Principality pleasures

I doubt the 2017/18 season will go down in my own personal history books as a stellar one. Work has become a massive part of my weekends, and coupled with family commitments has seen my match day participation for the year down to around 20 games. A poor return for someone who once prided themselves on seeing 60 games a season without fail. Not that my involvement with football has diminished, far from it. Along with several others I put together a fanzine for my side North Ferriby United, so even when I’m not at games my phone is buzzing with news, views and updates. The fanzine takes up a massive amount of time, but has become a part of my match going experience, as I always make sure I have the dates booked off work so I can do my bit selling outside the ground before kick off. This season, selling the mag outside has been arguably a better experience than watching the football inside. A disastrous season of turmoil has seen the club change ownership ( out of the frying pan into the fire ), use a record number of players ( some who looked like they’d never seen a football before, never mind played in the 6th tier of English football ) and ultimately be relegated well before the New Year chimes. The “highlights” of the season were the double over Blyth, holding eventual league champions Salford to a draw, and finishing the campaign with an Away victory over FC United of Manchester. 21 points from 42 games tells it’s own story, as does the 101 goals conceded stat. So it’s back to Step 3 football next year, the Northern Premier League, and the level I started watching us regularly at nine years ago. It’s been quite a journey along the way with Play offs, promotions and victorious Wembley finals, but what the club needs now is a few years of stability on and off the pitch.

Away from Ferriby I’ve taken in my usual midweek fix at local Step 5 side Hall Road Rangers of the Northern Counties East League, but taking in new grounds and destinations this season has seen me chalk up a grand total of 1 ( one ) new ground this year. But what a ground it was !

Saturday March 31st, 2018. A rare free Saturday from work. Trouble is, Ferriby have no game either as our opponents are involved in one of the cup competitions. Typical of my luck. It’s all irrelevant anyway as the wife’s sister has called to say do we fancy a weekend with them in Shrewsbury ? Plans are made to set off first thing Saturday morning, but I’m pinning my hopes on my Brother-in-law James saving us from the usual drudge around the shops with the girls. Sure enough, a text message arrives assuring me he’s looking into us escaping to a match for a few hours peace. Initially I’m thinking he’ll choose Telford ( from the same division as Ferriby ) or perhaps even Hereford, on their way to winning the Southern Premier League title. James is a Wolves fan, but like me is partial to a bit of Non-League action. He’s recently dipped his toes into the Welsh Premier League, as a day out on the train to Wales, a few beers, something to eat, match and train back are all cumulatively cheaper than admission to Molineux. He’s just back from a trip to Oswestry in midweek to see T.N.S crowned champions again. Not to let me down, a text arrives later on, we’re off to Newtown vs Carmarthen Town.

Initially I was sceptical. The Welsh League ? No better standard than the NPL ? Teams that always go out in the early rounds of the Europa League to some obscure team from the Czech Republic ? Oh well, it was a match. Beats the alternative of shopping with the better-halves. My fears and scepticism couldn’t have been more wrong…..

We got to Shrewsbury in good time, although I’d be lying if I said it was a drive I enjoyed. The bit through Walsall / Brownhills is particularly slow and painful, although the traffic allowed for a good nosey at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium from the motorway. Hugs and handshakes with relatives, then we’re off. My other Brother-in-Law John is with us, a Manchester United fan from Newcastle, but a man who like me just loves his football. Our chauffeur for the day is James’ Dad, Eammon. He’s a Wolves Season ticket holder, but also loves his trips over the border. Passports in hand we set off. It’s a good half an hour drive over into mid-Wales, the only obvious signs we’re actually in Wales are the sign posts with dual language destinations on. We near Newtown as the traffic slows, making this the worst part of an otherwise scenic journey. Apparently plans are in place to build a by-pass, but this won’t help us today. Eamonn navigates the town centre, as chuckles come from the back on sight of the Daffyd Lloyd leisure centre. Eventually we pull down a tree-lined drive, to the car park behind one of the stands. We walk 30 yards to the turnstile, from where my love of this place starts to begin. The outer of the ground is decked out in the clubs red and white colours, with the club crest and N.A.F.C also prominent. It’s clear from the very beginning that the residents of this town are rightly proud of their club and it’s home. Once inside the story is the same. Odd shaped stands bring a quirky-ness to proceedings, but predominantly it’s nice and maintained. No real signs of ageing, just signs of love and devotion from a committee and volunteers. Speaking of which, plenty are decked out in their clubs colours, whether it be a club tie,track suit or beanie hat. a clear sense of pride emanates from everybody. We make our way around the ground, the nerd in me pausing to take a few pictures on my phone and Tweet them out. We walk to the clubhouse, where a pint of Monty’s Golden Ale hits the spot. It’s fairly busy inside, probably 50 to 60 people all enjoying a drink and a chat. We park ourselves near the pool table, which appears to be in the trophy room. Here on the walls is a fantastic history of the club and it’s achievements. Old black and white photo’s adorn the walls, team groups and ground pictures amongst them. This place is steeped in the communities history. A closer look shows a picture of Newtown versus Swansea in the Welsh Cup, 12,000 in attendance that day. Today’s crowd won’t be anything like that. I could stay in here all day and just look at the trophies and the pictures. Chris Waddle’s Marseille shirt sits framed on the walls, amongst many Welsh international ones. We go outside to grab something to eat from the equally friendly catering shop, and find ourselves some seats in one of two stands that run down the far touch-line. As I look to my right, the view of the hills and mountains behind the goal is quite fantastic. I think to myself how this ground must look during all four seasons of the year, and the conversation in my head agrees that I’d happily spend every other Saturday getting my football fix here.

I won’t bore you with a match report from a game five weeks ago. Going as a neutral means the result is irrelevant. My initial fears that the standard would be fairly low were non-founded, as the 4g surface lent itself to some lovely crisp football, meaning the players weren’t taking three touches on a bobbly pitch just to get the ball under control, as would be the norm on grass at this time of year. Indeed none of the players lacked for technique, most being on a par or better than some I’ve seen at North Ferriby this year. To say that Newtown were mid-table and Carmarthen second bottom, I could only imagine that teams further up must be on a par with at least Conference level. The game finished 3-2 to the visitors, with a couple of decent goals from open play. A late goal made it an interesting last few minutes, but backs-to-the-wall defending ensured the visitors recorded only their 7th win of the season from 28 games.

As we slowly made our way out, we noticed the park benches strategically placed behind one of the goals. They’d clearly been there years, as were a couple of old rusting crush barriers and a small semblance of old terracing, probably part of the original 1930’s built ground. Perched on one of the benches around half way up the tree-lined hill that formed a natural terrace were two old men. Clearly in their late 70’s to early 80’s I thought to myself how many tales these two could tell of Saturday afternoons sat or stood behind that goal. The old football romantic in me envisaged them as young boys at about the time Swansea came calling in the Welsh Cup in the 50’s, stood on tip-toes amongst the record crowd. Perhaps they had son’s or grandsons that played for Newtown, maybe even played themselves once upon a time. Probably they were just like me, grateful to get out and watch some football for 90 minutes and catch up with friends. In this beautiful part of the Principality, who could blame them.

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