‘I quite like the image of us with a map across your bonnet trying to choose where to go.’ (Zach Pierce, 2016)
That was precisely the image we all had in mind when we realised we had a free day and could literally drive anywhere to catch some football. Aaron, our esteemed chauffeur, had loved our #GroundhopRoulette game (which saw us spontaneously drive from Atherton to Redbridge four days before Christmas) so much that we were now on for a second helping. This time we compiled a list of around 30 matches to choose from and feared the worst as a deluge hit the nation.
Between us, we couldn’t make a decision, so come 12:00 on the day of our travels we found ourselves sat in my living room arguing over the pros and cons of each match. We had everything from Dunston UTS in Gateshead, MK Dons and a kind helping of Welsh football included in our extensive list.
Being the recalcitrant trouble maker that I am, a trip to MK Dons seemed heavenly. They were taking on Barnet in the newly rebranded Checkatrade Trophy; a competition that was facing mass boycotting from fans up and down the country. In my head, what could have been more interesting and amusing than going to a club despised by everybody to watch a competition that is despised even more? I rightly, or in my opinion wrongly, received abuse tantamount to that received by Katie Hopkins for the declaration of my wishes to visit the Stadium m:k.
Kicking off the most was Rob, who really didn’t want to go to MK Dons and even threatened to pull out of the trip altogether. Ultimately, even I decided that it would be strange to be seen rebelling against a rebellion… and I found myself barking out a plethora of non-league tussles, scribbling out the grounds that one of us had already visited.
In the end we were left with the glamorous options of AFC Wulfrunians, Billingham Town, Bala Town, Llandudno, Caersws and finally Porthmadog. For me, there was only going to be one winner and that was Porthmadog. If we were going to set out in the car and do something daft, let’s head somewhere that we’d struggle to get to on public transport. Again, Rob wasn’t happy and demanded that we head to Bala Town. His protests were quashed when I checked their website and noticed they were in the middle of converting their pitch to an artificial facility and it currently resembled a tarmac car park.
Just before 13:00 we set off with Porthmadog our destination. Zach wanted to go the scenic way through the Snowdonia National Park and while it took half an hour longer than the direct route along the coastal road we were all more than happy with the plan we had scrambled together. I doubt the beautiful scenery did much for Zach though, who had just returned from a three week long stay in Tanzania where he traipsed up part of Mount Kilimanjaro. He didn’t talk about it too much; honestly.
Ironically, the route we took led us straight past Bala’s ground but we will just have to save it for another day. It looked a pretty dull and uninspiring town anyway and we seemed to zoom through it in the blink of an eyelid. The excitement all proved too much for us and we needed a toilet stop… but there were no toilets… so in true Welsh fashion we had to pull over next to a sheep field where there was a rather well endowed ram. Fortunately we lived to tell the tale.
Internet signal by this stage was non-existent and our Spotify playlist was on the verge of resigning from duty. We approached Porthmadog with the intermittent lines of David Bowie – Changes trying to come together to create a full rendition. It never happened and we were soon in the car park of Porthmadog’s football ground. There were a couple of volunteers wandering around, one rolling beer kegs out of a red van emblazoned in the club’s colours while another made final touches to the pitch.
Over the fence, on the other side of the ground, there was more activity as the area geared up for the Portmeirion Festival which was due to take place in a couple of days time. It’s a shame we couldn’t stay for a couple of days as the likes of Noel Gallagher, Hot Chip, Bastille, Kaiser Chiefs, Echo & The Bunnymen, Super Furry Animals and Blossoms were all on the bill. Acts to have appeared in the past include New Order and James.
We weren’t in Porthmadog for music though. Oh no! We were here for some fresh air, some culture and a bit of football. Little research had been put in during our drive over to the small coastal town which sits on the west coast of Wales. All we knew was that there was a port, as the name suggests.
The town centre was quite busy when we drove through it at around 16:00. Usual tourist tat shops were on hand to add colour, while one couldn’t decide whether they wanted to stock more buckets and spades or pairs of crocs. They weren’t even crocs though… and even still… there were more pairs of crocs outside this shop than there were people living in the town.
Porthmadog developed as a town in the 19th century as a port exporting slate around the world. This was only possible after the work of William Madocks who tried for years to open the area up to other parts of Wales, making it more accessible through the development of infrastructure. In fact, the bloke did that much in the way of developing the place it is named after him.
The story of Madock then starts to sound a bit like your average episode of Grand Designs (without the part where he gets his partner pregnant and they bring a new born child up in a caravan next to a building site). The tenacious bloke created a large embankment, known as the Cob, which was finished in 1811. It’s construction had been long and difficult and had cost Madocks literally all the money he had. By the time of it’s completion he was being hotly pursued by a great number of creditors. The opening of the Cob brought him some relief as now, at least, he could charge people to cross the estuary. Disaster threatened a year later when, in 1812, a great storm hammered the construction and breached the wall. By now, however, the value of the Cob as a crossing place had been proved and Madocks was able to raise money from all over the county to pay for repairs.
What really saved Madocks and the Cob was the slate industry of the area. At his instigation, an Act of Parliament in 1821 gave permission for the creation of a new port at Ynys y Tywyn (now Porthmadog), the diversion of the river and estuary caused by the building of the Cob having created something of a natural harbour.
By 1836, the rapidly expanding towns and cities of the UK needed high quality roofing slates and these were transported to the brand new port by a tramway which is still operational as a railway to this very day. It was at the Ffestiniog Railway station where we dumped the car and began wandering around the town.
The port was a bit quiet and all of the activity seemed to be occurring on the train station platform where an old steam train full of tourists had just pulled in. It had just come back from a trip through the neighbouring Snowdonia National Park, driven by a collection of men who were dressed like Fred Dibnah. We had listened to a brand new Lancashire Hotpots song written in memory of the world’s most famous steeplejack on the way over to Wales, so it only seemed fair that we bumped into some lookalikes.
As we stood on the platform looking at the steam engine, we joked that we did look like the typical groundhoppers. We had ticked off an obscure railway line and were en route to a non-league match… all we needed now was a CAMRA pub. Little did we know that as we strolled further into the town centre we would stumble across the Regional CAMRA Pub of the Year 2016; The Australia. It was a bit of a head in hands moment as we realised just how sad our lives were becoming.
We wandered inside and just one woman was sat on a leather sofa drinking a posh bottle of wine. Was this really a pub? The troops were exasperated and in desperate need of some food, we asked the bloke behind the bar if he was serving. Nope, only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. He seemed more than happy to lose us as customers and instantly directed us over the park to another pub. We got there and it wasn’t open. I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for myself… all I wanted was some fish and chips. Picture the scene, we were stood in a bloody port and we couldn’t find a chippy!
Turning the corner back towards the port itself we found a place called the Tafarn Pencei. Nope, me neither. Everybody seemed to be flocking here and for good reason too; they had just started serving food. Obviously I wasn’t present when Jesus fed the 5000 but I bet the scenes we witnessed here came pretty close to what would have happened over in the Middle East. Even better, they had Wrexham Lager on tap… I bet the disciples didn’t get any of that, did they?
Zach – who later went on to state he had just “ate the nicest burger he had ever had in his life” – loved his time in this cafe pub immensely. For me though, I couldn’t get the thought of the eclectic mix of local craft beers they had on tap at The Australia out of my mind and we soon found ourselves back on the other side of the park, propping up the bar. Rob didn’t like sitting at the bar as he felt like he was in the way. What are stools at bars for?
The pint of Snowdon Craft Lager from The Great Orme Brewery was beautiful and was a great way to finish off our brief visit to the town centre. I was slightly annoyed with myself that I didn’t try one of the beers from Purple Moose Brewery who are based just a couple of streets away; an oversight on my behalf. The Australia really was a fantastic pub and the best bit was there wasn’t one pint of Carling or Fosters in sight.
Around an hour to go until kick off we jumped back in the car and headed back to Porthmadog’s ground, Y Traeth, which translates to ‘The Beach’ in English, apparently. Bucket and spade at the ready I was deeply disappointed when I went through the turnstile only to be met with a few stands and a patch of grass. There were certainly enough people turning out for what we later realised was quite a big local derby. The programme notes explained that for many supporters the Gwynedd derby is the fixture both sets of fans look for and this was billed as the biggest game of the season!
The two teams were warming up literally on the car park, with the odd spectator cutting through the various running drills and passing exercises as they couldn’t be bothered walking an extra minute around the grass. Walking in through the turnstile I paid my admission and found an old bloke opening and closing a tin every single time a passerby threw a pound coin at him for a raffle ticket. It seemed an arduous task.
Y Traeth is a cracking little ground and brings together both old and new. Nearest the turnstile is a shed which runs behind the goal, offering a couple of rows of seating. There’s even some romantic carvings in the wood at the far corner, where a Welsh girl shows her love for a lad called Huw. Opposite this mecca for lust is a metal flatpack stand which was brought into the ground a few years ago to help bring it up to the correct standard for the level of football.
There’s a couple more stands shoved in the corner nearest the bypass that wraps itself around that end of the ground. As far as bypasses go, this one has seen a far bit of controversy since it’s construction in 2011. When it was opened, there was a mass boycott by the local councillors as invitations to the event were only written in English and more recently it has been claimed it helped add to the flooding the ground suffered back in December. Three words; surface run off. I’ll never know how I didn’t get an A for my A-Level Geography course.
Floods hampered a number of grounds nationwide a few months ago, with Tadcaster Albion and Porthmadog being hardest hit. The Welsh club found themselves around a foot under water, with many of the buildings such as the clubhouse and changing rooms damaged. It had only been a few years since the club was last flooded… now I am no expert but I wouldn’t build brand new buildings on a piece of land that is prone to flooding. Anyway, the club now want to add to their most recent extension (opened in July) by constructing a hotel and some brand new stands.
We loved Y Traeth as it is and the surrounding scenery only added to the charm of the place.
There was a large crowd ready as the two teams jogged out on to the pitch; once again a reminder that all this Fair Play and Respect bull shit doesn’t exist in Wales. No handshakes on this side of the border. Kick off was late as the three officials took their time to emerge. You could see the Porthmadog volunteers pacing around wondering if the referee had done a runner or stage fright had set in. It was all a bit odd but they eventually came out and the match kicked off.
Coming into the match, after three matches played, Porthmadog found themselves in second place behind Prestatyn while the visitors Caernarfon were in 7th place with one win to their name. If we’re being fair, Caernarfon shouldn’t even be playing in the Welsh Alliance this season as they were champions last campaign but were denied promotion due to paperwork issues. With that in mind, you’d have put the visitors as favourites and they opened the scoring after less than a minute.
I would say it’s the quickest goal I have seen at a match as Nathan Craig finished emphatically. He drove forward with an early run from midfield and, before he could be closed down, sent a top quality shot which curled well out of Richard Harvey’s reach into the top corner of the net. The players and staff on the Caernarfon bench hadn’t even sat down with their vast collection of brews (in mugs) and there was nearly tea everywhere!
In a completely random and unrelated note, there were SEVEN players with the last name Williams on the teamsheet and FOUR named Jones. It was almost like we were in the depths of Wales.
The away team’s lead was doubled on 13 minutes when Jamie Breese received a long ball from the back. He burst forward holding off two defenders to cut inside and unleash a powerful shot which was deflected beyond the outstretched Richard Harvey.
With the half drawing to a close Port finally took advantage of their increasing possession to get a foothold in the game. Gruff Williams won the ball well wide on the left and his excellent cross to the back post was drilled into the net by Julian Williams for his sixth goal of the season. 2-1 at the interval.
During the break we decided to head into the clubhouse to get away from the cold which had descended more suddenly than Blackpool’s plunge into League Two. Despite a large crowd there was more than enough room for everybody, even if Zach did manage to seal off an entire table after disposing the contents of his coffee cup all over it. My coffee survived a bit longer due to it being incandescent. In a sympathetic manner, the club allowed me outside for the second half with my mug of coffee… as long as I returned it back to the bar once finished… I was obviously earmarked as a pesky student who was short on homeware.
I stood at the car park end of the ground for the beginning of the half with Aaron and Zach. Rob had gone missing and we didn’t find our companion until five minutes from the end of proceedings. Port came out strongly in the second half and the Canaries keeper was soon in action saving Jamie McDaid’s angled shot at his near post and soon after saving again from Rob Evans. Port continued the pressure as Gareth Jones Evans found Julian Williams on the edge of the box and a quality shot on the turn again tested keeper Mike Jones.
Caernarfon’s best chance to seal the game came when a powerfully struck Nathan Craig free kick produced a difficult heading chance at the back post for Clive Williams. Port continued to search for the equaliser, forcing a series of late corners but the goal refused to arrive giving Caernarfon another victory by the odd goal.
When the match finished we headed back to the car and remained on the car park for a good 20 minutes while everybody tried to fight their way out. I can’t remember what time we arrived back home but it wasn’t early.
That concluded a second edition of #GroundhopRoulette and it was more than worth the effort. Porthmadog are a great little club and definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the part of the world.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 120 miles
- ADMISSION: £6
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2