In the closing months of my footballing travels around the country last season, a thought came to me regarding the groundhopping section of our website, “Lost in…”: for a Welsh football website there are only two featured Welsh grounds on our site at the moment – and even one of those is a ground that is chiefly used for rugby union. I made a decision that I needed to make more of an effort with groundhopping in my homeland in 2013/14, particularly in the North of Wales, a part of Wales that is still relatively unchartered by my South Walian self. Preseason would bring up the perfect opportunity to begin my football voyages of Cymru, as Atherton Colls had arranged a friendly at Glantraeth FC – a small club in the heart of Anglesey. It was safe to say that the trip to Anglesey with Colls was highly anticipated and it had been the talk of our preseason tour so far.
Gibbo, with his ties to Colls, had begun organising the trip months before the set match date of 20th July and it looked like he had gathered together big numbers for the trip to Glantraeth. Our journey to the club would be made via a coach from Atherton, costing an absolute bargain price of £10 for a return to North Wales. Throw in the fact that Glantraeth had brilliantly agreed to let us into the ground for free and we had ourselves an economically sound day out.
My day began with a stroll to the newly renovated Salford Crescent station (my usual port of call when travelling to Atherton) to catch the 9.55am train to Atherton. We were due to meet the rest of the gang at Atherton for a our departure from Colls’ Alder Street ground to the ‘Isle of Anglesey.’
On arriving at the station I bumped into fellow groundhopper, blogger and Colls sympathiser Zach Pierce in his Colls shirt. I was also wearing my newly acquired Colls shirt, although the shirt was far from brand new. Gibbo had texted me weeks before saying that he had rescued a load of old match worn Colls shirts from a bonfire when members of the club were clearing out the darkest depths of the club’s cellars – did I want one? Of course, I did. It was even made by Nike – posh indeed! One thorough wash later and it was (almost) as good as new.
By 10:15 we were arriving into Atherton having bumped into Buxton fan and groundhopper Alex McKenna and Stockport-based Colls fan Sean on the train and soon we were joined by Gibbo and Joe Lawton for the 5 minute walk to Alder Street.
“You can’t take that on with you mate,” was the instantaneous reaction of our coach driver when I arrived at the coach with a crate of Fosters; it seemed everyone else was being far more subtle with bringing their drink onboard. However, a bit of the old puppy dog eyes and a stern talking to from the driver about not causing a mess and I was onboard along with my crate. The only other stumbling block we had was with Gibbo and Colls club secretary Emil negotiating with the coach driver (a very serious man indeed it seemed) to pick up our fellow travellers Aaron and Rob Clarke from near Warrington – an arrangement put in place weeks before, but a route the driver felt was “out of his way” (it really wasn’t). After some negotiating the driver agreed to pick the lads up at Stretton Fox and we were off: the whole party of Colls fans, our little gang and the Colls players at the back end of the bus with coach Jasper.
By midday we were shooting across the North Wales coastline with not a care in the world. Moral was high and the coach wasn’t even that warm as we indulged in some beer. The only person who was struggling was Colls defender ‘Hilly’ who it appeared was prone to a bit of travel sickness.
Our early speed was soon halted as we passed Rhyl and for the next hour we had to endure cripplingly slow traffic, which prompted Colls coach Jasper to repeatedly question what on earth he was doing on a bus going all the way to Anglesey on such a fine summer’s day. He soon began listing places he could be instead which included watching stock car racing and watching Leigh Centurions. Amusingly, Jasper repeatedly blamed the whole trip on Gibbo and began damning him for supposedly organising a trip to such a far-flung place. It turned out the whole traffic queue was being caused by one measly caravan that had broken down by the side of the road! Once we had gotten ourselves past the obstruction and Colwyn Bay, we were now flying towards our destination and soon we were crossing the Britannia Bridge and driving past the ‘Welcome to the Isle of Anglesey’.
We were all aware that we were going into ‘the sticks’ of Anglesey, but I think we were all quite surprised at the route unfolding ahead of us as our bus took several scrapes and knocks from the trees and bushes alongside the narrow lanes we were navigating . The country lanes, farms and general lack of any sort of civilization suggested we were far from any footballing setup. Eventually the driver had enough and stopped the bus in the middle of one of the mazy country roads: “Anyone have any idea where the hell this place is then?” asked a clearly frustrated driver. He was assured that the ground was nearby, but in all fairness I think we could all understand his confusion as we did appear to be in the middle of nowhere. However, the driver dejectedly decided to plod on down the country lane we had parked on and all of a sudden there it was: Glantraeth FC. Sitting in the middle of the surrounding fields was a small football pitch, with a couple of shacks behind it and one small stand on one side. I think some people’s reaction on the coach was one of disbelief at having travelled so far to watch a game played in some fields with some of our fellow passengers even questioning “That can’t be it surely?” My reaction was one of joy. The ground looked a delight to me and I couldn’t wait to spend the afternoon there. After his traumas navigating the country lanes, the coach driver told us “If you come here again, don’t book with us!”
We alighted from the coach and we all headed straight for the adjacent field to take some photos of the ground. It really did look wonderful with the Welsh fields surrounding it (stereotypically, with sheep prancing around) and the amazing backdrop of the Snowdonia national park in the distance. Throw in the amazing weather and the ground was a truly picturesque sight – a groundhopper’s dream.
Glantraeth FC were formed in 1984 when landowner Iolo Owen gave the thumbs up for a football pitch to be laid next to the Glantraeth restaurant – hence the club’s name. Cae Glantraeth (‘Glantraeth Field’ for those not so familiar with the Welsh language) has been re-developed over the years by a whole host of committed club members as the club have risen from their humble beginnings in the Second Division of the Anglesey League to the champions of the Cymru Alliance (the second tier of Welsh football) in 2005/06. The club even opted to drop out of the Cymru Alliance in 2009 and take a temporary break from any football for the season, as the people at Glantraeth FC worked on improving the club’s facilities even further. The ground we were visiting today truly was superb – obviously not in regards of the facilities, but for its amazing scenery and the whole rustic feel to it.
Another huge thumbs up to the folk at Glantraeth FC for just letting us stroll into the ground with our crates of beer (half empty from our consumption on the coach), despite the club selling alcohol. I should add, however, that there was no real bar, but instead a small cabin selling cans of Fosters, Carlsberg and other ales from a small fridge, as well as some light snacks. After the long coach journey the whole Colls contingent made a beeline for this small cabin, “Hel’s Kitchen”, for some grub and poor Hel was swept off her feet with orders. Sadly, there were no pies on sale, but I did have a lovely ham roll for a bargain £1.30.
As I left Hel’s Kitchen, I encountered Emil explaining to the Glantraeth locals about his little mishap with the game’s commemorative plate: the silver plate, a token of friendship from Colls to Glantraeth for the day, was engraved with the word “Glentraeth” instead of “Glantraeth” – the locals seemed to find the funny side of it though and claimed that they are more than used to people getting their club name wrong.
We completed our usual lap of the ground taking photos, whilst the Colls players had a hasty warm-up on the pitch, before we decided to settle on the small grass banking along the one side of pitch to watch the game in the sunshine.
The first half action was a bit slow to get going but there was soon plenty to get the Colls fans cursing the referee (“Des Lynam” as Gibbo repeatedly dubbed him – I think it was meant as an insult, but I’m not sure) following the ref’s refusal to blow his whistle for two stonewall penalties; well, one of them might have been just outside the box actually.
I began to quiz Gibbo on who some of the new Atherton Colls players were:
“Who’s that guy, Gibbo?”
“That’s James Halpin – we signed him from Skelmersdale,” replied a clearly clued up Gibbo.
Interesting. Within seconds, for reasons even unbeknownst to myself, I had come up with a chant for the new signing, which Gibbo joined me in delivering a rousing chorus of:
“He came from the Skem/And now he’s at Colls/ We are really hoping that he scores lots of goals/ James Halpin!/James Halpin!Jaaammmess Halpin! James Halpin!”
Just call me the John Lennon of the non-league football circuit.
There was still time for Paul Prescott to completely fluff a one-on-one chance to put Colls ahead, before half-time came with the scores still locked at 0-0. It was now time for the real contest of the day: the half-time Glantraeth supporters v Colls supporters penalty shootout! Gibbo had arranged the shootout just before kick-off and throughout the first half we had even discussed which order we were going to take our pens in. I ‘baggsied’ penalty number 3.
The four penalties before mine had all been converted with Alex and Gibbo scoring for us. It was time for me to step up. When it comes to playing football, I’ve always been a woeful finisher, but I’ve always been quite good at penalties. I was confident I would score mine, relying on my usual penalty taking technique – staring at one corner to my right, slow side on run up and then smashing the ball as hard as possible into the corner to my left (How silly of me – I’ve just given away my secret now for any of you goalies that encounter me 12 yards in front of you in the future). Time stood still as I made my run up – would I let the Colls faithful down? No chance. WALLOP! Top corner. Unstoppable. Followed by a cool casual walk off.
My penalty was followed by another conversion by the next Glantraeth fan, before Aaron just about got his effort through the goalie. It was then Joe Lawton’s turn to pull off some goalkeeping heroics to deny Glantraeth and to give us the chance to secure victory. It was all on Rob Clarke’s young shoulders to secure victory for the Colls fans. An unfazed Rob stepped up and comfortably converted – cue jubilant scenes of celebrations as we all darted at Rob, tackled him and indulged in the compulsory penalty shootout victory pile-on. In fairness, we probably looked like utter dicks to the locals. Emil shouted me over to express how impressed he was with my finish and we did enter quick contract negotiations for me to sign for Colls – I’m still waiting to hear back from him though with the final package that needs to be checked by agent. Enough of our heroics anyway, it was time now to see if the real Atherton Colls could mimic our efforts and defeat the Welsh (by now, I’d already received tweets branding me a ‘Traitor’ for helping an English team defeat a Welsh team).
The second half continued in a similar fashion to the first with Colls having the better of the play, but struggling to really threaten the Glantraeth goal. There were a couple of half chances and our new favourite, Halpin, even hit the woodwork from a long way out after spotting the keeper off his line.
Once again, with even more beer in me now, I took to a spot of singing, this time to serenade the sheep in the field behind the goal with the old classic “Oh, fluffy sheep are wonderful!” chant regularly sung by us Swansea fans on our travels. I soon had a good number of our party joining in with the chant much to the bemusement of the people surrounding us. Safe to say, the Colls contingent had been a lot louder than some of the locals had expected with the Glantraeth coach even shouting across the field to one Atherton fan to “Shut up” after repeated appeals for a freekick.
There was time for one great chance for Charlie Stein to score, after great work down the left side from Gaz Peet, but his close range effort was hit wide and shortly after ‘Des Lynam’ would blow his whistle to end the game at 0-0.
With the game over and with time to spare whilst we waited for the players to get changed and ready to get back on the coach, there was only one thing to do: run onto the field and have an impromptu kickabout. One over-ambitious overhead kick by me has even left me with a dead leg a good 48 hours later – I’m preying it’s back to life tomorrow as walking today has been a real bugger.
Shortly after 17:30 we said our goodbyes to the ground (and the sheep) and we were soon heading back down the narrow roads towards the nearby village of Malltraeth where we had planned to go for a post match pint at the Joiners Arms. At first it did appear as though we were just walking into someone’s house with a couple of pub signs thrown on the front, but on entering we were met with a real traditional and pleasant pub. The staff were also excellent by eradicating the large queue by the bar by serving our crowd with beer at quite a pace. Moments after arriving there were shouts from the kitchen for both sets of players to come and collect their food – a meal of sausage, onions, peas and chips. Having watched the players devour their meals I soon realised that I was starving and I was delighted to hear another call from the kitchen inviting fans to pay £2 for the same food as the players. I was there in a flash and I’d eaten my food almost as quickly!
We said our thanks to the Glantraeth folk for being such great hosts on this lovely Sturday afternoon and then we were back on the road to Lancashire. With the sunsetting down past the Irish Sea, the North Wales coastline looked even better than it had earlier in the day. It really is a stunning part of the world, especially in the sunny weather.
A big thanks to Glantraeth FC for being great hosts and to everyone at Colls for letting us tag along for the trip. And what a trip! I can honestly say that Glantraeth’s home is certainly one of my favourite football grounds I’ve ever visited and in regards to scenery, it will be hard to top. I need to go groundhopping in the ‘Land of my Fathers’ more it seems!
Highlights: Bargain £10 return to Anglesey on the coach, one of the most scenic grounds I’ve visited, friendly local fans, free entry, winning the half-time penalty shootout, sheep 🙂
Low Points: stuck in traffic on entering North Wales, not a great game – 0-0 draw
Zach also wrote an account of the day on his excellent blog which can be read here.