Saturday 17th October
Porthcawl Town Athletic 2-3 Cornelly United.
South Wales Alliance Premier Division.
Lock’s Lane, Porthcawl
Attendance: Circa 60.
If I had to give people one reason why I love lower league Welsh football so much, it would probably come from the following paragraph.
“In the 76th minute action was halted for a minute when Porthcawl Town Athletic’s first choice goalkeeper Andrew Fisher went to the touchline to change into an outfield player’s shirt. The substitute goalkeeper came on as a replacement for an outfield defender and Porthcawl’s first choice goalkeeper moved up to a centre forward position and his first involvement in outfield play was to win a header against Cornelly United’s tallest defender.
The play was briefly stopped whilst a wayward greyhound sprinted onto the pitch in pursuit of the football whilst spectators applauded the canine pitch invader”
This isn’t a quote from anywhere in particular, in fact it’s an expansion of a note I made on my mobile phone whilst watching the game unfold in front of me.
There isn’t a person of my young age who grew up in south Wales who doesn’t have fond memories of Porthcawl. You can have all of your Magaluf, Greece, Turkey, Ibiza, Malta and your Italian holidays but nothing is quite the same as the first time you witness Porthcawl as a child.
For me it was the first time I ever stepped foot on sand. As a kid who grew up in a poor Rhondda Valley household, don’t get me wrong we weren’t that poor – we could afford food, school uniform, a car so in the scale of it we weren’t destitute, but things like foreign holidays were a bit of a foreign concept (groan!).
So places like Porthcawl, New Quay, Tenby and Southerdown quickly became important places for kids like me from towns and valleys like mine.
Porthcawl. It’s adopted something of a reputation within some quarters over the years but I’m not a supporter of those views. The beach is spotless nearly all of the year, the town is bustling, Coney Beach amusement park seems to be alive again and the town is generally a lovely place to visit.
So when I started this little mission to hunt out all of these clubs, grounds, characters and everything in between, Porthcawl was one of the key places on my list.
As luck would have it, Porthcawl Town Athletic’s manager Jon McCarthy was an early follower of my blog having discovered it through my Twitter feed. He was kind enough of invite me down to a pre-season friendly his side played away at Brynna and I enjoyed it so much I traipsed up the A470 to attempt to watch his side entertain Brecon Corries at the Rich Field only for the game to be called off at the ground due to the league failing to appoint a referee.
So when Jon messaged me on Twitter a week or so before the game telling me about this afternoon’s local derby between his side and top of the table Cornelly United I was certainly excited to pop down to the seaside and see what all the fuss was about.
After a quick stop off at the newly built Starbucks drive thru at Waterton Roundabout we made our way down the A48 and down the familiar ‘Porthcawl Road’ where palatial manors and farmland fill your view to your right and the glorious sea dominates the view to your left.
Admittedly I never played football as a kid in Porthcawl. As a kid playing for Rhondda based sides we never really ventured further out than Radyr to the south and Merthyr Tydfil to the north. So I had no idea where Lock’s Lane was if I’m completely honest.
I set the Sat Nav feature on my phone to take us to ‘Lock’s Lane’ – I figured even if it’s not on that road it’s surely going to be near?
As we drove away from the town centre the streets started to look more spacious. Terraced housing started to gradually be replaced by semi-detached streets and cul-de-sacs. I turned to my wife Lara and said “I’m certain the ground is around here. I can feel it in my bones!”
At which point Lara, who often points out when I cross the line between ‘football enthusiast’ and ‘football fiend’ turns to me and quips “You’re a loser” I can do nothing but concur.
Sadly, or rather not sadly, Lock’s Lane is actually a nice little cul-de-sac filled with quite pretty red brick houses that have been built in probably the last twenty years or so. There are footballs on many of the front gardens, left there by kids from the previous weekend but sadly no football ground. So I ditch the Sat Nav and do the rest of the journey by ‘feel’.
It works out to be a decent tactic as within a minute or so we find ourselves pulling into the car park at the ‘real’ Lock’s Lane. Which on first glance appears to be some sort of football complex. As we park up in the ground footballers of all different shapes and sizes mull around the car park whilst two youth games take place on one of the pitches at the ground.
We make our way to the club house, a relatively new building that houses a large screen television showing this afternoon’s Spurs vs. Liverpool match. We grab a coffee from the bar and make our way out to check out Lock’s Lane.
On our way we bump into Jon, Porthcawl Town Athletic’s manager who is always a great guy to speak to. He tells us of the trouble the club faced in even getting the clubhouse built and open which goes over everything from difficulties in dealing with the council, complaints and objections from neighbours. It’s crazy as the nearest house is at least a football field’s length away and from that far away the club house simply looks like a slightly bigger changing room!
I ask how the club’s season is going, as the last time I saw Jon in Brecon the club were doing very well, still in all of the cup competitions and flying high in the league.
Sadly he tells me that despite their good early start, his side have actually lost three of their last four games. He tells me how difficult a league the newly formed South Wales Alliance Premier Division is turning out to be.
“It’s a league where on their day, any side can beat any side” Jon quips.
You see, the South Wales Alliance Premier Division is a kind of premier league of premier leagues! I’ve written in great detail about the South Wales Alliance in previous entries involving clubs from the division. For the purpose of this blog entry, it’s worth just pointing out that this is the first season of the South Wales Alliance, a league that formed from the ashes of both the South Wales Senior League and the South Wales Amateur League.
Both of these leagues merged, meaning the current South Wales Alliance Premier Division is a mix of the top half of the Amateur League and the top half of the Senior League. This of course means that the ‘worst’ sides in the league are still just above mid-table finishers in their league last season. What this means is that there are no poor teams in the division.
Lock’s Lane is a charming little ground. It’s Welsh League heritage comes in the form of a metal stand that lines one side of the pitch behind the dugouts. An imposing construction that could on it’s day shield 200 or so hardy punters from the brutal coastal rain.
As kick off approaches, the stand starts to get rather busy and a healthy throng of Cornelly United supporters take their places in the stand to welcome their team onto the pitch.
As the teams take to the pitch, a Cornelly United player throws his cigarette onto the pitch and carries on with his warm up. At this point I put a theory forward to my wife using research I’ve garnered along the way this year that Tier 5 of the Welsh football pyramid is the highest level at which I’ve seen players and substitutes smoking.
It’s key to remember that this is a local derby. A mere three miles separate the towns of Porthcawl and Cornelly. I’m informed by Jon that the Cornelly United squad includes a number of players who have represented Porthcawl Town Athletic in recent years so it certainly adds an interesting twist to this afternoon’s proceedings.
As the game starts, Cornelly United looked very comfortable on the ball and flung the ball around comfortably to feet but the first real chance of the game fell to Porthcawl’s Jordan Marks who hit a decent effort from long range that went a yard or two wide of the far post.
On ten minutes, tricky Cornelly United wide man Gareth Duffy picked up the ball and went on a bit of a run, beating defender Will Owen only to hit his shot too close to Porthcawl goalkeeper Andrew Fisher who easily saved his shot.
Cornelly United found themselves lucky not to go behind on 12 minutes when Ben Davies beat his marker and hit a delicious cross into the box for striker Morgan Thomas who rose high to beat his man and head towards goal. Unfortunately for Thomas and Porthcawl his header beat goalkeeper Ben Banks but flew just wide of the post.
A minute later Porthcawl would go on to rue their missed chance when Cornelly United took the lead in a bizarre fashion. A deep cross was fired into the box and met by the head of Dan Jones whose header trickled towards goal. Andrew Fisher, goalkeeper for Porthcawl Town Athletic reached down to comfortably pick up the ball only for the ball to hit a divet at the last second and evade Fisher and trickle slowly into the goal to give Cornelly United an early lead.
On the quarter of an hour mark the referee accosted goalscorer Dan Jones as he was found to be wearing an ‘armband’ of some persuasion, not a captain’s armband, something like a friendship band or similar. He demanded that Jones leave the pitch until the could remove it. Cornelly United’s management team tried to remove it but failed, calls were made for a scissors or a knife from the clubhouse. In the end Jones remained off the pitch for about two minutes whilst he struggled to remove the band from his arm.
What was admirable about Porthcawl Town Athletic’s approach following the goal was the way the side rallied around goalkeeper Andrew Fisher after his mistake. A defender was heard to shout ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get one back for you!’ whilst his manager shouted on the field to not worry about the mistake.
In the 18th minute his side did just that. This is where I have to brutally honest with you. A long range free kick was hit into the box. A cluster of Porthcawl players around the penalty spot won the ball and one of them slotted the ball home from ten yards into the right hand corner of the goal.
The players mobbed each other and I couldn’t work out who actually scored the goal as no one player held their hands up in celebration, it was rather a celebration of group relief! If anyone does know who scored the first Porthcawl goal, feel free to let me know and I’ll happily change this bit!
Following this goal Porthcawl Town Athletic really started to believe in themselves. The side started playing some really attractive, expansive football and at times certainly troubled their top of the table rivals.
Just after the half hour mark Cornelly United, against the run of play at the time, scared their rivals when a good piece of play from Gareth Duffy resulted in him running into the box at pace and hitting the side netting.
The last action of note came just before half time when Porthcawl Town Athletic deservedly took the lead for the first time in the game.
A neat bit of play on the right touchline lead to the ball being floated into the box for Ben Davies to rise above his two markers and head the ball just over the hand of Cornelly goalkeeper Ben Banks who could only look on in horror on as the ball rolled over the goal line for the seaside town to take a 2-1 lead into the half time interval.
We, like many others, made our way into the clubhouse for the half interval to take temporary shelter from the heavy winds that were now reminding us that Summer is indeed over.
Another coffee was ordered whilst we watched the closing stages of the Spurs v. Liverpool game before realising there was a game actually being played out on the football pitch next to the other side of the club house! So we started watching that game as well.
Porthcawl came out for the second half looking good value for their 2-1 lead and were afforded a brilliant chance to extend their lead in the 52nd minute when Morgan Thomas beat the Cornelly United offside trap and faced down to Ben Banks one-on-one in the Cornelly box.
Banks did his job superbly and forced Thomas to take the ball a few yards wide of the right post and put him off his shot just enough for Thomas to hit the side netting with his effort which would have surely secured all three points for Porthcawl.
This let-off appeared to the psychological ‘kick up the arse’ that Cornelly United needed as from this point forward the game was largely one way traffic and it took them a mere four minutes to level affairs in this derby.
Joe Jones picked up the ball just outside of the box and hit what I can only describe as a stupendous volley that beat goalkeeper Andrew Fisher in style before cannoning over the goal line off the cross bar to level the scores.
Porthcawl heads dropped a little whilst their Cornelly United counterparts grew into the game and attacked in numbers.
Midway through the second half, Cornelly United retook the lead when a Porthcawl Town Athletic attack broke down, a long ball was hit from the Cornelly half into the path of earlier goalscorer Dan Jones who skillfully rounded the oncoming Andrew Fisher on the edge of the box and slotted home into an empty net to give his side a 3-2 lead going into the closing stages of the game.
Then one of the most glorious moments of my footballing year happens….
In the 76th minute action was halted for a minute when Porthcawl Town Athletic’s first choice goalkeeper Andrew Fisher went to the touchline to change into an outfield player’s shirt. The substitute goalkeeper came on as a replacement for an outfield defender and Porthcawl’s first choice goalkeeper moved up to a centre forward position and his first involvement in outfield play was to win a header against Cornelly United’s tallest defender.
The play was briefly stopped whilst a wayward greyhound sprinted onto the pitch in pursuit of the football whilst spectators applauded the canine pitch invader.
Porthcawl Town Athletic pushed forward in numbers in search of an equaliser but found themselves going toe to toe with a resolute Cornelly United defence who were determined to cling on to their three points as if their lives depended upon them.
The last action of note came in injury time when a Porthcawl Town Athletic counter attack broke down and Alan Kinsey found himself through on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat.
It happened to be one of those cases of the striker having too much time to make a decision as he jogged towards goal from the half way line. The replacement Porthcawl keeper did a fine job of stopping his effort after Kinsey’s shot was placed too close to the goalkeeper.
As the final whistle blew the joy on the Cornelly United players’ faces was clear to see. The victory meaning so much to them. Conversely it was clear to see just how much this defeat hurt the Porthcawl side, who walked off the field dejected, wondering what might have been had they held onto their lead they looked so comfortable with at times.
This was a superb game and an excellent way to spend a Saturday afternoon. It was a superb advert for the South Wales Alliance. Either of these sides would be a welcome addition to the Welsh League if either of them were to go on to find success next Summer.
I’d like to wish the very best of luck to both Porthcawl Town Athletic and Cornelly United for the rest of the season and hope it isn’t too long before I see either side again. Also a further thanks to Jon McCarthy for his ongoing support and friendship of the blog.
My Man of the Match: Dan Jones of Cornelly United put in a match winning performance was a constant threat to the Porthcawl Town Athletic goal.