I was staying at Lucy’s over New Year, and it was an ideal opportunity for me to tick another ground off my list. Originally, we had planned to go to two matches over the festive period. Llanelli v Carmarthen on December 29th, followed by Port Talbot v Afan Lido on January 1st. However, the BBC website had shown a certain amount of arrogance to Welsh football, and had messed the fixtures up completely.
Unfortunately both matches were in fact on the same day, which left us with a dilemma. Which match did we go to? It was a no brainer really, and we headed down to Port Talbot for this fierce local derby.
Port Talbot had beaten their local rivals 3-0 just three days previous to this fixture, and The Steelmen wanted to record back-to back victories over Afan Lido for the first time since the 2000/01 season.
We set off from Llansamlet at around 12:00, and caught the train to Swansea. From there we caught the train down to Port Talbot Parkway. The journey didn’t take long, and we were soon in a grey and miserable Port Talbot… with not a clue in the world where to go next.
A quick look on Google Maps, and we soon discovered that we were stuck. It suggested that we walked along a dual carriageway, which had a large sign saying “NO PEDESTRIANS ALLOWED”. A seemingly easy walk to the ground had turned into a disaster, as we struggled to find a way of crossing a river and a trainline.
We strolled back to the train station, and flagged down a taxi. I let Lucy do the speaking, as I never trust taxi drivers. He would probably have heard my English accent and driven the long way around Port Talbot to get a few extra pounds out of us. As it was, it only cost around £4 to get to the ground, and he dropped us off in a dark alley way next to the ground.
I conducted a quick risk assessment before stepping out of the vehicle, as I wasn’t sure whether he was going to chuck us out in this dark alley before running us over and leaving us for dead. Still none the wiser, I stepped out and looked up to the sky to find floodlights towering above our heads. We were safe.
We entered the turnstile, and it cost £5 as a student. I also bought a matchday programme, which looked very, very good. At first I feared the programme may be in Welsh, but not to worry, it was there in clear writing… the Queens English.
A quick stroll around the ground, and all you could hear were the Port Talbot players warming up. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ground, the Afan Lido players were running around with silly hats on. I think it was clear who was more up for the match!
John Hartson was sat in the corner of the stand filming his pre match section for S4C (Welsh Channel 4 for you foreign readers – A big hello to my Lithuanian readers by the way!) Hartson’s Dad used to play for Afan Lido, so the match was a personal one for him.
Town play their matches at Victoria Road, or the GenQuip for sponsorship purposes. The ground consists of two seated stands which run the length of the pitch, and two areas behind the goals which offer a fantastic view of the action.
The Main Stand at Victoria Road was constructed in 2008. Cut into a grass banking, it holds 700 seated spectators as well as media facilities and a TV gantry. The more vocal fans were gathered in the corner of this stand as they braved the elements, cheering on their team… with their trumpet and an upside down flag.
Opposite The Main Stand was the Victoria Road side. The seated stand holds around 300 spectators, and runs three quarters of the way down the pitch. It is split in two, which enables a players tunnel to protrude through the seating. Also found on this side of the ground is a club shop, which sells various hot drinks and club merchandise.
Opposite the Burns Road End is a high bank called the Social Club End. Scaling the high bank reminded me of the time I tried rolling down the hill at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium. Wet weather made the hill a bit treacherous, but when you conquered it you were rewarded with a fantastic panoramic view of the stadium.
The hill conquered, and it was time to go inside the club house for some warmth. It was quite busy, with everybody gathered around watching the pre match build up on the TV. A bar is found in the corner of the room, and a kitchen found opposite. Much to my disappointment, they didn’t serve pies. Instead, they served burgers and chips which were possibly the worst chips I’ve ever had the misfortune to taste. Oh well… at least the burger was nice.
A rainbow soon formed in the sky, as the teams were preparing to emerge on to the field of play. We chose to sit in The Main Stand for the first half, as it looked like one of the only places where we’d be able to keep warm. It turned out to be a bad decision, as we sat in what seemed like a wind tunnel.
Out the teams came. Port Talbot in their traditional blue colours. Afan Lido in their traditional red.
Behind the goal stood three Port Talbot fans, with a large banner reading “FOOTBALL WITHOUT FANS IS NOTHING” – The sentiment was there. It was just a shame they couldn’t spell fans right. They soon realised that their spelling mistake had been broadcast to the whole nation, and they proceeded to shove their large banner in a bin by the clubhouse.
It was Afan Lido who had the first opportunity of the match, when a free kick was swung in from the right. A firm header met the cross, but Craig Richards did well to palm the ball to safety.
Port Talbot took the lead in the 9th minute when Lewis Harling fired his effort towards goal. The ball squeezed past Chris Curtis in the Afan Lido goal, as the rain clouds began to gather over the Bristol Channel.
The visitors came roaring back, and it wasn’t long before the teams were on level terms. A great counter attack from the Seasiders was followed by a scrambled effort on the goal line which saw Mark Jones get the final touch, to take the ball over the line. He ran off, and celebrated in front of the small congregation of travelling fans.
The game threatened to boil over on various ocassions, and it wasn’t helped by Afan Lido right back Dean Hudson, who to put it quite frankly, rolled around like a little girl for the majority of the afternoon. Everytime he was touched by a Port Talbot player, he proceeded to pontificate to the referee, obviously aiming to gain his side an advantage.
I think many of the fans quite enjoyed the fact the match was threatening to boil over. It had been said that the clash a few days earlier had been “tepid” and that it didn’t resemble a fierce local derby at all.
The home side restored their advantage on 26 minutes when Port Talbots main goal threat David Brooks found himself one on one with the goalkeeper. He slotted the ball home well, and the home faithful began to blow their trumpets and fly their upside down flags.
Half time arrived, and it allowed us to warm up again. I was surprised to find that many of the Port Talbot fans had paid to attend the match… but then opted to sit inside the clubhouse, watching the match on the TV? Seemed extremely odd to me.
The main bar area was pretty full, and was full of smoke from the women who were still burning chips in the kitchen. I sensed an asthmatic attack coming on, so we went around to the back of the clubhouse building and sat in the large function room for a few minutes.
I then approached the bar, to ask for a taxi number. I really didn’t fancy walking through Port Talbot in the dark, especially when even Google Maps didn’t have a clue where it was going! I had to ring up the taxi company… Despite explaining to Lucy that I find it incredibly hard to understand her at the best of times, nevermind an old bloke operating a taxi rank.
After a very confusing phone call with a man who I really couldn’t understand, I had a bad feeling the taxi probably wouldn’t turn up, and that we would be stranded in Port Talbot for the evening. With this quite frightening and daunting thought on my mind, we went outside for the second half.
We opted to sit in the other stand for the remaining 45 minutes as we had been told it was little less blustery. We sat down, and suddenly my phone vibrated. It was a text off my Dad saying he’d just seen us on the TV.
Nine minutes into the second half, and Afan Lido’s miserable festive period was compounded. Jeff White was bursting through the defence, when Paul Evans came steaming in with a rash challenge from behind. The referee could have booked him, but as we were soon to find out… this referee LOVED his red cards!
The resulting free kick was curled into the top left hand corner by Brooks. It was a fantastic free kick, curling over the wall, leaving Chris Curtis with no chance. The team came and celebrated right in front of us, and you sensed there was no way back for a visibly deflated Afan Lido.
It was soon to get worse for Lido, as another sending off was to follow. It was possibly one of the funniest and most baffling moments I’ve seen at a football match. There was a slight altercation between two players, before they all decided they wanted a piece of the action. The referee and linesman eventually diffused the situation, and had a gossip for a minute or so. A stern talking to and a yellow card for the Port Talbot player. Thoroughly expecting to receive the same punishment, the Lido player Anthony Rawlings stood there joking with the referee and other players… when suddenly be brandished another red card! The players couldn’t believe it, and neither could the fans as we all burst out laughing in bemusement.
Minutes later and Port Talbot scored another when Carl Payne fired a low shot past the Lido keeper. With a two-man advantage, there was no stopping the home side.
The referee continued to play a huge role in this entertaining match when he sent Port Talbots Jeff White off on 80 minutes for a second bookable offence. The yellow cards had now become that frequent, not many people realised he had been sent off… including myself!
A fifth Port Talbot goal was scored on 90 minutes when Ryan Green’s deflected effort from close range nestled into the bottom left hand corner.
The victory left Port Talbot 5th in the league, with fans dreaming of a second spell in the Europa League. It was a different story for Afan Lido, who look increasingly likely to be relegated.
We left the ground, and waited on Victoria Road for our taxi to turn up. Also waiting for a taxi back to the train station were three Port Talbot fans. With no sign of our taxi turning up, we jumped in with them and got back to the station in no time at all.
In the back of the taxi, I sat there flicking through the photos that I had taken during the day… when suddenly I noticed something. I zoomed in on the men holding up the banner. I looked up at the man who was sat opposite me in the taxi. I looked back down at my camera… and realised that we were sharing a taxi with the men who had spelt “FANS” wrong.
It appeared that they were Neath fans, but after their football club folded earlier on in the year, they were left to find a new team to support.
We arrived back at Port Talbot Parkway, which really is a grim little train station. A twenty minute wait followed before we set off back to Swansea.
It had been a really enjoyable day. When we saw that there had been 7 goals at the Llanelli match which we decided not to go to, we were gutted. Fortunately Port Talbot Town more than made up for it, with another 7 goals. The fans seemed friendly enough, the ground was nice and there was a laid back feel throughout the match.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 226miles
- ADMISSION: £5 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2
- PIE: N/A