I love watching Wales play. Since I’ve lived in Manchester, I have hated missing Swansea City play at home (I make almost all away games, with a few home games to boot), but I have been just as irritated by missing out on several Wales games; the new ‘Friday game, Tuesday game’ cycle certainly hasn’t helped my plight. My last Wales game came before I moved to Manchester last summer, as Gary Speed era Wales lost 2-1 to an impressive Austrailia side at the Caridff City Stadium. A year later, I’d be attending my first Wales game since that glorious summer day, although since then Welsh football has gone through it’s biggest tragedy and Coleman faces a tough task following on from the late, great Gary Speed. I’d had the 15th August pencilled into my diary for a number of months and I was very much looking forward to my return to watching my country play.
Wales’ August fixture against Bosnia would be played at Llanelli’s Parc Y Scarlets – a ground I’d never visited before and a ground synonymous with rugby, despite the Welsh football team having played there before. My visit to the ground was much delayed, after I was determined to attend a game there between Wales and Estonia in May 2009, largely thanks to a young Swansea midfielder called Joe Allen earning his first call up to the national team. Circumstances stopped me attending that game at the end of my tenure as a student at Swansea University, but thanks to my Dad agreeing to drive the hour journey from Quakers Yard to Llanelli in his flying red Fiat Seicento, there was no such chance of me missing the game on this grey, yet warm, summer evening in August.
We set off from home about 5 o’clock and we encountered very little trouble on our way towards Llanelli traffic-wise and soon enough we were flying past Swansea, down the A484 through Gorseinon and across to Llanelli. The biggest thrill I had on my journey towards the rugby town of Llanelli was the fact that our car journey went passed the sea – after most of the year in Manchester, the sea becomes an exciting site.
We crossed the bridge between Gorseinon and Llanelli and the Parc Y Scarlets was soon in site on the horizon. Parc Y Scarlets is still a very new ground having only opened on the 15th November 2008. For those that don’t know Parc Y Scarlets is home to Llanelli’s Scarlets rugby union team, although the ground has also hosted European football matches when Andy Legg’s Llanelli AFC have qualified tfor European competitions through the Welsh Premier League. The Welsh national football team had also played two international friendlies there, both of which they won (a 1-0 victory over Estonia and 5-1 thumping of Luxembourg). Tonight would be the third football international at the ground, as Wales hosted a very impressive Bosnia team, who have come agonisisngly close to qualifying for the last two major tournaments.
From a distance, I was impressed by the ground; it would not live up to the hype at close range. Even whilst we drove down the side of the stadium that faces the main road, I thought the exterior of the ground looked great. We past the ground on our right and headed to the large retail park sat next to the stadium in search of a parking space. It is a common sight for out-of-town stadiums to have a retail park as a conjoined twin and Parc Y Scarlets was no different with its neighbours being PC World, Morrisons, Dunelm Mill and of course Frankie and Bennys amongst others. The stadium was right next to the car park, so we made a direct route for the ground itself to get our tickets. This is where Parc Y Scarlets first starting losing its battle to impress me. After heading towards the main entrance of the stadium itself we were soon encountered by the large fence that circulates the ground. With a large ditch and fence in our way, it took me to stand on a large mound to spot the entrance to the ground; unfortunately, the way to enter the ground would involve circumnavigating the whole retail park next to the ground and the high fence that surrounded the ground. Back we went. We weren’t the only ones dumbfounded by the access to the ground. We encountered some others who tried to enter thr ground via the same route and as one fan we encountered said: “I’m sure the FAW are desperate to get us in to watch Wales these days, not fence us out!” It took us a good 10-15 minutes, working our way around the retail park and the perimeter fence, before we found the entrance to the ground.
From the rear of the ground in which we entered, it must be said that Parc Y Scarlets appeared very grey and bland and almost as if the builders had used all their razzmatazz (there wasn’t that much of that) on the front of the stadium that was viewable from the main road. After circulating the ugly arse of the ground, we were back to the front of the ground and we headed for the ticket office. Watching the Welsh national football team is not a favourite pastime of the Welsh public these days, so the £10 ticket price was very reasonable for an international friendly. When taking into account that for that £10 a spectator could witness some great names in modern football: Bosnia had ManchesterCity’s Edin Dzeko and Roma’s Miralem Pjanic, whilst the Wales team had almost all of their top stars on show such as Gareth Bale, Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams and Craig Bellamy. Dzeko is clearly some sort of god in Bosnia as every Bosnia fan, and there was surprisingly a load of them, had the Man City stirker’s name on the back of their blue shirt. With tickets purchased, I suggested to my Dad that we could perhaps make the trip around to Frankie and Benny’s for a pint, but he soon dismissed the idea of navigating our way back around the fence and the retail park – a fair point; Frankie and Benny’s was only 50 yards away from where we stood, but the fence denied us easy access to the bar/restaurant and the retail park in general. A thoroughly infuriating system! With no entertainment around (there wasn’t a pub anywhere near), the only thing to do was enter the stadium a whole hour before a kick off , the earliest I’ve entered a stadium in a long time – perhaps ever!
Despite the cheap tickets the ground had already irritated me so it needed to make it up to me inside the stand. Whilst strolling through the stand, we were soon greeted by a huge open space; Parc Y Scarlets had finally earned itself some praise thanks to the huge concourse for fans that sat in the middle of the South Stand which was housing the majority of the support. The huge area had a large glass window looking out onto the road that we had drove down earlier (not the most interesting view maybe, but the huge window area certainly gave the concourse some character) and 4 food/drink booths surrounding the concourse. The inside of the ground was much more impressive than the outside so far. Disappointingly, the service was poor. Having asked for a Carling and a bottle of Pepsi for my Dad, I waited for almost 5 minutes as the staff bundled around trying to work out who had ordered what. The price wasn’t too great either with £3.10 a bottle of Carling and the bottle of Pepsi (avergage size) costing £2. The guy who eventually poured my bottle into a plastic cup made a mess of it, giving my “pint” a massive head. And to close my bitching about the catering staff, the beer and Pepsi was warm. It did appear that the staff were new, but the service was still very poor.
Whilst me and my Dad drank our warm Pepsi and Carling, I’d began to notice the signs for the pies that were on sale and having seen a few of the fans walking around the concourse eating the pies advertised, I began to start craving my football pie. The only thing that was stopping me was the ludicrous £3.40 price tag. Depsite the price tag, I could not take my mind off these beautiful looking pies that I had seen in the hands of other fans. Sod it! It had to be done. I needed to try one of these pies; these pies looked too good to miss out on. I finished my Carling and headed towards the pie stand. £.6.10 (£3.40 for the pie and £3.10 for another bottle of beer) later and the Parc Y Scarlets was about to blow me away. If there is one thing I’ll take away from my experience at Parc Y Scarlets it is that the pie I had was incredible – truly brilliant. I daresay it was better than Norwich’s effort, the pie I regularly laud as the finest I’ve ever had. The beef and chilli pie had perfectly cooked meat, smooth delicious gravy and beautifully fluffy pastry – it was superb! The pie would prove to be the highlight of the day.
My Dad decided to go get some fresh air and headed towards our seats in the stand, whilst I finished my drink. With couple of minutes to go until kick-off, I went to join him. Parc Y Scarlets looks much better from the stands and the pitch also looked great; I was hoping I’d be watching Wales play some good football across it. The two teams came out onto the pitch. Wales’ Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey and Neil Taylor suddenly seemed to know the words to the national anthem, although admittedly the words were much more Welsh compared to the song they were supposed to sing for Team GB during the Olympics. With the best national anthem in the world sung (‘Mae hen wlad fy nhadau’ a thousands time more rousing than ‘God Save the Queen) we were ready for kick off.
Speaking of music, one of the joys of attending Wales games these days is the presence of the brilliantly named ‘Barry Horns.’ They make the famous England band sound like a bumbling junior school orchestra. They really are brilliant and definitely bring a sense of fun to Welsh football, a place that has been bereft of fun for a long time. However, fun was not on the cards for the stewards at Parc Y Scarlets, who made a big deal about some of the more vocal Welsh support standing at the back of the stand; needless to say, the jobsworths destroyed any potential atmosphere in the rugby stadium.
Wales took the kick-off to the game. Two touches later, after a long ball aimed out to Gareth Bale on the right wing, Wales had given away a throw in; the opening giving away of possession would set the tone for the rest of Wales’ performance.
Bosnia set out for the win from the off and even during the first minute Edin Dzeko forced Boaz Myhill into a great save from close range following some calamitous defending from Swansea’s Ashley Williams. It was clear from the off that Bosnia were quite some team, as they played a simply passing game around the Welsh team, making Wales’ stiff preseason legs run around after the ball. Then as he has the ability to do, Gareth Bale burst into life and played in Joe Allen, who crossed across the six yard box, but the pass just alluded Sam Vokes and the Bosnian defence just about cleared it for a corner. From the resulting corner, Ashley Williams rolled the ball to Allen, who from a just inside the box thunder a shot towards the top corner; just as I was out of my seat celebrating, Stoke’s Asmir Begovic made an incredible fingertip save to tip the ball onto the bar. This was as good as it got for Wales.
Bosnia dominated from here on in and their grasp on the game paid off on the 21st minute when Miroslav Stevanovic robbed Neil Taylor of possession and left him for dead; with the Wales defence in tatters, Stevanovic rolled the ball across the box for Vedad Ibisevic to score a simply goal. Taylor did mess up but I did want to punch the Swansea “fan” behind me who clearly had some issue with Taylor. All game I endured his moaning about how “shit” Taylor had been for Swansea last season – clueless fan! Eventually another Swansea fan called him up on his Taylor-baiting only for the moaning fan to reel of a list of 3 mistakes Taylor had made all season – I just put my head in my hands and tried to ignore this clown.
Wales could not deal with the impressive Dzeko, who held the ball up superbly for team mates, but the star of the show was Pjanic. He was incredible. I’ve always really rated the young Bosnian since the first time I saw him play on Eurosports in a game between Metz and Lyon (the club he eventually joined) Every time I have seen him play for Metz, Lyon or Roma, he has always frequented high roles up the wings or behind the striker; I was surprised to see him play quite a deep role against Wales, but he was superb. I don’t think he gave the ball away once and the Welsh midfield could not get near him.
Aaron Ramsey’s night was summed up shortly after the first goal when he was caught in possession and Ibsevic went on to miss an easy chance with only the goalie to beat. Ramsey looked shattered all game and clearly his Olympic exploits were catching up on him. Bale seemed full of energy, but he became more and more frustrated with the Welsh performance and tried to take on the Bosnia team by himself at times. The Bosnians clearly had a plan to deal with Bale and despite him breaking away occasionally, their plan came off brilliantly.
1-0 to Bosnia at half-time and thoroughly deserved.
At half-time, I left my Dad on the stands and went to get another pint. The queues were predictably long, but they went down quickly and I soon had a cold beer to enjoy at half time. Whilst drinking my beer, I noticed a policeman approach me – what had I done?! I clearly look like a friendly chap, as he just came over for a chinwag and to tell me that the deal was pretty much done for Van Persie to join United. The copper also claimed to know more about Welsh football than anyone after patrolling games at Swansea, Cardiff and Newport all last season – in all fairness, his knowledge was pretty good. I was then joined by Dan, a fellow Jack. Like several Jacks I know these days, I know Dan through Twitter and had met him briefly at White Hart Lane. Aside from being a nice guy, amazingly his surname is Bale – always a good thing in my books. After chatting to Dan about the dismal performance of Wales and the upcoming Swansea season, I headed back to my seat two minutes after the restart.
The first 5 minutes were much better from Wales, as they actually passed the ball to each other instead of passing wayward. But the sloppiness creeped back in and Wales sunk back to the lows of the first half. In the 54th minute, Stevanovic, the creator of the first goal, became goalscorer; Stevanovic darted towards the Wales box unmarked and with the Wales defence expecting a cross, he unleashed a rocket into the far corner. 2-0 to Bosnia and it looked game over already.
There was very little to get the 6,000 fans excited about after the 2nd goal. Coleman began to make changes with the hugely ineffective Simon Church coming off for Craig Bellamy; in Church’s defence he was playing out of position. Also introduced to the mix was Hal Robson-Kanu for Gareth Bale. Shortly after Joel Lynch came on for Darcy Blake for his Wales debut and Steve Morison, who I was surprised not to see start, came on for Sam Vokes.
The introduction of Craig Bellamy certainly added a bit of spark to the Wales team and he immediately started to make things happen. Bellamy even got a shot off! Something we hadn’t seen since Allen hit the bar at the start of the first half. I love Craig Bellamy, but I do find myself getting more and more concerned about how we are going to cope when we can no longer call on him in the near future.
There was very little to report in the closing stages, apart from the Bosnians infuriatingly maintaining possession with ease. Pjanic was eventually subbed and I had to stand and applaud him off; he’ll enter the pantheons of great players I’ve seen rip Wales apart alongside Seedorf and Litmanen.
The final sub for Wales was Robert Earnshaw but the game was effectively over. Final score 2-0 Bosnia and deservedly so far.
Now just to make the long walk around the fence and retail park again, despite almost being able to see our car about 50 yards away on the other side of the fence. As we were leaving, I noticed several people stopping for photos and posing next to the back of black Range Rover. It took me a while to realise why, but I eventually noticed the number plate “GB08 ALE” – this must be Gareth Bale’s Range Rover; I also took the photo opportunity.
On the way home, one look at my Twitter timeline told me that the other Welsh fans that attended the game that evening were not too keen on Parc Y Scarlets either to say the very least. I’ll leave it to Rhys Hartley (@HartleyR27) to sum the place up through his 140 character review of Parc Y Scarlets:
“Horrible ground. No pubs near, brick walls or fences all around and in a rugby town. Unable to get any atmosphere at all.”
Have to agree with most of that evaluation. Parts of it looked good and even in the stands it appears a tidy ground, but the place is utterly soulless. Not a place for football.
Highlights: The pie (wow!), decent facilities, large concourse, cheap tickets, Pjanic’s performance.
Low Points: That bloody fence! No pubs neaby (just Frankie and Benny’s), the back of the ground is ugly, expensive food and drink (admittedly the pie was worth it), the Wales performance.