Prestatyn Town v Newtown
Bastion Gardens / Welsh Premier League / 18th January 2014
As a Swansea supporter residing in Manchester, and with Cardiff City fans flocking into the city in their red shirts and their confused shouts of ‘Bluebirds!” for their game at the Etihad Stadium, I thought it was a good day to get out of Manchester. But where to go? Originally, my plan was to head down to Chester for Chester FC v Barnet, but the football trivia in my head informed me that Chester’s Deva Stadium is actually positioned literally just over the border into Wales and then the idea came into my head that I may as well just head into Wales properly instead.
No doubt my decision to head into North Wales for today’s trip was also inspired by my recent reading of Nathan Lee Davies’ Every Silver Lining has a Cloud, which I received as a Christmas present from my brother (along with a flat cap of course). Davies’ book sees him visiting and chronicling his trips to every ground in the Welsh Premier League, whilst also delivering his rollercoaster of a life story. For anyone who is into groundhopping, Welsh football or even just a bit of dark humour, then I highly recommend Every Silver Lining has a Cloud. Anyway, enough of book reviews – where the hell was I heading?
Undoubtedly, you have already worked out that I was off to Prestatyn as a) You read the title of this piece as most normal people do before reading an article or b) You follow me on Twitter and saw my incessant tweets about my trip. Plus, Prestatyn was obviously chosen for the potential party atmosphere, as it was the place where Alan Partridge used to supposedly go on ‘weekend benders’ to watch Wings – “the band the Beatles could have been” to quote Partridge further. Also, whilst we are talking of the Beatles, the town is also the birthplace of the Fab Four’s famous mentor Neil Aspinall don’t you know. There’s some useless knowledge for you.
I had vowed at the start of the season that I would make more effort in groundhopping my homeland, particularly North Wales. I loved my trip to Glantraeth FC with Atherton Collieries in July, so I was excited as I departed Manchester at 9.50am and made the train journey through Cheshire and then over the border towards the North Wales coastline.
Shortly after 11.20am, I arrived into Prestatyn with the grey sky overhead, although with little sign of impending rain it seemed. Prestatyn is located right on the Irish Sea coast in the county of Denbighshire and it was soon clear from my view of the town from the small footbridge which crosses the train track, that this was a small town (the population is around the 20,000 mark). I knew that the ground was somewhere down towards the seafront, but I decided to head towards the town centre and have a wander there first. There was not much of note really with the town being very pleasant and mainly made up of one high street, which consisted of very few of the usual high street retailers. In fact, the place generally comprised of independent shops, which is always quite nice to see, with one particularly interesting shop promising that it was ideal for unusual presents – something that was confirmed by the full suit of armour on sale for £400 outside of it.
With my little bit of exploring done, I headed into the Clwydian pub for a pre-noon pint. The pub call was also a required pitstop as I noticed that my camera had decided by itself to pack in and have the day off; despite my attempts at repairing it, I gave up and decided it was on my phone’s shoulders to capture my day out in Prestatyn.
After an uneventful visit in the rather pleasant Spoons-style Clwydian, I decided to move on. I had noticed a large place called the Offa Tavern next to the station on my arrival and so it was here I headed next as it was on the route to the ground. Despite the pub looking relatively ‘done up’ on the outside, the inside was far more ‘low key’ with the only pub dwellers being a couple of people near the bar and a table of women just away from it. The pub was friendly enough but I was slightly startled after ordering my drink to hear the deep, booming voices coming from the table of women near the bar. Something was amiss I thought, although it soon dawned on me that the pub was hosting a large group of cross-dressers and/or transgenders – I’m not against such things but it was a very strange way to start the day. I should have known really as I noticed adverts for a drag act on the pub window, as I was leaving the pub.
I decided to carry on in the direction of the sea and the ground, as I crossed back over the railway station. On getting to the other side I spotted the Victoria pub and opted to drop in there for my third watering hole visit of the day. Despite the Victoria also being all but empty (where was everyone in Prestatyn on this Saturday afternoon?), the pub was my favourite that I would visit in Prestatyn. The pub was not empty for long though, as two men arrived shortly after me and on hearing them talk to the barman about them going to the Welsh Premier clash just up the road, I engaged them in conversation. It transpired that they were also fellow South Walians with Jeff having travelled up from Cardiff and Scott from Ystrad Mynach – a small village only a couple of miles away from where I was brought up. Small world. Of course, the question of ‘why?’ arose and it turned out that Jeff’s son, also called Jeff, was none other than Newtown striker Jeff White. We continued to chat football, mainly about Leeds United and their diminished status and ground attendance, as they were on the TVs in front of us taking on Leicester City, before I said my farewells and headed off.
Quicker than I had anticipated, after 5 minutes of walking I spotted the floodlights of Prestatyn’s Bastion Gardens home creeping over the top of a street of houses and soon enough the ground appeared before me. There was still over an hour until kick-off, so I thought I ‘d continue to wander down to the seafront, which is literally a matter of minutes away from the ground.
I was expecting to encounter a beach of some sort down by the seafront, but I’m not sure if I was by the wrong area of the seafront or if the tide was in or something, but there was no beach to be found. Instead all I found was the Nova amusement centre and a view of the wind farm out to sea. I hope the Prestatyn tourist board don’t hunt me down, as I’m sure there are magnificent parts to the Prestatyn coastline – sadly, I just didn’t discover them here.
After staring at the sea for a bit and trying to find something to reflect on ( I think that’s what you are supposed to do when you are staring at the sea), I headed back down the road to the creatively named ‘Central Beach Club’ for my final prematch pub stop. The Beach Club appeared more like a house than a bar, but in a running theme to the others, there was only a small group of 5-6 people in this pub too. I was assuming everyone must have just headed straight to the clubhouse at the ground and I thought I may as well go and join them.
The entrance to Bastion Gardens would be relatively well hidden if it wasn’t for the signpost pointing the way to Clwb Pel-Droed (‘football club’ for those non-Welsh speakers), which is located at the end of a quite suburban-looking street, unsurprisingly also called Bastion Gardens. Down the side of the last house on the street, I found an alley that ran down the side of it and this led into the car park of Prestatyn Town FC. I paid my £7 and I was into the home of Prestatyn Town FC.
I’ll be honest and say that on first looks the ground didn’t really jump out of me as a ground full of lively character, but as with all ground visits I was going to give the place time – the aesthetics of a ground are usually a minor part of what makes a good football day out anyway.
On entering through the turnstile you are immediately greeted by a small hut acting as the club’s club shop, before the ground proper appears before you. Behind the far goal is an empty space, which I discovered later had a tiny fenced off area with the words ‘Academy Only’ instructing passersby not to breach the roped off square; not quite the youth football facilities you would find at English football’s top division equivalent. Behind the goals, where I had entered the ground, are pretty much all of the club’s facilities: changing rooms, club shop and social club.Then down one side of the pitch is a narrow, sheltered, seating stand, entitled the Martin Walsh Stand, with the far end of it having space for spectators to stand up under shelter. On the opposite side of the pitch is another open standing area, but with a tower on the halfway line consisting of what I assume is a police box, judging from the word ‘Police’ written on it, and a gantry at the top for the Sgorio contingent to film their match action.
I headed around into the clubhouse, which was a sizable one to say the least. The first room consisted of a food hatch and seating area surrounded by club memorabilia, which then led into the main bar area, which seemed atmospherically, dimly lit thanks to the blinds blocking out the window; this was obviously because of that silly ‘you-can’t-drink-beer-and-see-the-football-pitch’ law, which some absolute tool invented.
My first requirement was a place to charge my phone, as the battery was running worryingly low and as mentioned earlier I was relying on it for photo-taking purposes today. Thankfully, the lad behind the bar kindly said I could put my phone on charge in the corner of the clubhouse. The barman, clad in a red Prestatyn hoodie, then served me my beer and I was soon talking to him about my trip to the town from Manchester, although he seemed to know I was coming – it turned out he was the person behind the club’s Twitter account (@ptfcseasiders). In fact, within minutes of me arriving at the bar, a lot of people seemed to know that I was ‘that Swansea fan who had travelled from Manchester’ – I must have been talking loudly (or perhaps slightly drunkenly) or something. I should add in here that this is where it dawned on me how friendly a club I had stumbled upon, as complete strangers repeatedly asked me how I was with and hoped that I would enjoy my day. When one gentleman approached me about doing the club’s super 6 game, which I happily put a pound towards, he informed me that he was an exiled Exeter City fan, who was now a fully converted fan of Prestatyn. He seemed to think the same thing was going to happen to me, as he repeatedly slated me for mentioning Swansea too much “Stop saying Swansea! You are one of us now,” he exclaimed quite insistently. It was quite scary actually.
“Do you want to come see the Welsh Cup?” came a sudden question from my new barman friend. Of course I did, so off I was taken back into the other room where Prestatyn’s Welsh Cup, which they won in last year’s final against Bangor City, was proudly displayed. Next to the trophy was a picture of my barman friend suited up out in Geneva for the Europa League draw, which Prestatyn Town qualified for through their cup victory. I thought it was a bit odd that Prestatyn had sent the guy from behind the bar to oversee their historic Europa League draw with the bigwigs of UEFA out in Geneva, but I soon learned that my guide was not just the barman, but the bloody chairman, Leigh Williams! Class! That’s what football is all about at this level: the chairman serving you beer! Lee also pointed out the Four Four Two article about the club and the European adventure, which I remember reading in the summer and the pictures of Rijeka’s ground, the Croatian team who the Seasiders were drawn against. I was quite jealous that Leigh had had the opportunity to visit Rijeka’s ground, as having seen pictures of it before, it has to be one of the coolest looking grounds I’ve ever seen with it nestling neatly between a cliff edge and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Prestatyn crowd had made a great first impression on me with their welcoming attitude, although I probably didn’t help myself by mentioning that I’m friends with Aberdare Town’s club secretary (and fellow Swansea fan) Steve Pearce, as Aberdare defeated Prestatyn in the Welsh Cup in front of the Sgorio cameras to ensure that Prestatyn would not retain their trophy.
By the time I had finished perusing Prestatyn’s memory lane, the game was about to kick-off, so I headed out to pitchside, where I thought I had mistakenly stumbled into a Bayern Munich v Dortmund game with the clubs lining up in similar colours to the German giants (Prestatyn in red and Newtown in their yellow/black away kit). This was the Welsh Premier though and undoubtedly we could not expect such a quality affair as you would expect from a clash between the two German clubs. Or could we?
The games started at a 100mph with goals coming quick and fast in the opening exchanges. It took only 3 minutes for Lee Hunt to score a header from a great cross and to put the home team ahead. Great start! The game was a joy to watch with the game ebbing back and forth as both sides attacked.
I exclaimed to a nearby Prestatyn fan about what a great spectacle was unfolding out on the pitch and I soon got chatting to him and another couple of the home fans behind the goal. In similar circumstances to earlier in the day, it turned out that the man who I was chatting to was the club’s former chairman Phil Merrick – I was wondering would I meet any other chairmen or former chairmen today.
As I continued to chat away to Phil, Newtown equalised in the 17th minute with Luke Boundford converting the rebound from a worldly save from Simon Williams in the Prestatyn goal. I was gutted he conceded after such a superb stop.
3 minutes later, Prestatyn regained their goal advantage and I’ll say here that it has to be one of the best goals I’ve seen on my travels this season. A long ball was aimed towards Hunt on the edge of the box, who controlled brilliantly on the volley with his right foot, before lobbing the keeper with his left without the ball touching the floor once. It really was a joy to behold. 2-1 to Prestatyn.
However, once again Newtown levelled and it was inevitable that I would see Jeff White score for Newtown having met his Dad earlier in the day. White converted easily after a nice pass into the box by Matthew Hearsey to make it 2-2 and there wasn’t even 25 minutes on the clock. What a game so far!
I was now making my way around the ground to have a bit of a nose around and I made the silly mistake of walking through the narrow seating stand and forcing a lot of annoyed spectators to stand up to let me past. Eventually I arrived in the small standing area with what appeared to be the Prestatyn hardcore. “It’s that lad who’s writes a website,” came one of the shouts from one of the elderly fans, who sounded part impressed with me and part annoyed that I had infiltrated their main supporting area. Although they were more than happy to have me as a lucky charm shortly after my arrival amongst them.
If there’s been one running theme from my travels this season, it’s that I have a habit of seeing freekicks fly in, so as Andy Parkinson stepped up to hit a 20 yard freekick, I stated confidently that it was going in. Much to the delight of the people around me, Parkinson neatly placed his freekick low and into the bottom corner to make it 3-2 to Prestatyn.
Half-time: Prestatyn 3 – 2 Newtown. A brilliant first half and a superb advert for the Welsh Premier. I began thinking I need to watch more of the league having also seen another cracking game on Boxing Day as Port Talbot tore apart Afan Lido.
“You better put that on your blog!” came a voice behind me as I walked back to the clubhouse. “Mention his goal on the blog,” came the follow-up retort from Jeff White, Dad of Jeff White, who wanted to be sure that I mentioned Jeff White’s, son of Jeff White, goal for Newtown. Jeff White will be pleased that I did mention Jeff White’s goal. Well done Jeff White!
Half-time was spent in the club bar, which was rammed by the time I got in the bar area, but on getting my pint I mingled happily with the Prestatyn fans, who remained as friendly as earlier in the day.
I returned back to pitchside minutes into the second half and just in time to witness what was probably the deciding factor in the game’s result. With Parkinson through on goal, Newtown’s Shane Sutton blatantly pulled him back to deny a clear goalscoring opportunity. Penalty awarded, followed by a red card and Newtown had an uphill struggle on their hands; even more so when Hunt scored the penalty to complete his hatrick and to make it 4-2 to the home team.
By the 71st minute it was 5-2 as Parkinson got himself on the scoresheet again, after winning the ball from the onrushing Robins and placing the ball into the net past the retreating defenders.
By now I had rejoined Jeff and Scott in the corner of the stand and with the game effectively won, I decided to get behind cheering on Newtown and Jeff’s boy to score. Fairplay to Newtown for continue to battle even with ten men, but the player advantage for the home team was just too much for them.
Full-time: Prestatyn 5 – 2 Newtown. A game that the similarly-coloured Bayern and Dortmund would have been proud of – a great advert for the Welsh game.
Post match analysis was shared with another couple of pints in the club bar and it was fair to say that the Prestatyn faithful were delighted with their three points today, after a 7 game winless run. And I have to say that I was delighted for them as well, as I cannot praise the fans enough for their fun and pleasant nature and for making me genuinely welcome. The ground was decent enough without being mindblowing, but I’ll recall the people and fans at Prestatyn most fondly from my visit to the North Wales – and they’re the people who matter the most at a football club anyway. Cheers Prestatyn Town.
Highlights: friendly club with great fans, good clubhouse great game of football, Lee Hunt’s goal, The Victoria pub.
Low Points: empty pubs before game.