Saturday 7th November (5.15pm).
Port Talbot Town 2-0 Bangor City.
Welsh Premier League.
Park Avenue, Aberystwyth.
Attendance: Circa 300
It’s often said in many quarters that the two of the best (if not the best) groups of supporters in the Welsh Premier League come in the form of Port Talbot Town and Bangor City.
These are fanbases that take a great deal of influence from the European ‘Ultras’ model of support. Both clubs have fanbases who stand, sing loud, sing proud, take pride in creating large, visually attractive banners and often sing chants that tend to take more of a ‘violent gospel’ form rather than the quite frankly boring Beach Boys – Sloop John B. cover versions that tend to get piped out seventy times per match at every other ground up and down this United Kingdom every Saturday afternoon.
So a couple of months ago when I noticed this game had been scheduled for a late Saturday afternoon kick-off to accommodate Nicky John and the S4C Sgorio cameras I marked this match in my diary. The late kick-off also afforded me the opportunity to head to the nearby Penybont vs. Pontypridd Town match in the Nathaniel Car Sales Welsh League Cup, which kicked off at 1.30pm that afternoon.
I’ve watched Port Talbot Town a number of times this season, so I’ll skip the introduction to the club as any regular reader will no doubt be well versed in their history.
The one thing I will mention are the in’s and out’s at the club since my last visit to the Genquip Stadium.
The club have gradually slid down the table since I watched them comprehensively beat a strong Aberystwyth Town side at the Genquip. The club have lost a couple of high profile players, namely in the form of stalwart returnee defender Cortez Belle. Bell started the season in fine form and seemed to be playing some of the best football of his career.
His performances were always going to catch the eye and an offer from Merthyr Town, a side potentially only two seasons away from the Football League proved just too much for Belle to turn down.
Kaid Mohammed, a player who seemed to ooze class in his early performances for The Steelmen left the club to join Football League Division Two outfit Accrington Stanley, although it appears (albeit via Wikipedia) that he left Stanley after a mere three appearances and is now plying his trade at Conference South side Bath City.
Andy Dyer has pulled a bit of a trick out of his sleeve however in securing the services of ex-Swansea City legend Alan Tate.
Tate, a player who found himself released by The Swans after 13 years at the club. His loyalty to the club went unquestioned as he found his chances of first team football limited in his last two or three seasons. However instead of moaning about it in the press or requesting a transfer, Tate did the honourable thing and went out on loan whilst under contract with Swansea and attempted to put in performances that would make the likes of Michael Laudrup and Garry Monk change their mind about him.
After being released in the Summer Tate was courted by a number of clubs in the Football League and a move back to his home town of Hartlepool was almost confirmed before Tate scuppered the deal when it meant he would need to move his young child from their current school in the Swansea area.
I’d spoken to Alan Howells, Afan Lido official at the earlier Penybont vs. Pontypridd Town match who told me that he got chatting to Andy Dyer during the week about the signing and Dyer told him that the club were hoping to seal the deal during pre-season only for the deal to come back to life now.
Even writing this as a Cardiff City fan, I have to say that the signing of Alan Tate is a great signing not only for Port Talbot Town as a club but also the Welsh Premier League and the Welsh football pyramid overall.
The fact that players of the calibre of Alan Tate, Danny Gabbidon, Darcy Blake and (earlier) Lee Trundle are beginning to see the Welsh pyramid as a viable alternative way to bring their careers to a gradual close rather than checking out at some random Division Two club is a credit to the Welsh pyramid and will surely go some distance to convincing future retiring players to give their national league one last shot before they hang up their boots.
It also does the league a world of good in the form of improved attendances, as tonight’s match shows. The attendance at the Genquip has certainly improved on the usual evening match attendance, Bangor City fans aside (they do travel in impressive numbers) I’d estimate there are easily 100 more spectators here than there would be for a televised S4C/Sgorio match.
No doubt a large chunk of those spectators are curious Swansea City fans hoping to catch up with one of their old heroes they haven’t seen much of since Swansea City arrived in the Premier League a few years ago.
Bangor City are a side that I’ve wanted to watch for a long time. They have a strong history in the Welsh game and in the modern age the club have been ever-present in the Welsh Premier League since its formation in 1992 (albeit originally as the ‘League of Wales’)
They’ve actually put Wales on the footballing map a fair few times, the highlight of which coming in 1962 when after winning the Welsh Cup the side were drawn against Italian giants (and later the home of Diego Maradona) Napoli in the old European Cup Winners Cup (Boys of a certain age should read that as Europa League.. – and boys of an even more certain age should probably read that as Fairs Cup)
Despite going into the tie as massive underdogs, the Welsh side actually beat the Italian giants 2-0 at home before losing the second leg 3-1 in Naples and going out of the tournament.
Now I know what you’re thinking – because I thought the same when I read about that result. Bangor City should have gone through on away goals!
Unfortunately the away goals ruling was still but a daydream, much like the back pass rule and the tie went to a ‘play-off’ at Arsenal’s Highbury ground, which the Italian side won 2-1 with an 83rd minute winner that broke Bangor City hearts.
There’s a brief mention of Bobby Charlton briefly playing for Bangor City in the 1978 Anglo-Italian Trophy, although I can’t seem to find any photos of Charlton in a Bangor jersey on the Internet it seemingly did happen.
The club were briefly managed in the late 1990’s by Nigel Adkins, the same Nigel Adkins who went on to manage the likes of Southampton, Reading and currently holds down the reigns at Sheffield United.
The club currently play their football at what has been described by many as the best current ground in the Welsh Premier League, Nantporth, which has also in recent years been known as The Book People Stadium and more recently the Bangor University Stadium.
The club are currently going through something of a transitional period at their current point in history. After a number of successful seasons, the highlight of which coming in the 2010-11 season when after three consecutive seasons of winning the Welsh Cup the club went one step further and won the Welsh Premier League by two points over nearest rivals The New Saints.
Over the next handful of seasons, gradually diminishing returns lead to the side finishing 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the Welsh Premier League before enduring a poor 2014/15 season in which the club finished a disappointing 10th position in the Welsh Premier League. A season in which the club were threatened with rumoured financial trouble and stories emanating from the club regarding rumoured missed tax payments and only a superb turn in form towards the end of the season confining Cefn Druids and Prestatyn Town to relegation to the Cymru Alliance instead.
This season admittedly hasn’t been a great deal better for the Citizens this season, finding themselves just three points above Rhyl and Haverfordwest County in the relegation places and relegation remains a realistic threat this season. However speaking to a couple of Bangor City fans, they certainly feel confident that should they find themselves contending the last third of the season in the bottom half of the table following the league split then they would win enough games against their bottom half rivals to comfortably secure their Welsh Premier League status.
And so onto the game.
After attending the earlier Penybont match five or so miles down the road in Bridgend I’d hoped that based on a 1.30pm kick off I’d be rolling into Port Talbot’s branch of Wetherspoons at about 3.45pm, ample time for a pint of Tuborg or a bottle of Punk IPA to wash down a vegetable burger before making my way over to the Genquip in my own merry time.
Sadly the referee chose to play thirteen minutes of injury time and Penybont managed to scrape an equaliser in the 102nd minute taking the game into extra time following a 4-4 draw. Eventually my hometown side Pontypridd Town deservedly went through on penalties with some fine penalties resulting in a 4-3 victory.
Unfortunately by the time I got in my car at 4.30pm, I now had just about enough time to boot it down to the Genquip, park the car up and grab an infamous Port Talbot Town Chip Butty before taking up my usual seat in the Gerald McCreesh Stand.
I’m of course not moaning about the Port Talbot Town Chip Butty, it has after all become my favourite Welsh football snack. A sad fact is that if you actually Google ‘Port Talbot Town Chip Butty’, four of the top five search results are from this very blog and the other result is from my good friend Matt’s blog.
I took my seat in the aforementioned Gerald McCreesh Stand before noticing that the Sgorio cameras were positioned only a handful of rows in front of me as they debated this month’s ‘Goal of the Month’ competition.
Sadly, Nicky John is still nowhere to be seen. I’d later learn from re-watching the live broadcast I’d conveniently set to record that she was busy interviewing Port Talbot Town manager Andy Dyer.
Both teams emerged onto the pitch to undertake an impeccably executed minute’s silence in memory of those who gave their lives up for the freedoms we take for granted, which was a massive credit to both sets of supporters and players, especially considering there were so many young children at the game who perhaps didn’t have a full grasp on what they were taking part in.
The game started slowly, perhaps I’d gotten myself settled in the furious end to end pace of the afternoon’s earlier game at The Kymco Stadium?
The first real chance of the game fell to the creative Port Talbot midfielder Jonathan Hood who broke into the box at pace but got a little excited in front of goal and launched a shot that cleared the clubhouse roof.
The first contentious moment of the game came in the 9th minute when Bangor City were awarded a free kick thirty yards out from goal after Matthew Long chopped down Bangor striker Christian Langos when he was turned away from goal.
Sion Edwards launched his free kick deep into the Port Talbot Town box which was knocked on by the head of Leon Clowes and clinically dispatched into the back of the net by Adam Cummins past the flailing Steelmen goakeeper Steven Cann only to be ruled out for offside.
It was hard to see at the ground, in the stand. It all happened so quickly that I didn’t even consider the offside. I’d later learn that the linesman awarded offside as he judged Cummins to be coming back from an offside position when the free kick was taken but the Sgorio cameras later showed a further phase of play to start when Clowes knocked the header on. By this point Cummins was two yards onside, so this was certainly a bitter pill for the Bangor supporters assembled behind the goal in the Burns End to swallow.
After something of a let off and a scare Port Talbot Town started to attack again, getting a lot of joy from the testing runs and pace of striker Martin Rose who often found himself with bags of space in the Bangor City half.
In the 18th minute Kurtis March brought the ball into the Bangor City half, passing the ball neatly to Chris Jones who laid the ball on perfectly for the deadly Martin Rose to curl the ball around the outreached arms of Connor Roberts (superb surname!) who could only look on in frustration as the Steelmen took a 1-0 lead which sent the Port Talbot Town Ultras in the Gerald McCreesh Stand into delirium.
Bangor City barely had time to recover before they found themselves two goals down after a free kick taken by Port Talbot goalkeeper Steven Cann seemingly evaded the midfield before taking a wicked bounce and falling into the path of Jonathan Hood who slotted the ball around Connor Roberts on the edge of the box before coming back off the post and being unfortunately fumbled back into the Bangor City net by Bangor captain Sam Hart who could do little to stop himself from scoring an own goal.
Despite the two goal deficit Bangor City played their way forwards throughout the whole first half and were very unlucky not to pull a goal back when Christian Langos picked the ball up on the far right corner of the box and hit a stupendous effort goalwards that certainly tested Steven Cann to his limit before going just over the crossbar.
The Port Talbot Town supporters certainly had the most to sing about in the first half as the Bangor City fans still seemed to be quite rightly outraged about the earlier offside decision.
The Ultras played some of their greatest hits and fan favourites as well as some stuff off their new album before completing their trilogy of love songs in dedication of every Welsh football fan’s favourite channel and favourite football babe.
“S, S, S.4.C!” sang the Ultras.
“You can stick your Sky Sports up your arse!” sang the Ultras.
“Nicky John, my Lord. Nicky John. Nicky John, my Lord. Nicky John.
Nicky John, my Lord. Nicky John. Oh Lord, Nicky John” sang the Ultras, whilst Nicky John blushed about six yards away from me.
As the sides went in for the half time interval I entertained myself watching the somewhat late fireworks parties that were being held in gardens surrounding The Genquip Stadium (it’s the 7th!)
Early in the second half, Bangor City looked to be denied a certain penalty when a Christian Langos shot inside the box was blocked by the feet of Alan Tate only for the ball to rebound off his boot and onto his arm.
The Bangor City fans, now standing behind the goal nearest to the clubhouse were outraged, but this was again one of those incidents where I only noticed what exactly happened when I watched the game back on S4C later that evening. I had by now moved myself to the other side of the pitch so I had a very poor view of this incident to say the least.
Bangor again went close a few minutes when another piece of great play from Langos lead to the ball falling to the feet of Ryan Edwards who only had the goalkeeper to beat but hit his effort a little too close to Cann to really challenge him.
The final chance of note in the game fell to Adam Cummins who rose above his markers and headed a challenging effort towards substitute goalkeeper Conah McFenton (Steven Cann had gone down innocuously clutching his hamstring after a long range clearance and needed to leave the field) who saved the shot well with one hand but Cummins claimed the ball had crossed the line.
As the referee brought the game to a close the relief and joy on the Port Talbot Town players’ faces was clear for all to see. Those players have had a rough time as of late after such a brilliant start to the season.
Although Alan Tate had a somewhat quiet game, his influence in the Port Talbot Town defence made them a great deal more resilient and a lot tougher to break down. They will certainly fancy their chances of making the top half of the table come the split early next year and look to kick on to guarantee European football at The Genquip next season.
Bangor City will certainly feel disappointed with today’s result and their fans will feel sickened after a poor decision to disallow their first goal. They will surely be making the five hour journey back up North pondering what might have been had that first goal been allowed.
All credit to the Bangor City supporters, with the game finishing at a little after 7pm, it’s unlikely that any of them got home to bed until at least 3am and for that you absolutely have to applaud their devotion to their team.
There are very few teams in the north of the country who would manage to bring 50+ supporters down for a 5.15pm Saturday kick off and for that I applaud you all, each and every single one of you.
I’d like to wish the very best of luck to both Port Talbot Town and Bangor City for the rest of their campaigns and hope to see you both again in the very near future.
Port Talbot Town I’ll no doubt see again in the extremely near future as (weather permitting) I hope to take in their away fixture at Aberystwyth Town next Saturday under the watchful eyes of the Sgorio cameras at Park Avenue.
My Man of the Match: Martin Rose, it’s easy to see why the Port Talbot Town fans claim that the guy is better than the great Pele and at times I’ve found myself believing that as well.
In all seriousness, Martin Rose did everything a striker should do perfectly this evening. He was clinical at times, he held the ball up well, he took the pressure off at times and he more than scared the Bangor City defence. Luckily, the S4C crew agreed with me and also awarded Martin the award.