Date Visited: 6th January 2018
Competition: Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division
Ground Number: 102
- Founded: 1879
- Refounded: 2015
- Ground: Vicarage Hill, Rhostyllen, Wrexham LL14 4AR
- Highest Ever League Placing: Welsh National League Division 1 – 2nd [2016-17]
RHOSTYLLEN’S 2016-17 SEASON:
- Welsh National League Division 1: Second (PROMOTED)
- Welsh Cup: First Qualifying Round
- Welsh National League Division 1 League Cup: WINNERS
- FAW Trophy: Round 3
- NE Wales Challenge Cup: Round 2
With the New Year having started, I had earmarked the first weekend of 2018 to visit a brand new ground and get the tally counter ticking over once more. By the end of 2017, I had reached a total of 101 grounds, having visited twenty-three new grounds throughout the year, which I was very pleased about. Granted this increase in numbers was severely aided by my decision to have a career break or ‘sabbatical’ from work for about seven and a half months, which allowed me to travel around the United Kingdom and visit a number of football stadiums.
The pinnacle of the groundhopping travels was when the century of groundhops was finally achieved, and I managed to visit the superb footballing venue of Treflan in Llansantffraid-ym-Mechain (see groundhopping blog here). However since my October trip up to Carlisle to have a look around the border city and watch Carlisle United take on Stevenage in an English League Two game (the Carlisle blog can be found here), I had not managed to visit another new ground and instead attended a considerable number of Holywell Town home and away games throughout the final two months of 2017.
Another reason for marking up this weekend as a “groundhop weekend” was that Holywell Town would be playing away during that weekend. The Wellmen were taking on former Welsh Alliance rivals Holyhead Hotspur in one of their furthest away trips of the season. Considering the weather forecast for the weekend was not looking the most ideal, and Holyhead’s ground is one of the more exposed grounds in the league (it was horrendously gusty last time I visited), I was not best keen to potentially travel down to Holy Island. Plus the fact I had already visited The New Oval in August 2016 (the Holyhead blog can be found here) meant I couldn’t even write a blog about my visit either.
In addition, I wanted to do a groundhop for the first weekend of the year as I would not be available the following weekend because a day out for my birthday had been planned (I am old now folks…well I feel it anyway). So in a strange way this groundhop would also be an early birthday outing, somewhat a treat for myself in doing something I enjoy doing. Finally, I had acquired a new Sony Xperia phone before the weekend and wished to try out its camera, which was supposedly better than my old Samsung Galaxy S5 NEO phone by having more megapixels in its camera and being able to take clearer action shots. As a result, I was interested to see how the new phone performed in comparison with my old but reliable mobile phone.
Due to the weather forecasts being typically wintery, I was keen to visit a new ground more nearer to 94th Minute HQ than usual. The Cymru Alliance would be a usual choice but I have been to nearly all the grounds in the Cymru Alliance, with the exception of just one ground. Unfortunately the final ground to complete the league would involve an epic two and a half hour trip down to Ceredigion to watch the Roosters of Penrhyncoch – not a viable option for this weekend. So I focused on the third tier of Welsh football where there was plenty more scope for me to decide upon a new ground to visit. My initial choice was a trip down the Dyffryn Conwy to see Llanrwst United take on Pwllheli in the Welsh Alliance Division 1. However because of conditions, the fixture was switched around meaning Llanrwst would be heading to the Llŷn peninsula for the weekend. Despite the New Year, it would seem my fortunes when it came to watching the Rwsters (another poultry nickname) had not improved after previously aborted and failed attempts to visit Parc Gwydir! I will get there one day…
Therefore my attention had drifted to the Welsh National League Premier Division, and a league which I have turned to on many occasions – so much so, I only had to visit three more grounds before I had completed the division. Only Llanuwchllyn, Cefn Albion and Rhostyllen remained to be visited within the WNL Premier Division and so I was eager to visit one of this triumvirate of remaining clubs. Looking at the fixtures for the 6th January 2018, only Rhostyllen (from the three teams) was playing at home that weekend, where they would be taking on Flintshire-based side Saltney Town at their Vicarage Hill ground. An intriguing game considering both sides had been in good form prior to this weekend’s fixtures. Therefore my choice was made, and providing the weather conditions on the day would not force the postponement of the fixture, I would be heading 28,7 miles down the A55 Expressway and A483 road to the Wrexham suburb of Rhostyllen.
- Population: 1,400
- County: Wrexham County Borough
- Historic County: Denbighshire
- Nearest Train Stations: Wrexham General (2,2 miles); Ruabon (4,4 miles)
Rhostyllen is a commuter village of just under 1,400 people located south-west of Wrexham and positioned to the south of the River Clywedog, in the County Borough of Wrexham itself. It has great infrastructural links with the A483 dual carriageway trunk road running past the west of the village, linking it with Chester, North Wales and beyond. In addition, its close proximity to the centre of Wrexham means it is fairly quick and straightforward to reach the two train stations in the large town. The village once had a railway station itself, although this was closed down in 1931 to passengers (but not goods) and closed completely in 1963. The name of the village originates from a combination of two Welsh words, rhos (English: “moor” or “rush pasture”) and estyll (English: “staves” or “planks”).
Originally Rhostyllen was part of the old township of Esclusham Below (i.e. “below Offa’s Dyke”) and was part of the parish of Esclusham. However, like many settlements in the Wrexham area, it grew in size because it became a mining village, housing a large number of workers in the nearby Bersham (or Glanyrafon) Colliery. Active from 1871, the Bersham colliery mined out coal needed for the numerous brickworks and steelworks within the North East Wales area, and was part of thirty-eight collieries in the area which produced a total of 2.5 million tonnes per annum. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, over 800 men worked at the colliery although the Bersham colliery reached its peak in 1958 when 1,011 were recorded at working at the then nationalised coal mine.
As with many other mining communities in the 1980’s, the village was critically hit when its colliery was shut down by the Thatcher government. Bersham Colliery was closed in December 1986 with the loss of 480 jobs, being the last working coal mine in the Wrexham-Denbighshire coalfield to be closed. Even though a majority of the buildings were demolished soon afterwards, a number remain including the No.2 wheel, and there are plans to turn the site into a mining museum. However one obvious legacy of the colliery is the massive and prominent slag tip that overlooks the village and A483, known as the ‘Bersham Tip’. Welsh Assembly plans are currently being undertaken to remove the tip and sell the contents of the spoil heap to the building industry. However these plans have faced opposition from both Wrexham Borough Council and Cadw, who believe it is an obvious link with the industrial history of the area.
In contrast to its industrial heritage, situated near to the village is the scenic eighteenth century house and parkland of Erddig Hall. The Grade I listed Erddig Hall was built between 1684 and 1687 for Josiah Edisbury, the High Sheriff of Denbighshire, and was designed by Thomas Webb. In 1733 the house passed into the possession of the Yorke family who lived in the house until March 1973, when shafts from the nearby Bersham colliery had collapsed underneath the house and caused horrendous subsidence. As a result, the house was sold to the National Trust, who underpinned the house (using money compensated from the National Coal Board) and restored the house to its former glory. Today the restored house and its beautiful gardens are open to the public to view and explore, and the house is regarded as one of ‘Britain’s finest stately homes’. So much so, it was voted as Britain’s favourite historic house in September 2007 and often appears highly in historic sites situated in the UK.
RHOSTYLLEN FC’S HISTORY
[For excellent historical photographs of old Rhostyllen teams and more in depth history of the earlier Rhostyllen sides, visit the football section on the Rhostyllen website – www.rhostyllen.info.]
As Rhostyllen is situated in the traditional heartland of Welsh football and within the highly industrial area of North East Wales, it was naturally it would submit a football team in the early years of the Welsh Cup along with many other North East Welsh towns at that time. The earliest reference of football being played by a Rhostyllen team was in December 1879 when they drew 0-0 with Grove Park School.
The first record of a Rhostyllen-based side appearing in the Welsh Cup was in the 1881-82 competition when Rhostyllen F.C. took on Ruthin in the second round of the competition, but suffered a heavy 0-11 defeat. The team was reformed as Rhostyllen Victoria a year later and would appear in every Welsh Cup competition between 1883-84 to 1896-97, reaching as far as the third round of the competition in 1885-86, including three consecutive third round appearances between 1888-89 and 1890-91. They would also compete in the Welsh Senior League during this period, making their debut in the 1892-93 season and finishing fourth from the eight team league. Victoria would play in the Welsh Senior League for five seasons without much success, often finishing in the bottom half of the table and actually finishing bottom in 1895-96 season.
The next record of clubs appearing with the ‘Rhostyllen’ name is after the Second World War when Rhostyllen Sports Club and Rhostyllen & Bersham British Legion both appeared in the West Division of the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) in 1946-47. In that season Sports Club won the league title whilst the RBBL team finished fourth, six points behind their village rivals. The following season, a third team joined the fray when Rhostyllen British Legion (this team without Bersham) played in the East Division. That season they would finish in eight position, whilst Sports Club being placed in third and RBBL this time taking the West Division title.
Rhostyllen British Legion would only exist for one season but the other two teams would continue to play in the Welsh National League for the next five seasons, with R&B British Legion playing in the First Division and Sports Club playing in the Second Division. However Rhostyllen Sports Club would be the sole remaining Rhostyllen-based club for the 1953-54 season after the R&B British Legion resigned from the league after being relegated to the Second Division in the previous season. Sports Club would continue to play in the Second Division for the next two seasons before getting promoted to the First Division for the first time in the 1954-55 season, finishing runners-up to Gresford Colliery.
The change of league also coincided with a change of name, with Rhostyllen Sports Club changing to Rhostyllen Villa. During this early period of the ‘Villa’ suffix, they would play in the First Division for four consecutive seasons but finish in the bottom quarter every time, although they would reach the third round of the Welsh Cup on three consecutive occasions (still the furthest round any Rhostyllen side has ever reached). Villa suffered a short period of fluctuation between the First and Second Divisions between 1959 and 1961 before they settled in the Second Division where they would remain in WNL’s second step for the next twenty seasons.
It wouldn’t be until the 1981-82 season when Rhostyllen Villa returned back to the top step of the Welsh National League pyramid having won the Second Division league title the previous season. Villa would play in the First Division / Premier Division for six seasons, achieving their highest league finish of fifth position in the 1985-86 season. Another WNL second tier league championship (now named the First Division) was achieved in the 1988-89 season ensuring a return back to the WNL Premier Division. The side would play in the Premier Division for three seasons between 1989 and 1992, where they played as first Rhostyllen MV for two seasons and then just Rhostyllen F.C. for a single season, before sadly folding in 1992.
Despite resigning from the Premier Division, a replacement Rhostyllen side appeared in the Second Division for the start of the 1992-93 season, under the historic name of Rhostyllen & Bersham Royal British Legion. They would win the Second Division title in their debut season, and would win the First Division title two years later in 1995 before achieving the highest league position of any Rhostyllen-based side of second place in the 1995-96 WNL Premier League. RBRBL would finish runners-up to Gresford Athletic that season and be four points behind. The ‘Royal British Legion’ part of the name was dropped and the original moniker of Rhostyllen Villa was readopted in the 1996-97 season, where they would finish in fourth position. In addition, the second Villa side would make their first appearance in the first round of the Welsh Cup for the first time since 1962 – a wait of thirty-four years for the mining village! Unfortunately the good fortunes of the second coming of Rhostyllen Villa was short lived, as five years after the original side folded, the second Rhostyllen Villa folded midway through the 1997-98 season.
It would not be until the 1999-2000 season when the Rhostyllen name reappeared in the WNL football scene when Rhostyllen United was created from the Owens Corning team. United would then a topsy-turvy period by suffering two consecutive relegations followed by two consecutive promotions (finishing in second place on both occasions) to find themselves back in the WNL Premier League for the 2003-04 season. United would finish in an impressive league position of fourth place on their return to the WNL Premier League, finishing ten points behind that season’s league champions, Bala Town. Sadly the following season would be United’s final season as they finished in fifteenth position (out of sixteen teams) and concede 112 goals. Rhostyllen United would not reappear in the WNL First Division for the 2005-06 season and instead would fold as a team, leaving the village without a team once again! It would be nine years before the Rhostyllen name was resurrected in North Welsh football.
Honours Since Refounding:
- 1 x Welsh National League Division 1 League Cup Winners
- 1 x North East Wales League
- 1 x Horace Wynne Cup Winners
- 1 x Welsh Cup Second Round
- 1 x FAW Trophy Semi-Finalists
Having been refounded in 2015, the new Rhostyllen side shook North Welsh football and achieved unprecedented success in their debut season. They would enter and win the 2015-16 North Wales League at a canter by winning sixteen games from their twenty game league campaign and losing just the single league game. They would score 121 goals from their twenty league games (an average of 6.05 goals a game!!), achieve a goal difference of +90, earn 51 points from a maximum of sixty available and win the league by thirteen points from nearest rival, the now defunct Flintshire side, CPD Sychdyn.
Their debut season would also see the club compete splendidly in the numerous cup competitions they competed in. They would achieve significant media attention when the debutants superbly reached the second round of the Welsh Cup. Shock victories over AFC Brynford and Brymbo ensured they reached the first round proper before producing another cup shock by beating Mid Wales League side Berriew 2-1 at Vicarage Hill. Alas their dream debut cup campaign would end in the second round, losing to Cymru Alliance side Flint Town United in a battling and heroic 0-2 home defeat to the Silkmen.
Rhostyllen’s 2015-16 Welsh Cup campaign:
- 1QR: AFC Brynford (h) 6 – 0
- 2QR: Brymbo (h) 1-0 a.e.t.
- R1: Berriew (h) 2 – 1
- R2: Flint Town United (h) 0 – 2
Rhostyllen would also achieve great success in the other national cup competition available to them as they produced an incredible run in the FAW Trophy. Beating such teams as CPD Sychdyn, Brickfield Rangers, Saltney Town and Pentraeth, they reached the fifth round where they stunned Ruthin Town 2-0 (who would get promoted to the Cymru Alliance at the end of the season) to progress to the quarter finals. There they faced South Welsh side AC Pontymister down in South Wales. A spirited performance resulted in the game finishing 3-3 after 90 minutes before another goal from the visitors during the extra time period ensured Rhostyllen would reach the last four of the competition, winning the cup tie 4-3. Regrettably their dreams of reaching the final would be dashed by another South Welsh team, in the form of Sully Sports, who scored the only goal in a tightly fought contest at the neutral venue of Victoria Park in Llanidloes, to deny Rhostyllen a place in the FAW Trophy final.
Rhostyllen’s 2015-16 FAW Trophy campaign:
- R1: CPD Sychdyn (a) 4 – 0
- R2: Brickfield Rangers (h) 4 – 2
- R3: Saltney Town (a) 3 – 2
- R4: Pentraeth (h) 3 – 1
- R5: Ruthin Town (h) 2 – 0
- QF: AC Pontymister (a) 4 – 3 a.e.t.
- SF: Sully Sports (n) 0 – 1
Rhostyllen would reach the second round of the North East Wales FA Challenge Cup in their first season but would eventually add additional silverware to their North East Wales League trophy by winning the Horace Wynne Cup. Victories over Flintshire-based sides Flint Mountain, Mold Town United and Connah’s Quay Tigers set up a final showdown against Aston Park Rangers at the neutral venue of Alyn Park in Mold. Rhostyllen would score two goals against Aston without conceding to claim the Horace Wynne trophy and conclude an incredible inaugural season as a double-winning campaign.
Last season saw the club compete in the Welsh National League Division 1 – the first time a Rhostyllen side had competed in the WNL since Rhostyllen United in 2005. Their dramatic rise up the Welsh football pyramid would continue relentlessly as they concluded the season positioned in second place, finishing runners-up to league champions Lex Glyndwr. They would end up four points behind Lex and would only claim second spot by goal difference, pipping Penley (who sadly resigned in the 2017-18 season) by having a better goal difference of six goals. Considering Rhostyllen had a goal difference of +79 and Penley with +73, it is ridiculous that only one of the teams could gain promotion to the Premier Division.
Rhostyllen’s promotion came all the sweeter as they came from behind to steal second position from under their rival’s nose. They beat Penley 4-2 in their penultimate game (and Penley’s final game of the season) before a 5-1 victory over Llangollen Town in their final game of the season ensured promotion to the third tier of Welsh football! Penley’s promotion challenge completely disintegrating in April 2017 by losing their final two matches to give Rhostyllen the initiative and momentum to claim the second promotion spot. It’s a case of what might have been for Penley had they gained promotion instead of Rhostyllen…
Finally, Rhostyllen would also claim another cup competition in the form of the WNL Division 1 Cup. They started their cup progression by beating New Brighton Villa 2-1 at home in the third round before coming up against Castell Alun Colts in the semi-finals. At the Hope Sports Ground, they would inflict a 5-3 defeat on the home side after extra time to confirm their place in the final. There they faced the league champions and fellow promoted team, Lex Glyndwr who were hoping for a trophy double themselves. Alas they would be denied at the final hurdle as Rhostyllen achieved a superb 3-0 victory over Lex to win their third piece of silverware in just two seasons!
RHOSTYLLEN’S PREVIOUS FORM
Rhostyllen’s last five competitive matches:
- Sat 28th October: Buckley Town (a) 0 – 5
- Sat 4th November: FC Nomads (a) 3 – 2
- Sat 11th November: Hawarden Rangers (h) 2 – 1
- Sat 18th November: Llanuwchllyn (h) 2 – 2
- Sat 25th November: Chirk AAA (a) 4 – 2
Rhostyllen’s recent league form going into this match was exceptional as they had experienced an unbeaten November and had earned themselves ten points from a possible twelve available. Since the heavy defeat to Buckley near the end of October, Rhostyllen managed to bounce back with an impressive 3-2 victory over FC Nomads at Wepre Park. Despite going 0-2 down to goals from former Wellman Shaun Tuck and Sean Williams, they managed bring things level from a Matthew Williams brace before Lewis Clamp managed to grab the winner for the visitors. This would comeback would inspire Rhostyllen through the month as they achieved a home victory against Hawarden the following weekend, with Matthew Williams scoring another double before achieving a battling 2-2 home draw against high-flying Llanuwchllyn. Matthew Williams (his fifth in three games) and Steve Jones grabbing the goals in the score draw.
They would complete the month’s fixtures with an impressive away victory against FAW Trophy winners Chirk AAA. Despite missing three key players, Chirk took the lead through Louis Middlehurst. However their afternoon got worse as Middlehurst hobbled off injured and Aston Williams was sent off. Rhostyllen would rush to a 4-1 lead through goals from debutant Owen Williams, Steve Allman, a Chirk own goal and finally Steve Jones. Jordan Owen reduced the arrears for the hosts but it was for no avail as Rhostyllen’s excellent form continued and picking up their third win in four league games.
Unfortunately for the hosts, that would prove to be their final game of 2017 as the bad Welsh weather would play havoc with their December fixtures resulting in no games being played in the final month of 2017. As a result, the upcoming game would be their first competitive game in 41 days. Would this unscheduled break allow the team to rest up and be replenished for 2018 or would it wreck the momentum they had created throughout November? Regardless, they were positioned just three points off the top of the table despite being in seventh position prior to the game against Saltney.
Rhostyllen would also be looking for revenge over Saltney after the last time the two teams played was in the second round of the 2016-17 North East Wales FA Challenge Cup. At that instance, the Bordermen overcame a resolute Rhostyllen side to win by the only goal of the game at Saltney’s Sandy Lane.
SALTNEY TOWN’S PREVIOUS FORM
Saltney Town’s last five competitive matches:
- Sat 28th October: Coedpoeth United (h) 3 – 0
- Sat 4th November: Airbus UK Broughton (a) 0 – 4 [Welsh Cup Round 2]
- Sat 18th November: Llay Welfare (a) 4 – 1
- Sat 2nd December: Penycae (h) 6 – 4
- Sat 16th December: Llanuwchllyn (a) 4 – 1
Whilst Rhostyllen’s recent form over the past couple of months had been impressive, Saltney’s current league form had been perfect by picking up four wins out of four games played, and scoring seventeen goals. All the more impressive considering they lost four of their opening seven league games! They would end October with a home win against Coedpoeth United with Dylan Edwards, Ryan Farrell and Paul Johnson contributing with the goals.
At the start of the month, their Welsh Cup campaign came to a battling end against their local rivals, the Cymru Alliance side and 2016 Welsh Cup finalists, Airbus UK Broughton in the second round. Despite an excellent and gutsy display against their rivals, they would lose to the Wingmakers by four goals to nil at The Airfield. However the Bordermen would return to winning way a couple of weekends afterwards when they managed to beat Llay Welfare 4-1. Saltney would concede a third minute penalty which Tom Wells would successfully convert to give the hosts a perfect start, however goals from Dylan Edwards, Shaun Hughes and a second half double strike from Ryan Farrell would restore confidence to Saltney’s league campaign.
Unlike Rhostyllen, Saltney were able to play games in December. Their first was a home match against Penycae and it resulted in being a goalfest or ‘one for the neutrals’ as the Bordermen got the better over the Cae in a ten goal thriller. Penycae would go 3-2 up in the game with strikes from Mike Parry and a double from Austin Owen, whilst Saltney’s goals coming from Jamie Price and a Penycae own goal. Saltney would then score an additional two goals through Rhys Cooper and Paul Johnson, but Penycae continued to fight and would equal the score line up to 4-4 through an Adam Yeap effort. Sadly the visitors’ 10 men would become fatigued towards the end allowing Rhys Cooper to score his second of the afternoon and Ryan Farrell to seal the three points for Saltney and win the contest 6-4.
In their last league game, they travelled down to Llanuwchllyn and achieved an impressive 4-1 victory over the men from Gwynedd in that weekend’s only WNL Premier game (the rest having been postponed due to snow). Saltney were 2-0 up at half time courtesy of a Ryan Farrell double, before he completed his hat-trick after the break. Tom Bailey would complete the Saltney scoring for the afternoon whilst Sam Evans could only conjure up a consolation goal for Llanuwchllyn. This would ensure that fourth placed Saltney would only be a single point behind league leaders Brickfield Rangers going into the opening matches of 2018, and could see them top the table should they win against Rhostyllen if other results when their way.
VICARAGE ROAD GROUNDHOP
- Entrance: FREE
- Programme: N/A
- Pin Badge: N/A
- Cup of Coffee: £1.00
Coming along with me for the first groundhop of 2018 would be 94th Minute regular accomplice Greg who was also keen to get a groundhop in, although he was surprised with my choice of venue for the opening weekend of the year. “A rather random choice” was his expression upon hearing the selected venue. Also his phone would be very close beside him on this occasion, just in case he received an urgent phone call from home. This is because he and his lovely wife are expecting their first child within the next few weeks (the next generation of groundhoppers ha), so it is currently ‘action stations’ in his house. Therefore there was indeed a slim possibility that we might have to abandon the game midway through the action and urgently drive the expectant father back to home should his unborn child decide to make an earlier than planned appearance.
With Greg picked up from his Flint abode, it would take about half an hour to make the 27 mile journey to Rhostyllen. Heading down the A55 Expressway, and then the A483 dual carriageway, passing the Wrexham junction on the way, the turn-off for Rhostyllen/Rhosllanerchrugog would soon appear with the iconic slagheap from the old Bersham colliery overlooking the village. The football ground is situated on the western outskirt of the village on Vicarage Hill with the elevated A483 running to the west, the Croesfoel Industrial Estate positioned to the south and the River Clywedog flowing just north of the football field. Rhostyllen’s ground is part of the village green, with its entrance right next to the road.
We turned up at the ground about 1:50pm, ten minutes prior to the scheduled kick-off time of 2pm. As there was no car park next to the football field, a number of cars had parked up along the side of the road adjacent to the field already. Considering the roads were not too busy on this day, and there were no double yellow lines were present, it made sense to park there and so I added to the line of stationary cars parked roadside next to the ground. I did later find out there was a car park situated at the Rhostyllen Institute building, which is situated right next to the village green. However parking spaces are at a premium there and they are usually filled up with the cars of the players and managers who get changed in the Institute building.
The weather over the Christmas and New Year period had been pretty miserable and occasionally awful in North Wales with snow, sleet and rain being commonplace – all of which are the bane of every lower league groundsman. As you can imagine with a game being played in metrological winter, the grass pitch at Rhostyllen was not in its most idealist of conditions. Whilst it certainly was not at Somme trench standards, there were some obvious large mud patches on display on both the pitch and surrounding standing area. The active locations within the penalty boxes were naturally showing the least amount of darkened green grass. I feel sorry for any ground staff trying to get a pitch ‘match ready’ in this part of the season, especially when the pitch is council owned and open to the public between games. Therefore whilst the pitch may have been ‘heavy going’, at least the game was being played, which is something which should be highly commended to Rhostyllen’s groundsman. In all fairness, it was a probably in a better condition than the pitch was at the Deeside Stadium when I watched the highlights between Connah’s Quay Nomads and Barry Town on Sgorio the following Monday!
Even though the pitch at Rhostyllen is open to the public, there are permanent constructions next to the playing field. A permanent white perimeter barrier separates the playing area from the supporters’ area, whilst brick built dugouts have also been constructed. In between the dugouts, and located centrally on the side of the pitch, is a small, brick-built covered stand where supporters can congregate to watch games. At the moment, the concreted base of the stand has a number of levels that allow supporters to stand under cover. Nevertheless it did look like that a number of foldable seats could be easily installed into the stand in the future should Rhostyllen progress up the football pyramid into the Cymru Alliance, where a covered stand with seats is a requirement for a CA license.
Because the ground is council owned and open to the public (as many grounds in the Welsh league generally are), the game was free entry although there were no programmes available from what I seen, not that I minded at all. There is also a lack of facilities available for supporters with there being no public toilets or a clubhouse onsite. In addition, there are no floodlights installed or even a concrete path surrounding the pitch. Resultantly, it was quite muddy when walking around the pitch during the game meaning my decision to wear my new trainers was the poorest choice since Walter Donovan’s cup selection in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Because there isn’t a changing room complex next to the pitch, the players and officials have to get changed at the back of the Institute building, which is located a short walk away from the pitch at the other end of the village green.
With kick-off approaching, a number of supporters were already situated in the brick stand with a few others standing either side of the construction, and a few more on the opposite side of the pitch. Because the club does not have any permanent facilities i.e. snack bar etc, some club officials had set up a table at the bottom of the stand and were selling hot drinks (with hot water stored in a large flask container) and chocolate snacks to supporters. Considering the low temperature that this game was being played in, the hot drinks would become a top seller as everyone tried to keep warm. You could say they were selling like hot cakes…
Soon enough the teams would walk onto the pitch in preparation for their upcoming game, which was predicted to be a tightly-contested one considering the clubs’ seasons so far. Rhostyllen would be playing in their home kit of claret shirts with an adjoining sky blue and white hoop across the chest, claret shorts and sky blue socks. Whereas Saltney would be in their memorable and highlighting away strip of high-visibility shocking pink with black trim, black shorts and shocking pink coloured socks. There certainly should have been no problem with Saltney’s visibility to find teammates for this game! As per usual with Welsh National League games, there would only be the referee officiating for today’s game.
For the first half of the game, both myself and Greg decided to stand in the back of the brick stand to shield ourselves from the breeze, although standing in the shade of the covered stand ended up being chillier than standing around the sides. To combat the onset of any threat from potential hypothermia (ok I may be being melodramatic here…) we bought a cup of black coffee from the stand at the front of the stand for the usual price of £1 a cup. A very welcome purchase which helped warm up the hands and stomach for a tad bit. I had also spied the Wagon Wheels which were also on sale displayed, but resisted the temptation of the circular chocolatey treat on this occasion as the Christmas period had been quite a gluttonous one for this groundhopper! No wonder I had been sinking into the mud ha!
The heavy pitch certainly had an impact on the game as the first half was certainly a tough watch on occasions, with both teams finding their game hampered by the muddy field. As a result the first half was played at an unintentionally slow and tentative tempo with both the home and visiting teams getting to grips with both the conditions and their opponent. Neither side were clearly dominant in terms of ball possession, with stray passing naturally being a common event due to the churned up and winter-ravaged patches of the pitch. However from the chances that were created, it was Saltney who probably had the better of the first half opportunities. A couple of their chances were saved by the Rhostyllen goalkeeper, especially when the Saltney forward advanced beyond the home defence to create a one-on-one opportunity, but had his powerful effort reflexed saved by the home keeper.
Both teams had half chances on goal but could only fire their efforts either high or wide of the goal. When Saltney were attacking the road end, a number of shots ended up in the road running behind the goal end. In fact one such shot flew towards the road, rebounded off the tarmac and deflected off a passing car, which caused me to wince a little bit. Thankfully the road was not congested or plagued with continuous traffic else the efforts of the keeper to reclaim the ball from the road might have been a tad more perilous!
Alas it was no surprise when the half time whistle was blown and no goals had been scored. Not the more entertaining of first halves I have ever seen considering both sides maintained cautiousness whilst they probed their opponent looking for a potential goalscoring opportunity. It was a rather predictable outcome considering the pre-match forecast, the challenging conditions and how close the league table was this season. Perhaps the most entertainment of the first half came from the frantic arm movements and gestures coming from the two managers in front of their respective dugouts as they tried to encourage their particular squads throughout the half.
HALF TIME: RHOSTYLLEN 0 – 0 SALTNEY TOWN
The combination of coffee and cold weather is not an ideal mix and as a result I went on the desperate hunt to find somewhere for a comfort break during the half time break. Whilst there were bushes and trees located within the park and across the road, I did not wish to ‘go’ where I could potentially be seen by an unfortunate by-passer (try explaining that one to the heddlu), therefore the hunt for a toilet was on. I asked a couple of people if there were any public toilets but they didn’t know (not helpful when you are desperate), so my best bet was to head towards the Institute building which the players had now vacated for the start of the second half. Thankfully the person looking after the changing rooms took pity on my urgent plight and allowed me access to one of the toilets, which I really appreciated. Thank you very much to that man, he would have become an early contender to “2018 Legend of the Year” if this blogsite did end of year awards.
For the second half, we decided to stand on the opposite side of the pitch to the stand where we were in during the first half, and weirdly the temperature was slightly warmer than being in the stand, or at least felt like it anyway. Even though the temperature improved slightly, the early play in the second half started continued in the same cautious format as the first half with it being an edgy game and neither side dominating the other. One feature which did increase was late sliding tackles from both sides which would cause fouls and tempers to flare up between the competitors. A combination of a heavy, sliding pitch and the increasing onset of fatigue ensured sloppy tackles occurred more regularly in the second forty-five minutes, with a couple of yellow cards shown to unfortunate players by the sole official.
As the second half progressed, the realisation that I would see my first goalless draw in over twelve months was becoming increasingly apparent as neither side looked like they were going to break the deadlock. Although towards the final quarter of the game, the home side made a couple of substitutions and the ‘fresh legs’ and refreshed impetus made an impact as they began to threaten the Saltney goal. Rhostyllen would start to dominate ball possession in midfield and carve open the now tiring visiting defensive line.
For the final ten minutes of the game, Rhostyllen would have a number of great chances to snatch all three points but were thwarted on each occasion by the alert Saltney goalkeeper. Like his counterpart in the opposite team, he would pull off a superb save from a one-on-one opportunity when the Rhostyllen forward found himself clear and advanced quickly onto goal, but the keeper stayed on his feet to divert the shot past the post. A few minutes later and he was called into action again, this time displaying great concentration and reflexes to divert a volleyed shot over the crossbar from a diving save. A number of corners would test the Bordermen’s defences further, but great marking from the defenders and a dominating presence from Saltney’s number one in the penalty area ensured he would maintain his clean sheet.
Unsurprisingly the referee blew his whistle soon afterwards and ended the contest. As predicted, it was a close affair despite the flurry from the home side towards the end, and the game had ended goalless. After going through the entire of 2017 without seeing a 0-0, it was just typical that my first game of 2018 would be a goalless affair!
FULL TIME: RHOSTYLLEN 0 – 0 SALTNEY TOWN
POST MATCH & CONCLUSION
The draw would promote Saltney Town into third position with twenty-two points, equal on points with second placed team Buckley Town but having played two games more than the Bucks and with a goal difference of +5 in comparison with Buckley’s goal difference of +20. Both sides are behind current league leaders Brickfield Rangers, who had extended their lead at the summit to three points after a 6-0 home win over Coedpoeth United. Rhostyllen would be situated just two points behind Saltney but would stay in seventh place with a goal difference of -3, and showing that this season’s Welsh National League Premier Division is proving to be a tightly contested competition.
As the sunlight was fading and the temperature continued to drop, we decided to walk into the village of Rhostyllen to find a pub to have a couple of drinks (obviously I was on lemonade whilst Greg was on the beer), warm up and try to get some of the congealed mud off the trainers also. On the way through the village I managed to spot the old colliery wheel down one of the side streets. The wheel becoming a poignant monument to the people who worked (and died) down the mines, and that this area used to be an important industrial area which sadly has disappeared from the Wrexham area. Although the looming slag heap overlooking the wheel and the village is a more obvious indicator of the downsides to such industry. I back the Welsh Government on this one, I am not a fan of the tip mound!
Just down Vicarage Road was the ‘Old Black Horse’ pub, which looked decent from the outside, and so we dived into this first pub for a couple of drinks. It seemed like a really nice pub, with reasonable prices, and was the venue of choice for the other supporters from the game who had the same idea as us. We would spend about half an hour in the Old Black Horse watching BT Sports’ version of “Soccer Saturday” and seeing all the English FA Cup Third Round scoring coming in whilst huddled around the nearest radiator to warm up – it did not look good for Stoke at Coventry and the BT Sports pundit (and Wrexham lad) Robbie Savage was getting rather animated about it!
Another pub was spotted further down a side road and so we ventured towards the ‘Swan Inn’ for another round of drinks. The Swan Inn looked pleasant from the outside and quaint on the inside although it was very quiet, with only us two being the sole customers in the pub. It did take ages to get a round of drinks in with the poor barmaid behind the bar not knowing where everything was or how much things cost – not surprisingly it was her first evening behind the bar. A pint of Kronenbourg and a bottle of sugar free lemonade (not necessarily what I was after but whatever, it was lemonade) was eventually bought for a relatively cheap cost of £2.90, and we continued watching the FA Cup results be finalised on BBC Sport’s “Final Score”. Oh dear, it looks as if Mark Hughes’ time as the manager of Stoke City was coming to a swift conclusion with that shock cup upset (or “cupset” as some reporters on the BBC were calling it….is that a thing now???).
A few more punters entered the pub and congregated by the bar whilst we were watching the analysis of the aftermath from this season’s FA Cup Third Round results, before we decided to venture back home. I had had enough of lemonade for one evening and Greg needed to get back home! The darkness had now descended as well as the air temperature, and it was a chilly return amble through the charming village and back to my car, which was still parked beside the football ground.
Considering I had gone through the whole year of 2017 without having seen a goalless draw on my groundhopping travels, it was just typically apt that the first groundhop of 2018 would be a blank affair. Alas the game was not the most exciting of games either despite both sides approaching this game in excellent form. Both Rhostyllen and Saltney’s tactics somewhat cancelled each other out whilst being severely hampered by the heaviness of the pitch, which produced sloppy passing, jolty attacks and a slowed tempo to the game. It was only in the final quarter of the game when Rhostyllen made some substitutions when the tempo of the game quickened. However both keepers were on decent form and successfully diverted or blocked any of the sporadic chances which were created throughout the game. All in all, a draw was certainly the fairest result and neither side can be too disappointed with the result.
As for the ground itself, it is set in a nice location within Rhostyllen’s village green, and has a simplistic quaintness to it, almost in the same mould as Hawarden Rangers’ ground (find the Hawarden blog here), but with the inclusion of a permanent covered stand. I think visiting in the winter time perhaps did not show it in its best light and I can imagine it is more charming at either the start or end of the season when the weather is a lot better. Despite that, the volunteers who help run the club should be given tons of credit and respect, and the inclusion of a ‘pop-up snack bar’ at the bottom of the stand was a welcome and appreciated addition by the club. Plus any club that sells Wagon Wheels always gets thumbs up from this groundhopper ha!
Anyway I was happy that I was finally able to tick it off the list and watch an inform Rhostyllen side in action – it still amazes me how much they have achieved in three seasons! I have now just got Cefn Albion and Llanuwchllyn left to do in the WNL Premier Division this season, and they will be visited sooner rather than later if things go to plan!
Overall I enjoyed the visit to Rhostyllen and found it to be a pleasant ground situated in a quaint village complete with decent and friendly pubs. Plus the village is fairly straightforward to get to by car, which is always appreciated, especially during the winter months. If you decide to visit the ground at wintertime, I would suggest wearing proper footwear and not new trainers like I foolishly did ha! Also be aware of the lack of toilet facilities at the ground, which I know can be a bit of a problem for some people, although I am sure you too can use the Institute building if you ask nicely. However if you like to visit honest, down-to-earth, proper grassroots grounds and hope to watch a decent standard of football, then Rhostyllen should be very high on your list!
I wish Rhostyllen and Saltney Town all the very best of success for the rest of the season!