welsh League. Ideally I would have loved to gone to a home match at Jenner Park but due to the ground currently being out of action and having a state of the art 3G playing surface installed, it’s likely that Jenner Park will be out of action for at least Barry Town’s first thirteen games. This obviously presents itself as a bit of a challenge for the club having play so many game at the start of the season away from home but something that may no doubt be an advantage come the midway point of the season when they get the opportunity to start taking advantage of their number of home games.
Both of this afternoon’s sides play attacking and attractive football so this was a match I was certainly looking forward to. Bryntirion Park is one of my favourite grounds in the Welsh League, or should I say, The Kymco Stadium following its recent promotional renaming.
In all seriousness, the club house is one of the, if not the best clubhouses on offer in the Welsh League. It’s just a shame that our poor time keeping lead to us arriving at the ground at 14:29 for a 14:30 kick off, giving us just enough time to pay our £5 entry fee and find a spot on the touchline to pitch up and take in this afternoon’s action.
There are two sets of fans I’ve come to love in the Welsh pyramid, those being the fans of both Port Talbot Town and Barry Town United. Both clubs have a large, vocal following who encapsulate everything I celebrate, resplendent in club colours, banners, trumpets, authentic original chants, they give some form of validation to this being a league that actually means something to people.
Barry Town’s supporters are again in fine voice this afternoon as they welcome the sides onto the pitch, pumping out chants about previous players who went on to bigger things ‘Ade Akinfenwa’, a cover version of the Super Furry Animals tender singalong ‘Fire in My Heart’ and some old classic hits ‘Come on Barry, Come on Barry, Come on Barry, Come One’ and the quite charming method of counting down defensive wall walk-backs in German.
South Wales had again been assaulted by lashings of rain over the week (Summer eh?) and several games in the Welsh League fell foul of the terrible weather. This wasn’t to be the case though at The Kymco Stadium, due in large part to it’s relatively new 3G surface, which although quite slippy in places allowed for today’s match to be played.
There was a bit of worry among some Barry Town fans I’d spoken to previously about where they’d find their ‘level’ when they eventually got themselves back into Welsh League Division One, obviously two years spent playing times at lower levels wouldn’t have had a necessarily positive impact on their team so matches against the likes of Penybont, a very decent Division One side could have been the first cause of problems for a team like Barry Town United.
The Vale of Glamorgan men actually started the match very positively and although the game started quite slowly for the first quarter of an hour at least, if I were to split the sides I’d just about say that Barry Town arguably had the better of the opening exchanges.
It was actually Penybont who had the first real chance at goal which came from a lovely ball into the box by full back Robbie Thomas (Thomas is a player I wrote about previously as being something of an Andrei Kanchelskis-like player) which looked to be heading towards goal only to blocked near the line by Barry defender Paul Morgan.
Barry Town took the lead in the 24th minute after a lovely bit of lead up play from the Barry midfield. Drew Fahiha latched on to the ball and made a short run into the Penybont area before clinically firing home an effort into the far left corner off the post to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Penybont immediately pushed for an equaliser and were almost rewarded when Barry midfielder and Cardiff City loanee Jamie Bird took a slip on the wet surface which almost let in a Penybont striker, luckily for Bird his shot was blocked by a Barry Town trailing leg.
Barry Town finished out the first half with a good opportunity to double their advantage when the ball fell to the feet of striker James Dixon who was put under pressure quickly by Robbie Thomas and could only fire an effort straight at Rhys Wilson in the Penybont goal.
During the half time interval we made our way into the clubhouse for a can and a Mars bar, which was proving popular as the queue was fairly large. I took the opportunity to hand a couple of cards for the blog out to one of the Barry Town supporters who I thought I recognised at first, but once I walked up to him and handed them over I realised almost immediately that I probably didn’t!
The second half started much in the same fashion as the first with Barry Town United edging affairs and looking slightly the more likely to score the second goal of the game. James Dixon again went close in the 48th minute after beating his marker and firing a decent effort just wide of the post from the edge of the box.
The action slowed down a little on the hour mark as Barry Town goalkeeper Dan Bradley required treatment for a knock after an innocuous challenge. Five minutes of treatment followed after which Bradley was judged to be fine to continue.
James Dixon would convert an effort in the 64th minute after looking to have beaten the offside trap set by the Penybont defence. He ran towards the goalkeeper at pace before slotting home skillfully into the far right of the net before the goal was ruled out by the referee who judged Dixon to be a yard offside at the time of the pass. Perhaps something was said, I’m uncertain, but Dixon was then called back by the referee and given a booking for his troubles which didn’t seem to please manager Gavin Chesterfield on the sidelines who remonstrated with the referee.
Two minutes later the ruled out goal would be forgotten as Barry Town doubled their advantage and sealed the victory with a second goal coming by way of an own goal scored by Penybont defender and substitute Joe Hopkins.
Barry Town midfielder Jamie Bird went on a mazey run into the Penybont penalty area before crossing into a dangerous area in the box. It was one of those scenarios where you already know that any touch from a defender is 99% certain to result in an own goal and Joe Hopkins was the unlucky defender to do so. There was really nothing Hopkins could have done to avoid it to be fair as if he had let the ball go then it would fallen kindly to the feet of Drew Fahiha who would have been only too happy to smash the ball home from all of six yards.
Penybont threatened at times to pull a goal back and came perilously close on two occasions around the 70 minute mark from good crosses but were unable to convert their chances.
Gavin Chesterfield, perhaps sensing that his side were allowing Penybont too much possession of the ball in the Barry half as the game drew to a close brought on the promising young Cardiff City creative player Elvis Menayese who almost immediately began to make the ball stick in the Penybont half.
Menayese was unlucky not to score a third goal for Barry Town on 73 minutes when he took on two players on the edge of the box before firing a sublime effort goalwards from the right hand side of the box. Unfortunately for Menayese and Barry Town his effort cannoned off the cross bar and went out of play.
Penybont made a number of substitutions towards the close of the game including the introduction of Tom Rutherford, a player who I’d previously seen many times last season at Pontypridd Town but none of these changes were able to change the destination of the three points on offer.
Barry Town closed out the game in a professional manner and were rewarded with the three points that makes them rise up to 6th position in Division One whilst their opponents Penybont moved down to 11th place following this defeat.
Barry Town can certainly be proud of their early achievements in this division. Had it not been for a 93rd minute winning goal in their opening match against title favourites Cardiff Metropolitan University then they may very well have been celebrating today’s victory in joint top place with Goytre.
Keep an eye on Barry Town United this season. They may well be dark horses come next April!
I’d like to thank both clubs for their hospitality and kindness and wish Penybont and Barry Town United all the very best of luck for the rest of the season. These are two great clubs who I have an awful lot of time for.
My Man of the Match: There were a handful of great performances on both sides and I hate doing this, but the dubious accolade, on this occasion has to go to the ever troublesome Drew Fahiha who always presented a bit of a problem to the Penybont defence and put in a superb shift.