Port Talbot Town v Afan Lido
Victoria Road / Welsh Premier League / 26th December 2013
I think Leon Britton sums the place up well when he talks about the first time he drove up the M4 from London towards Swansea as he joined the Swans on loan from West Ham over 10 years ago:
“You’re not too sure what it is at first. All of a sudden you see all this steam and smoke and the signs are saying Swansea’s five miles away!”
Little Leon was of course talking about the small town that almost acts as a gateway to Swansea itself: Port Talbot.
I think it would be fairly safe to say that the sight of Port Talbot would have made Leon wonder what he had let himself in for – as many before and after him have also probably wondered. Put bluntly, Port Talbot is not the prettiest of sights with its steelworks dominating the skyline near Swansea. Even during my 3 years living in Swansea with my bedroom overlooking the pleasant sight of Swansea beach, the steelworks and its steaming chimneys intruded on the scene with its imposing stance on the other side of Swansea Bay. However, looks aren’t everything.
After a look at the fixture list and some consultation just before Christmas dinner, me and my Dad decided we would head to Port Talbot for our Boxing Day football fix. The town was hosting its big local derby, as Afan Lido would make the short half mile journey up the road to Port Talbot Town and their Victoria Road home.
Despite living in Swansea itself during my university years, it occurred to me as we set off down the A470 towards our destination that I had never even set foot in Port Talbot. Perhaps I was intimidated by its cold looking, steel exterior. For those less acquainted with the area, Port Talbot is a small town of around 40,000 inhabitants located on the eastern edge of Swansea Bay with the city of Swansea visible across the water. As mentioned previously, the town is renowned for its steelworks and some have even claimed that the town is the most polluted in Wales and in the UK aside from London.
However, despite maybe not being the most beautiful of places, there is clearly something special in the water there (although that may just be pollution from the factories) as the town can brag about the whole host of talented individuals they have raised and delivered to the whole world: comedians Rob Brydon and Rhod Gilbert hail from the town and world-renowned actors Sir Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton and Michael Sheen are all Port Talbot lads.
Ex-Swansea player and coach and current Liverpool assistant manager Colin Pascoe is also from the town and even held the assistant manager role at Port Talbot – he hasn’t done too bad for himself since.
Football is a big part of the town with local clubs Port Talbot Town and Afan Lido playing in the Welsh Premier and Tata Steel and Goytre United playing further down the Welsh pyramid. I think most would agree that a large portion of the town’s football fans are Jacks, but there is definitely a Cardiff City contingent present in the town – as I was to find out.
Our first port of call happened to be the Burgess Green pub, located about a ten minute walk from the ground. Despite looking very pleasant from the outside, the pub had the appearance of a classic Welsh working men’s club on the inside. And then I spotted it: whilst my Dad finished his cigarette outside and I bought the drinks, I found myself eye to eye with the now defunct Bluebird crest of Cardiff City. Not the best pub choice. Fortunately the pub did not appear to be a haven for Cardiff hooligans on this Boxing Day afternoon and despite every sentence the locals uttered containing the word “fucking” in it, the place was relatively harmless. In fact, the locals were more engrossed with the disaster that had struck this Boxing Day: that of Tesco being closed for the 2nd day running; it sounded like the town had come to a chaotic standstill because of it.
By 13:45 we found ourselves outside Port Talbot Town’s Victoria Road, with plenty of time for the 14:30 kick-off. In a nice touch in ode to the stadium’s nickname, we were greeted by the message “Croese i’r Sand Siro” (Welcome to the Sand Siro) – I’m assuming a nod to the ground’s proximity to the beach.
Port Talbot town have existed in some sort of form since 1901, although the current club only really spawns from the Port Talbot Atheltic, who were formed shortly after the end of World War II. The club began life playing in the Swansea Senior League before progressing in the national league a decade later. The club has always plied its trade in the Welsh football pyramid, usually in the top two tiers, although there has been the odd fall from grace. The Steelmen have now played in the Welsh Premier League since the start of the century and with that promotion came a hefty refurbishment of their Victoria Road home (now called ‘The Gen Quip Stadium’ for sponsorship purposes) with the installation of floodlights, a new stand, a TV gantry and turnstiles. A season later, to celebrate the club’s centenary year, the club changed its name from Port Talbot Athletic to Port Talbot Town.To further boost the club and to help improve commercial aspects of the setup, there was even talks about Port Talbot merging with their local rivals Afan Lido, but despite some officials from Lido being in favour of the merger, the idea was eventually quashed.
On entering through the turnstiles, after paying our £5 entry, we were met with the sight of the Gerald McCreesh Stand in front of us on the opposite side of the pitch, a large 750 all seater stand that is the most modern in the ground. Directly, to the right of the turnstiles is the main stand, which is also all-seater but doesn’t run the length of the pitch like the Gerald McCreesh Stand opposite it. The main stand houses the changing rooms and has the dugouts just in front of it (noticeably far apart I felt). Also on this side of the pitch is another small building which houses the Steelmen’s clubshop as well as a small sort of tuck shop setup. Behind the far goals is nothing apart from a small unsheltered standing area and a high fence protecting the houses and gardens behind it from another stray footballs, whilst behind the opposite goal is another open standing area, although this one is atop a banking meaning that the spectator can watch the action from a nice little vantage point. Also, most important of all, behind this goal stands the clubhouse and it was here we headed on entering Victoria Road.
Even with 30-40 minutes to go until kick-off, the clubhouse was already packed with people enjoying Boxing Day drinks and watching the Hull v Manchester United game on the one widescreen TV present in the bar. As we walked to the bar, I noticed a familiar face in Welsh football writer Mark Pitman, who writes an excellent Welsh football blog (which you can read here) amongst many other Welsh football writing ventures and who has even written on this very site (read his account of ‘Top Boyo’ Eifion Williams right here). Despite the exchange of words over Twitter, I’ve never actually met Mark before, so it was nice to finally say hello properly.
We tried to position ourselves in a part of the bar where we could watch the game on the TV, but the fact that the clubhouse only had one TV and the fact that the small bar area was already so busy, finding a suitable spot proved tricky. Eventually we decided that we weren’t that bothered about watching United’s 3-2 comeback against Hull and my Dad instead headed outside to pitchside; with kick-off approaching I followed closely behind him, although not before buying a chip butty (£1.50) at the clearly over-worked food hatch within the clubhouse.
My Dad decided that he was going to watch the game from the railed off area at the top of the banking behind the goal, whilst I went for a wander of the ground as the game kicked off.
My first port of call was the small corner of the Gerald McCreesh where all the noise was coming from – the area housing the 1901 Ultras. Fairplay to that small contingent of fans, they did not stop making noise for almost the entirety of the 90 minutes; in true European football fans style, they even unveiled a small tifo just before kick-off of a boxer in blue shorts punching a boxer in red shorts – I assumed representing Port Talbot pummeling Afan Lido. The cries and songs of Port Talbot were accompanied by banners, flags, the beat of a drum and even a trumpet. The trumpeter provided me with one of the most humourous aspects of the day with his repeated and failed attempts to play Jingle Bells; he had mastered the opening line, but just couldn’t quite conjure up the rest of the song. Speaking of songs, my favourite musical moment of the day had to come from the 1901 Ultras scathing chants at the Afan Lido fans: “Where’s your swimming pool gone?” – a pop at the famous swimming pool at Afan Lido Leisure centre which burnt down in 2009. Harsh, but very funny at the same time. They finished off their chant attack with “Get out of our swimming pool!”
The game itself was a bit slow to get going as both teams took their time to find their feet in this local derby. It was clear that Port Talbot, who sat two places above rock bottom of the Welsh Premier before kick-off, were the better team and it was maybe just about fair that they took the lead shortly before the half hour mark. The goal came courtesy of Martin Rose, who had impressed me so far, who headed home easily at the back post from a precise cross. Port Talbot remained comfortable for the rest of the half and put themselves 2-0 just before the half-time whistle with Gethin Jones finishing after another defensive collapse from the away team.
Half-time: Port Talbot Town 2 – 0 Afan Lido.
Predictably, half-time was spent in the clubhouse, which was packed once again as crowds gathered around the TV to watch the Scarlets v Ospreys egg-chasing game. In fact, I think some people had just sat in the clubhouse for the duration of the first half watching the end of the United game and then staying there for the rugby.
The second half was to be far more one-sided as Port Talbot tore Afan Lido apart. The half began with Craig Richards in Lido’s goal making a string of saves to keep the score at 2-0. However, the respite was short-lived and by the hour mark the Steelmen were 3-0 up as Lewis Harling buried a rebound from another Richards save.
By now, the Ultras had switched from their spot in the Gerald McCreesh Stand to the open area behind the far goals and were celebrating the goals as loud as earlier, as the trumpeter, complete with novelty animal hat, still tried to grasp the tune of Jingle Bells.
Just over ten minutes later, it was 4 as the impressive Rhys Griffiths got himself on the scoresheet with a left-footed shot flying low into the bottom corner.
There was some consolation for Afan Lido as they pulled a goal back in the 72nd minute through striker Alex Chrysanthou. I’d felt sorry for Chrysanthou, as I felt the striker was doing well, but there was just no-one around to help him and he was left with a thankless task of trying to lead the line pretty much by himself. He very much deserved his goal, although perhaps his team didn’t.
Shortly after former LA Blues Lost Boyo Chad Bond came on for Port Talbot, the final goal of the game came courtesy of Rhys Griffiths once again, who grabbed his 8th goal of the season with a header to put him joint top goalscorer in the league.
Although the scoring was finished, there was still time to add to Afan Lido’s woes, as substitute Scott McCoubrey rightfully received a straight red card for a rash challenge. And with the clock past the 90 minute mark, Casey Thomas received his marching orders after earning himself a second yellow card. I’d seen Thomas play several times for Swansea’s youth team when they used to play at St. Helens near where I lived in Uni and I always thought he would go on to have an impact at Swansea City. He played a few times under Paulo Sousa when he was in charge of the Swans, but he disappeared under Brendan Rodgers. It was quite sad to see him play on this afternoon as he has clearly had a massive fall from grace – he’d had absolutely no impact on today’s game.
Full-Time: Port Talbot Town 5 – 1 Afan Lido.
A very enjoyable Boxing Day fix of football with the 400 plus fans who had come to the game. We had paid £5 and seen 6 goals, giving less than a pound a goal, enjoyed the songs and chants of the 1901 Ultras and ultimately seen some good football on show, especially in the second half. I was actually surprised how good a ground Victoria Road is and definitely lives up to and betters many of the non-league grounds I have visited on the other side of the border. I’d definitely recommend a visit to the Sand Siro for any Swans fans who have a free Swansea City-less weekend. As the sign says outside the ground: Forza PTT!
Highlights: good ground, 1901 Ultras, plenty of goals, cheap entry.
Low Points: clubhouse was packed.