I’ve been to Wales several times in recent years. There are several reasons for this. The scenery is marvellous, the football grounds are full of character, it’s much closer than Scotland, the twisty roads are great to drive on and the people are very friendly . So far this season I’ve managed to chalk up visits to Abergavenny, Afan Lido (a substitute for a postponement at the elusive Garw), Treharris (one of the 7 football wonders of the world) and nearby Ton Pentre (which is also marvellous). Rhayader Town has been on my list for a little while now and it seemed like a good time to visit.
So last Saturday week we took a trip down the M4 from West London in the Honda Civic in changeable weather conditions, paid the £6.60 (which is more than most Gate Admissions) to cross over the bridge into Wales. From there it’s the A449 from the roundabout at the Celtic Manor Resort, which from it’s position perched high in a hill above the M4 looks a bit like the Schloss Adler in Where Eagles Dare, towards Raglan. Then it’s a brief spurt on the A40 to Abergavenny. Underneath Abergavenny to Gilwern on the A465. The roadworks divert you through the small village of Gilwern (which isn’t a bad thing as I’ll reveal later) towards Crickhowell on the A4077. From there it’s the A40 again for a couple of miles then the A479 towards Tretower. This part of the trip is incredibly scenic. Stone walls, twisty roads, sheep in fields and massive green hills. The bit just before Pengenfford with views of Waun Fach (the highest of the Black Mountains) are utterly amazing. From there it’s a drop down to Talgarth to pick up the A470 to Builth Wells and then on Rhayader.
So Rhayader Town. The ground, Y Weirglodd, is down the hill from the centre of town and shares the same access road as the local egg chasers. There’s a spacious gravel car park and the ground was well looked after. We rocked up nice and early as my trusted travelling companion likes at least an hour and a half to potter around the ground taking pictures, positioning balls for his trademark depth of field shot, smoking a few crafty cigarettes and usually a sneaky piss in the woods somewhere.
There’s been a club in Rhayader since 1884 and the previous club spent 5 seasons in the League of Wales before getting relegated in 2002, then the club folded in 2006. A new club was formed in 2007 and now they’re playing in the Cymru Alliance which is one league below the Welsh Premier League, which is where the opponents Prestatyn Town were relegated from last season. They hadn’t taken to life in the Cymru Alliance despite (so I was told) keeping a decent proportion of the team who got relegated. However Rhayader were and still are bottom of the league by a good few points.
I killed a bit of time cleaning the new Lens (a £29 Ebay capture) and had a warming Bovril in a proper mug whilst sitting on one of the picnic tables inside the ground with most of the home team. The team spirit actually seemed pretty chipper despite their struggles this season and they just did what most lads do and take the piss out of each other.
So onto the game. Primary Subbuteo starter set colours. Rhayader in Red. Prestatyn in Blue. For the first part of the game the visitors looked a cut above the home side. The passing was better, as was the movement, and they started to create a chance or two. A well worked set piece resulted in Lee Beattie heading home from 10 yards. Prestatyn then had a decent shout for a penalty turned down and whilst players were arguing left, right and centre the ball broke down field, the Prestatyn keeper was pressurised and hurried into a poor clearance. A decent cross was put into the box and the home side equalised.
The away side then began to fall apart at the seams a little. The number 7 told his own left back to “stay down” after a nothing challenge which brought howls of derision from a vocal set of older Rhayader supporters. The number 7 called them “fucking idiots” in riposte. “Scouse fair play” I muttered to myself. There’s quite a number of Liverpudlians in the football teams of North Wales and they bring a certain kind of streetwise niggle that nobody else can match. Holywell Town had a few of them in their side at Afan Lido in a Welsh Cup match earlier in the season which led to a spate of yellow cards, a sending off for this huge Gladiator of a man who played centre half for Afan Lido, which was followed 10 minutes later by the tubby Holywell Town centre forward who initially got Gladiator Man sent off being sent off himself. It all resulted in a pitch battle as Gladiator Man, all showered, waited by the dressing room door to pick a fight. Lots of pushing and shoving, lots of swearing and women screaming.
Prestatyn recovered a bit and had a decent chance but the number 9 didn’t pass to the number 11 and it all kicked off between them which led to the ref calling over the Prestatyn Captain and giving him a right rollocking. The Captain shouted out “If youse wanna fucking hit each other, do it at half time in the changing room”. Alan Shearer should’ve said the same to Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer. The referee sighed and blew up for half time. The Rhayader manager waving his crutches in delight and the Prestatyn bench were trying to get to the Referee.
The second half was scrappy but Rhayader, especially through the number 11 who had thighs like a Rugby League forward, gradually took the game by the scruff of the neck. Prestatyn’s Lee Beattie was then sent off for dissent which the referee (a Mr Aled Jones no less) had to run after him in order to officially brandish the cards. Shortly after this latest setback the home side took the lead. Another poor clearance from the visiting keeper and the ball fell kindly to the home player who lashed it in. 2-1 and you’d have to say that it was fully deserved if only because the visitors tried playing the sly game and moaned like hell all game. They withstood a few nervous minutes at the end but it ended up with a much needed win for the Red Kites.
So to the journey home. We had brief stop at the Red Kite Feeding Centre up the road as my travelling companion likes his birds even more than he likes arranging balls. He was also a hungry man as well so on the way back we stopped at the Award Winning Village Fish Bar in Gilwern. I found it after the Abergavenny game earlier in the season. It’s a tiny little chippy but it’s a busy place with constant telephone orders from village residents and a couple of Englishmen who are bored of English League Football. I had a South Wales special of Faggots, Peas and Gravy with Chips. The chips I rate in the “World Class” category. My travelling companion thought they were the best chips he’s ever had. An apt end to a wonderful day of scenic football. Prestatyn will have better days though.