Whilst I’ve spent some of the summer weeks in South Wales, I was determined to tick off more Welsh League grounds. I’d heard good things about Ton Pentre’s Ynys Park, so in regards to clubs fairly local to my parents’ Quakers Yard home, that had been top of my list for a while. Conveniently, Ton Pentre would find themselves playing Aberdare Town on a Wednesday evening during my stay back in South Wales, so to Ynys Park I, with my Dad coming along, went.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, my Dad is well versed in Welsh League football grounds thanks to his playing days, so he knew exactly where to go, but to avoid the 5 o’ clock traffic around Pontypridd he said he’d takes us the scenic route up over the Cynon Valley and into the Rhondda valley where Ton Pentre sits. The views from on top of the valley were brilliant, despite it being a little misty. We even got out of the car on top of the valley in Penrhys to get some photos of the Rhondda below us.
After our detour of the heights of the South Wales valleys, we were in Ton Pentre soon enough. Like a lot of the South Wales valleys’ villages, Ton Pentre has seen a big decline in it’s industry and economy since the close of the coal mines, something that me and my Dad noted as we drove through the village and past countless closed down shops and pubs. However, Ton Pentre does undoubtedly have the best named fish and chips shop in the land: A Fish Called Rhondda. Just brilliant.
With the car parked just down the road from Ton Pentre’s Ynys Park, we went in search of a pub – it did not take long for us to find the New Inn. Despite the opening hallway stinking of piss, the New Inn was a great find. Cheap beer, cheap food (not that we had any) and it was very spacious inside – there is even a stage in there. I may be wrong, but I got the impression that it was the sort of place that would be very lively, but fun, on a Friday/Saturday night.
The time was now creeping towards the 19:30 kick off time, so we headed back to the car and drove to the end of road where we found a very narrow and not very sturdy feeling bridge (I’m not sure how we quite got the car over it) which led into the Ynys Park car park just behind the ground.
The current Ton Pentre club were formed in 1935, but there is evidence that proves that football had been played in the area as far back as the end of the 19th century. Ton Pentre FC have spent their entire history playing at Ynys Park. The Rhondda ground has seen some famous games over the year and the ground even had the Match of the Day cameras there in the mid 80s for their FA Cup clash against Cardiff City. The club even had European football come their way in the mid 90s after the club had finished 3rd in the League of Wales (now named the Welsh Premier); the club were placed in the now defunct Inter-Toto Cup and played games against Danish club Naestved, Portuguese club Uniao Leira and Holland’s Heerenveen, who, at the time, had a strike-force consisting of Jon Dahl Tomasson and Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Sadly though, the club had to play their games at Cardiff Arms Park and not their usual home. However, Europe almost killed off the club as the club plummeted into financial troubles, so much so that the club took the decision to resign from the League of Wales and instead play in the Welsh League. The club still plays in the Welsh League to this day, more specifically in the Welsh League Division One (second tier).
In an aside to the club’s history, the ground also has Harrison family history, as my Dad reminisced about how he had once scored a goal from the halfway line at Ynys Park when he played for Tynte Rovers. On entering the ground my Dad even began to try to pick the exact spot he had scored from, before learning that he could smoke inside the ground and sparking up a cigarette.
The ground itself is a bit of hidden gem – it’s a brilliant little ground. On the halfway line is a small sheltered seated stand with, and don’t ask me why, two rabbits living on a small area behind it (one loose ball headed over the stand and towards them in the second half and one Aberdare fan swore one of the rabbits leaped high into the air and headed the ball). On the opposite side of the pitch are the dugouts, although there is no stand on that side of the pitch, as well as there not being one behind the one goal (the goal my Dad thinks he scored into, but he swears there was another stand there before). Behind the other goal is a large sheltered standing terrace, which takes up the whole area behind the goal and the stand also houses a small food/drink hatch in the corner of it. An interesting quirk of the ground is the large building which sits in the corner of the ground and houses the changing rooms, offices etc. as well as the large clubhouse bar. However, the changing rooms were all on the upper story of the building meaning that the players emerged onto the pitch from the steep steel steps leading down from the upper floor – I wondered how many players must have fallen down those over the years? I should also mention that the ground has a stunning backdrop with the Welsh hills surrounding it on both sides – very scenic indeed.
We decided to hold fort on the halfway line for the start of the game and it was here that I met up with my Swansea supporting pal Steve Pearce and his son Dylan, who was track-suited up in Aberdare colours for the day. I should explain that Steve, as well as being a Jack, has a big role at Aberdare Town chiefly as the club treasurer. As Steve is a Swans fan and he had a vested interest in Aberdare, I agreed to support them for the night with the few other fans who had travelled over from the Cynon Valley to support the away team.
However, with the game only minutes old and with Ton Pentre the more lively team in the opening exchanges, I realised I was starving and headed to the food hut to get my self a very decent cheeseburger for £1.90 (no pies here) – it certainly did the job anyway! Back to the game.
I’d seen Ton Pentre play in a preseason friendly only a couple of weeks before at Llantwit Fardre and I’d been impressed with some of their neat football (especially in the first half of that game) on that day and today there seemed to be more of the same. It was unsurprising when Ton Pentre took the lead after a slick team move led to a perfect cross coming in from the right wing for Nickie Jones (who I’d been impressed with at the Llantwit game) to head home. 1-0 to the Bulldogs.
Aberdare remained under pressure until half time, but they held on and the score remained 1-0 to the home team at half time. To the clubhouse for a drink. And what a great clubhouse it is! It does have the feel of an old, traditional working men’s club, but with the wall’s covered in various football memorabilia, such as a signed Wales football shirt (Toshack era) and a signed Fulham shirt, donated to the club by former Ton Pentre player Alex Lawless, who moved from Ton Pentre to the West London club in 2003 (he now plays for Luton). After having a quick drink and perusing the various memorabilia and pictures scattered around the clubhouse, we headed back out pitch side and rejoined the Aberdare lot, who had now added another fan to their ranks – an old man who was clearly crazy; he did not stop shouting at the team and barking instructions at them for the whole game, Steve informed me that this was a regular occurrence at Aberdare games.
Aberdare Town were like a completely new team in the second half and they actually began to hold onto the ball, something they’d failed to do for the entirety of the first half. It seemed inevitable that an equaliser would come and it did in the 54th minute, as Sam Danby beat the offside trap and then confidently lifted the ball over the keeper and across the line via the far post. Cue one Aberdare fan sneaking under the barrier and celebrating a few yards onto the pitch, before being told to move off by the linesman; he genuinely seemed to not realise that he had done it when the linesman instructed him to get off the pitch – I guess that’s what the passion for one of your team’s goals can do to you sometimes.
The goal sprung the game into life and it was all of a sudden a much more open game. Ton Pentre had the chance to retake the lead as Jaymie Wearn went through on goal only to smash his effort wide of the goal, but then the lead was there for the taking for Aberdare when Ross Porter (someone who I’ve played 5-a-side with on a few occasions actually) was adjudged to have fouled in the box. Penalty to Aberdare, Steve explained to me that Ton Pentre’s goalie used to play for Aberdare and had never saved a penalty for them; of course, fate would have it that he would save the penalty this evening against his former club, although admittedly, it was a very poor penalty.
It was then sad to see the young Ton Pentre number 10 Dorian Sweet (brilliant name!) be subbed, as we’d all agreed on the touchline that he looked quite some player. The last 25 minutes were still quite open and it was a very entertaining affair, but with the clock heading towards 90, Aberdare found their moment to pounce. As Aberdare went through on goal, the home team’s goalie tried to narrow the angle only for the ball to slip past him and towards Aberdare’s Lewis Hitchcock to easily finish. 2-1 to Aberdare in the last minute and it looked to be game over, but there was still just enough time for the highlight of the whole game.
With moments of the game left Ton Pentre began throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at Aberdare and they looked to have snatched a point with the final play of the game. As the ball came into the box, a Ton Pentre player rose in the box and connected with a powerful header, which was flying into the bottom corner – he couldn’t have placed it any better; however, somehow…somehow the Aberdare goalie, Tom Bradley, threw himself down to his left and fingertipped the ball over – I honestly doubt I’ll see a better save on my travels this season. It was incredible! Nobody in the ground could quite believe it. And with that Bradley had secured his club all 3 points as the ref blew his whistle to call time on the game.
Full time: Ton Pentre 1 – 2 Aberdare Town. An entertaining game.
We said our goodbyes to Steve and the gang and headed to the car park and hoped that that bridge was still strong enough to get my Dad’s BMW across and not plunge us into the river.
I loved Ynys Park and I’d highly recommend a visit to any other groundhoppers or in fact anyone that just wanted to go watch some cheap, decent football.
Highlights: the scenic route over the valleys, The New Inn, cheap entry, good ground, good clubhouse, nice valleys backdrop to the ground, entertaining game,
Low Points: eh…no pies there I guess, but I am being really picky here!