Bridgend Street v Pontardawe Town
The Willows / Friendly / 4th August 2015
“Bridgend Street is my big passion in life.” Former French international footballer Yoann Gourcuff (I may have made this quote up – bear with it though).
The club originally hail from Splott, but should the blog really be called ‘Lost n…Splott’? Or should this be called ‘Lost in…Tremorfa’ since the ground is there now? No, I’m sticking with Splott, as I just like saying the place name. Say it out loud yourselves…’Splott’…it’s fun isn’t it? Plus, I’ve been trying to make my home nation sound more exotic over the past few blogs and I feel Splott is far more exotic-sounding than Tremorfa. Don’t get your geography confused by the name of the football club though, like I’m sure many have, Bridgend Street FC is very much within the realms of Cardiff. Splott is a district in the south part of the city and although I’m not a Cardiff boy, some had highlighted to me beforehand that Splott is known as one of the more ‘gritty’ areas of Cardiff. Perhaps the best way to sum up its ‘gritty’ edge is by telling you that this is the part of Cardiff that provided us with Craig Bellamy. Once again, I would judge the place for myself, but it didn’t sound like the best place for a Swansea City fan to roll into on a Tuesday night.
The main purpose of today’s outing to the capital was for something far more mundane: trouser shopping. Yes, I was actually heading into the nation’s capital to buy trousers for a wedding, after bringing a suit jacket down from my Manchester home, but forgetting trousers. It would be one hell of an awkward wedding if I turned up trouser-less, so to Cardiff I headed. I thought, ‘how could I make a trouser shopping trip more fun?’ Combine beer and football into the mix obviously. A quick peruse of the Welsh League friendlies on that evening and I had soon discovered Bridgend Street (and that it wasn’t in Bridgend) and that was marked down as my destination.
Contrary to what many believe about me as a Swansea fan, I actually really like Cardiff as a city….we just won’t talk about the football team. So, without boring you of the details of the shopping part of my trip (grey trousers and pink tie were purchased), I headed to Westgate Street to visit one of my favourite Cardiff pubs, Zero Degrees. However, I never made it in there as my head was to be turned when I spotted a Brewdog Bar down the road. Perfect.
I made a New Years’ Resolution a couple of years ago to get into drinking more ales and fancy lagers and my recent trip to Bristol, where they are far too ‘hip’ to drink anything even slightly commercial, has reignited this resolution. Plus, my brother has introduced me to the ‘Untapped’ app, which I feel may lead to my eventual downfall. I enjoyed a beautiful pint of Dead Young Pony and then off I headed down Westgate Street, in the shadow of the colossal Millennium Stadium, on to my next pub stop.
I paid a quick visit to the Queen Vaults pub, drank some ale I wasn’t too fond of and so finished it quickly, before I was reunited with my Cardiff City-supporting pal Sean, who was joining me for this evening’s football.
We still had about 2.5 hours until tonight’s 6.30pm kick-off, so we figured we’d have one more drink before making the 30 minute walk from the city centre into the dark heart of Splott. I’d recalled going to another one of those ‘hipster’ bars on Westgate Street a few years ago and so to the superb Urban Tap House we went. Anytime red ale is present on tap it has to be drunk to see if anything can top the unreal Yorkshire Red Lager me and Gibbo fell in love with in Knaresborough. Obviously then, the utterly Welsh sounding Cwtch Red Ale had to be purchased. A valiant effort, but like many before it, it could not challenge Yorkshire Red.
Soon, we were trudging through Cardiff city at 5pm and heading in the same direction as many workers – out of the city and into the Cardiffian suburbs. I was a bit confused when I found a Glossop Road, but then I knew we were back on track when we came across several streets named after metals – Lead Street, Tin Street Zinc Sreet, Copper Street – an ode the city’s industrial past.
There was still an hour until kick-off, so The Willows – home of Bridgend Street FC – was not our primary destination right now. Earlier in the day, Norma, secretary of Taffs Well FC, had tweeted me telling me how friendly a club Bridgend Street are and this was picked up by the Street secretary. It turned out that their secretary is what he called an ‘avid reader’ of Lost Boyos and he expressed his excitement at meeting a ‘(Minor) celeb’. More importantly for us, he told us that we had to visit Bridgend Street’s HQ – The Fleurs pub.
We found the pub relatively easy and on walking in I was greeted by a gentleman performing a double thumbs up. I guessed this was the club secretary then. We purchased our Coors (much cheaper than the stuff I’d been drinking earlier in the day) and we went to introduce ourselves to the secretary, Alan, who gave us a general lowdown on the club. It’s great that the club have Fleurs with the walls all covered in photos of teams from the club’s past and a noticeboard dedicated to the club with all their first team and various other fixtures. Also, draped on the wall was an early-2000s Cardiff City shirt of former player Nicky Fish. I’d forgotten the story, but Sean immediately mentioned that Fish was the young Cardiff player who had had a horrific car accident, which had sadly injured him badly enough to sadly finish off his Cardiff City career as a promising youngster. We wondered where he might be playing now if he was playing at all.
Fleurs pub plays an interesting part in the history of the Splott area, which is entwined with the club’s history. Bridgend Street was a residential street just off Portmanmoor Road, one of the busier parts of the area with an array of shops, pubs etc. However, in the early 1970s a massive redevelopment of Splott was decided upon and many streets were completely demolished, including Bridgend Street. The club actually takes its name from the Bridgend Street Mission, a hub for the area’s various societies and sport teams and elected to retain the name even after the destruction of Bridgend Street. Incidentally, the only structure left remaining on Portmanmoor Road is now Fleurs pub.
We departed Fleurs and headed for the ground, which Alun had told us was about 5-10 walk away. However, we took a bit of an inadvertent detour and ended up in a field with two scary looking hounds darting about the place. We survived and got ourselves back on course and we knew we were there once we saw the sign for Willows High School. That’s right, strangely, Bridgend Street’s home is found practically in the grounds of the local high school. Then we spotted the red and white badge of Bridgend Street FC above a small building and we knew we were in the right place.
For the second time in a week, I’d joined forces with Nicky of the mighty My Year in the Welsh League blog and he was there to greet us at the gates into the ground. He’d claimed that he had arrived at the ground via a more industrial route and I thought he’d must have got very lost, as we’d seen nothing of the sort. Then, I clocked my surroundings and realised that a large part of the backdrop to the Willows was one huge rusty blue industrial building with some other sort of more lively looking factory just across from it pumping smog into the air. I’ve definitely never been to a ground where a high school makes up one half of the backdrop and huge factories make up the half. The industrial backdrop cuts an initmidating presence, but I liked it.
The ground itself is predictably basic, but pleasant enough. There is one small stand, which sits just past the halfway line, and a decent tea hut just past it, with the rest of the ground completely open. The tea hut seemed as good a place to start as any, but when I asked Alun’s wife, who was working behind the counter, for a can of Carling she looked at me blankly. Alun had ensured me there’d be beer, but it seemed he’d only told me about it. Eventually, cans of Carling were found in the fridge, yet nobody else seemed to be drinking them. I felt like some sort of Carling ‘in-the-know’ and part of an elite, exclusive group who knew of the alcohol’s existence within the walls of the Willows. I explained to Alan’s wife that I’d use a codeword to ask for beer next time; we opted for ‘Can I have a secret coffee?” – which I realise know sounds dodgier than it should for some reason.
We were pitchside ready for the kick-off as Bridgend Street and Pontardawe Town walked out. Street were wearing black and white today instead of their usual red and white; I did however appreciate their ambition as they wore official Premier League numbers on their back – the very same red ones that grace my ‘SIGURDSSON 23’ Swansea away shirt from last season.
Bridgend Street play in the Welsh League Division Three and were up against a team a division above them this evening, but it didn’t take too long for the home team to take the lead as Ryan McHugh seemed to easily break into the box and finish easily into the bottom corner. 1 – 0 to the Mish!
For most of the first half after the goal, it was generally Pontardawe on the attack, but with Bridgend looking particularly resolute. Impressing for the away team was their tricky right-winger with the long, shaggy hair, who was to be a nuisance to the home defence for the duration of the first half. I was fairly sure that he was the same player who caused havoc and who I referenced in my AFC Porth blog, when I watched Porth take on Pontardawe in April 2014. So it was predictable when after some previous poor finishing from his team mates, that the winger would set up the equaliser. A looped cross lobbed the keeper and the Pontardawe no.12 was on hand to header home. 1 – 1.
I didn’t want to look like some sort of ASBO-ridden lad walking around the ground with a can of Carling, so I saved completing the lap of the ground until after I had finished my ‘secret coffee’. Away from the tea hut and the stand is when the ground grew on me more and more and I did genuinely love the backdrop of industry behind. It was definitely different. It was also great how people who spotted us on our meander stopped and chatted to us and came across as just genuinely friendly chaps.
The referee had proved entertaining too with his quite strange running style and his general chirpiness and sense of humour with the players. We were behind the goals as he declared there was time for one more corner and that’s when I noticed the rather incongruous ASDA basket, which seemed to be housing the away goalie’s possession. I didn’t see him walk back around the ground with it though – I liked the idea of the goalie refusing to go anywhere without his trusty ASDA basket.
Half-time: Bridgend Street 1 – 1 Pontardawe Town.
“Can I have a ‘secret coffee, please?” and after a conspirative nod from behind the counter, I had myself another can of Carling. I also declared that it was time for ‘Lost Boyos fanboy’ Alan to have a fabled thumbs up photo in the tea hut, before he then let me stick a #NoFlatCapNoParty sticker underneath his business card in the tea hut. At least everyone in Splott will now know how to party properly.
The one mystery we never got to the bottom of whilst in the tea hut was ‘why do you have a Lyon flag in here?’ No-one seemed to know where it had come from or why it was there. Instead, I told my own story of how the flag had been acquired:
Yoann Gourcuff (perenially referred to as ‘The New Zidane’ a decade ago) has a distant Welsh relative from Splott and so decided to visit the area and club years ago. He became such a fan of Bridgend Street that he presented them with a flag of his then current club. Sadly, he partied so hard in Splott and Fleurs that his career stagnated and that is why he is now without a club. Why Bridgend Street haven’t signed him on a free transfer yet, I do not know.
Note: elements (all) of this story may be fictitious and should not be read into too much.
For the second half, we stood in the corner of the ground and couldn’t be bothered moving from it. We were now joined by Alun and he gave us more information on the club and one piece of information that particularly surprised me and Sean.
“See that number 9 – he used to play for Cardiff City, before he had a bad car crash. His name is Nicky Fish.”
So that’s what happened to him! Apparently, his dad played for the club too and this is very much his family club. Nicky joined the club six years after recovering from his accident and it was great to see how the club had helped in rehabilitating him and giving him a platform to play football again.
The second half saw a far more impressive display from Bridgend Street, who generally dominated proceedings and looked a very good team. The home team deservedly reclaimed their lead in the 65th minute when James Martin performed a wonderful chip over the goalie to make it 2-1. Chips over the keeper have become a recurrent theme on my travels at the start of 2015/16 – they are clearly going to be the en vogue thing to do this upcoming season.
I even decided to join the trend of ‘dinking it’ as I went in pursuit of one of the many stray footballs that cleared the fencing. I had my angles and weight of the pass spot on, as I hit my pass straight towards the goalie. Sadly, I’d forgotten to figure in the 6-7 teenage lads behind the goal who my pass went straight into and clipped a few of them in the face. I ran off apologetically, but fair to say they looked less than amused.
Speaking of stray footballs though, at this point, I would like to praise the tireless gentleman who did retrieve every stray football – he worked wonders on the night and must have covered more miles than most of the players.
Now Alun did deliver a very strange fact, which caught us all off guard:
“Did you know this pitch used to be a runway?”
“What? No way,” we all seemed to declare.
Apparently so. Since that evening, I’ve found out that aviation pioneer Ernest Willows from Cardiff, built a private aerodrome in the Tremorfa in 1905; Willows giving the ground its name and the nearby Wetherspoons on City Road (cheers Twmowen in comments section for that nuggest of information). 1931 saw Splott civilian aerodrome open before it was then renamed Cardiff Municipal Airport. In the wartime it became an RAF base, but post war the airport was deemed surplus to requirements with the runway being deemed too short for the increasingly larger, modern aircrafts. It was apparently in contention with Rhoose to become the international airport for Wales, but Rhoose would win and to this day it is still Cardiff International Airport. Alun told us that some of the older men at the club still remember people having sporting events sprinting down the runway. It really was something I’d never heard about Cardiff before and certainly something I didn’t expect to discover about the ground tonight. I found it fascinating anyway.
Back to this evening, Bridgend were still dominating, although Pontardawe really should have scored after a quite silly goalmouth scramble. It would be the home team who would tie up the win, as Liam Jeremy beat the offside trap, rounded the keeper and scored into an empty net.
Full-time: Bridgend Street 3 – 1 Pontardawe Town.
We said goodbye to Alun, who’d been a great host and helped the club live up to what I’d been told about it beforehand: a very friendly and very welcoming club.
Nicky offered to give me and Sean a lift back into central Cardiff, which we happily accepted, and with an hour until my train back down the valleys, there was only one thing for it: Wetherspoons. Plus, I’m a huge fan of the Prince of Wales Wetherspoons, as far as Spoons go. With an hour to wait for my train, we also felt that we should delve into Wetherspoons’ steak night and get us some steak and beer £7.25. Spot on. A top way to finish off what had been a top night at a top football club.
Like many in the Welsh League, the club are extremely friendly and undoubtedly they’ll continue to live by the motto of the club: “Deeds not words.”
Highlights: my ale tour down Westgate street, Fleurs, interesting backdrop to the ground, friendly club, nice, little teahut, good game.
Low Points: Basic facilities (no toilet), almost flooring some teens with my skills.
See all my photos from my trip to Bridgend Street here.
Also make sure to check out Nicky’s blog for his perspective of our trip here.