Welsh National League Premier Division – 24th September 2016
Ground #74: Brymbo Sports & Social Complex (The Crick), Tanyfron, Wrexham County Borough
- Distance Travelled: 21,4 miles
- Travel Time: 35 minutes
- Attendance: 40 approx.
- Entrance: £1.50
- Programme: FREE
- Chocolate Bar: £0.60
- Cup of Coffee: £1.00
September 2016 has been a busy month for me in terms of watching live football, with three of the four September games involving a short walk to Halkyn Road to watch Holywell Town play both Cymru Alliance games and a Welsh League Cup game (frustratingly only seeing one home victory from those three games). Alas in terms of groundhopping and visiting new grounds, it has been a barren month as only a single new ground had been ticked off the list!
In the second weekend of September, I was fortunate to see an excellent Welsh Cup Second Qualifying Round match involving Lex Glyndwr and Chirk AAA at Stansty Park, on the outskirts of Wrexham. On that occasion, the home side performed a superb comeback despite being hindered by a man disadvantage, and being 1-2 down to opposition who are competing in the league above them (Chirk playing in the Welsh National League Premier Division, Lex playing in WNL Division 1). Lex ultimately achieved a famous 3-2 victory and sealed a place in the first round proper of the Welsh Cup. An excellent game played in the quaint surroundings of Stansty Park, from a team who once mainstays of the Cymru Alliance but now found themselves languishing in the fourth tier of the Welsh football pyramid.
The previous weekend I was all prepared for a journey down into the Conwy Valley to take in another groundhop by watching Llanrwst United compete against Llangefni Town in a Welsh Alliance Division 1 fixture at Gwydir Park. Despite having done some pre-writing and research for the potential blog, and being enthusiastic for the game, Llanrwst would again be out of reach for this groundhopper! Unfortunately illness would strike just 5-10 minutes into the drive and I only managed to reach the Caerwys junction on the A55, before conceding defeat and turning around to miserably slump back home.
As a result of the previous weekend’s abortive groundhop attempt, I was ultra-determined to visit another new ground this month. After having a good comb through the fixtures of the various Welsh leagues for that weekend, and highlighting a selection of potentially interesting fixtures at unvisited grounds, I finally settled on one contest taking place in the Welsh National League Premier Division. The focus of my groundhopping, almost Sauron-like, glare for the final weekend of September would fall upon the Brymbo versus Llay Welfare match which was taking place at Brymbo’s ground, fabulously named ‘The Crick’.
The last time I had seen Llay Welfare play was when I did a groundhop to their ground, The Ring, during the Halloween weekend in 2015 (blog can be found here), where they played Brymbo’s local rivals Coedpoeth United. As for Brymbo FC, this would be the first time I had seen the Steelmen (Brymbo’s nickname which will be expanded upon in this blog) during my groundhopping adventures. Visiting Brymbo’s ground would also result in another WNL Premier ground being ticked off, and with a planned visit to Coedpoeth United for a Welsh Cup match pencilled in for the following weekend; it could be possible to tick off all the WNL Premier grounds by the end of the season! It’s an accomplishment which is now looking achievable anyway!
Joining me on this late September groundhop would be regular accomplice and 94th Minute stalwart Greg, who would also be driving for this groundhop journey. Setting off from 94th Min HQ about 1:45 pm, the drive would take us along the A55 Expressway before turning off at Dobshill roundabout. From there we drove through the Flintshire villages of Hope and Caergwrle, before arriving at Cefn-y-Bedd and onwards towards the former mining and steel making village of Brymbo.
Brymbo is a large village of over 4,800 inhabitants situated in the Wrexham County Borough in North East Wales. A largely rural commuter village in the hills in the north-western section of the county, it is located 4,5 miles north-west of the county town of Wrexham and 10 miles south-east of Mold. Within close proximity to Brymbo are the smaller villages of Tanyfron, Fron/Vron and Bwlchgwyn.
The village is positioned on the B5433 road, and can be accessed by road via the main A483 dual carriageway (which links the village to Wrexham, Chester and beyond) by taking the Brymbo/Coedpoeth turnoff at Junction 4, or via the Mold-Wrexham A541 road and diverting off at Cefn-y-Bedd. Unfortunately there is no railway station in the village with the nearest train stations being either the Cefn-y-Bedd or the Gwersyllt stops on the Wrexham-Bidston railway line. However there are regular bus routes which link the out skirting villages to Wrexham town centre and to the main railway stations there.
The etymology of “Brymbo” possibly originates from the Welsh ‘Bryn baw’ (English: ‘Mud hill’ or ‘dirt hill’), with the village’s name first appearing in records in 1339. At that stage Brymbo was a township covering a large area and accommodating a number of scattered settlements and farms. However there is clear evidence of occupation in the area for many centuries beforehand, with an early Bronze Age burial ground being accidently discovered in Brymbo in 1958. The skeleton of a Bronze Age settler, described as ‘Brymbo Man’, was found in a burial chamber alongside a flint knife and earthenware beaker, and was thought to have dated around 1600BC.
The ancient earthwork of Offa’s Dyke, which supposedly defined the border between the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the small collection of Brythonic Welsh kingdoms (however this is subsequently alleged to have potentially been built during the Roman occupation of Britain), passes close to the village. Excavations were done on the dyke near Brymbo in the 19th century which found evidence of horse bones along with horse shoes “of rude workmanship” beneath the dyke, however no other additional details were recorded.
In 1410, the early forms of coal mining took place in the area when the burgesses of the local settlement of Holt were granted the right to dig for coal in the wastes of “Harwd” and Coedpoeth. “Hawrd” was a medieval alternative name for the settlement, originated from the English name of “Harwood” (“Hare Wood”) and referred to a common in one part of the township. It was also sometime in the fifteenth century when local landowner Edward ap Morgan ap Madoc, built a dwelling in the township that was later to become the grand Brymbo Hall, and the home of his descendants, the Griffith family.
It wasn’t until Brymbo Hall was purchased by local industrialist, and owner of the nearby Bersham Ironworks, John “Iron-Mad” Wilkinson in the late eighteenth century that coal mining expanded from a small scale industry to become a major employer in the area. The 500 acre estate of Brymbo Hall was bought by Wilkinson in 1792 because it was rich in coal and ironstone deposits, and as a result Wilkinson constructed an ironworks near the Hall. The first blast furnace on the site was constructed in 1796 and managed to produce 884 tons of iron in its first year of operation. The ironworks was expanded in 1805 when a second furnace was constructed and brought into production.
By the mid-nineteenth century, a number of larger deep mines were sunk around the area, as well as the ironworks being steadily expanded to accommodate increasing demand. As a result the majority of Brymbo was developed as accommodation for the increasing influx of miners and the ironworkers was demanded in the area. The village was constructed on and around the steep sides of Brymbo Hill and providing excellent panoramic views of the Cheshire Plain below.
In 1884 the business was incorporated as Brymbo Steel Co. Ltd and began to trial steelmaking using the open-hearth process under the encouragement of part-owner Henry Robertson. By the start of the following year, Brymbo had successfully produced its first steel in the plant, which was the first of its kind produced anywhere in the United Kingdom.
By the time of the Great Depression of the 1930’s many of the area’s collieries ran into geological and financial problems, with the final deep mine (near Southsea) closing in 1938. Even the steelworks went bankrupt in 1931, but was quickly saved and production soon restarted. A lucrative contract supplying engineering steel for Rolls-Royce aeroplane engines ensured the plant could continue where other industries collapsed pre-WWII.
Post-war, the steelworks were hugely expanded with electrical furnaces being constructed on the site to help increase production in steel. However the area’s dramatic topography initially caused issues with expansion which forced the company to create a vast artificial plateau of slag from the furnaces. To do this, they had to fill the width of a small valley and bury most of the village of Lodge, with houses purchased and demolished to make way for the plateau. Further expansion continued in the early 1970’s, after the site had been nationalised into British Steel in 1967, when a large, modern rolling mill was constructed south of the main steelworks site.
After years of uncertainty throughout the 1980’s under the Thatcher regime, the steelworks was finally closed in stages between 1990 and 1991 with 1,100 people being made redundant. Naturally the closure of the site had a severe economic impact on the village, which was still being felt going into the new millennium. However today Brymbo is encountering a resurgence with a large number of new build houses and an enterprise centre being constructed on the former Steelworks site, and transforming itself to an appealing commuter village due to the good infrastructural links to the nearby conurbations of Wrexham, Chester and beyond.
There are also still traces of the former steelworks in the locality and fascinating place of interests in terms of industrial archaeology. The original “No. 1” blast furnace commissioned by John Wilkinson, and associated buildings still exist in the area. Above Brymbo stand the remains of Wilkinson’s lead smelter, the “Bottle”, next to a pond (locally known as the “Cold Pool”) used to supply water to the Steelworks until 1990. Also in the nearby hamlet of Pen-Rhos is the Penrhos Engine House, also built by Wilkinson and now designated as a ‘scheduled ancient monument’.
BRYMBO FOOTBALL CLUB
- 14 x Welsh National League Champions
- 1 x Cymru Alliance Runners-Up
- 2 x FAW Trophy Winners
- 9 x Welsh National League Cup Winners
- 1 x Welsh National League Premier Cup Winners
- 6 x North East Wales FA Challenge Cup Winners
- 2 x Welsh Cup Quarter-Finalist
- Cymru Alliance Founding Member
Football has been played at Brymbo since the end of the 19th Century with players, working in the nearby coal pits and steelworks, making up the compositions of the inaugural Brymbo-based clubs. The first Brymbo side to appear in Welsh football competitions was Brymbo Institute who first appeared in the 1890-91 Welsh Cup competition. They managed to progress all the way to the semi-finals of the 1894-95 Welsh Cup competition before being eliminated by Wrexham 0-4 at the neutral venue of Stansty Park in Wrexham (now home of Lex Glyndŵr). It was a tough route to the last four for Institute by having to defeat then Welsh Cup regulars in Rhostyllen Villa and Rhosllanerchrugog, as well as former Welsh Cup winners in Druids (forerunners of today’s Cefn Druids) and Bangor, before coming unstuck against another former cup winner in Wrexham.
Brymbo Institute’s 1894-95 Welsh Cup campaign:
- R1: Rhostyllen Villa (a) 4-1
- R2: Rhosllanerchrugog (h) 4-1
- R3: Druids (h) 1-0
- R4: Bangor (h) 1-0
- SF: Wrexham (at Stansty Park, Wrexham) 0-4
The second Brymbo club to appear was Brymbo Victoria who were founded in 1900, and initially started playing in the Flintshire League and then the Wrexham & District League. The Vics would reach the final of the Welsh Amateur Cup (now FAW Trophy) in the 1907-08 season beating the fellow “Victoria” clubs of Gwersyllt and Wrexham, Holyhead FC and Shrewsbury Rovers on route to the final. They would fall at the final hurdle, losing to the now defunct side of Esclusham White Stars by a scoreline of 0-1 at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham.
The Vics subsequently joined the Anglo-Welsh league called ‘The Combination’ during the 1909-10 league campaign. Taking the place of Birkenhead FC in December 1909 (who had resigned mid-season) and fulfilling the rest of Birkenhead’s original fixtures, they unsurprisingly finished bottom of the 16-team league with just 11 points. The following season was a marked improvement when Brymbo Victoria finished in fourth position, albeit with just 11 teams in the league. They would also reach the second round of the Welsh Cup before losing to Johnstown 0-2. However that season would be bittersweet for the Vics as despite their decent league and cup performance, they were unable to improve upon them as The Combination was disbanded in 1911.
The foundations of the current Brymbo side originate from Brymbo Steelworks Football Club, which was formed as the steelworks’ team over 60 years ago as part of the Brymbo Steelworks Complex. The team would become one of the most successful amateur clubs in Wales, with the club enjoying numerous WNL titles and cup victories in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Between 1966 and 1983, Brymbo Steelworks managed to claim eleven Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) league championships, five WNL Cup victories, four North East Wales FA Challenge Cup victories and a Welsh Amateur Cup win. The club’s success on the pitch mirrored the fortunes of the steelworks, with the steelworks enjoying an expansion in production and investment during the same period.
Brymbo Steelworks also enjoyed some great success in the Welsh Cup with the Steelmen reaching the quarter finals of the 1967-68 competition, overcoming Cymau, Rhos Aelwyd, Portmadoc (now Porthmadog) and Penmaenmawr (after a replay), before being heavily beaten by Football League club Chester 0-8. They almost equalled the achievements of Brymbo Institute, who reached the semi-finals a century previously, when they nearly won a slot in the last four of the 1986-87 Welsh Cup campaign. After narrowly defeating Machynlleth in the first round, and inflicting heavy defeats on Denbigh Town, Pilkington’s St. Asaph and Sully, they came up against Wrexham, who were the opponents for Brymbo Institute in the semi-finals. Although they achieved a better score line than the Institute, the result was still identical as Wrexham ended Brymbo’s dream of national cup glory once again, losing 0-1 at the Racecourse Ground.
Brymbo Steelworks’ route to the 1967-68 Welsh Cup Quarter Finals:
- R2: Cymau (a) 4-0
- R3: Rhos Aelwyd (h) 2-1
- R4: Portmadoc (h) 2-1
- R5: Penmaenmawr (h) 1-0 [after replay]
- QF: Chester (h) 0-8
Brymbo Steelworks’ route to the 1986-87 Welsh Cup Quarter Finals:
- R1: Machynlleth (a) 1-0
- R2: Denbigh Town (a) 5-0
- R3: Pilkington’s St. Asaph (h) 6-0
- R4: Sully (h) 4-1
- QF: Wrexham (a) 0-1
Brymbo Steelworks eventually dropped the “Steelworks” suffix in 1991 after the actual steelworks was closed down in 1990, before becoming founding members of the Cymru Alliance as Brymbo F.C. for the inaugural season in 1991-92. Their first season in the new North and Mid Welsh league was a tough one for the Steelmen as they only won four of their thirty game season, conceded 106 goals and earned only 14 points to achieve a 15th place finish from the sixteen team league. The following season was no better for Brymbo, finishing bottom of the table and winning just three games all season.
However the next three seasons would be a marked improvement for Brymbo F.C. as they became one of the strongest teams in the league. The Steelmen would finish the 1993-94 campaign in sixth position before achieving their best ever finish (in the current Welsh football pyramid format) by finishing as runners-up in the 1994-95 league season, and winning 26 of their 34 games played. The following season, they showed that runners-up placement was no ‘fluke’ when they finished in third place for the 1995-96 Cymru Alliance season. However it would be the final season that Brymbo F.C. would be seen for a decade as a ‘new’ club would take their place in the second tier!
In the summer of 1996, a merger took place between Brymbo F.C. and the neighbouring village team of New Broughton F.C. to create Brymbo Broughton Football Club. At the time of the merger, Brymbo were still in the Cymru Alliance whilst New Broughton were applying their trade in the WNL Premier Division, but the merger was required for both clubs to advance forward. Brymbo may have had the higher league position and excellent facilities, but were lacking experience and expertise in key off-field positions and were now struggling financially to compete in the Cymru Alliance. New Broughton on the other hand had a well-organised and experience committee and were financially secure because of it. Their major problem was that their playing fields were not at the required standards which were vital to play at a higher level of football. Plus their ground was council owned meaning they were just tenants, and thus could not invest into the facilities. Therefore the pooling of resources made perfect sense to maintain football in the locality and to continue improvements in Brymbo and New Brighton football.
Despite the merger of the two teams, the “super club” was unable to match the recent success of Brymbo F.C. when Brymbo Broughton finished in a respectable ninth position in the 1996-97 season. Unfortunately that initial season under the Brymbo Broughton moniker would be their best season under the new name as, despite the combination of two teams’ resources, the team’s fortunes started to fade. They would continue to play in the Cymru Alliance for the next five years but would only achieve bottom half finishes, finishing in the bottom two positions for three of the five seasons in the second tier. Eventually Brymbo Broughton would get relegated back down to the WNL Premier Division in 2001-02 after they finished 17th in the Cymru Alliance.
Initially their stay in the WNL Premier Division was an enthusiastic one as they became one of the teams to challenge for promotion back to the Cymru Alliance. A fifth place finish, followed by an achievement of third place in the 2003-04 season confirmed that promotion was only a matter of time for the Steelmen. However the following season would be disastrous for Brymbo Broughton as their aim to leave the WNL Premier was achieved, but in the completely wrong direction as they finished rock bottom of the pile with just twenty points, and an additional three points deduction. However Brymbo Broughton would maintain their position within the WNL Premier, but at the expense of another team in the league. 2005 saw another merger in Brymbo’s football history and yet another name change!
In the summer of 2005, Brymbo Broughton merged with Summerhill United to form Summerhill Brymbo Football Club. Summerhill United were a relatively new club in the WNL pyramid, having joined the WNL Division 2 in the 1999-2000 season. But a significantly rapid rise through the leagues saw them compete in the WNL Premier for the first and only time in the 2004-05 season. In that season, which saw Brymbo Broughton positioned bottom of the table, Summerhill would finish in a respectable seventh position in the table and earning 42 points. Summerhill Brymbo F.C. would only compete in the 2005-06 WNL Premier for just the single season, achieving a solid fifth place finish in the campaign, before yet another (if familiar) name change was required for the team.
For the start of the 2006-07 season, Summerhill Brymbo dropped the “Summerhill” part of their name and reverted back to just Brymbo F.C. (the name they currently have). The change in name seems to have improved fortunes dramatically as the team would win the WNL Premier Division for two seasons in a row between 2006 and 2008. During that time, Brymbo would win 52 games from 60 league fixtures and score a combined total of 213 goals over the two successful league campaigns. The club would also gain national glory by claiming the second FAW Trophy in Brymbo’s history by beating Glan Conwy 6-2 in the 2006-07 final. Despite winning the title in two consecutive seasons, achieving national cup success and dominating the WNL, they were unable to gain promotion back up to the Cymru Alliance.
This failure to gain promotion to the second tier of the Welsh football pyramid has been costly to Brymbo as the following season after their second league victory, they surprisingly finished 14th out of 15 teams, winning only 4 games from their campaign. This would be the start of a fluctuating period for the club in the WNL as they would either have a good season or a miserable season, with one scenario often following the other scenario in the succeeding season. A perfect example of this inconsistency is that the Steelmen would achieve a 5th place in the 2012-13 season (their highest since they last won the title), but would follow it up with finishing bottom of the table in the 2013-14 season having claimed only three victories and scoring just 16 goals all season.
However recent form for Brymbo has been encouraging as a 12th place finish in 2014-15 was improved upon last season with the Steelmen concluding the 2015-16 campaign in 5th position. Last season was a decent campaign for Brymbo as they earned 47 points from the campaign and managed 16 wins from 26 fixtures – their highest amount of wins and points accumulated from a single season since their league championship victory in 2008.
Brymbo’s last five results prior to this game:
- Sat 20th August: Overton Recreation (H) 3-0
- Sat 27th August: Queens Park (H) 1-5
- Sat 3rd September: Offa Athletic (A) [Welsh Trophy Round 2] 9-1
- Sat 10th September: Llay Miners Welfare (H) [Welsh Cup Qualifying Round 2] 6-1
- Sat 17th September: Cefn Albion (A) 2-0
Brymbo would be going into the game against Llay situated in 8th position after having won two of their five league games, and accumulating six points. After a difficult start in the league, having lost their first two league games, their first win came against bottom club Overton Recreation at The Crick. Despite heavy defeat by current league leaders, Queens Park, at the end of August, Brymbo were enjoying a successful and unbeaten September. An impressive victory over North East Wales League side Offa Athletic, was followed by a big victory over today’s opponents in the Welsh Cup 2nd Qualifying Round. Finally they achieved their second victory of the league campaign, going to The Myga and defeating Cefn Albion 2-0 in an impressive display.
Llay Welfare’s last five results prior to this fixture:
- Wed 24th August: Hawarden Rangers (H) 0-2
- Sat 27th August: Coedpoeth United (A) 5-1
- Sat 3rd September: Penycae (H) [Welsh Trophy Round 2] 0-3
- Sat 10th September: Brymbo (A) [Welsh Cup Qualifying Round 2] 1-6
- Sat 17th September: FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay (H) 1-1
Llay Welfare’s September was the complete opposite of their opponent’s form having only achieved one draw and two defeats from their games in the second month of the season. Despite encountering this poor form going into the game, they were positioned just a place below Brymbo in 9th spot and on the same points as them, but with the inferior goal difference. Their only league victory in 2016-17 was an important victory over Coedpoeth United, defeating them 5-1 at the Penygelli Playing Fields. This victory was trailed by two cup exits, firstly to fellow WNL Premier team Penycae, losing 0-3 in the second round of the FAW Trophy, and losing 1-6 to today’s opponents.
Despite having seven first-teamers missing for the Welsh Cup game, Brymbo would inflict a heavy defeat on their opponents and have the upper hand in confidence going into this fixture. On that day, a hat-trick from midfield Adam Lloyd (playing as a false 9), plus goals from Paul Messham, Nicky Chesters and Richie Smullen ensured the Steelmen would progress to their first round of the national cup competition. The sole consolation goal for Welfare on that miserable afternoon came from Luke Kavanagh.
THE CRICK GROUNDHOP
It was a little touch and go whether we would make it to Brymbo in time for kick off due to Greg unexpectedly being delayed. This was because he had to fix a broken toilet in his house before he could leave for the football, but thankfully we managed to arrive at the ground just prior to kick off. It is worth noting that Brymbo F.C.’s pitch is not located in Brymbo village itself, but a further two miles south. This is because the ground is part of the Brymbo Sports and Social complex which is to be found in the village of Tanyfron.
As the name suggests, the Brymbo Sports & Social complex is the sporting hub for the local area with the cricket pitch and social club all being within walking distance from The Crick. As you enter into the complex, the cricket ground (home to Brymbo Cricket Club) is situated on the right hand side, whilst the large social club is to the left, complete with large dragon ornament lifting a pint of ale welcomes all visitors to the complex. If you follow the road into the complex, there is a huge car park positioned behind the club, above the cricket ground but below The Crick football field. We managed to park up in the car park (with there being more than plenty of spaces available for supporters) and headed towards the pitch.
As you park up, you will notice a large flight of steps from the car park to the higher plateau where The Crick is located. At the top of the steps is the hut where you pay your entrance fee, and for this particular game, entrance fee was just £1.50!!! An absolute bargain price of third tier football! If you thought that price was good value, the match programme also came free with the entrance fee. Considering a number of clubs in the WNL don’t produce programmes, it was a nice treat to receive the programme made all the sweeter by the price! The programme was decent also, with information about the WNL and upcoming Brymbo fixtures, as well as information from the other leagues in the Welsh football pyramid. A decent standard and better than some of the programmes I have had to pay for the past groundhops elsewhere!
The main ground at The Crick is located on the left as you enter the ground, with an additional pitch on the right hand side. In between both pitches and located next to the entrance is the changing rooms and snack bar building. It is here where you can buy the usual snacks and hot drinks that are often available at football grounds, and it would be our first port of call before the game commenced.
Despite having hot dogs advertised for one pound each, there were none available for purchase due to an issue with the hut’s electricity supply meaning they were unable to cook them that afternoon. As a result I decided to purchase a chocolate bar for 60 pence and a cup of black coffee for the standard price of one pound. I also asked if there were any pin badges available but unfortunately they didn’t have any left. Apparently the cost of getting them produced is expensive and not worth the expense, which was a shame to hear. Hopefully badge producers can perhaps reduce their prices to allow clubs to purchase them for supporters and groundhoppers alike.
Perhaps instead of badges being bought, maybe a stamp sort of system could be employed at clubs as an alternative? Just an idea I picked up from the interesting ITV series “Joanna Lumley in Japan”, where the former New Avenger would visit places in Japan and pick up an ink stamp at the locations she had been. Maybe that would be a cheaper alternative collection for groundhoppers instead of clubs having to pay for pin badges? Just a thought…
Anyway The Crick is certainly an impressive ground for the WNL and one of the better grounds I have seen in the area. The pitch has a concrete path going around the majority of the perimeter as well as permanent barrier separating the playing field from the supporters’ area. Brymbo also have a main stand on the Tanyfron side of the pitch, which has approximately fifty covered seats for supporters. In addition there is also another covered shelter on the opposite side of the pitch (the Social club side) which allows supporters to stand and watch the game, whilst protected from the elements. There were also permanent dugout on the shelter side of the pitch, although naturally for this level of football, there were no permanent floodlights were present at the ground.
With both home and away supporters occupying both covered stands, and with a considerable number standing around the pitch, we decided to start watching the game at the corner of which we entered the ground. It would be interesting to see which team would come out victorious for this game – would Brymbo repeat their Welsh Cup performance of a fortnight ago or would Llay gain revenge and pick up their second league victory of the 2016-17 campaign?
Both teams would be playing in their home strips with Brymbo in their gold shirts with black trim, black shorts and gold socks. Llay would be playing in a white & black striped shirt, black shorts and black socks.
Prior to the game commencing, the game had a minute’s silence in memory of one of the Brymbo coaches who had passed away earlier in the week. The weather conditions for this game were typical of a late September afternoon – dry but overcast. Also chilling winds had been gusting in from a north-westerly direction, and providing the first sign of worsening conditions to come in the next few months. To quote the excellent programme, ‘Game of Thrones’, the breezes provided conclusive and inevitable proof that “Winter is coming!”.
Rather uncommonly for third tier football, the game would be controlled by the just the referee with both teams’ managers acting as makeshift assistant referees for the match. At least this fixture actually had an official to officiate the game unlike another WNL game between Coedpoeth United and FC Nomads of Connah’s Quay which was postponed due to a lack of referees! Incredible and rather pathetic in fairness!! Here’s hoping some of the Euro 2016 prize money, which has been promised by FAW Chief Executive Jonathan Ford for “grassroots” projects, is used to train more game officials in the lower leagues.
The opening salvos between the two teams were fairly equal with both teams sizing each other up, but with Brymbo looking slightly the sprightlier of the competitors. Despite the Steelmen’s opening confidence, it would be the Miners who would chisel out the game’s first clear cut chance.
Llay had a fantastic chance around the 15th minute mark of the game to snatch the lead when their forward managed to dart clear of the home defence, after a quality through pass from midfield, produced a one-on-one chance for him. However under pressure from a combination of both the recovering centre back and rapidly looming goalkeeper, Matty Wilcox, it forced the striker to lose composure and snatch at the shot instead of dinking the ball over Wilcox. These double sources of pressure ultimately forced the visiting player to scuff his effort, resulting in the ball dribbling wide of the right hand post.
Midway through the first half, both myself and Greg met fellow groundhoppers who were also attending the game. The previous night, I had spotted on Twitter that a tweet from ‘The Groundhog’ had been retweeted by Llay Welfare’s account who had stated he was attending the game. Having tweeted him back declaring my intentions to visit the game also, I was eager to meet up with a fellow groundhopper, although he is far more experienced in the pastime than I certainly I was having visited many grounds in the area!
We met The Groundhog with his son, who was on camera duties, next to the main stand and had a good chat to them both about groundhopping in and around the Welsh leagues, as well as comparing the standard of WNL football to an English league equivalent. It was really nice to meet the pair of them as I am a fan of their fantastic blog site. I often use the site as great reference point for information about a ground prior to attending any groundhops in the area, as they have normally attended the ground in the past. An excellent website which I would highly recommend to everyone that they should visit: thegroundhog.wordpress.com
Standing beside the main stand at a slightly elevated viewing point, we would all see the stunning opener from this afternoon’s action. On the 26th minute, the home side would make Llay regret their missed chance early in the half by taking the lead after a period of sustained ball retention and possession. Brymbo would claim the advantage in the fixture through an absolutely fantastic strike from Adam Bradshaw. The forward managed to latch onto the ball in the available space located just outside of the Llay penalty box. Having enough time to pick his spot, Bradshaw rifled his effort straight into the top right-hand corner of net, leaving the diving Llay keeper, Charlie Williams, helpless in his efforts to stop the attempt. An absolute thunderbolt of a strike!
Brymbo FC 1 – 0 Llay Miners Welfare
Brymbo almost managed to score a second goal in the half through another blockbuster of a shot from outside of the penalty area. Had the chance been converted successfully, it would have been as good as the first goal. Once again utilizing the space that was being created between the midfield and defence, another powerful strike was launched towards goal from around about 25 yards out. The ball was wickedly dipping in the air and looking like it could just sneak under the crossbar. However on this occasion, Charlie Williams just about managed to get his fingertips on the dipping shot and deflected the shot onto the crossbar, before it was hastily hoofed away by the covering defender. This left the entire crowd “oohing” and applauding in appreciation of both the powerful shot and decent save from the visiting keeper.
There would be a couple more half chances from both sides, but neither threatened the goal successfully enough to change the score line. It would be the home side who would clench the slender advantage as the game progressed into the half time cessation of play.
HALF TIME: BRYMBO FC 1 – 0 LLAY MINERS WELFARE
At the half time break, The Groundhog duo would head off to the snack hatch for a hot beverage whilst Greg and I stayed at our position beside the main stand. I also had a check of the Wrexham versus Chester result – the fiery derby game taking place a few miles away from the Brymbo game. Naturally the game ended in a scoreless draw, with neither team covering themselves in glory. I overheard a couple of the locals grumbling over the result and bemoaning both Mills’ tactics and the players who had been brought in. It would seem the patience for Garry Mills as Wrexham manager has completely evaporated and frustrations are being expressed more fervently, with the possibility of his tenure looking increasingly likely it could end soon!
The second half would follow the same format as the first half with neither side taking the upper hand in the match, and both having chances to score the game’s second goal. Llay would have a superb chance early on in the half when their forward #9 Tom Maurice Jones managed get beyond the last man in the Brymbo defence and advance towards goal, having ghosted in from the right side of the pitch. Just as he was about to unleash his effort, a recovery pinpoint tackle from Brymbo’s #5 Joe Edwards did just enough to divert the ball out of play and eliminate the threat. Had the defender timed his last ditch tackle wrong and hindered the run of the forward, it could have been a clear penalty!
At the other end of the pitch, Brymbo’s main threat to doubling their lead was coming from set pieces as the Llay defence were continually conceding free kicks in dangerous positions. Their #7 Paul Messham had a superb opportunity to score the Steelmen’s second of the afternoon with a direct free kick located in a central position roughly 20 yards from goal. The midfielder attempted to curl the ball over the assembled defensive wall and into the top right hand corner of the net. Alas for Messham, his effort successfully lifted over the jumping wall but could only sail agonisingly wide of the corner of the goal frame.
Llay would have another golden opportunity to open their account for the afternoon after they crafted yet another great opportunity for their striker. A superb cutting ball through the home defence to the visiting player, coming in from the right flank, allowed him enough time and space to pick his spot in the net. Again the Brymbo goalkeeper was quick to spot the danger and came rushing off his goal line to force the striker to make another mistake. His pressure proved fruitful as the visiting striker tried to dink the ball past the keeper on his inside but hit the ball too hard on the outside of his boot to curl the ball well wide of the right post. Another super opportunity squandered by the Welfare!
The game was becoming a more open affair with Llay having a majority of the possession but with Brymbo trying to catch their opponents on the counter-attack. As the minutes slowly ticked by, the game was becoming more physical with increasingly hefty challenges and tackles becoming more prevalent. The official (who I thought had a fairly decent game) tried to quell the increasing temperature in the aggression, although he was lenient on a couple of challenges. Despite his best efforts it didn’t stop both linemen-managers barracking him for his decisions on certain sporadic occasions, which could have been yellow cards. In addition, some of the supporters in the main stand and standing around the pitch shouted their frustrations at the official’s decisions – being a referee is always a thankless task it seems!
With five minutes remaining, Brymbo finally sealed the victory and earned the three points through a superb diving header from Donal McKenna. Llay conceded yet another free kick in a dangerous position just outside the left-hand side of the Llay penalty area. Brymbo would punish their opponents for conceding a set piece in such a crucial location on this occasion by whipping a curling cross into the danger zone between the defenders and the keeper. Charlie Williams attempted to come off his line to intercept the cross and divert it away from danger, but McKenna managed to get ahead of the onrushing goalie to connect with the pass and nod the ball into the empty net.
Brymbo FC 2 – 0 Llay Miners Welfare
The second goal killed off any hopes of Llay getting anything from the match as Brymbo sufficiently held on for the final five minutes (plus injury time) of the match to secure their third victory in the league, and second over Llay in a fortnight!
FULL TIME: BRYMBO FC 2 – 0 LLAY MINERS WELFARE
I must declare that I really enjoyed this game with both teams having great chances throughout the match and both halves being open and entertaining encounters. I think Llay can feel unlucky from not having gotten anything from the game as they created enough clear-cut opportunities throughout the ninety minutes. Had the chances been successfully converted, it could have changed the aspect of the game and could well have seen the three points going back to The Ring. Ultimately the deciding factor was conversion rate of goal scoring opportunities, and Brymbo effectively converted theirs when it mattered most. Their first goal was an absolute screamer, and certainly one of the best goals I have seen in 2016, whilst their second was a superbly crafted set piece.
Even though Brymbo would take the points from this contest, crucially both teams can take a number of positives from their respective performances, which should provide them some positive momentum going into the next couple of league fixtures. Brymbo maintain their perfect September by winning their fourth consecutive game, whilst Llay continue their improvement in performances for the month, and rectified some of the sins from the cup defeat two weeks prior despite falling to defeat once again!
Overall I really enjoyed my groundhop to Brymbo’s excellent ground. Not only were the people at Brymbo really welcoming and helpful, but the ground itself is an excellent arena to watch local football. Plus you have the advantage of enjoying some post-match drinks and nibbles at the nearby social club which is always a huge bonus in my book! Regrettably we were unable to head into the social club on this occasion as we had to dart off to meet-up with some friends; however it looks worthy a visit if you’re attending a game at The Crick!
It was also really nice to meet fellow groundhoppers at the game and have a good chat with The Groundhog and his son. Please go and check out his excellent blog site, if you not already aware of his fine work, and below is the link to his corresponding blog concerning this Brymbo game:
Finally I would like to wish both Brymbo and Llay Welfare all the very best for the rest of the season, and look forward to seeing them play again sometime soon!