It’s a Sunday, it’s Premier League football, and I’m on the Guest List. 300 Grounds has come of age!
Not that I’m getting carried away by this new-found status, but I can honestly say it’s the first time my name’s been ‘on the door’ since a Damned gig at Leicester’s De Montfort Hall in 1978. I blagged that because my employers did some printing work for major record labels, and one of my contacts was a friend of bassist Algy Ward. What fun we had as we alternated between swanking around the crowd with our ‘backstage pass’ stickers to the fore, posing on the wall at the side of the stage, and nipping into the dressing room to avail ourselves of the band’s rider. That was before Chiswick Records boss Ted Carroll appeared on the scene and advised us that enough was enough.
So when Mark Jones, press officer for Welsh Premier league club Prestatyn Town, posted a comment on the blog inviting me to visit the club for a forthcoming match, it was like 1978 all over again! To be honest, the recent changes in top-level Welsh footy had passed me by. I always used to keep half-an-eye open for Porthmadoc Town’s result – for no other reason than I once had a holiday there – and hadn’t realised there was a new structure in place – the Welsh Premier League – with just a dozen teams battling it out for death or glory. Porthmadoc have slipped down the structure, but here was a chance to take a renewed interest in the Principality with a new ‘favourite’.
I check with Mark that the game is a definite starter, given that a frost is forecast. He says ‘no problems’ and assures me I won’t be the only long-distance enthusiast at the game, given that the usual procedure of a Friday-Saturday-Sunday fixture list in this league allows hoppers to make a weekend of it. It’s a Bank Holiday Sunday so my round-trip rail journey involves catching seven trains in all, diverting me via Birmingham and then Crewe. Sitting opposite me on the final leg is an attractive young blonde doing her best to disguise herself with headscarf and dark glasses. I convince myself it might be Kylie heading off to an Irish gig, and I audibly hum the theme to Neighbours to gauge her reaction. Sadly there isn’t one, so I alight none the wiser.
It’s just a short walk from Prestatyn Station to the Bastion Road home of the Town, and I approach what I presume to be the back entrance, where I anticipate my credentials will be examined. As previously mentioned, Mark has kindly afforded me free entry to the game. Normally I would eschew such an offer, as I am always keen to put some revenue into a smaller club’s coffers, but having spent a three-figure-sum getting to see Liverpool v Wolves on Wednesday, and being faced with another expensive weekend, I am happy to take some of the strain off my wallet. I tell the gateman my name, and he ushers me in, no further questions asked. I buy a club badge in the shop and ask after Mark. Yes, he’s expecting you, says the guy in the shop, pointing me in the direction of the office, and I meet my host.
After a chat he points me in the direction of the clubhouse where he’s put a couple of bottles of Conwy Brewery beer behind the bar from his own personal stock – and very nice they are to. Presumably the club’s alcohol supply deal doesn’t allow them to sell the local brew, which is a shame as I reckon it would go down very well with natives and hoppers alike. It being a big game today, against runaway league leaders – and unbeaten – Bangor City, the clubhouse is rammed and my view of the Chelsea v Villa game on the big screen is slowly eroded. A group of elderly ladies sitting at my table intrigue me as they gossip away, not about the latest soap dramas or the state of the nation, but about forthcoming fixtures. The queue at the snack bar is snaking around the block and the chance of a cheese pie slips away with it, so I head out for pitchside in anticipation of a good game. I am not to be disappointed.
In fact it’s a great advertisement for Welsh Premier League football. With 16 wins and a draw from 17 league games, Bangor arrive knowing that their only loss this season – a cup match – was to Prestatyn. They’ve brought a couple of hundred very vocal fans who congregate behind the goal their team is attacking, and are rewarded with an early strike and the signs are ominous for the home team. But they battle back into the game, showing the greater enterprise, and by half-time have turned it round to lead 2-1. I’m not sure about Bangor. You don’t have that kind of record by being an ordinary side, but their tactics seem to consist of getting the ball forward as quickly as possible and flooding their opponents penalty area. In the meantime they take no prisoners, the referee letting quite a lot go to try to save the flow of the game. An equaliser arrives on 70 and you think that they will go on to win it.
But it’s not to be. Playing mainly on the break seems to suit the style of Town’s lively forwards, and they get the measure of City’s ponderous back-line to notch two clinching goals, much to the delerium of the fans behind the net. A second yellow for Bangor’s central defender – a Joey Jones clone – makes the final outcome a little more assured, and the Blues walk off to an ovation.
The game over, I seek out and thank my host – manning the tannoy, one of his many match-day hats – and head off back to the station, with the warming promise of a couple of pints in the Brunswick in Direby as I near my journey’s end, some two and a half hours distant. I could get used to this ‘celebrity’ status – maybe I’d better start thinking about what to request as my ‘Rider’…
Programme: £1.50 on the gate. Another one of Mark’s jobs. Good content although a little heavy on adverts – still it shows the local community is backing the club.
Floodlight pylons: 8
Parakeets: None, probably scared off by a noisy model of a Stealth bomber being flown from an adjacent field – hope the real thing is quieter.
Tannoy music: None
Club shop: Yes, at the end of the main stand, which runs the length of one side (the only covered accommodation)
Toilets: Portaloos brought in for this game.
Player with the quirkiest name: Bangor’s Tom Dix ‘& Harry’ (sorry…)