Aberdare Town v Caerau (Ely)
Aberaman Park / Welsh League Division One/ 12th April 2014
On to day 2 of my weekend of South Walian football and having attended Taffs Well v Aberbargoed Buds the day before, I found myself back at Welsh League Division One football as today’s football fix would be delivered by Aberdare Town v Caerau.
Aberdare is a place that played a large part in my football upbringing with my childhood being frequented by regular Wednesday night trips to Michael Sobell Sports Centre to watch my Dad play 5-a-side with my uncle and their old football pals. Then finishing the night by heading to either the Rock Inn or to the bar in Michael Sobell’s to watch whatever that week’s European football offering was on ITV.
It was on the grounds where Michael Sobell Sports Centre stood that Aberdare Athletic once played; a team that once resided in the Football League and were actually the first team voted out of it. I wrote an article all about that original football incarnation in the town on this very blog and you can read all about it here, to save me going through that history lesson again.
A couple of years ago, I met Swansea fan Steve Pearce in the brilliant Vine pub in West Bromwich, before a WBA v Swansea game. Steve is the treasurer of Aberdare Town FC and having shared many drinks with him since that day (especially out in Malmö), I’ve repeatedly promised him that I will make a visit to his Welsh League club soon. After several delays over the past year or so, I finally decided that this was the weekend to live up to my word and visit Aberaman Park whilst I was back in Wales for the week.
Technically, this piece could have been titled ‘Lost in…Aberaman’ or ‘Lost in…Abercwmboi’ as the ground sits in the middle of these two small villages on Aberdare’s doorstep, but since I began my day in Aberdare town centre, I opted to go with the club name in the title.
My wandering of Aberdare would begin at a place I have frequented many times: Yr Ieuan ap Iago – or Wetherspoons to everyone else. In typical Welsh fashion, the pub was full of women off on a ‘girls’ holiday’ with the self-branded ‘Dirty Dozen’ having names on the back of their shirts such as ‘Lick It Lisa’. I should add that as far as Wetherspoons go, the Aberdare branch has always been one of my favourites, but after one drink I decided to head deeper into Aberdare town.
I was disappointed to find the infamous ‘Con Club’ seemingly closed, so having had a stroll down the main high street and through Aberdare market I headed into a pub I had never been in before. The Prince of Wales is different to most pubs I’ve visited with its saloon-style openness. The pub is also one of several pubs across the South Wales valleys owned by the Rhymney Brewery. After sharing a beer amongst the locals, I decided that I had seen enough of Aberdare’s town centre for one day and I decided to head towards the ground.
Walking it to the ground would be quite a trek, so I got myself a taxi and made my way towards Aberaman Park. “I’m sure I know you?” enquired the taxi driver. I knew I recognised him too and after a bit of investigating we worked out that this was the taxi driver who had driven us home from Aberdare after celebrating Swansea’s glorious 3-0 victory in the South Wales derby.
It was still fairly early, so I thought instead of heading straight to the ground, I would make a sentimental visit to The Rock Inn for the first time in about 15 years or so. Plus, it is conveniently en route to the ground and about a 10 minute walk away from my final destination. The Rock I remember was a bustling place of energy, but despite being very much as I remember it on the inside, there was certainly no ‘bustling’ atmosphere with the pub’s attendance consisting of myself, a young lad behind the bar and an older bloke, who left shortly after me entering, leaving me as the pub’s only customer. Fortunately, the lad behind the bar was a Swans fan and soon talk turned to football. My new friend, Matty, also turned out to be from Merthyr and knew quite a few people I know, so we had plenty to talk about. Top lad and he was great company, before I opted to leave with around 40 minutes until Aberdare’s 14:30 kick-off.
Shortly after 2pm, I found myself outside Aberdare Town’s Aberaman Park home and after paying my £5 I was in; although I was quite disheartened, as I initially thought I’d be able to get in the ground for free as a ‘groundhopper’, but I then realised that I had misread the sign and it actually said ‘Grasshoppers – free’ – tight-arse grasshoppers getting their football for free!
The club only adopted the name Aberdare Town for the 2012-2013 season, having appeared under numerous guises before that, but mainly as Aberaman Athletic. That name would be the name that the club were founded under in 1892. During the 1920s they would merge with Football League Third Division South club Aberdare Athletic and eventually become Aberdare and Aberaman Athletic. Following the new club’s demise and relegation from the Football League, the newly merged club was quickly disbanded and Aberaman went solo again, whilst Aberdare folded. The club continued to play as Aberaman until the name change with the club playing at Aberaman Park for around the last 25 years (although I couldn’t find anything to verify this fact, so feel free to correct or educate me).
Aberaman Park is a simple yet pleasant ground with the one stand giving the place plenty of character. The main stand sits atop a steep banking making it quite an imposing presence. The stand has plenty of seating and a pathway going down the middle of it to pitch leading down to pitchside – something that is certainly quite quirky and gives the place some individuality. At the top of the stand is a large clubhouse and it was here I headed first.
Despite its looks from the outside, the bar area is deceptively large. It is very impressive in there with a very neat and polished look and a whole host of old football shirts from Wales internationals to Premier League stars such as Bergkamp and Henry decorating its walls. And any clubhouse that has a small air hockey table is good by me! However, there was one factor that made this club bar even more epic than most: £2.50 a pint! Bargain! Having been on away trips with Steve, I knew a combination of him, football and £2.50 beer was going to lead me to inevitably leaving the ground later that day in a state. I was unsurprised to find Steve, along with fellow Swans fan Bob, in the clubhouse on my arriving at Aberaman Park.
By the time the two teams were walking down the pathway towards the ground, I was coming towards the end of my pint, but I could still conveniently finish it whilst watching on from the windows of the elevated clubhouse.
5 minutes later, as the game had just got underway, I headed out to have a nose of the ground, but not before getting something to eat. This is something I only noticed when I moved to the North-West, but for whatever reason the North of England just don’t seem to be interested in corned beef pies or pasties just as my native South Wales seems to be not too fond of anything meat and potato-related. I’ve even noticed that Greggs directly swap them in their bakeries depending on whether it is Welsh or Northern branch. Fortunately, I’m partial to either (although the adopted northerner in me is starting to veer in the direction of meat and potato), but I was unsurprised to find corned beef pasties the food offering this afternoon. More impressively, the club also sold Welsh cakes, but as the game plodded on, I wanted something a bit more substantial to eat.
As the game continued, I made my way around to the other side of the ground to join Steve. This side of the ground is completely open with only foliage to stop any stray footballs flying away (more on that later) and the foundations of a stand – a stand that was never built and probably won’t be built for some time unless Aberdare come into a bit of money. There was also a raised scaffolding platform on this side of the ground, which I was assuming remained following Aberdare’s recent Welsh Cup exploits on Sgorio which saw the club impressively reach the quarter final stage, before bowing out to Welsh Premier team Bala Town; the club had even knocked out the holders Prestatyn en route to the quarter finals.
I joined Steve on this side for much of the first half and to be honest in regards to the game, it was a fairly slow starter with both teams cancelling each other out. Perhaps they needed a striker on the pitch like Steve’s 10-year-old son Dylan, who had that morning scored a hatrick for the youth team and thus claimed his 100th goal of the season! Top effort!
As Aberdare got a foothold on the game and began to gain the upper hand they took the lead through their striker Richard French, a player who had impressed in the first twenty minutes.
After Steve had given me the lowdown on the team (or at least given me a remainder about the players as I had actually seen Aberdare play earlier in the season at Ton Pentre, where I witnessed probably best save I’ve seen on my travels this season) I completed my lap of the ground and headed back up to the clubhouse as the half-time whistle sounded.
Half-time: Aberdare Town 1 – 0 Caerau.
With Swansea not playing until the Sunday (which would be game number 3 of my weekend), there were plenty of games at the bottom of the Premier League for us Swansea fans to keep an eye on. I was quite surprised how many Jacks were at Aberdare actually, but they were easy to spot in the club bar by their worried faces as results down the bottom of the league were going against Swansea. Today wasn’t about Swansea City though (well, every day usually is for us fans, but you know what I mean) and remembering it was £2.50 a pint, all was good in the world again.
The second half was a much more frantic game of football as the away team tried to force their way through for an equaliser. Eventually, Caerau would grab their equaliser from the penalty spot on the 55th minute.
Almost immediately after, it was 2-1 as the Aberdare defence crumbled and then Caerau made it 3-1 and to make it seem that the 3 points were in the bag. However, Aberdare had other ideas and they attempted to battle themselves back into the game; almost literally at times as one scuffle on the ball led to two rival players rolling onto the floor and bringing out the metaphorical ‘handbags’ with the Caerau player accusing the Aber player of eye gouging him. I thought both were quite lucky to escape with only yellow cards.
Eventually Aberdare got their goal late on to make it 3-2 and the last few minutes were surely going to be frantic. Unfortunately, Caerau made sure that the game would never really get going again in the closing stages as they deployed a series of time-wasting techniques – mainly trying to get the ball out to the ‘stand-less’ side. I had spent the second half on this side watching the game with Steve, but by the last ten minutes, watching the game had become a secondary function as I was now deployed as a makeshift ball boy to stop the ball escaping into the foliage. I even ended up giving the referee a earful, something I hardly ever do, as Caerau’s player/manager (an ex-Aberdare player I was told) literally picked the ball up before a freekick and purposely threw it over the wall and towards the foliage; I dashed after it with some purpose just to defy his antics.
Sadly, despite my shift as a hardworking ball boy, Caerau held on to secure the 3 points.
Full-time: Aberdare Town 2 – 3 Caerau.
Back at the bar, there was once again a congregation around the large TV screen with Jeff Stelling’s face emanating from it and his voice booming out today’s football scores across the clubhouse. Games were beginning to finish across the country and once again there was frustration, as today’s results had all gone against Swansea and their fight against relegation. Not to worry though, as just like at half-time, £2.50 pints came to the rescue to cheer us all up.
That night, I was heading straight from Aberdare to Cardiff to meet up with my two mates and to have a night out in the capital. I thought, “I may as well stay for a pint or two to keep the party going for tonight.” By the time I turned up on my mate’s doorstep in Cardiff, I was certainly rather worse for wear. Cheers Aberdare Town for all the (cheap) beer!
Highlights: Like Aberdare Town, good pubs, great stand at the club, grasshoppers get free entry apparently, good clubhouse, £2.50 pints.
Low Points: chasing after the ball for a chunk of the 2nd half because of Caerau’s time-wasting.