Wednesday 26th August 2015.
Pontypridd Town 4-2 Treharris Athletic Western.
Welsh League Division Three.
Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd.
Attendance: Circa 60.
The Welsh League fixture computer threw up quite an oddity when it planned this season’s fixtures. In a brilliant twist for some reason or another all of the matches played in the league last Wednesday were repeated in reverse fashion this Wednesday.
This meant that for the second time in seven days I and many others would be treated to another entertaining local derby between Pontypridd Town and Treharris Athletic Western, this time at Ponty Town’s Ynysangharad Park home ground.
I know I must have written something like 15 blog entries so far involving Pontypridd Town but I’ve never really touched on the club’s history – which is something I’ve been trying to do a lot more of with clubs I’ve never visited before. Back in January when I first visited Ynysangharad Park I was still kind of finding my feet in the whole football blogging thing so I overlooked it all and the idea of touching on it after the first visit seemed a bit forced.
Football has been played in Pontypridd since the early 1900’s, the predominant force being Pontypridd Dragons FC, where the current club take inspiration for their nickname. Pontypridd Dragons were a force in Welsh football fielding sides in both the Welsh League and the Southern League in the English pyramid. The side had particular success in the Welsh Cup, finishing as runners up in 1913 and reaching the semi-final stage in 1914.
As with many clubs in the south Wales area, the First World War disrupted business as usual at their Taff Vale Park ground in Treforest. The side regrouped following the end of the War and they made an attempt to start back where they left off.
A 1919 3-0 victory at Taff Vale Park against the emerging force of Cardiff City was witnessed by a reported 5,000 spectators and they followed this up with another runners up medal in the Welsh Cup in 1921.
In the May of 1921, Pontypridd Dragons took on the then-mighty Wrexham at Ninian Park in front of a crowd of 7,000 and admirably held the north Wales side to a 1-1 draw before losing the replay 3-1 at Shrewsbury’s Gay Meadow ground.
Rumours of the club being voted into Football League Division Three around 1923 took the players attention off the football field for a season or two. In the end, despite the chairman of the club travelling over 2,000 miles and meeting with over 300 officials at other clubs he was just marginally unable to convince member clubs to vote Pontypridd Dragons into the league.
The Dragons turned their attention back to the Welsh League and in the 1923-24 season had arguably their greatest success in winning the league against mighty competition in the form of Swansea Town, Aberdare Athletic and Mid-Rhondda – all of whom were massive names in British football at the time.
Following this title win, a reported crowd of 4,000 people gathered outside the Municipal Hall to celebrate the victory and to try and get a glimpse of the prestigious Welsh League trophy.
The team was later broken up after a number of transfers out of the club into the English pyramid which brought Pontypridd Dragons bank balance very much back into the black after years of living close to the bread line.
So what became in the modern era?
The current club’s roots can be found in the 1991 merger between failing Welsh League club Ynysybwl, from the village a mile away from Pontypridd, and local league side Pontypridd Sports & Social Club to form Pontypridd & Ynysybwl FC. They played their football at the Recreation Ground in Ynysybwl for one season before moving into the newly vacated Ynysangharad Park, previously home to the ever-rising Pontypridd RFC. With this move came a name change to Pontypridd Town and the new club officially formed in 1992.
Facilities at Ynysangharad Park were improved with the help of the-then Taff Ely Council, new changing rooms were built, floodlights installed into the ground to allow the playing of games at night. This coupled with a sixth place finish in Division Two was enough, due to the reorganisation of the Welsh League following the birth of the League of Wales/Welsh Premier League enough to afford Pontypridd Town membership at the highest tier of the Welsh Football League in Division One.
A third place finish in Division One of the Welsh League in 1992/93 saw the club come within a handful of points of gaining promotion to what we now know as the Welsh Premier League. Gradually declining league positions in the following three years eventually lead to relegation from Division One in the 1995/96 season after a seven point deduction at the end of the season for fielding an ineligible player.
This season wasn’t all bad news for Pontypridd Town however as they went on a spectacular run in the Welsh Cup, much like their ancestors Pontypridd Dragons. Eventually they went out at the quarter final stage, losing to eventual winners Llansantffraid Town, a Welsh Premier League side who would eventually merge with Total Network Solutions to form the club who have dominated proceedings in the Welsh pyramid for the last ten years or so, The New Saints.
The club steadily fell down the pyramid before falling back into Division Three of the Welsh League around the turn of the Millennium. They rose to Division One again in the following years before financial problems lead to the club falling back down to Division Three just as quickly as they rose.
Talks of a possible merger with nearby South Wales Alliance club Treforest eventually broke down and the club looked doomed for a while before local businessman Phil Gibb stepped in to rescue the club and place them on safe financial footing.
The recent history of the club has been largely more positive than it has negative. The 2010-11 and 2012-13 seasons saw The Dragons miss out on promotion to Division Two by goal difference alone.
The 2013-14 season saw a seismic shift in the Pontypridd Town squad following the departure of the previous management team. Arriving a week before the start of the new season, Dominic Broad, his brother Damien and player/coach Sam Houldsworth were tasked with rebuilding a decimated squad in order to compete at this level when they arrived at their first training session to find they had two registered players!
The management team pulled every trick out of the hat, recruiting players they’d played with and coached at previous clubs. They also managed to link up with Pontypridd Boys & Girls Club and bring them under the umbrella of Pontypridd Town to offer the club for the very first time in its history a youth system, which would provide the club with talented young players. The fruits of which are already starting to show in the form of highly rated youngsters Owain Morgan and Jack Wheeler who have already made dents in the First Team since their arrivals at the club.
The club gained fame and notoriety in the Summer of 2014 when a cheeky request by then-manager Dominic Broad to some contacts he’d made at previous employers when he coached in Spain lead to a friendly being arranged between La Liga and Champions League giants Valencia.
The British football media, in particular DJ Colin Murray of TalkSport caught word of the planned friendly and took the idea and ran with it. The club featured heavily on the station during that Summer which lead to over 300 football fans from all over Britain heading out to Spain for three days to become honourary Pontypridd Town fans as they battled against a Valencia side packed with talent. A respectable 3-0 defeat saw the club gain plaudits from all over the football world.
After a decent season in the 2014-15 season the club finished seventh in Division Three. Truth be told, the club started the season poorly but after the turn of the new year their form was frankly superb which saw only eventual title winners Llanelli Town take more points than them in the last half of the season.
Another trip to Spain followed in the Summer of 2015, perhaps even bigger this time around, meeting the mighty Deportivo La Coruna of Spain. The Pontypridd side amazingly held their own for the first 80 minutes, trailing by only 1-0. Striker James Hill came unbelievably close to levelling afairs (I’m reliably informed that the ball ran under the goalkeeper and he saved it more by accident rather than by skill) and as the Ponty side chased the game and the equaliser they let their guard down and eventually succumbed to a 4-0 defeat.
A 4-0 defeat is by no means a terrible result when you consider that the club in it’s recent history was home to the likes of David Silva, Juan Mata and David Villa, whoever they are?
So to the current time. Pontypridd Town going into this evening’s match sat at the helm of the Welsh League Division Three after impressive victories against Treowen Stars and this evening’s opponents Treharris Athletic Western. A tricky Welsh Cup tie against Canton Liberals threatened to throw the train off the tracks but the Dragons held steady to secure a 2-1 win and a 2nd Qualifying round tie against South Wales Alliance side Sully Sports next month.
Treharris Athletic Western, after a couple seasons spent at the foot of Division Three seem to have turned a corner over pre-season. An impressive 4-0 victory against Llantwit Major on the opening day of the season signaled their intent and renewed vigour going into this campaign and to be fair to the Merthyr Valley side it took an almighty Pontypridd effort to defeat them last week and at times Treharris had chances to take the lead.
This evening’s game looked to be quite the contest then. Recent encounters between the clubs have had a shadow over them due to an incident in last season’s first match between the two sides at The Athletic Ground lead to a brawl on the pitch and the referee abandoning the match deep into stoppage time. Luckily relations have improved greatly in recent games and at club administrative level there is a great deal of friendship between the two clubs which is noticeable when officials from Treharris arrive an hour or so before kick off.
Pontypridd Town made a couple of changes to their starting lineup this evening. Recent re-signing Omar Abdillahi came in for the absent James Hill whilst Andy Coleman was giving a starting berth for the first time in this league campaign. Dominic Broad, having recently handed management duties over to his brother Damien, took on his assistant manager duties this evening after only arriving back home from holiday a day or so earlier.
Treharris named a similar lineup to last week’s match, still missing highly rated striker Aaron Caffell, who briefly signed for Pontypridd Town over pre-season but after a couple of appearances in friendly matches chose to return to Treharris. He unfortunately was still out of action with a foot injury so was unable to line up against his somewhat brief old club.
Initial exchanges between the two teams was fairly equal with both sides having a couple of good opportunities at goal in the opening ten minutes.
The first action of note in this game came in the 8th minute when Ponty Town broke quickly on the counter attack through the in-form Luke Gullick. Gullick was brought down perhaps cynically by Treharris defender Keiron Jones in his own half. Referee Darren Ould, looking to stamp his authority on the game had no hesitation in dishing out the first yellow card of the game.
I’ve touched on this before, but for me the difference between ‘bit of a football fan’ and ‘absolute loser with no life at all’ comes down to a couple of things. One of those being the ability to know and remember referees from previous games despite having not played the sport competitively for the best part of 12 years.
Craig, the Pontypridd Town secretary and web man, points this out to me when I first spotted Darren Ould walking into the Ynysangharad Park changing rooms and I asked him “Oh Craig? Is that Darren Ould reffing the game? He reffed a game I went to earlier this year between Trebanog and Gelli Hibs”
Darren is a referee I’ve seen a few times officiating in the Rhondda League and he seems to be assigned to quite a few Welsh League matches this season, which is great for other Rhondda referees. Like most referees I’ve come to meet in the Rhondda League, he’s a firm character.
On the quarter of an hour mark Treharris looked certain to open the scoring after an unfortunately slip by Ponty captain Sam Graves on an increasingly difficult wet surface lead to David Mitchell being gifted a gilt edged opportunity from six yards only for Pontypridd keeper Ryan Griffiths to pull off a truly remarkable one handed save which drew applause from both sets of supporters.
As the first half progressed it appeared that both sides looked to be largely cancelling each other out with their natural forms of play. Pontypridd Town for their part were playing some attractive passing football and building up strong from the back whilst their Treharris counterparts were looking increasingly comfortable with the ball at their feet spraying long passes to feet from side to side of the pitch.
A moment of controversy came in the 34th minute when Matthew Hibbs of Pontypridd Town skipped through the Treharris defence and looked to have been taken down a yard or so outside of the box for what looked like a certain free kick only for referee Ould to wave play on and command Hibbs to get to his feet.
Treharris must certainly have gone in for the half time interval ruing Ryan Griffiths who denied another seemingly certain Treharris goal with a phenomenal save from close range after a Matthew Sellick neat pass lead to highly rated striker Chris Calvin-Owen hitting a powerful effort towards goal only for Griffiths to parry the ball over for a corner kick.
There was just enough time left in the first half for Luke Gullick to really test Treharris keeper Clint Forbes with an effort that rolled quickly across the floor from 12 yards out. Forbes was just about able to get to the shot and palm it around the goal for a corner kick. With that save the teams went into the half time interval goalless in an arguably identical half to the first half that was played last Wednesday at The Athletic Ground.
Whereas Pontypridd Town made their chances count and took the lead in the second half last week it was Treharris who took the lead this time around. A free kick in a seemingly not too dangerous part of the Pontypridd half was awarded to Treharris and David Mitchell hit a lovely high effort into the Ponty box which evaded everyone and chipped Ryan Griffiths who saw his goal invaded for the first time in this Welsh League campaign.
Treharris going into the lead only appeared at this point to re-ignite the Pontypridd side who immediately adopted a more direct approach in search of the equaliser and they were nearly rewarded a minute later when a superb effort from the dangerous left foot of Danny Hooper lead to Clint Forbes being forced to pull off quite the save in tipping Hooper’s effort just over the cross bar.
In the 50th minute, Omar Abdillahi, a striker who struggled a little against the physical Treharris defence in the first half popped up after a spot of pinball on the edge of the Treharris penalty area to hit a marvellous effort into the top left corner of the goal off the cross bar to level affairs for his side to the relief of his team mates.
Two minutes later, Ponty Town were given an opportunity to take the lead for the first time in the match when they awarded a penalty by Ould after Matthew Hibbs broke into the box and rounded Forbes only to brought down by the Treharris keeper before he could slot home into the empty net.
Top scorer in the Welsh League (and possibly all of Britain at the moment) Luke Gullick stepped up to the spot and hit a powerful placed effort into the bottom left corner of the goal. Forbes guessed right and got a firm hand on the ball but such was the power of the effort that the ball still found its way into the back of the net to put The Dragons 2-1 up.
Treharris pushed forward and put Pontypridd Town under a great deal of pressure at times and they came very close to leveling the score on the hour mark with a superb long range volleyed effort by Keiron Jones which went only inches wide of the top right corner of the goal.
Sensing that this was definitely a game they need a two goal cushion in, Pontypridd Town pushed forward in search of a third goal and were rewarded as such in the 64th minute when Matthew Hibbs latched onto a loose ball on the counter attack, with only one option in front of him he hit a great pass over to striker Luke Gullick who made no mistake from 12 yards to give his side a 3-1 lead going into the closing stages of the game.
Zac Iheancho was brought on at left back in an attempt to steady up the defensive ranks of Pontypridd Town as Treharris would certainly start playing a more direct tactic in order to try and get something from the game.
This more direct approach from Treharris almost lead to Matthew Sellick running through on goal for a one on one were it not for a last ditch superb tackle from defensive stalwart Scott Hillman who timed his tackle perfectly to put the ball out to touch for a Treharris thrown in, affording his side a few seconds to regroup.
With a quarter of an hour left in the game, we were treated to one of our first opportunities of the season to witness the threat of Danny Hooper’s left foot as he lined up a free kick from about 35 yards out. Hooper hit a powerful effort towards goal, which although a little too central to actually test the goalkeeper, Forbes struggled to hold onto the ball, which was eventually cleared by a Treharris defender.
Pontypridd Town sealed the points with ten minutes of the match to go from the head of hat-trick hero Luke Gullick. Gullick again linked up with Matthew Hibbs after a neat one-two just outside of the box. Hibbs drew his marker towards the touchline and cut inside to deliver a perfect pass to Gullick whose deft touch off his forehead slotted past the flailing Clint Forbes, who to be fair to him could do little to stop the effort.
With a 4-1 lead, Pontypridd Town sat back and probably invited a little bit too much pressure and they were punished in the 88th minute when recent substitute Ryan Hocking played a gorgeous one-two about thirty yards out from goal with Chris Calvin-Owen to run down at Ponty keeper Ryan Griffiths and neatly tuck the ball home to make the score 4-2 and give his side a fighting chance going into injury time.
Pontypridd nerves were tested in the closing stages as referee Darren Ould played nine minutes of stoppage time and in the first of which new signing Rhys McCarthy was called on to put his body on the line and make a block on the goal line after a corner kick resulted in a goalmouth scramble.
Pontypridd Town recomposed themselves and intelligently played the ball down the channels in an attempt at take advantage of Treharris’ now fairly-attacking formation sapping away at the nine minutes of stoppage time.
The rain by now, was pelting down the surface making it increasingly difficult for players to keep their footing on the wet, slippy surface.
Darren Ould, brought the game to a close and Pontypridd Town took another three points and held onto their spot at the top of Division Three.
Treharris Athletic Western, although they may be perhaps a little dejected with two league defeats in a week can firmly hold their head up high with their efforts in these two matches, as they gave a side who should surely be in and among the promotion places come the end of the season, one hell of a set of games this last week.
Although Pontypridd Town may have come out of these two matches six points better off, there are plenty of sides in Division Three who would have taken a hammering from a side like Treharris if they play like this on a regular basis.
I’d like to wish the very best of luck to both Pontypridd Town and Treharris Athletic Western for the rest of the season and thank them both for what have been two really quite entertaining games in the last week.
My Man of the Match: There were several excellent performances on both sides and there were a number of candidates for such a dubious honour. However, Luke Gullick in sealing his ninth goal of the Welsh League campaign in just three matches must surely take this award for being so clinical again in front of goal.