Saturday 5th September.
Carmarthen Town 0-0 Bala Town
Welsh Premier League.
Richmond Park, Carmarthen.
Attendance: Circa 200.
0-0 draws are funny. In some areas of the ground hopping world they’re quite often considered one of the worst things ever.
There’s one guy I know of called “Tram”. I know him fairly indirectly (I say indirectly, a guy called Laurence Reade, whose blogs I enjoy, happens to know him) whose opinion of the nil-nil draw is so unenthusiastic that he refuses to check a football ground off his list if he hasn’t witnessed a goal at the ground.
This resulted in the person in particular making the journey all of the way from Garstang in Lancashire to Stradey Park in Llanelli to watch an exciting, but albeit goalless Europa League/UEFA Cup draw between Llanelli AFC and Gefle IF all for it to ‘not count’ according to his rules.
The story is made even more painful when you consider that this game was the only known game of football ever played on the ground (The ground was used due to Llanelli’s usual Stebonheath home ground not meeting UEFA ground regulations at the time) and the ground was flattened a couple of years later to make way for a new housing estate.
You’ll be glad to hear that I don’t take things that far. In fact, a lot of ground hoppers have stated they’re not the biggest fan of what I do in general. Most hoppers tend to visit a ground once and move on to other places, sort of like collecting grounds and I respect that. I do things a little differently and the blog has sort of evolved from being a ground hopping blog into something with a ‘theme’ if you will (i.e I go to Welsh matches that I like the look of – or I visit the teams rather than the ground, the ground is just a bonus!)
So it’s always nice to be able to pop along to a ground like Richmond Park in Carmarthen where I’ve never been before and get that feeling of discovering a new ground and doing a lap of honour around the pitch with the camera taking photos of corner flags, bins and seats like my brethren before me.
Carmarthen is a town sitting at the end of the M4 motorway about 10 miles after the Pont Abraham services. It’s a town I’ve driven through hundreds of times on my way down to West Wales but admittedly I’ve not spent a great deal of time in the town so I was fairly excited about having a few hours to look around Carmarthen before the match.
Aside from a few visits as a kid, my only previous visit to Carmarthen came about two years ago in my old job as an infrastructure engineer for an IT company. I visited a local solicitors to reconfigure a firewall in their server room that had gone all types of wrong.
The journey down to Carmarthen from the Rhondda took us about 75 minutes and I made a pretty good educated guess at finding a car park near the ground, especially when considering that I didn’t actually know where the ground was prior to heading down – the only thing I knew about the ground was that Google Maps said the ground was “half a mile from the town centre”
We took a quick walk into to the town centre and after a few failed attempts we found the town’s Wetherspoons, which was a bit of embarrassment for me as I’d already visited the establishment on my last visit to Carmarthen.
A Wetherspoons visit tends to round off a perfect visit to a town for ground hopping purposes. I love the place as it tends to offer a pretty good range of vegetarian food and the choice of craft beers on offer is usually second to none. I know that in the spirit of this blog, I should probably try and hunt out tiny pubs in these towns, the kind of pub usually inhabited by a lone man and his border collie but the problem with this is that those pubs usually only offer pints of Carling, Strongbow and the other pints of swill that you find in every single other pub in every single street up and down the United Kingdom.
Wetherspoons have for the last year or so been offering a wide range of craft beers in their pub which completely freshened up their offerings and has been a godsend for Wetherspoons aficionados like myself.
There is one other football blogger, a mate called Gibbo who shares a similar love of the Wetherspoons brand and their craft selection who a couple of weeks ago stumbled upon the sad fact that the chain were starting to gradually phase out a large chunk of the craft ales and replace them. Such was their desire to rid the stockrooms of the ales that the pubs started selling cans of Sweet Action and Budvar for as little as 99p!
So over the last month or so, myself and Gibbo have made it our mission to hunt out the Wetherspoons in every town we visit and report back to each other on their status in terms of stock levels of both Sweet Action and Budvar.
The responses to this have generally varied from “Completely sold out” to “Yeah, we’ve got thousands in the basement you can buy if you want to take them home!”.
I’m delighted to find my first can of Sweet Action in Wales for a long time as Carmarthen Wetherspoons have a massive two cans remaining! Paranoid that someone else in the lengthy bar queue will grab them before me I made a veiled attempt to stand out in the queue. I pulled all of the tricks that bar staff probably hate, holding the ten pound note out and playing with it, coughing loudly, holding the food menu up and generally doing whatever I can to stand out to the bar man.
Luckily it transpires that no-one else wants one, which is probably part of the reason why the chain have started phasing them out. So I make my way back to my table resplendent with my can of Sweet Action.
After finishing my All-Day Vegetarian Brunch, which truthfully is a disappointment when compared to the Vegetarian Breakfast, we make our way back out into Carmarthen for a walk around and make an attempt to find a decent coffee shop.
On our walk we come across an open-air market selling all manner of random wares, not limited to a gentle elderly Rastafarian selling reggae tapes, tobacco tins and a great selection of crude loosely Jamaican related shirts.
Another thing that strikes the eye is what surely must be the World’s smallest funfair. The funfair consists of one ride called the “Mini Miami” which is a kids ride that was being rode by two kids. A little underwhelming to be honest but it’s probably one of those things where you had to be there to appreciate the comedy of it.
Time is a pretty big coffee shop with a handful of staff so they’re pretty quick at what they do to be fair. Unfortunately although my wife Lara loved her Soy Americano, I found my Soy Macchiato to be something akin to slurry. No amount of sugar I put in that badboy could stop the drink from tasting like burnt chocolate.
After this abomination of a coffee we walked the half a mile back to our car to drop off our coats and jumped across the road to Richmond Park.
Richmond Park is a really nice ground that more than matches the majority of Welsh Premier League clubs. Admission for this afternoon’s match was £7 with a match day programme setting me back a further £2.
On entering the ground aside from the large main stand than runs alongside the touch line our attention is immediately drawn to the Club Shop down the far end of the pitch. A Club Shop that amazingly takes the form of a 1980’s Ghetto Blaster!
At this level of the game club shops tend to be a bit of a mixed bag. I’ve seen them vary from very well stocked and organised portacabins or offices right down to being simply a man near a bin with a Tesco carrier bag full of mouldy scarves.
A club shop taking the form of a Ghetto Blaster however, is a completely new one on me. With this mind we absolutely had to step inside.
The shop is amazingly well stocked and I’m gutted I didn’t bring more cash with me to be honest as the shop stocks everything from new replica shirts, old replica shirts, scarves, programmes, badges, old memorabilia and everything in between.
After saying our farewells in the shop we made our way to the ‘Caffi’r Hen Aur’ (translates into English as ‘Old Gold Cafe’) for a more ‘basic’ coffee than the one we tucked into an hour earlier, but one that tastes almost infinitely better.
We find our way into the stand and got ourselves ready for what we hoped would be an entertaining clash between these two sides.
Both of these sides had varying campaigns last season. Visitors Bala Town had a great season, finishing as runners-up to The New Saints and earned a place in the Europa League for their efforts.
A difficult tie against Differdange of Luxembourg lead to the side exiting the competition with a 4-3 aggregate defeat after an injury time Differdange goal broke Bala hearts.
Carmarthen Town had a difficult campaign last year. The Welsh Premier League splits in half after two thirds of the season. Teams in the top half fight it out for the automatic Champions League and Europa League spots, whilst teams in the bottom half battle it out for the one Europa League Playoff semi-final spot (Last year this was taken by Gap Connah’s Quay).
I believe as close as the final day of the pre-split period Carmarthen Town were still in with a shot of reaching the top half of the table so it was difficult for Mark Aizlewood’s men to come to terms with.
Having said that, when the league split in two, Carmarthen Town were well placed to take the top spot of the bottom half. Unfortunately their form suffered slightly and they were pipped at the post by Gap Connah’s Quay.
This was largely a game where both sides cancelled each other out and although no side in particular looked to dominate the game, both sides did have periods where they perhaps should have gone ahead.
The first real opportunity of the game fell to Carmarthen’s Liam Thomas who rounded Ashley Morris in the Bala Town on 5 minutes but Thomas rounded Morris with a heavy foot and the ball evaded him before he could knock it home into the empty net.
Carmarthen Town pushed forward and had the better of opening exchanges, although aside from this incident. It would take twenty minutes of this game for the next good chance to come.
On twenty minutes, Bala Town were unlucky not to go ahead after a corner kick was hit deep into the penalty area and what followed was two last ditch goal line saves by Carmarthen defenders.
On the half hour mark, Carmarthen Town’s Mark Jones hit a lovely shot from the edge of the box that looked for all intents and purposes to have opened the scoring for his side, Ashley Morris in the Bala goal didn’t even make an attempt to dive for it. Jones was left frustrated however as shot cannoned back off the post.
The last chance of the first half fell to Bala’s Lee Hunt who found himself unmarked at a corner kick and was gifted a golden opportunity to put his side ahead before the interval only to head his effort a yard wide of the post.
Carmarthen Town started the second half brightly and really started attacking Bala down the wings and took advantage of their superior pace down the channels.
A brace of golden opportunities fell to Carmarthen early in the second half. Liam Thomas failed to convert a loose ball on the six yard line after a mishit effort. Moments later he tested Ashley Morris with a superb free kick that went mere inches from putting his side ahead.
Bala Town’s veteran defender David Artell was left frustrated when he found himself unmarked at a corner kick and watched his headed effort saved brilliantly by Carmarthen goalkeeper Lee Idzi. At this point you really got the impression that it was going to take something quite special to break the deadlock in this game.
As the game drew to a close, Bala threatened again through Mark Jones who sheepishly ghosted into the box and hit a dangerous effort from 12 yards out which looked to be heading goalwards but hit a trailing Carmarthen foot.
With the honours shared in this game it was very hard to separate either side. Bala Town looked threatening at times whilst their opponents enjoyed long spells of possession and had more chances to seal the three points.
The draw was probably the fairest result on the day and despite a lack of goals I went away from Richmond Park fully entertained.
My Man of the Match: Defenders often don’t get the glory they deserve on this blog and I aim to start putting that right as of now. Dwaine Bailey of Carmarthen Town stood out for me. An assured performance from a very talented young player (I say young, he looked young – I have no idea how old he is)