AFC Porth v Pontardawe Town
Dinas Park / Welsh League Division One / 15th April 2014
So it was coming to the end of my week back home in the South Wales holidays and with a weekend of football fun at Taffs Well, Aberdare Town and Swansea City (although slightly less fun because of Chelsea’s win), I decided to squeeze in one more game on the Tuesday night, before heading back up north the next day. There were a couple of Welsh League offerings and it was just a case of whittling down the one game to go to. After briefly flirting with the idea of heading to the coast and the rural town of Llantwit Major, I eventually talked myself into staying in the valleys and heading to AFC Porth v Pontardawe Town – plus, their Twitter account, @AFCPorth, had swayed me when they told me that tea/coffee was served in mugs at their abode and there might even be a chance of a free one on the house for me.
It was a glorious sunny day as I departed the house and instead of heading to Quakers Yard train station, I decided to take a pleasant stroll down the Taff Trail to Abercynon train station. The trip from Abercynon to Porth would take approximately 25 minutes with a change being needed in Pontypridd. I pondered the change in Ponty and thought I’d make a pit stop there on my arrival, which I did at around 3pm. Of course, a pit stop for me consists of visiting a couple of Pontypridd pubs and so I enjoyed a pleasant drink in The Tumble Inn (the town’s resident Wetherspoons pub), before nipping next door to the Skinny Dog. Not Ponty’s most glamorous spots, but they did the job and by 4pm I was making the short train journey to Porth.
Translated from Welsh into English, Porth means ‘gate’ and it evident to see why on arriving in this rural village, as it is here where the Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach valleys meet and lead up into the rest of the Rhondda valley. Like much of the South Wales valleys, Porth’s history is steeped in coal mining with the village expanding dramatically as transport links down the Rhondda improved throughout the 19th and 20th century. An important figure on the history of Porth was William Evans, an entrenpeneur from Pembroke who opened the Welsh Hills mineral water factory, which would go on to be the home of the soft drinks brewery Corona (not the beer you put lime in). More relevant to my lifetime, that factory would go on to be converted into The Pop Factory, a recording studio named after the ITV Wales TV show that was also recorded there. The new incarnation of the building was opened by Tom Jones smashing a bottle of dandelion and burdock against its walls in 2000, but the weekly music TV show would last only until 2008 when it was suddenly cancelled. In fairness, I used to enjoy The Pop Factory – think a tacky, low budget Top of the Pops if it was done in the South Wales valleys and generally centred around bands from Wales.
These days, the main hub of the town is Hannah Street and it was here I found myself walking down having alighted at Porth station. Apart from the usual charity shops, newsagents, butchers and kebab shops, there was little to see here, so I’ll take this opportunity to drop in my favourite random fact about Porth: there is a crater on Mars called Porth crater, which is named after the very Porth I was now walking through. Interesting indeed.
Having completed a lap of the village, I found myself walking towards the latest addition to the Porth entourage: the Rheola bridge. The quite pretty arch bridge looms over a river, railway track and a pub below it and it was actually this pub, the Rheola Hotel, that gave the bridge its name. I supposed that I better pay the place a visit then.
“Well, make your mind up mun! Do you want me to put on Tipping Point or Fifteen to One?” were the calls of a clearly antagonised barmaid as I entered the Rheola, as a gathering of men in the pub began shouting their votes out for the quiz show they wanted to test their knowledge on this Tuesday afternoon. After several attempts, the barmaid gave up and put Tipping Point on one screen and Fifteen to One on another TV in the far side of the pub; it seemed nobody could be bothered to budge, so eveyrone was stuck with Ben Shepherd’s quiz show offering of Tipping Point. I recently bragged about how I’m on a roll finding nice ales in pubs, but my run was to come to an end today with a pint of Young’s London Gold, which just was not going down well. Speaking of not going down well, it seemed my superb run of correct answers on Tipping Point was angering the locals, as they soon seemed to perceive me as some sort of ‘clever clogs’. The final straw came when the locals insisted Dame Shirley Bassey had only sung 2 Bond songs, whilst I assured them it was 3 (everyone forgets Moonraker); when the light flashed up on ‘3’ one angered local rumbled “You need to get out more.” When I explained to him that I was attending my 98th game of football this season and that I had been out plenty, he faltered before declaring I need to get a life instead.
With enough of exercising my brain in the Rheola, it was time to exercise my legs and make the walk to AFC Porth’s Dinas Park home. It dawned on me that I didn’t really know where I was going, so out came the Google Maps app on my phone to direct me there. I was a bit irritated I didn’t check the map sooner, as it became clear that Dinas Rhondda train station is nearer to the ground than Porth station and I could have got off there instead. “Nevermind” , I thought to myself, I guess this is called ‘Lost in…Porth’.
After a 10-15 minute walk, my map was saying that I was close, yet there was still no sign of a football ground, but suddenly the ground emerged into view behind a grey block of flats with two men lounging themselves in the balcony with a can of Carling each – classic South Wales.
I went into the ground via the large gates at the front and next to the adjacent playground, which on this warm summer’s night was overrun by teenagers enjoying their Easter holidays (my age was beginning to tell as I immediately viewed the teenagers with some cynicism and imagined they all had ASBOs).
Like most football clubs, AFC Porth have had numerous names over the years including Porth Athletic and Porth United, but the club began life in 1902-03 as simply Porth. Under their Porth Athletic guise, the club played in the newly-formed Southern League, but in the following season in 1920-21 the club rejoined the Welsh League, where they have played ever since. Today, the Black Dragons, as they are nicknamed, play in the Welsh League Division One.
The ground itself is very basic, but rather charming nonetheless with the hills of the Rhondda valleys stretching either side of Dinas Park. There are only two structures within the ground itself: the most noticeable is the large sheltered stand, which sits on a slope and looks down on the ground below it; the other structure is the hut behind the far goal with a tea hut and an adjoining small room for club officials. The pitch itself has two bankings sloping up either side of it, making the pitch seem lower into the ground, with park benches placed around the place. I headed for the tea hut. I was obviously disappointed to find no beer within the ground, but you can’t complain when you get your brew (I’m starting to succumb to that word after three years in the North-West) in a mug.
There were still 30 minutes to go before kick-off and the ground was pretty much empty apart from myself, the officials, the players warming up and club officials of Porth walking around in their claret jackets preparing for the game ahead. One such club official shouted to me, “So you’ve already got a tea?” and it soon dawned on me that this was the club secretary Huw, the man behind the club’s Twitter account who had enticed me to the ground with the promise of a free mug of tea; I told him next round was on him. Apparently, he had spotted me at Taffs Well taking photos 5 days earlier and incidentally also in attendance tonight was Taff Wells FC’s Norma, their club secretary, who came over to chat to me about the Porth team as well as thanking me for my blog about my visit to Rhiw Dda’r.
As the game kicked off, I watched on from the park bench to the right of the main stand and by now a nice little gathering of spectators had appeared around the ground, including a small, but vocal contingent representing Pontardawe. It was their team who were having the better of the first half, but the away team were struggling to find that killer pass.
The best player on the pitch was definitely the young Pontardawe no.11 on the right wing, who was causing havoc with his trickery at times. As half-time approached, he played a lovely through ball from the edge of the box and through to the six yard box for the onrushing Pontardawe player to tap home to make it 1-0.
Half-time: AFC Porth 0 – 1 Pontardawe Town.
I’d been wearing shorts, t-shirt and even sunglasses for the day, but suddenly a shadow was creeping across the sunlit grounds of Dinas Park, making the place slightly chillier, and so I went for a half-time coffee to warm me up. I could see that Huw was busy with his duties around the ground, so I opted not to bother him for the 60p cup of coffee he had promised me. As well as my hot drink, I even treated myself to a small hot dog for 80p and a packet of smoky bacon Walkers for 60p (there was a huge variety pack of Walkers behind the counter, but there was only one winner when I spotted the smoky bacon flavour).
Having wandered the ground, I headed back to the stand for the second half, before shuffling to the bench to the left of it as there was still a bit of sunlight creeping into that part of the ground providing some warmth.
The second half was a hotter more lively affair anyway with yellow cards being brandished left, right and centre – some rightly, but many harshly. Predictably with this card-happy referee, a red card was shown soon enough as Porth saw themselves go down to ten men following a second yellow card for one of their players – once again, I felt somewhat harshly. However, there was no doubt about the next red card the referee displayed. After a slightly late and slightly high clip on the leg from a Pontardawe player, the Porth victim decided to take his own retribution and unleashed a low karate kick on his original aggressor. The foul had happened behind the ref’s back, but it was as clear as day for everyone else in the ground, including the linesman, who prompted the ref to show the red card. Huw walked past me lamenting the £80 fine the club would have to pay for the player’s poor discipline/referee’s card-loving ways. I thought to myself, “And it’s just £80 so far” with still a good 20+ minutes to play.
Despite being down to nine men, Porth performed admirably and gave the away team a few scares. The Pontardawe manager was beginning to lose his rag, as his team were struggling to cope with nine man Porth. However, fortunately for Pontardawe, a mistake would see them secure victory, as a stray backpass from the Porth defence played in the Pontardawe striker to take the ball around the keeper and score. 2-0 and it looked game over.
There was still time for Porth to cannon a powerful shot off the crossbar, but the numerical advantage was just too much for Porth to come back from.
Full-time: AFC Porth 0 – 2 Pontardawe Town. Before departing the ground, I made sure I said goodbye to Huw and Norma and then headed out the gates and back down the road towards Porth station. I couldn’t help but chuckle when the two men I had seen earlier drinking cans of Carling outside the block of flats were still going strong as I made my way past.
AFC Porth is a humble football club and Dinas Park a humble football ground, but despite it’s small stature, you can certainly expect a big friendly welcome there. And maybe, if you’re lucky, a free mug of tea.
Highlights: Being quiz king in the Rheola Hotel, hot drinks in a mug (big thumbs up!), friendly club, decent game of football.
Low Points: Basic ground, poor refereeing display.