Saturday 10th October.
Pontypridd Town 4-2 Newport YMCA.
Welsh League Division Three.
Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd.
Attendance: Circa 30.
So after a three week period or so since the last home game, I found myself walking into Ynysangharad Park again and being greeted by the ever-friendly Lyndon the sole turnstile operator at Pontypridd Town’s home game.
I say turnstile operator, I of course mean cash collector, programme seller and committee member.
With just the four season ticket holders at Ynysangharad Park this season (I say four, TalkSport DJ and celebrity Ponty fan Colin Murray holds one but hasn’t visited so far this season!) my season ticket has been stuck in my wallet since the first game. Lyndon instead makes a very big deal of our entrance. It’s something he does on a regular basis, in fact at the Tredegar Town match a few weeks back when a queue of about 5 or 6 people built up whilst people counted out change and notes, Lyndon was kind enough to let me in through what he called the ‘season ticket holders entrance’, which was simply the same gate just in front of everyone else.
Lyndon, you see is another one of these great characters I’ve met along the way and is a man who speaks with such great passion for the club. He recalls away trips at places like Carmarthen Town in 2004, Penrhyncoch and Newcastle Emlyn as if they were played last week. He remembers who scored Pontypridd Town’s goals in those games, who assisted them, what method of transport the team took to the match and what time they got home.
This all leads on neatly to today’s date, 10th October 2015 – or as it has become more commonly known this year ‘Non-League Day’.
Non-League Day is a UK-wide event that has been running since 2010. Usually held during an international break in the Autumn months it acts as an event to try and encourage football supporters who would usually watch their football in the Premiership, Championship or even from the armchair on Sky Sports, BT Sports or dodgy Chinese internet streams to make the short trip down to their local non-league club to take in a game of football with all of the benefits non-league football offers.
It’s something I’ve been trying to push through the blog’s Twitter account over the last couple of weeks. In fact, last night’s game between Ton Pentre and Monmouth Town, despite being played on the Friday was part of Non-League Day.
Clubs like Pontypridd Town, Newport YMCA, Ton Pentre and Monmouth Town exist to promote football within their communities and exist to serve the communities they represent and characters like Lyndon are not unique, you find a character like Lyndon standing on the gate at pretty much every Welsh League, South Wales Alliance, Rhondda & District, Taff Ely & Rhymney Valley, Ceredigion League and Spar Mid Wales League ground every Saturday afternoon. They raise funds for their clubs for very little in return! If they’re lucky they’ll get a few cups of coffee. These are characters to be massively admired, their role in community football is paramount to it’s very existence.
Non-League clubs are central to the success of our national sides! You disagree? Look at someone like Gareth Bale. I never saw the great John Charles in person, I was far too young. I did have the pleasure and luck of watching Ryan Giggs at least ten times if not more. I think we can all argue amongst ourselves and roughly agree that Gareth Bale is the single greatest player to ever come out of Wales? Well maybe most would agree with me.
Only a naive person would suggest Bale’s skills were completely honed and created at Southampton. Did they scout him playing out on the street? No, of course not. Southampton found him playing in the youth system at the long since declined Cardiff Civil Service team, who were once a Welsh League side.
There are countless examples of this throughout the whole of the Wales, England and Scotland squads.
These clubs are often the first contact base young footballers have with the sport. Sure I kicked a ball around the playground and up my local football field for a couple of years but my first ‘proper’ experience of football came playing for Penygraig Boys’ Club Under 10’s (Penygraig Boys’ Club now go under the name ‘Penygraig Boys’ & Girls’ Club’ and their adult side currently play in the Rhondda & District Football League in Division One).
I’m certain everyone who reads this and previously or currently plays football has a similar story. After all, very few kids first game of football comes playing for Cardiff City Under 8’s does it?
Non-League Day seemed to have done it’s job at Ynysangharad Park as I managed to speak to at least two gentlemen from over the border who found themselves attracted to today’s match. I asked them what made them choose today’s match over something nearer to their home town of Bristol and they said they wanted to make a day of it and had a vague memory of the Colin Murray/TalkSport/Valencia story and wanted to come down to see what it was all about!
And so onto the match?
Pontypridd Town have had something of a distraction in the cup competitions as of late. Recent closely fought losses at Carmarthen Town in the FAW Word Cup and at home to Penybont in the Welsh Cup have detracted from what has actually been a phenomenal start to the season for The Dragons.
Unbeaten in the Welsh League, only draws against Llantwit Major and Cardiff Corries have stopped Pontypridd Town from recording a 100% record in Division 3 this season. Their relative successes in the cup competitions have been their downfall in the league as they (statistically at least) found themselves sitting in fourth spot going into this afternoon’s game, due in part to the games in hand held by the club.
I’ve written in great detail about the club in recent months so I’m being careful not to tread over the same ground again and again but there is a definite sense of positivity surrounding the club at the moment.
Club manager Damien Broad is thought of so highly in the game that he has found himself being recipient of a coaching job offer at Premier League giants Manchester City, he departs next month and we have to presume that his brother, current Assistant Manager and previous Manager of the club Dominic Broad will reprise his role, although this has yet to be confirmed.
Recent re-signing Danny Hooper has won plaudits from all corners, picking up the FAW Player of the Round award for his hat-trick performance in last month’s Welsh Cup tie against Sully Sports and the club garnered praise from all corners of the country, especially on Twitter – which seemed to go into meltdown, when the plucky Pontypridd side managed to take Welsh Premier League giants Carmarthen Town to within 15 minutes of the lottery of a penalty shootout in the FAW Word Cup.
Newport YMCA are a side I’ve never watched before, so I was quite excited to see what they were about, especially having nothing but statistics to go on.
Newport YMCA formed in 1973 when a merger between Newport Central YMCA and Newport Pill YMCA lead to the clubs coming together as one.
The club have a rich heritage in the Welsh game since their inception. Periods playing in the Premier Division of the Welsh League prior to the creation of the National Division intersperse with the club’s more recent periods of time spent in Division One of the Welsh League as recent as 2007/08.
Like their opponents this afternoon, Newport YMCA also have grand ideas in the scale of things and in the 2010-11 season they played host to Stoke City in a friendly match orchestrated by Tony Pulis, an ex-player at Newport YMCA. Stoke City won the match 6-1 but the fact the match even took place is amazing.
Today’s match started at a ferocious pace. Two early fouls on Pontypridd Town players offered Danny Hooper a couple of chances to flex his left foot again which he has shown on more than one occasion this season how dangerous he can be with a dead ball at his feet. Luckily for Newport YMCA he was unable to get either of his first two set pieces to a fellow Dragons body.
Pontypridd’s first chance came in the third minute when Dominic Broad, starting in a wide berth in the midfield, hit a sublime cross deep into the box for Mikey Thomas who looked destined to head the ball home for the opening goal only for a Newport defender to steal in at the last second and head the ball into the safety of the stand.
Two minutes later, a spot of calamity from Newport’s Jonny James when he mishit a clearance lead to a situation where he almost managed to lob his own goalkeeper Mark Drew. Luckily for James, Drew was quick to see the error of his defender’s ways and picked up the ball comfortably.
A minute or so later Dominic Broad went on another of his creative runs down the right channel. Just as Broad looked to have split the Newport defence he found himself going down under a tough challenge and for a brief minute or two it looked like he may be unable to continue, hobbling for at least two minutes as he recovered from the challenge.
On ten minutes, Newport YMCA got their first real chance of the game which came from the head of Niall Simmons who evaded the Pontypridd defence and met a lovely cross to really test out Pontypridd stopper Ryan Griffiths who pulled off a great save from close range.
As the Newport YMCA side started to take up their positions Ryan Griffiths dispatched the ball from his grasp quickly to his defenders who played some lovely passing football all the way up to the half way line where Danny Hooper met with the ball.
Hooper with the ball at his feet and with plenty of time to spare hit a lovely pass into the box for striker Matthew Hibbs who showed his clinical side as he struck an effort past Mark Drew to give his side a 1-0 lead in the 8th minute.
In a moment that was truly fitting for such an occasion as Non-League Day, action was briefly interrupted in the 19th minute when a small black terrier dog belonging to one of the spectators in the main stand broke free from his lead and tried to tackle Newport YMCA’s Cory Paynter to a chorus of laughter from the stand and the dog’s owner.
The hound was rounded up and taken back to the stand!
Midway through the first half Newport YMCA found themselves scoring an equaliser which brought them right back into the game.
Alex Jenkins hit his corner kick deep into the Pontypridd Town penalty area, the Dragons defence made the mistake of allowing the ball to bounce in the box, it evaded several Ponty defenders before Dan Stoneman popped up at the far post to head the ball home and restore parity in the match.
Pontypridd Town defender Ilias Doumas, who is known for being a tough defender from the old school, found himself with a serious cut to the head for the second time in as many weeks when a seemingly innocuous coming together just inside the Pontypridd half lead to the Greek defender needing stitches again.
Unfortunately for Doumas, whereas he was able to be patched up enough at Richmond Park against Carmarthen Town the physio decided this cut was a little too deep to continue and in the interest of player safety Doumas was substituted.
This of course wasn’t before three or four minutes of attempts at stopping the bleeding on the touchline, which really sums up Ilias as a player – always willing to put the team before his own interests, even if the risk of losing pint after pint of blood is there!
On the half hour mark Pontypridd Town took a 2-1 lead through a Matthew Hibbs second goal. Doing what I do, I’m quite often taking notes on my mobile, taking photos on my camera or as I was on this occasion – taking notes for Pontypridd Town’s own Craig Morgan who was called on to run the line this afternoon.
So this was one of those rare goals where I found myself writing about Ilias Doumas’ substitution in Craig’s notepad when I looked up and saw Matthew Hibbs starting his celebration in the box. I’m sure his goal was great.
With ten minutes to go before the interval it looked like Newport YMCA had won themselves a chance to go level again when Rhys Thomas broke into the box at pace and looked to go down under the challenge of Mikey Thomas.
The referee was quick to get to the incident brandishing a yellow card and whistling, however he chose to award the booking to Newport striker Rhys Thomas, cautioning him for simulation and awarding a free kick to Pontypridd Town.
Just before half time, Matthew Hibbs was afforded a chance to claim his hat-trick when a phenomenal defence splitting pass from Dominic Broad was timed to perfection by Hibbs who found himself looking down on the goalkeeper on the edge of the box. Unfortunately, Hibbs hit the ball too close to the goalkeeper who saved easily.
During the half time interval we made our way into the clubhouse for our traditional ‘1 black coffee, 1 white coffee’ order from Amanda in the refreshment ‘room’ before I convinced Pontypridd Town club secretary Rob to do one of those ‘new signing’ photos of me with my new Pontypridd Town home shirt I’d earlier bought.
The clubhouse is a hive of activity this afternoon. The TV showing Scotland’s Rugby World Cup match against Samoa with no football scores to check on this afternoon. Conversation flows between the first half of the game, the upcoming Wales vs. Australia rugby match and of course Wales’ crucial Euro 2016 qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Back on the pitch, the second half takes a good ten minutes to start being entertaining again as both sides try to get a feel for each other’s tactics with minor changes being made to both sides’ tactical approach in the second half.
Newport YMCA certainly looked a more improved side in the second half and wearing my Pontypridd Town hat for a moment I certainly felt that Ponty needed at least a third goal to be assured of all three points this afternoon.
On the hour mark Pontypridd Town were awarded a free kick on the far right touchline about thirty yards from goal. Danny Hooper stepped up to deliver a good cross into the box which was met by striker Matthew Hibbs who beat the goalkeeper with his header but could only look on in frustration as his header glided a yard or so over the cross bar.
Midway through the second half, Newport YMCA’s Rhys Thomas had probably his sides’ best chance to equalise for a second time when he latched on to a loose ball twelve yards from goal, unfortunately for Thomas he was only able to hit a quite tame effort towards Ponty stopper Ryan Griffiths who saved comfortably.
As the game went into the closing twenty minutes or so I still thought that Pontypridd Town were deserving of their lead and the three points should they have held onto the lead but there was a definite sense that Newport YMCA were growing into the game and holding onto a lot more possession in the Pontypridd Town half, surely at some point in the closing stages they’d be afforded another golden chance to equalise?
Two minutes after having this thought Pontypridd Town were themselves gifted a golden opportunity to seal the three points when James Hill went on a lovely long run into the box from his own half, beating his marker before passing the ball to Rhys McCarthy on the far post who leaned a little too much into his shot and dispatched the ball well over the target in what was a good chance to seal all three points.
Three minutes later Pontypridd Town looked to have finally taken a two goal cushion in the game when Matthew Hibbs seemed to have claimed his deserved hat trick after a great performance. Matthew Escott, playing in the first game I’ve seen of him this season hit a superb pass from just inside the Newport half. Hibbs found himself a yard or so offside as he struck his effort home beautifully only to find his effort ruled out by the referee.
In the 76th minute a superb cross from Dan Stoneman found its way onto the head of Darren Berry who knocked the ball on for fellow striker Niall Simmons who saw his headed effort beat Ryan Griffiths in goal but cannon back of the cross bar.
A highlight for Pontypridd Town came in the 79th minute with the introduction of striker and top goal scorer Luke Gullick, who made a brief cameo after a couple of weeks on the sideline with a knee injury. The presence of Gullick will surely be appreciated in coming weeks as The Dragons look to solidify their title credentials.
Almost immediately following his introduction Gullick almost found himself scoring Pontypridd Town’s third as he latched on to a James Hill pass to hit a furious effort to the near post. Newport’s Mark Drew was able to make a somewhat unorthodox save as he stopped Gullick’s powerful shot with his left leg.
Finally in the 84th minute, after a disallowed third, Matthew Hibbs sealed his hat-trick rounding off a superb performance. A quick counter attack move from The Dragons lead to Hibbs picking up the ball and going on a long run down the left channel. He had men to the right if he needed them but Hibbs was only ever going to shoot as he ran into the box and fired past a helpless Mark Drew to give his side a 3-1 lead.
Two minutes later the three points were confirmed for Pontypridd Town with a fourth goal through Luke Gullick who connected with a superb Danny Hooper 40 yard pass which lobbed the Newport YMCA defence before Gullick chipped the oncoming Mark Drew skillfully from the edge of the box to mark his return to first team affairs with a well crafted goal.
As the match drew to a close and the referee played three minutes of stoppage time, Newport YMCA crafted a second goal after a mass goalmouth scramble in the Pontypridd Town area lead to the ball falling to earlier goalscorer Dan Stoneman who did well to fire his effort through a packed goalmouth and give the scoreline a more realistic 4-2 look.
A minute or so later, the referee brought this encounter to a close and Pontypridd Town claimed a deserved three points which sets the scene for this Wednesday’s top of the table clash with Bridgend Street at Ynysangharad Park, in which the winner will claim top place in Welsh League Division Three.
We quickly said our farewells as we had to rush to Cardiff to meet up with family. Perhaps unsurprisingly given that Wales’ match against Australia was just kicking off as we got in the car, the roads down to Cardiff Bay were completely deserted. We must have seen no word of a lie about twenty cars along the whole 10 mile journey.
After our planned meeting place of Wetherspoons in the Bay was called off, “It’s packed” the text we received said. We made our way to Terra Nova, a traditional chain pub with a ridiculously stupid name at the heart of all that is new and fantastic about Cardiff Bay.
The pub was showing the Wales game and despite not being the biggest rugby fan in the world I found myself drawn to the big screens.
My view on rugby is a simple one. I think rugby as a sport is crap, any sports that punishes passing the ball forward in my view is a stupid sport. Having said that I do have a deep love for all things Wales. I want Wales to be the best at everything, whether that is football, rugby or tiddlywinks.
Therefore I found myself screaming at the big screen when Wales were within a yard or two of scoring that vital try that would give them a 13-12 lead over Australia. I convinced myself that the ‘try’ we scored which the referee referred to the TMO was a try and we were robbed.
The beer was lovely, the food was OK. I say OK, it was as OK as a ‘vegetable burger’ full of fried peas could be.
Who chooses to team a soft burger with a hard crusty roll? No-one, that’s who!
So to bring us to the reason I found myself in Cardiff Bay instead of sitting at home watching the Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Wales match?
My Uncle John (I say Uncle, he’s technically my Uncle-in-Law, but I consider him authentic, bona-fide family rather than marriage tied) is something of a musical maverick. He’s a professional musician and a ridiculously good one at that.
His job is similar to mine. Of course not in what we do, more in the sense that John does a lot of arranging, composing and conducting of large scale orchestras, choirs and things of that ilk. He’s worked in the West End, he’s taught and lectured at some of the best universities and colleges throughout the UK. His job has taken him to all four corners of the world including trips to Japan.
Yet I imagine he gets the same thing I do when he tells people what he does.
“Ah, so you play a bit of guitar then do you?”
I work as a ‘Technical Architect’, which in my world means I design large scale IT infrastructures for companies that span the whole world. This can vary from massive e-mail systems for large governmental departments, VOIP systems for multinational companies that traverse firewalls across different continents and different national phone trunks and Windows implementations that have more users than there are people in Wales.
Yet whenever anyone asks me what I do, they always have this image in their head of me sitting in a basement running virus checking software on dodgy old laptops day in day out and telling people to turn things off and on again!
I imagine John is the master of this.
Anyway, John kindly invited us to the Wales Millennium Centre for a concert he’s been working on for the last few months, a gig with Mike Peters and The Alarm.
I like The Alarm, I’m not their biggest fan by any means and I don’t claim to have an extensive knowledge of their back catalogue. I’ve got a couple of old LPs and that’s about that.
To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of their most critically acclaimed album ‘Strength’ they teamed up with John to put together a concert combining the acoustic lead punk sound of The Alarm with the classical sound of an orchestra, a mixed choir and the Morriston Male Voice Choir.
It would have taken a lot to stop me from watching the Bosnia match and this was certainly one of those things. John did a marvellous job of putting everything together and I really loved watching a man with so much passion about what he was doing. At times I found myself transfixed on him, watching him conduct perhaps four or five songs in a row, exuding such joy as he bounced around his platform doing what he does best and loving it like he was a fan in the crowd.
In the end, Israel lost to Cyprus and we qualified for Euro 2016!
My Man of the Match: I’ve got a golden rule on the blog, if you score a hat-trick you’re Man of the Match. Matthew Hibbs takes this dubious accolade!