Cefn Druids v Gap Connah’s Quay
The Rock Stadium / Welsh Premier League / 29th August 2014
As August was drawing to a close and with my holidays coming to an end, I decided to have a football double header over the weekend for one last hurrah before returning to work. So, trips to Tranmere Rovers with the Shrimps on Saturday (blog to follow) and a Friday night visit to Cefn Druids AFC were pencilled into the Lost Boyos diary. I had been torn whether to head to New Saints or Cefn Druids for my Friday night serving of Welsh Premier football, but having seen pictures of the Druids’ fairly new home ground, I was quickly convinced to head there.
Being a South Walian, I’ve not explored the north of my homeland as much as I should have; this is something I’ve tried to correct with my football travels over the past 12 months. I’ve really enjoyed visiting parts North Wales such as Prestayn, Bangor and Llanfairpwll over recent months, so I was hoping for more of the same when I alighted at Ruabon station. Cefn Druids’ Rock Stadium is located in the small village of Rhosymedre and, unsurprisingly, with no train station feeding the village directly, I was required to walk 25 minutes down the side of the B5096, where there was an alarming amount of car parts in the bushes. Eventually, I arrived at the sign welcoming me to Rhosymedre. Glancing up the hill, I could see the floodlights of Cefn Druids’ ground and the famous cliff face on the one side of the ground. However, it was not to the ground yet for me, as there was still over 3 hours until the 19:30 kick-off. Time for a spot of tourism first.
I should mention here that for some reason my Google Maps app had completely collapsed on me and so I was left to follow my instincts more than anything. I had decided the night before that I was going visit Pontcysyllte Aqueduct; I knew it was located just past the neighbouring village of Cefn Mawr, but with no map I had to go on my memory of the map of the area that I had looked at the night before. To help me, I decided to climb the steep hill, leading to the top of Cefn Mawr with the hope that from a vantage point I’d be able to spot the aqueduct. My theory worked, as after clambering up the very steep gradient to the top, I spotted the aqueduct, although it was much further than I originally anticipated. Now just to work out how to get there.
This part proved frustrating as the streets of Cefn Mawr seemed to zig-zag back down the hill. When I eventually hit a junction, I opted to go left in what I thought was the quicker route to the aqueduct. Wrong call. Right would have taken me down the main road to my destination and instead I found myself traipsing through overgrown country paths and muddy country lanes. However, my expedition was rewarded with a fantastic view of the aqueduct from the banks of the River Dee. After another calf destroying hill climb and after going up and down hills for a good 4-5 miles since I left the train station, I found myself alongside the Llangollen Canal, which is carried over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
It was certainly a lot warmer now and there were several families enjoying themselves on canal boats heading up and down the Llangollen Canal. I’d made it this far so I thought it’d be silly not to cross the aqueduct like everyone else. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a UNESCO World Heritage site I should add, has a very narrow walkway alongside the narrow canal and having got halfway across I did sort of recall that I’m not too fond of heights – so it wasn’t great for me really to be a 126 feet above the River Dee. There are some fantastic views of the valley to be had though and with several photos taken, I decided to head back the way I came and to the Telford Inn, located alongside the canal. I felt all my walking had certainly earned me a beer or two!
The pub was very pleasant and friendly and although I didn’t have any, the food looked simple but great too. Irritatingly, having now arrived at my destination, Google Maps had decided to work again, but I was now fairly confident that I could find my way back to the Rock Stadium. And so, with a couple of San Miguels drunk, I headed back towards the ground – this time down the main road and without battling any Welsh foliage.
Having worked my way back through the eerily quiet, but pleasant Cefn Mawr high street, I found myself back at the bottom of the hill that leads up to Cefn Druids’ Rock Stadium. My plan was to head up to the ground and have a few drinks in the club bar, but I was distracted by the Jolly Masons Inn and into there I went. Admittedly, the place was much more…well, we’ll say ‘low key’ than the Telford Inn and instantly eyes turned to me as I entered with me clearly being recognisable as an outsider.
“I’m guessing the Druids are playing then?” questioned the barmaid, who I’m assuming guessed I was an away fan. I replied I was and informed her of what I was doing in Rhosymedre tonight, which soon made me a thing of interest to others in the bar, who all turned out to be very friendly. Although most seemed more keen to talk about Swansea’s victory over Manchester United 3 weeks earlier (which I was more than happy to talk about of course).
With half hour to go until kick-off, I headed back up the road and then veered left up another steep walkway (another slope!) and cut through the wooden fencing and into the car park of the Rock Stadium.
It seemed that the Friday night game had attracted a host of groundhoppers with 3 Bootle-based hoppers arriving into the club bar the same time as me and I had also met an Aussie groundhopper taking photos of the ground’s sign in the car park. The Rock Stadium has a large club bar and obviously in very good condition with the ground still be fairly new and easily one of the best I’ve visited at this sort of level. I chatted away with the Scouse groundhoppers and having enjoyed a quick pint, headed outside and through the turnstiles (£7 for tonight’s Welsh Premier game) to take some photos of Cefn Druids’ impressive home.
If you follow the club’s history right back to the start you will find Druids FC, a club formed in the 1860s, which means that the current Cefn Druids are technically the oldest club side in Wales; this also makes the club the oldest outside of England. The club were successful in their early years with 30 Druids players being capped for Wales between 1880 and 1904, plus the first ever Welsh FA secretary was a former Druid, Llewelyn Kenrick.
After a whole host of mergers over their history, in 1992 the decision was made to merge Druids with local rivals Cefn Albion and so the current club was formed. The club name has been heavily influenced by sponsorship over the years with the club christened Flexys Cefn Druids in 1998 and then NEWI Cefn Druids (NEWI being North East Wales Institute of Higher Education). Finally, the club became Elements Cefn Druids in 2009 before becoming just plain old Cefn Druids AFC in 2010 after that sponsorship deal expired.
The club had originally played at Plaskynaston Lane in Cefn Mawr, before they eventually moved to their plush new home in Rhosymedre in 2010. And what a new home it is. “The Welsh Braga” as I’ve heard a few people describe it. For those who do not recall Braga’s Estádio Municipal de Braga, it has taken on iconic status as “that ground with the cliff behind the goal” with the ground becoming one of the famous sights of Euro 2004. Admittedly, Cefn Druids’ cliff isn’t quite as breathtaking, but nonetheless it is rather cool with the one side of the ground being dominated by the clii face of the quarry in which the ground was built into. The ground can hold 3000 with the only stand in the ground, located opposite the ‘Cliff Side’, holding 500.
Running down the side of the same side of the pitch as the stand is the exterior of the large club house with a small food hatch offering chips and steak pie for £3- SOLD! Beautiful it was too and top marks for providing extra gravy. It turned out that this was all that was being offered here, but there was another larger food hut offering a lot more located just next to the stand.
The teams were coming out just as I finished my pie and chips and as the rain started to fall, I made a break for the stand, where I found a seat next to the Aussie chap I met earlier. It turned out that the Aussie chap was technically not an Aussie at all having being born in England, yet spent a lot of his life in Australia. Once he had introduced himself as Jack Warner (no, he definitely wasn’t the corrupt Trinidadian former FIFA executive of the same name), I recognised his name immediately from the various groundhopping pages on Facebook. Jack is now back in the UK and living in Lowestoft, so he was a long way from home tonight.
By now the game had got underway and Cefn Druids’ opponents, Gap Connah’s Quay, were dominating from the kick-off. It was they who opened the scoring in the 27th minute in front of the 181 fans who had turned out for tonight’s game. A cross across the box by Luke Holden set up an easy opportunity for Gary O’Toole to poke home past a hesitant Druids’ defence. 1-0 to the away team.
With the ball in the net, I decided to brave the rain and complete a lap of the ground, which I felt deserved plenty of photoing.
En route I went past the small contingent of Connah’s Quay fans behind the goal, who despite just about hitting double figures were loud and very vocal all night. Plus, they possibly unleashed my favourite chant of the season so far:
(To the tune of the Lionel Richie epic Dancing on the Ceiling)
Oh what a feeling!/Watching Nomads in the evening! (Repeat)
With the rain subsiding, I took a spot just in front of the cliff face and to the left of the gantry, where the cameraman was shouting down to me to compliment me on my ‘Spirit of 58‘ bucket hat, which accompanies on most of my Welsh expeditions. The game itself was still being dominated by the away team and it would take something out of nowhere to drag the home team back into. That moment would come as the break neared.
As half-time approached, the ball was passed to Druids striker Tom Donegan, who fired a powerful shot past the Nomads goalie to even the score. A goal from nowhere.
Half-time: Cefn Druids 1 – 1 Connah’s Quay.
Back to the bar for another beer and then I head back to the stand to rejoin Jack.
The second half was a much better game with both sides going for the win. Arguably, the Druids were the stronger of the two and it was they who took the lead, as Derek Taylor seemed to stroll through the Nomads defence before simply rolling the ball home to make it 2-1.
Cefn Druids were playing with a bit of swagger now and pushing for a third. Their pursuit for a third goal was aided by the fact that Connah’s Quay found themselves down to ten men when Gary Roberts was dismissed by the ref.
A last ditch tackle from the Nomads’ defence then denied Cefn Druids, but eventually the home team got their 3rd goal when Dan Griffiths broke through and finished simply.
The 3rd goal had come past the 90th minute so Jack started putting his notebook away, where he’d been recording the usual goalscorers, cards, substitutions etc. that some groundhoppers like to do. Yet, he was soon grabbing for it again when Nomads hit the ball up the other end immediately from kick-off and scored straight away through Jamie Rainford. For the away team though, it was too little, too late.
Full-time: Cefn Druids 3 – 2 Connah’s Quay.
After a slow start, a very enjoyable game and once again I was impressed with the entertainment on show in the Welsh Premier. I said my goodbyes to Jack, took one last look at the magnificent cliff face and exited the Rock.
Shorty after 10pm I found myself on the train from Ruabon (having ignored the three great looking pubs next to the station) and heading back to Manchester. I think anyone that reads this blog regularly will know that I have a habit of attracting all sorts of strange and amusing folk on my travels, but Bill Totty has to be up there as one of the best in a while. Bill practically fell into me whilst he drunkenly stumbled his way up the train. It turned out that Bill had been on his stag do in Chester and was too drunk to continue, so his mates decided to put him on the train home. However, his mates thought it would be more amusing to take his wallet and phone off him and place him on a train heading the complete opposite way from his Holywell. In fairness, when the conductor explained that he was heading to Manchester, Bill seemed relatively content and just decided he’d party by himself in Manchester until the early hours (although it did take some persuading to get him to give me my bucket hat back – he seemed very fond of it). I had to get up early the next morning to head to Birkenhead, so I declined Bill’s invitation: “Come dance with the gays on Canal Street with me. They’ll stay up until my morning train.” After much attempted persuading, I still declined and Bill headed into the Manchester night with the credit card he had hidden in his sock. A heroic effort from Bill, as he added me on Facebook the next day and confirmed he had made it home. An entertaining way to end the day.
Once again, North Wales had impressed me and it is a part of the world I seem to fall in love with more every time I visit. For those that like scenic views, I’d definitely recommend a visit to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, but, for me, more beautiful than that World Heritage site is the Rock Stadium. An absolutely fine piece of work for a new ground. Probably my favourite new ground that I’ve visited so far this season.
Highlights: nice, rural village, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Telford Inn, friendly locals, what a ground! – the cliff face, the food and a fine club bar with great facilities. Also, can’t forget the adventures of Bill Totty to cap the day off.
Low Points: Google Maps breaking down on me and leading me to wander through the overgrown country paths of Cefn Mawr.
Check out all of my photos of my trip to the Rock Stadium here.