Pre-Season Friendly – 28th July 2015
Ground #53 – Clappers Lane, Gresford, Wrexham County Borough
- Entrance: FREE
- Programme: N/A
The final week of July equates to the first week of my enforced two week break from work due to a scheduled factory shutdown for maintenance purposes (not that I’m complaining of course….). A lot of my fellow workers have either gone on holiday or in the case of my groundhopping accomplice, Greg, gone on a bike ride from Workington to Whitley Bay (not for charity but for fun….madness….). Alas my two week holiday is not so jam-packed with major events, so I am using the shutdown as a fantastic opportunity to get some serious groundhopping in. Considering I have seen few matches this pre-season so far, it was now the right time to rectify that lack of game viewing.
As you might have seen on Twitter, I was looking for something to keep my mind active on the Tuesday considering all my friends were either away or still working. Thankfully a trawl through the many tweets of my Twitter timeline provided a bountiful harvest of a potential groundhop. I spotted that Gresford Athletic (@GresfordFC) were playing a friendly against a Glyndwr Wrexham Academy team at their home ground that very evening, and that certainly caught my interest…..and yes I did start whistling the Police Academy theme tune when I saw that fixture! Thankfully the Academy XI would not prove to be haphazard nor bumbling as the recruits in the film franchise!
Gresford were a team I was initially planning on visiting later on in the season when Holywell Town would make the trip to Clappers Lane in the Cymru Alliance, but when the fixture appeared on my timeline, it was very difficult to dismiss. Despite some temptation from the Cefn Druids game taking place at Llanrhaeadr the same evening also, Gresford was nearer to my Holywell base and so won the fixture duel (Llanrhaeadr will have to wait for a weekend due to an hour & fifteen minute drive). As Gresford also retweeted my tweet about being interested in visiting, I couldn’t exactly go against my word now could I?? Therefore I set on the half-hour journey through Flintshire to reach the village just over the county border.
Gresford (Gresffordd in Welsh) is a historical village of about 5300 people in Wrexham County Borough, and is located approximately 4 miles north of Wrexham, 10 miles south east of Mold and only 5 miles away from the Welsh-English border. The village is situated just south of the main North-to-South Wales A483 road as well as the south bank of the River Alyn which flows past nearby. Today a commuter village for both Wrexham and Chester, historically the village was a mining community and was home to the Gresford coal colliery. The village is also home to one of the most tragic and worst events in British mining history when in 1934 an underground explosion caused the deaths of 266 lives, of which only 11 bodies were ever discovered. A memorial to those lost lives, which has used the old pit head wheel as part of the memorial, exists at Gresford Heath.
Gresford is also famous for having one of the traditional Seven Wonders of Wales, as the bells of the parish church, All Saints’ Church, are mentioned in the historic rhyme [as is St. Winifred’s Well in Holywell]. The bells are also nicely commemorated in the badge of the village’s football team, Gresford Athletic.
Gresford Athletic were founded in 1946 (there are records of a club from the village being around in the 1920s) and will be returning to play in the Cymru Alliance this season after winning last season’s Welsh National League (Wrexham Area). For the majority of their history, they have played in the WNL pyramid until the introduction of the Cymru Alliance in 1990-91, when they joined to become one of the founding members of the league. They remained there for four seasons before suffering relegation and returning back to the WNL. They returned back to the Cymru Alliance as WNL champions in 2000-01 and stayed in the second tier league for 9 seasons before dropping back down to the Wrexham League structure.
It took a final day victory over title rivals Chirk AAA to confirm last season’s WNL title, winning the title by 5 points and a re-return to the Cymru Alliance. However their return back to the second-tier this season was under threat as their promotion was challenged by relegated Llanidloes Town who contested that their ground Clappers Lane was not to Cymru Alliance standards. Despite this delay, the league ultimately rejected Llanidloes’ appeal and Gresford were free to take their place in the Alliance for this upcoming season.
Their ground, Clappers Lane, is located in the far west of the village and very near to the All Saints’ Church at the Recreational Club field (the field sandwiched between Clappers Lane and B5445 Chester Road). The village’s social club and bowling club are next to the field, whilst the football club shares the field with the village’s cricket club. As a result of this, the players change in the cricket clubhouse on the far end of the field. Also only one side of the pitch has standing railings located due to their location on the edge of the Clappers Lane side of the pitch. It is this side where the main stand is located, as well as newly laid concrete path which is a recent addition over the summer in preparation for the new season. Alas the ground does not possess floodlights as of yet, which undoubtedly will limit the opportunities for games throughout the short days in winter.
Conveniently for the visiting team of today’s match, Clappers Lane is in very close proximity to Wrexham’s training ground Colliers Park, with the National League team’s training complex located on the far west edge of the village just further down the B5445. Even though the Red Dragons use the complex, the local university Glyndwr University bought it along with the Racecourse Ground and now run sporting courses from there. This academy team would be the first batch of players who would play for Wrexham whilst obtaining a degree at the university as part of the partnership between the university and the club. As a result of the training facility being so near, the away team brought a large number of academy players across to both sit on the bench or watch the game from the main stand.
This wouldn’t be the first time Gresford had played a Wrexham team at Clappers Lane in this pre-season schedule as they faced a Wrexham XI earlier on in July, where they were inflicted a 1-3 defeat on that occasion. The game against the Academy XI would be the final pre-season fixture of Athletic’s program with their first competitive match of the 2015-16 season coming against FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay on the 7th August. The home side would be hoping to take some momentum into the cup game as their pre-season has been average at best having only won only three of their seven pre-season fixtures so far, and just the one victory in their last five games. In their previous friendly fixture, they endured a 2-9 hammering to Welsh Premier side Airbus UK Broughton.
I arrived at the ground roughly 20 minutes before kick off and parked in the public car park between the playing field and the quaint village pond. The car park is just a bit further down the road than the location given by the post code detailed on the club’s website (if you’re using that to find the ground with your sat-nav like I did) and on the right hand side. Once you see the pond, you should see the road junction that leads into the car park. Once parked up, the field is located behind the social club and memorial hall, which you should see from the car park, and there should be a couple of routes around the buildings to access the field from the car park.
[There are benches by the pond should you wish to unwind either before or after the match, with a number of ravenous ducks on the pond who will be happy to relieve you of some bread!]
As I entered the ground, I couldn’t see any refreshments nor toilets clearly signposted although I would presume that during the season, supporters can go to the cricket clubhouse or social club for either. For the start of the first half, I decided to sit in the covered main stand to get a good view of the game and mainly to avoid the glare of the late evening sun which was starting to burn my retinas [I forgot the sunglasses…]. Situated in front of me in the main stand were a few members of Wrexham’s academy team who were decked out in full Wrexham training gear but had not been selected for this evening’s match.
Once I had sat down in the main stand, the two teams emerged from the cricket clubhouse, which houses the changing rooms for the players. The home side were wearing their home kit of red shirts with white shoulders & trim, red shorts and socks [very similar to Airbus UK’s new away kit]. The academy team were wearing the Wrexham change kit of green shirt with black shoulders and white trim, with green shorts and socks with white trim. The weather conditions were superb with the sun shining and a slight breeze, with the playing surface as perfect as it can be for pre-season.
The first chance of the match went to the Academy team four minutes into the match. A strong run through midfield by Wrexham’s #8 found Wrexham’s #16 in space on the right hand side of the pitch. #16 then fired a low, fizzing shot from outside of the penalty area which fails to trouble the Gresford goalkeeper as his effort drifts wide of the right hand post. The Academy XI started the match the brighter of the two teams much to the delight of the players who were located in front of me in the stand.
Despite the visiting team having the early upper hand, the home side would strike first seven minutes into the match. Gresford’s #8 was fouled just outside of the penalty box after a strong challenge upheld him during a surging run towards goal. #14 then stepped up to take the free kick positioned on the left hand side of the pitch and whipped the ball into the far post area. Gresford’s centre back #4 climbed the highest of the crowd of players at the back post and angled the set piece ball past the visiting ‘keeper and into the opposite bottom corner of the net to give the home side an early lead.
Gresford Athletic 1 – 0 Glyndwr Wrexham Academy XI
Seven minutes after their first goal and Gresford got a chance to extend their lead through a corner. Their captain #3 superbly whipped the set piece into the middle of the area and #5 used his superior height to connect with the cross. Alas for the home side, they failed to double their tally as he headed over the bar. Early on in the match, Gresford were certainly looking dangerous on the set pieces.
17 minutes into the match and the Academy team almost grab an equaliser when a through ball from midfield allowed their #7 to break free on the left hand flank. With the home keeper onrushing to eliminate the threat, #7 attempted to chip the keeper on the half-volley. He managed to successfully chip the rushing keeper but put too much power into his chip and saw his effort sail over the crossbar. A let off for the home side!
Wrexham’s #16 worked hard on the right hand side throughout the first half being the lynch pin of a lot of the academy’s attacks. He managed to create space for their right back #2 to bomb forward and overlap the midfielder. With extra time and space, it allowed him to whip a cross into the box but unfortunately none of the Academy forwards gambled on breaking forward ensuring the dangerous cross found no-one in green and drifted out of play for a goal kick. A couple of minutes later and using the space afforded to him, he tried a through ball for the forwards to run onto, but unfortunately for the midfielder he put too much power on his cutting pass and the home keeper easily gathered up the chance.
With the Academy side on the attack, Gresford were catching them on the counter-attack. With half-an-hour on the clock, they came close when a cross came in from the right hand side towards their #7, but he could only managed to scuff his shot as it looped into the Academy keeper’s hands. However a minute later and the home side would eventually double their lead. Gresford’s #9 received the ball on the edge of the penalty box and had great vision to see his team mate #2 onrushing into space and squared the ball into his path. Using his momentum, #2 surged into the danger area and fired a low driven shot towards goal. Even though the visiting keeper managed to get something on the driven effort, the power behind the shot ensured he could only deflect it as the ball hit the back of the net. A well worked goal by the home side who exploited the space afforded to them by the Academy full back to double their lead.
Gresford Athletic 2 – 0 Glyndwr Wrexham Academy XI
Wrexham’s #8 attempted to find an instant way back into the match for his team but could only see his long range effort go high and wide of the target. Fortunately for the visiting side, they would not be behind for too long and finally managed to make their numerous chances count and saw themselves back into the match six minutes after Gresford had scored their second. Receiving the ball just outside of the penalty box, Wrexham #10 managed to jink past a tackle into some space and launched a fierce shot towards goal. Even though his shot was on target, it seemed as if the home keeper was equal to it and able to make the save. However just before it got to the keeper, the shot managed to deflected off his team mate #12, and fly past the diving keeper and into the net. A deserved goal for the young side after having a majority of the ball possession during the first half.
Gresford Athletic 2 – 1 Glyndwr Wrexham Academy XI
The Academy XI almost managed to equal things up just before the end of the half when their #10 and #8 tried to play a nice 1-2 to open up the Athletic defence. Despite some decent work from #10, the home keeper snuffed out the danger when he claimed the attempted cross by #8 back to #10 who was waiting in space in the danger zone. It would be the final play of the first half as the official then blows the whistle for half time.
HALF TIME: GRESFORD ATHLETIC 2 – 1 GLYNDWR WREXHAM ACADEMY XI
During the half time period, both teams decided to stay on the pitch and receive their team talk a la Phil Brown at Hull (although not as angry nor aggressive), with them all sat down on the pitch whilst their managers and coaches detailed the tactics for the second half. With myself now on the field side of the pitch after moving to the other side to avoid the direct sunlight blazing into my corneas, I decided to sit on the grass and catch up on Facebook and Twitter accounts. During the short break, the famous bells chiming from the nearby church could be heard, with the bell ringers possibly having a practice. With the weather being perfect, I found the chimes of the bells most ap-peal-ing (a pun for all of you campanologists out there!).
The second half started and almost instantly from the kick off, Gresford nearly added their third of the afternoon. Great build up play from their midfield resulted in their #10 getting a chance on goal. Luckily for the Academy team, who seemed to have been slow switching their attention onto the second half, #10 could only managed to hit his half-volley over the crossbar and the scores stayed as they were.
Four minutes after their initial chance of the half and Gresford managed to threat their opponents once again through a set piece. A long through ball from their centre back #5 to their forward #9 caused panic for the Academy team, with them conceding a dangerously placed free kick after the attacker was pushed off the ball outside of the penalty area. From the resulting free kick, #10 tried to threaten the Wrexham goal by curling his effort over the defensive wall but the keeper guessed the flight of the ball correctly and managed to gather the effort into his hands successfully. The momentum was truly with the home side as they managed another effort on goal. This time a curling cross from the right hand side was aimed towards Gresford #9, but he could only manage to scuff his chance wide of the left post. A disappointing effort considering it was a great chance to extend their lead for the evening.
With Gresford pushing forward for a killer third goal, Wrexham were finding more space down the flanks and their #16 and #10 were fully exploiting it, especially down the right side. The impressive #16 was centre of attention once again for the academy side’s attacking tactics as he worked hard to create space for #10 to run into. #10 used the room around him to curl a shot-cum-cross into the penalty area, but once again was easily gathered up by the home keeper. Five minutes later and the increasingly influential #16 created a chance for himself. Cutting in from the right hand flank, he managed to launch a rocket towards the Gresford goal, but it slowly drifted in flight and whizzed past the top left corner. They would miss another big chance through a corner from the right hand side, which was just headed over the crossbar by their centre back #4.
On the 70th minute of the game, and Route 1 football proved advantageous for Gresford as a long hoof up-field allowed their #10 to break clear of the Wrexham defensive line and find himself in an one-on-one situation. Despite being a fantastic position, he could only blast his shot against the keeper’s legs and the chance to score the third goal was gone.
Five minutes after Gresford’s one-on-one opportunity, and Wrexham had their best chance for an equaliser, once again exploiting the space on the right flank. A throw in allowed the academy #2 to find time to arch a cross into the far post towards #12. With the keeper coming off his line to deal with the cross, the attacker managed to the cross and scuff his low effort towards goal. It looked like it was going to creep over the line for the equaliser but great defending from Gresford’s #5 meant he just saved his side by clearing the ball off the line and ensuring the home side maintained their slender lead.
In the space of a couple of minutes, the home side had chances to kill off the contest. Firstly their #16 had a low shot from the right saved by the keeper, then their #17 headed an effort into the goalie’s hands after #3 had whipped in a fantastic curling corner.
With the light fading and the temperature dropping, the final real chance of the match fell to the superb Wrexham #16, who again went looking for an equaliser. A dangerous run from his own half down the right flank (avoiding a potentially cutting slide challenge from Gresford #3 on the way) meant he surged into the opposition’s box. However just as he was about to square the ball to the awaiting #10 by the penalty spot, the onrushing home keeper managed to intercept the square pass and eliminate the danger. That would be the final chance of either team for the evening and the game fizzled out in the final three minutes.
FULL TIME: GRESFORD ATHLETIC 2 – 1 GLYNDWR WREXHAM ACADEMY XI
I really enjoyed the match and thought it was a decent run out for the home side, and excellent preparation for their upcoming cup tie in the following week. There is probably still some preparation work to be done, but they look like they could have a decent season in the Cymru Alliance. I certainly don’t think they will struggle near the bottom anyway! I was also impressed with a number of the academy players, in particular Wrexham’s #16 who looked impressive especially in the second half of the match. The Academy team can feel slightly aggrieved they didn’t press their possession advantage more in the second half, and potentially claim an equaliser as a draw which would have been considered a fair result had it occurred.
Clappers Lane is a classic Welsh league ground and I’m glad I finally made the visit to Gresford. It seems as if the ground is in the middle of a transition phase with additional upgrades no doubt planned in the future should the club maintain their Cymru Alliance status. The club have ambitious plans for their future, so I will be interested to see how the ground (and team for that matter) will develop over the upcoming years. Coming in the summertime certainly enhances the greenery around the ground and I enjoyed watching some of the match sat down on the grass making it a pleasant July evening experience. No doubt watching in the winter will be a different (possibly muddy) experience but no less enjoyable in my opinion.
I would like to wish the lads in the Glyndwr Wrexham Academy all the very best in their apprenticeship and hope they manage to get success in both their playing and academic careers. Finally I would like to thank Gresford for their hospitality and help and hope they have a successful first season back in the Cymru Alliance and look forward to seeing them again in the coming season.