Cwmbran Town v Newport City
Cwmbran Stadium / Preseason Friendly / 30th July 2016
Despite being a new town only founded in 1949, Cwmbran is one of South Wales’ most famous footballing towns. The town has three clubs playing within it: Cwmbran Celtic, Croesyceiliog and Cwmbran Town. Of the three, it is undoubtedly Cwmbran Town who have made the more signifnicant mark on the Welsh football landscape.
The name Cwmbran Town will go down in Welsh history with the club being the inaugural winners of the League of Wales (the Welsh Premier League in new money) in 93/94 and thus being the first Welsh club to embark on a Champions League adventure; this adventure would end at the first hurdle though, as they went out to Cork City 4-4 on the away goals rule. Cwmbran Town would never win the league again, although cup wins saw them have other European jaunts over the next decade, including a 10-0 aggregate loss to Celtic in 1999.
Following their league triumph in 1994, they even took on the mighty Manchester United, the then champions of England, in a memorial game for local linesman Frank Martin, who suddenly died the year before. That game featured the likes of Denis Irwin, Roy Keane and Wales’ own Ryan Giggs for United and it would be the English champions who would triumph over the Welsh champions with a 3-1 win.
Because of the history that resonates from Cwmbran Town, I’ve always wanted to make a visit to watch them play and check out their impressive looking Cwmbran Stadium. Fair to say, the club is a long way away from its glory days these days.
It originally looked like I was riding to Cwmbran solo. However, my usual sidekick when in Wales, Sean, has an incredible habit of ignoring texts/phonecalls and then popping up at the very last minute to say he’s coming along. Today was a fine example of such last minute-ness as I received a phonecall whilst rolling into Cardiff Central declaring he was coming. I figured I may as well go wait for him to get into the city and so I headed for the Prince of Wales – a Wetherspoons, not Prince Charles himself. Disaster struck here as it seemed Cardiff’s finest Spoons had run out of Punk IPA, so it would be the Icelandic pale ale Einstök that would keep me company until Sean arrived. Arrive he eventually did and we were off on the 11.50am train to Cwmbran.
20 minutes after departing Cardiff, we arrived into the Gwent town of Cwmbran and immediately my Wetherspoons senses were tingling. Sean was left amazed by my Spoons detection skills as the mere sight of a certain type of picnic bench/umbrella combo prompted me to declare “That looks like a Spoons sort of place to me.” As we made the walk towards this building in the distance, my estimations proved accurate and into the John Fielding Wetherspoons we headed. Having been denied my BrewDog fuel in Cardiff, here we drank bottles of Punk IPA in abundance before deciding that we better head closer to the ground.
Sean was completely taken off guard by how big Cwmbran’s town shopping centre is having never really visited before. As a child, Cwmbran was quite a prominent shopping destination for the Harrison family, so all was familiar to me – which was the thing which caught me most off guard: nothing had really changed. I estimated that the last time I was here in Cwmbran shopping centre I bought the Stereophonics’ 3rd album in MVC shortly after its release; as a sign of how long ago that was, the Phonics recently released their 9th album. I was actually a big fan of our shopping trips to Cwmbran, but something struck me today that hadn’t struck me as a child: Cwmbran is quite an ugly town. Sorry Cwmbran, it’s nothing personal.
We carried on through the streets towards the ground and we noticed that Cwmbran was short of something rather important for pedestrians: pavements. Several darts along ‘un-pavemented’ roads were required until we eventually emerged onto the industrial estate adjacent to Cwmbran Stadium. We assumed there’d be a bar at the ground (there wasn’t -more on that later), but with 40 minutes until kick-off we thought we’d give one more local establishment a go and that was how we came to be in the Cwmbran Working Mens Band Club.
This was the Welshest of Welsh working men’s clubs. On entering, we were immediately greeted by suspicious eyes as we made our way to the bar. Of course, everyone was taking part in the great Welsh pub past time I mentioned in my previous blog about my trip to Blaenavon: reading the Racing Post and watching the horse racing; in here they even had a huge cinema screen showing the racing too. I got speaking to the barman, checking that the football ground was nearby, and all was friendly enough as we drunk away at our Foster’s (I was definitely not going to find something remotely maverick like Punk IPA in here).
As kick-off fast approached, we made the 5 minute walk through the industrial estate to the ground. No doubt on first seeing that huge stand, the Cwmbran Stadium is a mighty impressive spectacle. However, confusion ensued when we realised that the turnstiles were closed. We could see players warming up on the pitch on the other side, so no cancellation here – we just needed to find a way pitchside.
It seems that a large part of the Cwmbran Stadium these days is the huge leisure centre bolted onto the end of it. Into the reception we headed, where we asked how to gain access to the pitch. We were directed past the cafe, complete with children going wild in the adjoining funhouse, before then trying to navigate the corridors of gym lockers until we eventually discovered the overwhelming smell of deep heat. We now knew we were close and indeed we were, as we exited through some doors and came out underneath the large stand.
Let’s get the blindingly obvious out of the way here: Cwmbran Stadium is an athletics stadium, as the prominent running track around the pitch so evidently suggests. Next up on the list of reasons why most people will hate the place is the fact that an artificial pitch is used. I can already sense all the groundhoppers turning away now, but I think there is joy to be had at the ground. The stand really is magnificent for one thing…although sadly you can’t sit in it and it is fenced off…it’s been condemned since 2012 (in fairness, it does look a bit of a rusting death trap). I’ve definitely lost people now.
Cwmbran Stadium has seen famous Welsh athletes such as Colin Jackson and Jamie Baulch train there, but today there was less familiar names on show. I was particularly devastated on seeing the away team, Newport City, and their line up. Newport City is the new name of the rebranded Llanwern, who had in their ranks last season arguably the most celebrated player in Lost Boyos history and the current Boyo d’Or holder: Gareth Delve – his performance when we saw him play in Ystrad Mynach has gone down in folklore. Much to my dismay, ‘Delvinho’ was nowhere to be seen today, although there was a familiar face in the Newport City lineup for Sean:
“That’s Tyrone! I went to school with him. I gave him my English anthology!” he declared pointing out the man-bunned lad warming up. Newport City play in the Welsh League Second Division, but today, according to their Twitter at least, it seemed they’d be playing a host of trialists and not their usual team.
A sign of Cwmbran Town’s huge fall from grace was evident from the league they currently reside in. The Crows (Cwmbran translates as ‘Valley of Crows’) do not even feature in the Welsh League anymore and instead reside in the Gwent County League Division One. I’m fairly sure there can be no other team in the 5th tier or below of the Welsh pyramid with a 10,500 capacity stadium (that is including the now unused 2,200 seater stand though).
Soon enough we had both teams out on the pitch situated a fair distance away from us on the other side of the running track with Cwmbran Town in their traditional black and white and Newport in a navy blue number.
Without question the star of the first half was the Cwmbran Town goalie – not for his actual goalkeeping though. He did not shut up. For a solid 45 minutes we were subjected to his shouts of “SHUFFLE!” (which didn’t mean dance apparently) and his haranguing of his defence. “What’s fucking wrong with me lads?!?! Pass it back to me! Fuck you boys!” One of the centre backs had enough eventually and had to tell him to calm down.
We completed our lap of the ground with little of note happening on the pitch, aside from the game being soundtracked by the angry home goalie. I had been told beforehand that Cwmbran Celtic play near Cwmbran Town, but until getting halfway around this ground, I didn’t realise they lived right next door. As I headed up one of the small bankings to take a photo, I looked behind me to find Cwmbran Celtic’s much more modest ground on the other side. The Cwmbran derby even puts the Dundee derby to shame in regards of the clubs’ promixity to each other.
By the time we had completed our lap, there had been a few moments of comical defending and attacking, but no real chances. That was until we returned to our original starting point and Newport took the lead slightly against the run of play. A freekick from 20 yards was powerfully fired into the far corner by the Newport City number 9 to make it 1-0 in impressive fashion.
Cwmbran had had their chances, but were ridiculously wasteful, as proven again in the closing moments of the half. A ball across the box fell to their attacker to simply tap home from close range, but a bad touch and a poor shot saw it parried by the defender chasing back. The final word of the half would go to our new favourite keeper who offered his analytical opinion on his team’s finishing: “We need to sort that shit out!”
Half-time: Cwmbran Town 0 – 1 Newport City.
Our half-time treats came from the leisure centre cafe and the vending machine. Who knew Spicy Chroizo crisps was a thing? A bloody wonderful thing too. Crisps and coffee purchased, we headed back pitch side for the second half.
It took just moments for Cwmbran to equalise, as they scored with a powerful header from a corner, but what was to ensue minutes later has to go down as the most hilarious 10 seconds of football I’ve probably ever witnessed live.
With attackers bearing down on him, Newport City’s keeper decided now was the best time to perform a Cruyff turn in front of his goal – it went horribly wrong. Fortunately the striker who tackled him sent the ball rolling towards the touchline and seemingly out for a goal kick. The ball definitely crossed the line, resulting in most of the players stopping, but the ref waved play on. With everyone off guard, the ball was played back into the box only for the Cwmbran striker to smash his shot at the bar from 6 yards out with the keeper still stunned by the fact a goal kick hadn’t been given. The rebound off the bar fell to another Crows player who scuffed his shot wide of goal from 6 yards out. Not to worry though, as the ball rolled across goal to another Cwmbran attacker who had an empty net to roll into from 2 yards…of course, in the sudden spirit of Cwmbran goalmouth profligacy, he somehow rolled his shot wide. The whole ground was a scene of laughter and I had to hold myself up with the barrier I was laughing so much. You may have had to have been there, but it was sheer comedy football.
The hilarity of the goalmouth scramble was followed up with more circus football with Cwmbran’s loquacious keeper taking the role of clown this time. A simple ball across the box was scuffed by a defender, sending the ball goalwards. The keeper did dive to his right to stop the ball going over the line, but after catching it somehow dropped it and let it roll over the line. 2-1 to Newport City.
There was still time for one more major cock-up (the major cock-ups were scattered amongst a whole host of minor cock-ups).A suicidal backpass from the Newport defence put Cwmbran on the attack with the striker taking the ball around the keeper and then passing to his teammate to tap into an empty net (no missing this time).
Full-time: Cwmbran Town 2-2 Newport City.
An entertaining game, but probably not because of the flowing football on show – clumsy and comical would probably be a more apt description.
With train delays afoot, we ended up back at Wetherspoons with more Punk IPA, before we were eventually hopping back on the train to Cardiff with plans to visit the excellent Cambrian Tap. We had also agreed to meet my pal Steve, who I felt deserved a double thumbs up photo on these pages having probably delivered the furthest away double thumbs up photo of them all. Being in the Navy, Steve has travelled the world, so I was particularly proud of his efforts in getting a double thumbs up photo in the seas of Antarctica. Beers were enjoyed in the Cambrian Tap, before we continued onto Cardiff’s BrewDog bar and then back where I started the day in the Prince of Wales (who still hadn’t stocked up on Punk IPA). A good way to round off the day.
After watching football in the more basic surroundings of Blaenavon’s ground a few nights before, a visit to Cwmbran Town was completely different. It was pleasing enough, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed that that glorious stand is inaccessible. At least the football proved entertaining in its own way.
Highlights: lots of Punk IPA drunk, glorious stand, funny game, the open goal miss.
Low Points: not much near the ground, glorious stand closed.
See all my photos from my day at Cwmbran here.