Saturday 19th September
West End 2-1 Llanwern.
Welsh League Division Two.
Pryderi Park, Swansea.
Attendance: Circa 20.
How did you find the Tonypandy Street Festival 2015 this year compared to other years?
What do you mean ‘huh?’
Didn’t you see the massive advertising campaign for the event months and months ahead of time?
Didn’t you visit the town specifically for the occasion?
No? Neither did I but as I parked up the car and walked to my good friend Phil’s record shop (Second Time Around, Tonypandy Indoor Market – the best vinyl shop in south Wales by far, run by one of the friendliest and most entertaining characters I’ve ever come across) I was met by Tonypandy Street Festival 2015.
Sadly Olly Murs and Caroline Flack must have been fully booked up as their absence from the event was duly noted. In their place, a sole representative from Rhondda Cynon Taf council who stood handing out flyers for a ‘Fit Mums – Legs, Bums and Tums’ class at one of the many leisure centres within the county borders.
Tonypany sadly hadn’t been transformed overnight. My visions of a massive street festival not too dissimilar to that of Notting Hill Carnival was sadly dashed pretty quickly when I realised the main attraction of the ‘Street Festival’ was a collection of ‘farmyard animals’, read as: one or two chickens in a turkey playing in and around hay.
The predicted crowds stayed home.
I took cover from the assembled masses in Phil’s store, chatting about future gigs he’s going to be promoting in the Rhondda area and other assorted nonsense that may or may not have included: Cardiff City’s uncharacteristic run of form this season, the almighty £1 accumulator, the potential health risk of eating breakfast at one anonymous café in the town and an infamous visit to Merthyr in the early 1990’s when a set of Cardiff City’s finest hard bastards met up with a group of Swansea City’s most impressive nutcases outside a pre-season friendly involving neither of the two clubs.
I picked up a Morrissey LP, a couple of Smiths 45’s, a 60ft Dolls coloured and limited vinyl (aren’t all 60ft Dolls releases fairly limited?), a Dave Lee Roth 7” mainly for giggles and the chorus and a Tom Jones LP because I realised I don’t actually own one which for someone in my part of the world seems to be something of a sin.
“Football Park and Ride J45” read the traffic sign on the side of the M4.
“I know they won the Welsh League a few years back but I don’t think West End are in need of a Park and Ride scheme for their supporters yet!” I quipped to my wife.
As it turned out (of course!), the Park and Ride as I was obviously already aware was for Swansea City’s home game against fellow mid-table Premier League side Everton at the nearby Liberty Stadium.
West End are a side I’ve been desperate to visit since the start of the year but things never really seemed to work out until this weekend so when the opportunity arose, I booked this one in the calendar when the Welsh League fixtures were released back in early August.
You see, I have to also come clean with you. I tried to kill three birds with one stone with this one. Despite wanting to visit West End for the whole year and never really finding the right opportunity the reason for my visit centred around one man – the man, the myth, the legend, Gareth Delve.
For those without a knowledge of the cult hero himself, Gareth Delve was a man who until five or six weeks ago was unknown to me, he was no different to any Joe Bloggs on the High Street. I’d never heard of the guy, I’d never watched Llanwern play before and aside from really tenuous link to the great man (One of my friends happens to be his Line Manager – something I only learned of recently) our paths never crossed.
That was until a chance meeting of sorts. Two of my ground hopping friends from Manchester way embarked on a whistle stop tour of south Wales during pre-season, Matt and Gibbo. Matt runs the irreverent and ridiculously entertaining Lost Boyos blog which I’ve gone on record previously to say was probably the biggest influence behind me turning this adventure of mine into a blog. Gibbo runs a similar blog called Gibbo’s 92 which is a superb blog that runs very much in the same fashion – one of the only men with a dedication to the Wetherspoon’s brand that can match mine.
Matt has family in Nelson, which is only a couple of miles away from Ystrad Mynach, specifically the Ystrad Mynach Centre of Sporting Excellence which is a relatively new ground with absolutely superb facilities and a 3G surface to die for. The ground is so highly rated it is currently called home by Welsh League Division One sides Aberbargoed Buds and Risca United as well as being the home ground of Cardiff City Ladies and is utilised by the Welsh national team and Cardiff City youth teams as a training base.
Matt caught word of a pre-season friendly between Welsh League Division Two side Llanwern and Gwent County League side Ynysddu Welfare at the ground a day or so after his arrival. Naturally always happy to meet up with the boys and sample a new ground I was only too happy to accompany them to what I believe was Gibbo’s first Welsh League match, well… first match involving a Welsh League side.
Being the token “Welsh League Blogger” of the group I took it upon myself to give the guys a firm talking to about the structure of the Welsh football pyramid and how both sides fell into the setup and talked a bit about some of the players I recognised from previous games.
As the game progressed one player started to make the three of us stand up and take notice. At first he would do the odd nutmeg here and there, then he did a Johan Cruyff turn, then he chipped the ball over a defender and ran on to the loose ball and then before we had a chance to realise, we were watching ‘The Gareth Delve Show’.
At this point we didn’t have a clue who this character was who was performing some absolutely ridiculous skills but we made it our mission to find out.
Matt’s friend Huw turned up around half time. Huw is an ex-Welsh League player having turned out for a handful of clubs over the last 15 years or so. Huw possesses a somewhat encyclopaedic knowledge of Welsh League players, if it happened during his time – he knows about it!
Unfortunately not even the Welsh League encyclopedia himself could help us out on this one. He thought he recognised him at first but when he got a chance to take a closer look he realised it was a case of mistaken identity.
The fear among us three in the stand was that we’d walk away from the game not knowing who this cult character was. To give you an idea of just how superb his performance was that day, Matt runs an “End of Season” award ceremony of sorts on his blog, which highlights the best of what he saw that season. Matt stated to us that day that it would take something of a legendary performance to outshine Gareth Delve’s performance on that evening to take this season’s ‘Player of the Year’ award.
Who won it last year you might ask?
Some Argentinian bloke called Lionel Messi or something!
Needless to say, we drove away from the ground speaking in amazed tones regarding the great man. Luckily Llanwern replied to one of Gibbo’s many endearing tweets on the subject and the identity of the cult hero himself was revealed.
Watching Gareth Delve play again was something that has divided opinion amongst the three of us. Matt has gone on record stating he never wants to see Delve play ever again just in case it doesn’t live up to the standards of the first time.
I on the other hand told the guys that at the first available opportunity I would watch Gareth Delve play again, whether that be at Llanwern’s home ground or at an away ground – whatever it would take, I’d watch him – this time with my wife’s DSLR camera that can capture video so at least I’d be able to give you just a mere example of the talent on offer.
So I marked the West End vs. Llanwern game into my Google Calendar and I looked forward to the date.
Things took a worrying turn about three weeks ago. A close friend Danny Glorieux, who has recently taken up the role of Secretary at Llanwern gave me the sad news that Delve had only gone and got himself injured. Apparently though he was only going to be out for two or three weeks, just in time for a return at the West End game so I thought nothing of it.
Then the sad news came. As Danny started his role at Llanwern, his reports back to me started getting grimmer by the day.
“He’ll probably be on the bench for the West End game” came the first update.
“He’s not looking too sharp for the West End game” came the next update.
“He’s out for 8 to 10 weeks apparently” came the final update.
I debated messaging my friend (his Manager) asking if she could give him a couple of weeks off so he could fully recuperate, perhaps if he had two weeks at home to ice his leg, lift it up, maybe chill out in front of TV for a week or two it could speed up his recovery?
I had to face up to reality. Gareth Delve would have to wait for another day.
I know Gareth has found this new found love amongst the footballing blogging community a bit weird so I’m certain that he’ll find the fact that 1000 words of a blog about a match he didn’t even play in were dedicated to him would probably make him feel a little red-faced.
Sadly, this will be the last mention of the great man himself in this blog entry. If I can offer you one bit of advice, go and watch a game involving Gareth Delve when he returns from his injury. If he plays to even half of the level we saw on that August night you’re in for a real treat. Imagine Marco Van Basten without the injuries, Paul Gascoigne without the crippling addiction, Lee Sharpe without the meningitis or Edgar Davids without the sunglasses and you don’t even come close.
The third stone came in the form of my wife’s family. My wife Lara comes from Swansea, rather strange for a girl who held a Cardiff City season ticket for 5 years and counts Aron Gunnarsson as probably her favourite player of all time. Such is her disdain for all things Alan Tate that I actually witnessed her stand up and call Mr. Tate a ‘cunt’ after he booted a ball away from Lee Naylor when he was about to take a free kick in a Cardiff-Swansea derby about five years ago.
Lara’s childhood home sits on Mount Pleasant, named so presumably due to the views offered of the Swansea skyline and the Gower that opens up in front of you from the area. In a less romantic sense the place is nestled half way between Swansea Central police station and Townhill.
We actually worked out that West End should have been Lara’s girlhood club had she had an interest in Welsh League football as a teenage girl, her house was located about three quarters of a mile from West End’s Pryderi Park homeground whilst even The Vetch was something like a mile and a half from her house.
With this in mind, Lara decided that the law of being a neutral wasn’t going to apply for this game and rightly decided to throw her support behind her home town club.
Pryderi Park is a small ground located in Swansea’s Mayhill area. I lived in Swansea for a couple of years when I used to work in the city around the 2007-2009 time but I don’t profess to have an in-depth knowledge as such of the city’s geography. It’s hard knowing sometimes where Mayhill ends and Townhill begins but there we go.
Perhaps unfairly, Townhill and Mayhill have garnered something of a negative reputation in the last decade or so. The villages are what they are, working class villages that just happen to be surrounded by somewhat middle class areas.
I find most of the things I hear about Townhill and Mayhill tend to come from Swansea residents themselves. Yeah, there’s probably the odd unsavoury character in these places but isn’t that really true of every town and village in south Wales. I grew up in the Rhondda and for every ninety nine salt of the Earth person I came across there was always one nut case who would maim his own Grandmother for a can of Oranjeboom and I don’t doubt that the same is true of every single town, village and city across Wales.
Having said that the only stereotype I found to be true about Townhill was that when working our way to the ground I found myself having to give way to three teenagers who were riding a horse through the streets of the village.
Pryderi Park is a relatively easy ground to miss, most Welsh League grounds are to be fair. The ground is entered via a small gap in a series of semi-detached houses which took us at least three times around the street to find. Once we did however we were treated to a sight of pure beauty.
Grounds like Pryderi Park are becoming something of an endangered species nowadays, a ground with real character. Admission for this afternoon’s game was a very fair £4 which seems to be about the average for a Welsh League Division Two game. A well put together match day programme with the added bonus of a concept art front cover set me back a further pound.
The club, already knowing that I was attending this afternoon’s game were kind enough to offer my Wife and I a free coffee if I introduced myself to a character named ‘Yanto’ in the refreshment area but as I always do as a matter of principle I chose not to introduce myself yet and pay for my coffee to in some very small way put some money back into the club.
It’s not that I’m not grateful for the offer, I very much am but I don’t tend to take up any free drinks I get offered on the way as a matter of principle. I’ve even been sad enough in the past to turn up to a game late and hunt out the “man on the turnstiles” to pay him my entrance fee, even if he’s long since abandoned his post. The worst example of this came as recent as late August when I turned up to an AFC Porth match at half time, only to spend the first five minutes of the game hunting out the man in the hut taking gate money.
Anyway, a black coffee for Lara, a white coffee for me, a Double Decker and a packet of Ready Salted crisps sets us back about £3.30 or so, which is great value really and all goes back to the club so that’s great.
We spot Danny, secretary of Llanwern on the side line and make a beeline for him.
Danny is a great guy, someone who we’ve come to know very well from his time spent at Pontypridd Town. It’s great to see Danny happy in his current role. He has a passion for football and is keen to assist and develop the club, something that was more than evident during his time at Pontypridd Town, let it be known I’ve seen Danny running the line at Ponty Park, updating the club’s Twitter feed, reading out half time scores over the PA system, manning the club’s refreshment stand, phoning the Welsh League to update results and as recently as the end of last month actually taking his place in the dugout with media manager Craig Morgan as stand in managers following the absence of regular management team Damien Broad, Dominic Broad and Sam Houldsworth.
Danny give us a quick heads up on Llanwern’s season to date, admittedly they’ve struggled as of late and went into this afternoon’s match finding themselves in the lower reaches of Division Two. The club lost a handful of players in the Summer and found themselves manager-less after the departure of Welsh League veteran manager Gareth Morgan, who has taken up the vacancy left by Richard Haig at AFC Porth.
West End have something a heritage in the Welsh League to say the very least. The Swansea side actually won the Welsh League a few seasons back and had their Domestic Licence been granted would have found themselves rubbing shoulders with the likes of The New Saints, Bala Town and Aberystwyth Town competing for a Champions League spot.
The club have produced a number of talented players over the years, I seem to remember someone telling me that John Hartson once played for West End as a youngster – in fact I’ve had more than a handful of people tell me this but I can’t seem to find anything on the Internet to substantiate this story. John Hartson, who of course went on to become the best player Swansea City never had. The man bleeds Swansea City and his love of the club is admirable but I think everyone just assumes he once played for Swansea City when in fact he didn’t, not even at youth level.
This rumour probably wasn’t helped when in 2006 my work colleagues in Swansea and I, bored in the office on 2006 transfer deadline decided to play a game – make up any old transfer rumour, send it in to The Daily Mail, BBC News and Sky Sports and see who could get their rumour to be believed.
My colleagues all went big, trying to say they’d seen Cristiano Ronaldo getting on a plane at Manchester Airport destined for Milan Airport. I went with the realistic angle and emailed Sky Sports News saying that I had just popped down Morrisons supermarket, a stone’s throw from the Liberty Stadium and I bumped into John Hartson at the Salad Bar and after asking what he was doing here he revealed he had just undergone a medical at the club.
All of this was of course, bullshit. 45 minutes later though it made the “Breaking News” section of Sky Sports News. It stayed in circulation on the channel every half an hour until his agent or the club called the channel to put an end to those rumours!
So if you want to give credit where credit is due, thank West End for that gem!
The club enjoy a close friendship and a good working relationship with Swansea City it must be said though which is evident by the fact that the current West End home kit reads ‘Proudly Sponsored by Jonjo Shelvey and Jazz Richards’ rather than having a traditional sponsor.
After catching up with Danny we take out place in the single stand at Pryderi Park. The stand is what I would probably define as being something a little ‘rustic’ but I find absolutely charming. Clad in wooden decking, the stand could probably hold about 30 people seated and about 50 or so standing if everyone ‘cwtched up’ a bit.
The glory days of West End have sadly become something of a memory at Pryderi Park as of late as they find themselves currently sat a little below mid-table in Division Two of the Welsh League, they do however possess a very decent side who could realistically come the end of the season and with a bit of luck along the way find themselves contending for a promotion spot come Spring of next year.
So to this afternoon’s match.
The game started in a furious fashion with both sides going at each other like rabid dogs. The first real chance of the game came in the second minute when West End striker Deleno Tortortella found himself within an inch of beating the Llanwern offside trap, Tortortella missed the referee’s whistle and continued with his run, eventually firing a shot well wide but which showed West End’s potential threat in this game.
Llanwern were gifted the next realistic opportunity in the game when on 8 minutes tricky wide player Alex Adams took advantage of a defensive mix up on the left wing and hit a cross into the box which was a little over hit and went out for a throw in.
Such was the nature of the furious end to end play between both sides that the next real chance fell to West End’s Darren Griffiths who connected with a decent cross from the left wing and dispatched a great header that forced Llanwern shot stopper Ashley Hart to make a brilliant save to keep the score level in this match.
West End started to dominate proceedings a little mid-way through the first half and Tortorella enjoyed a couple of excellent chances inside the box but was unable to convert his two efforts on goal.
Darren Griffiths of West End went closest to scoring the opening goal in the match on 35 minutes when a defensive mistake lead to Griffiths running down on Hart in a one-on-one scenario. Griffiths deftly chipped Hart only for Llanwern defender Michael Bishop to run in just in time to clear Griffith’s effort off the line.
Although the first half was fought out in a fairly even manner, given West End’s dominance at this stage in the game it’s probably fair to say that Llanwern’s opening goal in the 37th minute was scored against the run of play.
An expertly hit corner found its way to Sam Hartrey who headed superbly giving Johnny Harding in goal for West End little chance of stopping his effort, much to the delight of his team mates who rightly mobbed him for his efforts.
Could Llanwern stave off the constant threat of the West End side to claim their first league victory of the season?
The last action of the first half came from a gymnastic overhead kick effort from the aforementioned Tortortella who executed his kick brilliantly but sadly hit the effort a few yards wide to rob the expectant Swansea crowd of what could have been one of the greatest goals ever scored at Pryderi Park.
During the half time interval we grabbed another coffee and took a little walk around the ground to take some photos of the lovely stand.
I don’t know what was said in the West End dressing room at half time, but they certainly came out for the second with renewed vigour and intent to say the very least.
Five minutes into the half they should have gone level when Elliot Gowan did the hard work in superbly rounding Ashley Hart in the box but he allowed the ball to get trapped between his feet and by the time he recovered his two efforts were blocked on the line by a Llanwern defender.
The gymnastic man of the moment Deleno Tortortella attempted another overhead kick on the hour. This time his effort was far better placed, it certainly testing Hart in the Llanwern goal but unfortunately for everyone at the ground this afternoon, his effort went a yard or so over the cross bar.
Llanwern, perhaps sensing they needed a second goal to kill the game off started to push forward in numbers with most of their attacking play coming from talented winger Alex Adams who seemed to be the outlet for quite a few of their attacking movements.
West End’s desperation for an equaliser almost cost them dearly when keeper Johnny Harding in his attempt to clear a ball in quick fashion hit a clearance that cannoned back towards goal off the body of Llanwern substitute Jamie Argyle and looked to have given the Gwent side all three points only for Harding to quickly recover and hold on to the effort a yard or so from goal.
Whenever a team is chasing a one goal deficit they typically tend to miss ‘that chance’ Have you ever seen a team do this and you just turn around to the guy or girl behind you and say “I can’t see it happening today, THAT was the chance”?
That chance came in the 73rd minute when Harding hit a quite phenomenal long kick from his own area, a Llanwern defender attempted to head the ball back to his own keeper only to hit a weak effort that fell at least ten yards shot of Hart in goal. West End attacking substitute Richard Brain stole in to pick up the loose ball and a couple of elderly West End supporters behind me already started celebrating the equaliser only for Brain to seemingly rush his effort and hit the ball well over the bar to let Llanwern off the hook.
The risk of a West End equaliser grew and grew as the game went on as Llanwern sadly started to struggle to make the ball stick in the final third. A coming together just inside of the box on 80 minutes in which West End striker Darren Griffiths appealed to be felled by a Llanwern defender lead to referee Bryn Jones pointing to the spot and giving West End a gilt-edged chance to level affairs in the game.
John Eames stepped up to the spot and waited what seemed like an eternity for the referee to blow his whistle. Eames hit a great effort to Hart’s left side, Hart guessed right but such was Eame’s effort that he stood little chance of stopping the spot kick.
With the score level and West End picking the ball out of the back of the net and sprinting back to the restart it became clear that Llanwern were going to have a difficult ten minutes ahead of them if they were to take anything from this game.
West End, perhaps with the scent of blood really started to turn the screw on their opponents and were unlucky not to take the lead on 84 minutes when Darren Griffiths broke into the box at pace from a lovely pass by Arron Richards, Griffiths hit a testing effort that beat Hart in the Llanwern goal but was saved on the line by a Llanwern body.
Like a boxer hanging on the ropes in the 12th round, Llanwern regrouped for the resulting corner kick only for Deleno Tortortella to finally get his name on the score sheet and rise above his marker to clinically head home from about ten yards out, cue scenes at Pryderi Park.
Llanwern hit the ball forward on a number of occasions in search of an equaliser but unfortunately found a strong West End defence more than capable of clearing their efforts.
The referee brought this exhilarating and non-stop encounter to an end after 94 minutes in what was for me the perfect game for a neutral fan and a superb advert for the Welsh League – a good old fashioned end to end game between two attacking sides that realistically could have ended something like 13-12 had both goalkeepers not had really good games.
As we met with Danny as the sides walked off the park it was clear he’d worn himself out just from watching this superb encounter like everyone in the stands.
If you ever find yourself in the Swansea area with a couple of hours to spare on a Saturday afternoon, try and find out whether West End are playing at home. It’s a lovely ground with some great people behind the scenes and if this game is anything to go by, you certainly won’t be disappointed.
We met up with Lara’s Dad after the game for a couple of coffees in the City centre and a quick debrief of the game before heading back home over the Rhigos mountain and settling in for the evening with a comedic sized 16″ pizza from Porth’s finest pizza establishment ‘Dial-a-Pizza’
I’d like to wish the very best of luck to both West End and Llanwern and hope it isn’t too long before I’m watching another of your games.
My Man of the Match: There were excellent performances on both sides, but on this occasion I have no option but to award this somewhat dubious accolade to West End’s Arron Richards who was the source of much of his side’s attacking play that eventually lead to them taking all three points from this affair.