Bangor City v Rhyl
Nantporth / Welsh Premier League Europa League Play-off Final / 17th May 2014
“That’s it. I’m done for the season.”
These were the words I delivered to my fellow Swansea fans Medwyn and Kalvin, as we toasted another season with Swansea City in a pub just down the road from the Stadium of Light after watching Swansea win 3-1 against their Sunderland hosts. I’d surpassed my target of doing 100 games – Sunderland v Swansea was game no.107 – and I was ready for a summer break from football. I was content. Then, stupidly, in the middle of the week I took a little peek at the fixture list and noticed that Bangor City were taking on Rhyl in the Welsh Premier League play-off final for a place in the Europa League. Silly me. Now there was no doubt in my mind that I would eventually give in by the end of the week and succumb to the fact that I was going to go to the game, despite my claims that I was ‘done’ just a few days earlier.
I departed Manchester Piccadilly at 8.50am on a train bound for Chester and after having a 20 minute stop off there with a coffee refuel, I hopped onto the next train heading to Bangor. It was an absolutely stunning day nationwide today and as the train headed along the North Wales coastline, the North of the country looked beautiful today.
Having passed through Prestatyn, Rhyl, Llandudno Junction and Conwy, the train rolled into Bangor station just after 11.30am and Bangor was now my oyster. I knew that the ground was nearer the coastline than the city centre and that it was about 20-25 minutes away from the hub of Bangor. With plenty of time ahead of me, I thought I would have a wander of the city centre (and obviously indulge in the city’s drinking holes) before making my way towards the ground.
The city itself is one of the smallest in the UK with a large portion of its current population coming from the 10,000+ Bangor University students that inhabit the city. The city centre is snuggly squeezed in between the two hills that cushion the city, which does help give the city a rather quaint, idyllic feel.
I made my way up the winding high street of the city centre until I arrived at the local Wetherspoons, The Black Bull Inn. Despite it still being relatively early, the place was already quite busy with the locals clearly heading out for the day to enjoy the sunshine. I enjoyed a pint out in the beer garden with the impressive main building of Bangor University looking down on me from the opposite hillside.
I made my way back down the street, until I came across the Fat Cat Cafe – a place that had earned good reviews online. The place was quite deserted on this Saturday afternoon, but I was quite content with the place as it was selling bottles of Estrella Damm – perfect summer lager.
My colleague Adam had attended University at Bangor Uni and he was very insistent that I visited one of his old favourites from his uni days: Patrick’s bar – a place Adam insisted he had pumped a fortune into in his student days. Patrick’s is located in Upper Bangor meaning I had a trek from the centre up the hill to Upper Bangor – it would get me a bit closer to the stadium though.
Just from walking through Upper Bangor, I could tell this was the home to much of the city’s student population with a variety of takeaways and students sunbathing in their small front gardens. Two lads were even drying out their cuddly toys on a washing line – not sure what the story behind that was, so you can use your imagination there.
I walked around the corner of Holyhead Road and Patrick’s bar came into sight. With a name like that, I should not have really been surprised that Patrick’s is an Irish-themed bar, but I was still somehow surprised.
Once again, this pub was also fairly empty and I guess everyone was still out enjoying the sunshine. Sadly, no beer garden here, but I did get to watch some of the buildup to today’s FA Cup final between Arsenal and Hull; I don’t agree with the FA Cup final being a 5pm kick-off, but it was rather convenient for me today, as it meant I could watch the cup final after the Bangor game (as long as that game didn’t go to extra-time). I was eventually joined in the bar by a variety of WWF wrestlers from the 1990s: Hulk Hogan, The Bushwackers, Brett Hart, The Undertaker and Tatanka to name a few – I did like to think that the WWF stars had decided to hold a reunion in Bangor, but I think they may have just been dressed up students out on the piss.
The next part of my expedition through Bangor was to prove the most eye-catching part, as I made my way around the corner following Holyhead Road, until I found myself walking along the road adjacent to the Menai Strait with the small communities of Anglesey on the opposite side of the bank. The views were stunning on this glorious afternoon, as the sun glistened against the waters below the road with Bangor pier heading out into the waters.
After a 5-10 minute walk down the road, I eventually arrived outside the car park of Bangor City’s Nantporth Stadium, which I found snuggly fitted in between the road and the banks of the Menai strait. There was still quite a bit of time until kick-off, so I continued to trek past the stadium and down the road to a pub that had been recommended to me.
The Antelope Inn was discovered another ten minutes down the road from the stadium and practically located at the end of the impressive Menai Bridge, the bridge which connects Anglesey with mainland Wales. As I entered, I came face-to-face with a small contingent of Rhyl fans and the first group of away fans I had seen today – something, I was surprised at considering that Rhyl is only located a short train journey down the North Wales coastline from Bangor. Many had informed me on social media that Bangor v Rhyl is a bit of a local derby and can become a bit of a tasty affair, so I had expected to encounter more away fans; however, just as that thought entered my head, a small flood of Rhyl fans entered the bar chanting their way through the doors.
After a few more admiring glances out the window at the Menai Bridge stretching elegantly across the strait, I decided to leave the Rhyl fan party and head back to Nantporth to soak up some of the prematch atmosphere of today’s Europa League qualifier play-off. The time was now creeping over the 2pm mark and more and more blue shirts adorned with the Bangor badge were entering the car park and heading into the ground. £8 later, I was in just behind a boy in a Liverpool shirt complete with ‘Coutinho 10’ on the back; as far as Premier League clubs were concerned, Liverpool were the clear winners in the shirt sales in Bangor it seemed.
Earlier in the day, I had walked past Farrar Road and a large ASDA supermarket near the town centre. This was where the former home of football in Bangor had once stood as recently as 2011 with Bangor winning their last game at Farrar Road 5-3 against Prestatyn. The new Nantporth ground, located 1.5 miles away from the city centre, opened in 2012 with the club’s first game being a 6-1 thumping over local rivals Caernafon Wanderers. As of 2012/2013, Nantporth is ‘officially’ known as the Book People Stadium having signed a 3-year sponsorship deal with a local literary company; it’s not quite Emirates or Etihad, but I’m sure it gets enough money into the club for a club of Bangor’s size. I will not be referring to it by its sponsor-inspired name though.
2012 also saw Nantporth host its first European night as Bangor made their return to European competition with a game against FC Zimbru of Moldova. One of Welsh football’s greatest European adventures stems from Bangor City in Europe and their valiant effort in the 1961/62 European Cup Winners Cup. Little, old Bangor would beat the mighty Napoli at Farrar Road, only to lose the 2nd leg 3-1 in front of a huge crowd in Naples. With no away goals rules at the time, a replay was ordered at Highbury, which Napoli just about won with a late goal to make it 2-1. You should read all about it on this very site in our Wales and the European Cup Winners Cup series that we did last year here.
The prize on offer for today’s winner was to be Europa League football, which would earn the club at least £100k – a substantial fee for any Welsh Premier club. One person who was in the continental mood was Bangor fan Matt Johnson although he had got his continents mixed up and was wearing a retro Argentinian shirt complete with Maradona’s iconic number 10 on the back. Matt is the man behind the excellent Welsh football blog Llandudno Jet Set and he had asked me to pop my head into the club shop on entering to say hello. The cosy little club shop is located on the left as you enter Nantporth and is at the top of the steps that looks over Nantporth from an elevated position. We said our hellos, posed for a standard ‘double thumbs up’ photo and Matt kindly gave me a £2 World Cup betting voucher that could be used at Corbett Sports bookmakers – the sponsors of the Welsh Premier League.
I walked along pitchside and almost bumped into former Welsh international striker Malcolm Allen, who was readying himself to co-present today’s broadcast of the game for Sgorio – an iconic Welsh language football show for those not familiar, which now regularly delivers live games from the Welsh Premier. Whilst Malcolm got himself sorted to present live TV, I was on my way to the bar located at the top of the fairly large main stand. This was the main hub of the ground with all the usual football stadium amenities located inside.
In regards of stands, there is only one other stand in the ground with the opposite side of the ground to the main stand having two small sheltered seating stands, which can hold 600 fans altogether and that are divided by a TV gantry. This side of the ground is the Menai Strait side with woodland being the only obstruction between the ground and the strait below.
As expected with 40 minutes to go until kick-off, the bar was busy and the excitement was clearly building. Whilst others talked about the game, I trailed the walls of the bar looking at all the various memorabilia on display, which included nods to the club’s famous Napoli games and their brave performance (and loss) to Atletico Madrid during the 1980s.
There was a great view of the pitch from the club bar, but as is usually the case these days, soon the shutters were down on the windows and the sight sun glowing on today’s beautiful looking pitch was taken away from us (this is down to that peculiar rule that you are no longer allowed to consume alcohol within view of the pitch in a football ground). It was at this point I realised I was rather hungry and so I thought I’d head to the food hut now, as I anticipated quite a queue. There was to be a queue, but a superb effort from the staff in the hut meant that the queue soon disappeared and I was soon in possession of a wonderful steak pie – I’m not sure who the makers were, but it was a top pie.
As the teams walked out into the North-Walian sunshine, I got chatting to a group of groundhoppers, who it seemed, like me, were here for one last football fix before the football season came to a close. I say one final fix, but it seemed that Rob (of the blog The 66 POW) had also found a few other fixtures to fit in before the end of the season, including a trip to Swansea for Wales U21 v England U21.
There was a large crowd of close to 1,500 at Nantporth today, including a healthy away support housed in the far side of the main stand, but sadly the game would never really get going. With a European place up for grabs, it seemed that neither team wanted to go all out for the win. I think it would be fair to say that Rhyl had the better of the first half with their big, powerful team holding off any Bangor threat comfortably. A series of half chances for both teams was all we were getting from a scrappy first half.
By the time I had made my way around to the Menai Strait side of the ground, nothing of note had really happened. “HARRISON!” came a sudden shout from the stand. I looked around to find a gentleman waving back at me. I walked towards where he was sitting in the stand to work out who this man was, before it eventually dawned on me that it was Phil Stead. Last Christmas, I received a copy of Phil’s excellent book Red Dragons, a history of Welsh football, as a present, so it was a pleasure to meet the man himself and to watch the end of the first half with him.
Half-time: Bangor City 0 – 0 Rhyl.
For the second half, I relocated to a spot in the sunshine behind the goal along with Phil and we both hoped for a bit more football in the second half. It was never really going to arrive, although there was some more to talk about in the second half.
Shortly after the second half had kicked off, Rhyl found themselves down to ten men after Peter Dogen rightfully earned himself a second booking (his first had come from a rather hearty tackle in the opening seconds).
Despite having the numerical advantage and more of the ball, Bangor were still creating little, although they would finally find the breakthrough thanks to their star name. Les Davies was competing with Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and another 29 European footballing superstars for the crown of UEFA Player of the Year as recently as 2012 – his shortlisting was supposedly down to the one journalist (probably Welsh) nominating him for the award and thus placing him up against European footballing goliaths. Llandudno Jet Set’s Matt, who was mentioned earlier in the blog, even wrote an article for Lost Boyos about Les Davies being his ‘Top Boyo’ last summer, which you can read here. Anyway, it was to be Davies who opened the scoring this afternoon with a well-placed drive from 18 yards out into the bottom corner. A great goal, which Davies felt warranted a bit of baiting the nearby Rhyl fans with a fingercupping to ears celebration.
Things were to get worse for Rhyl in the 73rd as Ryan Astles gave away a penalty after supposedly handling in the box – it did look a bit harsh from my view at the other side of the ground. Harsh or not, Chris Jones stepped up and just about got his shot through the keeper’s outstretched legs having placed his shot down the middle. 2-0 to Bangor and it looked almost certain that European football awaited them next season.
The last 15 minutes saw Bangor playing with a swagger that you would expect from a team 2-0 up against a team with ten men. In the closing minutes, as the Rhyl fans began to leave en masse, frustration would get the better of the away team as they would go down to nine men. You will not see a more obvious red card this season either. With Bangor taking a short corner and clearly planning on holding the ball in the corner, Rhyl’s Tom Donegan came flying in with feet off the ground to wipe out the Bangor player in possession and earn himself a straight red. Rightly so.
Full-time Bangor City 2- 0 Rhyl.
The final whistle was the cue for me to witness my third pitch invasion in four weeks, having witnessed a rather dour invasion as Chester got relegated from the Conference three weeks previous and then witnessing the euphoria of the fans at Moss Lane last week as Altrincham sealed promotion to the Conference with the virtually the last kick in extra-time. This was more like the former invasion with blue shirts flooding the pitch to heap gratitude on their heroes.
I gave the home team my applause, said goodbye to Phil and headed off up the steps and out of Nantporth. The words ‘ new stadium’ followed by ‘out of town’ usually fill me with dread, but Nantporth had certainly won me over. Firstly, the views surrounding the place are stunning, especially on a sunny day like today. More impressively, despite the stadium only being 2 years old, the place did not reek of the modern mundanity you usually find at new grounds and instead there was a certain character and ‘Bangor-ness’ to the place. There are plans to build terraces behind both goals, which I’m sure will help make Nantporth an even more impressive ground.
After leaving the ground I found myself in the Globe pub, a place that had been recommended by a few people at the game, to watch the FA Cup final. Cheers to everyone that recommended the place, as it was easily my favourite of all the pubs I visited in Bangor. On arriving I was greeted by a 2-0 scoreline to Hull over favourites Arsenal with only 15 minutes on the clock and it was quite entertaining to watch various football fans enter the pub and look twice in disbelief at the scoreline on walking through the door. I was more impressed by the Boca Juniors shirt behind the bar signed by Diego Maradona. When I asked the landlord about it he informed me that he knew someone who went to a Boca game, spotted El Diego in the club shop and instantly bought 10 Boca shirts and got him to sign them all – one had ended up here in Bangor. Maradona is clearly a big deal in Bangor having seen Matt also wearing a Marardona shirt earlier in the day. There several other pieces of football memorabilia gracing the walls of the Globe and on confessing my allegiance to Swansea City to the landlord, he pointed to the ceiling above the bar and stated “I keep all the good stuff behind the bar” as I noticed a signed Swansea shirt adorning the bar ceiling.
By now Arsenal had pulled the score back to 2-2 and as the cup final went into extra-time, I headed back down the hill from Upper Bangor and arrived at The Old Glan; like almost all bars associated with the Scream bar franchise, it was full of students – mostly, in Arsenal shirts. Much to the bar’s pleasure, Arsenal scored in extra-time to win the final and more importantly to me, the game was won by a Welshman: Aaron Ramsey. Whilst the students prepared to enjoy their Saturday night out on the town in the midst of their exam season, I realised it was time for me to head home.
My day was to finish on the patch where the Citizens’ former home Farrar Road had stood, but instead of finding myself walking through a crumbling football stand, I instead found my way walking through the alcohol aisle in ASDA searching for a good deal on beer to accompany me on the train back to Manchester.
Highlights: nice, little city, plenty of decent pubs – The Globe being a particular favourite on the day, brilliant, scenic views around the ground, good club bar, nice pies, nice ground.
Low Points: fairly poor game of football.