Date of Visit: 17th August 2018
Competition: Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division
Ground Number: 76 (revisit)
- Founded: 1876
- Ground: Holyhead Road, Chirk, Wrexham Borough County LL14 5NA
- Colours: All red with white trim
- Website: http://www.pitchero.com/clubs/chirkaaa
- Twitter: @CHIRKAAAFC
- Highest Ever League Finish: Cymru Alliance – 17th [1997-98]
CHIRK AAA’S 2017-18 SEASON
- Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division: Ninth
- Welsh Cup: Round One
- FAW Trophy: Round Five
- North East Wales FA Challenge Cup: Round Two
- Welsh National League Premier League Cup: Round One
It would be fair to say that the summer of 2018 has not been the easiest of times for this groundhopper. As I mentioned in the previous groundhopping blog when I visited Maes Bont in Acrefair, I have been suffering big issues with my mental health, which had unfortunately kept me off work for approximately six months. As you can imagine, it was and is a real tough time in my life! However in the second week of August, after much worry and anxiety, I managed to return back to work (although initially on reduced hours with a phased return back to a full schedule) which was both emotionally and mentally difficult. Most possibly the hardest thing I have had to overcome, and the next important step in my long recovery back to full fitness!
NOTE: A big THANK YOU to everyone who gave me support and encouragement throughout the week! Every message I received was really, really appreciated and lifted my spirits incredibly – I couldn’t have done it without you guys!
The reason I mention my situation is that it set the backdrop for my first “proper” groundhop of the 2018-19 season. Having spent the whole working week overcoming serious anxieties and experiencing a full roller-coaster of emotions, I was very much looking forward to making a potential groundhop at the end of the first working week back. It was the shining light at the end of a seemingly long tunnel! I will be truthful by saying that groundhopping has always acted as a form of a ‘crutch’ throughout my phases of mental health illness as it encouraged me to leave the sanctuary of 94th Minute HQ. It gave me a purpose to get out and about and enabled me to regain some confidence to chat to people. You would be surprised how standing/sitting beside a football field and talk about football for ninety minutes can lift the spirits, even if temporarily! It can act as a brief and almost calming respite from the swirling darkness that can plague the mind!
Anyway prior to this season starting, I was determined to watch more matches and take the maximum advantage that more Friday night games were being played this season. A considerable number of Cymru Alliance (and thus Holywell Town) fixtures are scheduled to be played on Friday evenings throughout the season meaning I am then able to get a groundhop in on the Saturday afternoon or (as in the case of this upcoming groundhop) visa versa. Essentially getting two games watched in a weekend and still having a relaxing Sunday = superb stuff! Also I was eager to revisit a number of grounds that I had visited on previous occasions, but had not yet written a groundhop blog about.
Sadly my first attempt at planning to go to a new ground – an opening day fixture between Llanuwchllyn and Chirk AAA went awry. Fear, panic and relentless anxiety of the dread of returning back to work the following Monday morning meant I was not in a fit state to go anywhere for the start of the season. I would retreat to the familiar and comfortable surroundings of Halkyn Road to see the reserve side of Holywell Town lose to Ruthin Town’s developmental squad (less than twenty-fours after Ruthin had beaten Holywell on the same pitch in the Cymru Alliance). However having now gone through a week of working, I was fully determined to watch a match on both the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon this time around.
Whilst looking at the fixtures for the third weekend of August, I had noticed that my beloved Holywell Town were playing on the Saturday afternoon against Penrhyncoch in a league fixture – so that was Saturday covered! Thankfully there were also some intriguing third tier fixtures being played on the Friday evening. One such fixture immediately stood out for me as it looked like it could potentially be an fascinating game. Conveniently it would enable me to revisit a football ground and potential write up the first groundhop blog of the new season.
Therefore for the first groundhop blog of the 2018-19 season, I decided I would venture in a south-easterly direction to the Welsh-English border and watch what I was dubbing “The Aqueduct Derby“. Curiously the host side would be the opponents in my first aborted groundhop, Chirk AAA, and they would be competing against local rivals Cefn Albion in a Welsh National League Premier Division match. It was all settled, I would be heading to Holyhead Road!!
- Welsh Name: Y Waun
- Population: 4500
- County: Wrexham County Borough
- Historical County: Denbighshire
- Nearest Train Station: Chirk
Chirk is a historic town of just under 4,500 inhabitants located in close proximity to the Welsh-English border in the southern end of the Wrexham County Borough. The town is situated 10 miles south of Wrexham, 5,5 miles north of Oswestry, and 6,5 miles south-east of Llangollen and the River Dee. The border with England/Shropshire is immediately south of the town, located on the other side of the River Ceiriog (a tributary of the River Dee), which flows along the southern edge of Chirk.
The town has good infrastructural links with the important A5 road running through the north of the town, as well as the major North-South A5/A483 trunk road running alongside the eastern outskirts. This allows quick connection to Wrexham, Chester and the big cities of north-west England to be possible. In addition, the Borderlands railway line runs through the west of the town meaning the town is served by Chirk railway station allowing access to other towns on the line e.g. Wrexham, Shrewsbury, Welshpool etc. As with a number of towns in the locality, Chirk can also be accessed by canal barge with the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal running along the western edge of the town’s outskirts.
The area which Chirk is now located was once part of the cantref of Swydd y Waun, which was originally part of the ancient Celtic Kingdom of Powys and contained the commotes of Cynllaith and Nanheudwy. It is also close to a section of the ancient Offa’s Dyke, which separated the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia from the collection of Welsh principalities. However the land was taken from Powys Fadog by the Marcher Lords during the Invasion of Wales and formed into the marcher lordship of Chirkland.
Chirk’s most famous landmark is Chirk Castle, which is a Grade I listed Norman-Marcher built castle. It was constructed in 1295 by Roger Mortimer de Chirk as part of English King Edward I’s chain of fortresses (described ominously as ‘the iron ring‘) that were built around the whole of North Wales to subdue the Welsh natives after the English invasion of Wales. The castle was built to guard the entrance into the Ceiriog Valley, and was the administrative hub of the newly created Chirkland. It was the family home of the influential aristocratic Myddelton family, who owned the castle from the sixteenth century until the twenty-first century. Today the castle is owned by the National Trust and maintained by Cadw, and is open to the public between March and October.
With the important London-to-Holyhead A5 road running just past the town, Chirk was an important coaching stop for the old Royal Mail coach route, which used the road to take mail to Ireland and back (something which was mentioned in the history of Holyhead for my Holyhead Hotspur blog in August 2016).
Chirk is also home to a Grade II listed 220m (710 foot) long canal aqueduct (which can also be identified in the football club’s badge) which carries the Shropshire Union Canal across the Ceiriog Valley towards Llangollen. Completed in 1801 after taking five years to construct, it was designed by the famous architect Thomas Telford and was briefly the tallest aqueduct ever built at the time by lifting the canal 20 metres (or 65 feet) above the River Ceiriog. The design of the Chirk Aqueduct, using a cast iron trough to contain and carry the canal water, was replicated on the more famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct further upstream, which carries the Llangollen Canal over the Dee Valley.
The aqueduct, along with the 421 metre long Chirk Tunnel situated at the north end of the aqueduct (which can be walked through due to a towpath alongside the canal), forms part of the ‘Pontcysyllte Aqueduct World Heritage Site’. A railway viaduct, which was designed by Henry Robertson and raises the Borderlands railway line over the Ceiriog Valley, was built alongside the aqueduct but built at specifically higher height than it. This increase in height was a supposed message by the railway companies to emphasise the superiority of rail transportation over the alternative canal transportation at the time.
In conjunction with many other towns and villages in greater Wrexham-East Denbighshire region, Chirk was formally a coal mining community, with coal being mined in the area since the seventeenth century. However it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century when the coal mining scaled upwards resulting in coal mining being the major industry in the area, and bringing an influx of workers into the town. The largest and oldest of these collieries was ‘Black Park’, whilst Bryncunallt was also a considerable sized colliery in the area. Alas with many collieries within the area, these coal mines have since been closed down, decommissioned and cleared away.
Today Chirk has developed into a multi-facetted town with both tourism and manufacturing playing a big role in its future. The tourism industry has flourished due to its position in the Northern Marches and being at the head of the beautiful Ceiriog Valley, as well as being in close proximity to tourist-friendly Llangollen, the upper Dee Valley, and the previously mentioned Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The local landscapes of the River Ceiriog as well as the Berwyn Mountains are considered some of the most beautiful panoramas in the country. As a result of this tourism boom, there are a number of hotels, leisure facilities and restaurants to accommodate the increase in visitor numbers.
Manufacturing is also an important and prominent sector of Chirk, with major international companies such as Kronospan and Mondelez UK establishing sites within the town. In addition, there are a number of small companies who provide a wide range of employment opportunities and professions to the local population. The close proximity of great infrastructure such as the A483 and the railway means that Chirk has become an appealing location for companies to set up sites within the area.
CHIRK AAA’S HISTORY
- 5 x Welsh Cup Winners
- 3 x Welsh Amateur Cup Winners
- 2 x North Wales Alliance Cup Winners
- 8 x Welsh National League First Division / Premier Division Champions
- 2 x Welsh National League Second Division / First Division Champions
- 4 x Welsh National League Premier Cup Winners
- 1 x Welsh National League Division 1 League Cup Winners
- 4 x Welsh National League Division 2 League Cup Winners
- 1 x Horace Wynne Cup Winners
- 1 x The Combination Champions
- 2 x English FA Cup Fifth Round
Chirk Amateur Athletics Association Football Club is the town’s football club, and they currently compete in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division. They are nicknamed “The Colliers” which originates from the early Chirk sides that were composed of players who also worked in the nearby coal mine collieries that surrounded Chirk in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is because of this heavy industrial area, and access to workers, which allowed Chirk to be one of the early pioneers in Welsh league football
Chirk AAA are one of Wales’ oldest clubs having been founded in 1876, and were one of the country’s most successful and influential clubs during the early years of Welsh football. Being situated in the traditional Welsh football heartland of North East Wales, Chirk AAA were one of the founding member clubs in the creation of the Football Association of Wales (along with other local clubs in Wrexham, Druids and Oswestry) and contributed players to a number of the early pioneering Welsh squads that were selected against either Scotland or England. One such player would be local boy Billy Meredith who first appeared in the Chirk side in 1894. Meredith would progress from Chirk to become one of Welsh football’s first superstars, playing forty-eight games and scoring eleven goals for the national team, and uniquely becoming a club legend at both Manchester United and Manchester City by playing over 300 games for each Mancunian side.
Chirk’s golden period was between 1886 and 1894 (coinciding with the golden time for the Chirk collieries) when the Colliers managed to win five Welsh Cups during that halcyon phase. They managed to claim their inaugural Welsh Cup in the 1886-87 campaign by beating English side Davenham at the neutral venue of Crewe, and successfully defended the title the following season by defeating Newtown. They also reached the final in the 1892-93 campaign but this time lost to Wrexham in the final. Victories over Wrexham and Wrexham-based side Westminster Rovers followed before Chirk AAA’s fifth and final Welsh Cup win arrived in the 1893-94 season when they beat Westminster Rovers once again. That final Welsh Cup triumph would be their last appearance in the Welsh Cup final, and Chirk have not appeared in another Welsh Cup final since.
Chirk’s Welsh Cup performances between 1887 and 1894:
- 1886-87: WINNERS [Beat Davenham 2-1]
- 1887-88: WINNERS [Beat Newtown 5-0]
- 1888-89: Semi-Finalists [Defeat to Northwich Victoria 2-3 after a replay]
- 1889-90: WINNERS [Beat Wrexham 1-0]
- 1890-91: Semi-Finalists [Defeat to Wrexham 3-4]
- 1891-92: WINNERS [Beat Westminster Rovers 2-1]
- 1892-93: Finalists [Defeat to Wrexham 1-2]
- 1893-94: WINNERS [Beat Westminster Rovers 2-0]
The club are also part of a select band of Welsh clubs who have also competed in the English FA Cup, appearing in both the world’s oldest cup competition on a number of occasions during their golden era. Their first appearance in the English FA Cup came in the 1885-86 season when they lost in the first round against Burslem Port Vale by three goals to nil. The Colliers would improve in the following season’s FA Cup campaign when they managed to progress all the way to the fifth round of the historic competition before they were defeated by future Football League side Darwen by two goals to one in late January 1887. They would repeat the feat in the following FA Cup competition, reaching the fifth round for the second consecutive year, but their progression would be halted by a single goal defeat to eventual semi-finalists Derby Junction on New Year’s Eve 1887.
Chirk AAA’s 1886-87 English FA Cup campaign:
- R1: Hartford St. John’s (h) 8-1
- R2: Northwich Victoria (h) 3-0 after replay
- R3: Goldhill (h) walkover after replay
- R4: Bye
- R5: Darwen (a) 1-2
Chirk AAA’s 1887-88 English FA Cup campaign:
- R1: Chester St. Oswald’s (h) 4 – 1
- R2: Shrewsbury Town (h) 10 – 2
- R3: Davenham (a) 6 – 1 after replay
- R4: Bye
- R5: Derby Junction (h) 0 – 1
Chirk’s league history started when they competed in the early Anglo-Welsh league “The Combination” between the years of 1891 to 1910. Throughout that period the Colliers managed to win the cross-border league on the single occasion, in the 1899-1900 season. They would claim their first league trophy by finishing a single point ahead of their historical rivals Wrexham. Chirk AAA would the play in the North Wales Alliance League either side of the First World War, making their first appearance in the 1912-13 season and playing in the league until 1921 when it ended. Finally they joined the Cefn & District League in the 1930’s for five seasons, and winning the Wrexham area league (one of the precursor leagues to the Welsh National League) in two consecutive occasions in 1932 and 1933.
After the Second World War, Chirk AAA would become members of the Wrexham-based Welsh National League, which they have continued to compete in continuously right up to the present day (bar a season away in the 1990’s). During that early post-war period and through to the middle of the 1960’s, Chirk would prove to be one of the strongest teams in the area and would experience a second ‘golden period’ in their illustrious history. The Colliers would win six WNL First Division championships during that post-war period, winning their first in the 1947-48 season, and picking up another two titles by 1952. They would win a further three league championships towards the end of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when they were victorious in three consecutive WNL seasons, claiming their sixth league title in the 1960-61 season.
As well as league success, Chirk were also accomplishing in the various cup competitions. During the first half of the 1950’s, they managed to earn their first cup silverware since the early 1920’s when they won the Welsh National League Division One League Cup in 1954, and would reach two Welsh Amateur Cup (now the FAW Trophy) finals in 1952 and 1955, but would lose on both occasions. However success in Wales’ second national cup competition would soon arrive for Chirk, when they won their first Welsh Amateur Cup in 1958, followed soon afterwards by their second in 1960, and finally their third Amateur Cup feat in 1963.
A slow decline crept into Chirk AAA throughout the second half of the 1960’s and early 1970’s, and as a result, the club soon found themselves drop into in the second division of the Welsh National League pyramid by the middle of the decade. Despite this, Chirk would return to winning ways as they managed to win two Division Two League Cup trophies back to back in 1976 and 1977. They would repeat the trick two years later, when in 1979 they won the League Cup as part of a memorable treble, as they would also claim the Horace Wynne Cup and also the Second Division title that season, which would gain promotion back up the WNL pyramid.
The 1980’s saw Chirk AAA be mainstays in the top division of the Welsh National League structure, with the club achieving their seventh WNL Division One title victory in the 1983-84 season, finishing two points clear of nearest rivals Brymbo Steelworks. They would continue to play in the WNL Premier Division throughout the majority of the 1990’s, until the 1996-97 season when they gained promotion to the Cymru Alliance, despite finishing runners-up to the Wrexham AFC’s Colts team. In their only season (to date) outside of the Welsh National League since before Second World War, Chirk AAA finished seventeenth in the nineteen team league, and suffered relegation back down to the WNL finishing seven points away from safety.
Chirk would achieve their eighth Welsh National League Premier Division title in the 2012-13 season when they managed to the title by seven points from runners-up Mold Alexandra. However they were refused promotion back to the second tier as their Holyhead Road ground was not to the required Cymru Alliance standard. They continue to be one of the stronger teams in the WNL Premier Division, finishing runners-up to Gresford Athletic in the 2014-15 season, although last season the Colliers completed their league campaign in a very disappointing ninth position.
Chirk also continue to be a strong side in the FAW Trophy. The Colliers reached the final of the 2013-14 competition before they were overcome by Welsh Alliance Division One side Llanrug United, by a close 2-3 scoreline. They would reach the FAW Trophy final three seasons later, this time coming up against Swansea-based side Penlan Club in the final held at Aberystwyth Town’s ground. The Colliers conceded after just twenty minutes, but produced a spirited second half fightback, with Matty Thomas equalising on the 70th minute to send the final into extra time. It would be Chris Bennion’s goal, eight minutes into extra time, which ensured the Colliers would win their fourth FAW Trophy, fifty-four years after they had won it for the third time.
Chirk AAA’s 2016-17 FAW Trophy campaign:
- R3: AFC Brynford (h) 5 – 1
- R4: Radnor Valley (a) 3 – 1
- R5: Llanrwst United (a) 2 – 1
- QF: Corwen (a) 1 – 2
- SF: Llangefni Town (n) 1 – 0
- F: Penlan Club (n) 2 – 1 [after extra time]
Chirk AAA’s opening league games of the season:
- 11th August: Llanuwchllyn (a) 6 – 0
- 14th August: Rhostyllen (h) 2 – 1
After a disappointing finish of ninth position last season, Chirk AAA have been busy recruiting and adding depth to their squad during the summer months. Manager Jack Ellis has brought in three players from fellow WNL Premier side, Lex Glyndwr, as well as Adam Davies (from Gresford Athletic), Joe Edwards (from Coedpoeth United) and Joe Edwards (from Bala Town).
I only managed to find three pre-season games that Chirk AAA have played this summer. Their pre-season started with a close victory over Welsh Alliance Division One side, Llandyrnog United, with Joe Evans and Matty Harrison getting the goals for the Colliers. Next followed a close 1-2 defeat to NEWFA Cup holders, Ruthin Town, at Holyhead Road. Finally in their concluding pre-season match against Gresford Athletic, a storming first half display from the Cymru Alliance side ensured they ran out 7-1 victors. A disappointing result for Chirk but it would prove to be helpful exercise to improve their match fitness before the new season commences.
Chirk started their season off with a monumental 6-0 away victory at Llanuwchllyn (a game I was going to go to until illness stopped that plan from happening). The seren y gêm was Joe Evans, who managed to bag a hat-trick against his former club, whilst a free-kick from new signing Joshua Phillips, a header from experienced defender Andrew Pryde and an eighty-fifth minute goal from Louie Middlehurt completed the scoring for the Colliers. The afternoon was made even worse for the hosts as they had a penalty superbly saved by Chirk keeper Zac Bebbington early in the second half, when Llanuwchllyn were just 0-3 down.
In their last game, they managed to maintain their 100% record in their first home game of the season against a decent Rhostyllen outfit. Owen Williams managed to score for Rhostyllen, but goals from Sam Nash and Louie Middlehurst (scoring his second goal in two consecutive games) confirmed the three points would be earned by the Holyhead Road outfit. It would also leave the Colliers in second position in the Welsh National Premier table going into this weekend’s fixtures.
Cefn Albion’s opening games of the season:
- 11th August: FC Queens Park (h) 1 – 3
- 15th August: Llanuwchllyn (h) 4 – 1
After finishing in an impressive fourth position last season, Cefn Albion are targeting a higher position this season in the Welsh National League Premier Division. The Albion pinning their promotion drive on the goal-scoring talents of Conner Kendrick, as well as important strikes from Oliver Davies and Josh Foulkes.
Their pre-season has been really decent for Cefn Albion, securing impressive wins over Mid Wales League side Welshpool Town (winning 5-3), as well as victories over Welsh Alliance Division One sides Llandyrnog United (winning 6-1) and Prestatyn Sports (winning 5-4). In their final pre-season friendly, they played fellow Cefn Mawr side, Cefn Druids of the Welsh Premier, with all the proceeds from the game going to the Rhosymedre graveyard. Despite giving a great account of themselves against a team two tiers above, and having played Europa League football this season, the Albion lost 0-4 to their more illustrious neighbours.
Cefn Albion would play FC Queens Park in their opening game of the season, a side who were playing in the Cymru Alliance last season. Playing the majority of the game with ten men after Dion Gibbins was dismissed for challenge from behind after twenty-five minutes played, Cefn found themselves 0-1 down at half time after Park’s Richie Jones had broken the deadlock earlier in the half, although they had arguably been the better side in the first half. Park added a second early in the second half through Richie Jones again, before youngster Zac Davies scored for Albion late in the tie to provide an interesting finish to the game. However Park would confirm the opening day victory as Sean Humphreys hit a late counter-attack goal to inflict the 1-3 defeat on Cefn Albion.
In their previous league game (and second this season), they faced Llanuwchllyn for their first home game of the season at The Rock. Albion would score in the first half through Conner Kendrick, before adding another three in the second half through Zac Davies (two goals in two games for him), a Jimmy Jones long range strike and Andrew Jones. Llanuwchllyn would get a consolation goal in the second half but it would be the only highlight in a 4-1 victory for the Albion. Their first three points of the season saw Cefn Albion rise up the table to seventh spot.
For this upcoming game, Cefn Albion would be severely disadvantaged in their line-up with six of their regular starters all unavailable for this evening’s game. In comparison, Chirk would have five of their regular starting line-up missing for the game, meaning whoever had the better strength in depth in their respective squads would probably come out on top of this fixture.
HOLYHEAD ROAD GROUNDHOP
- Distance Traveled: 35,5 miles
- Travel Time: 50 minutes
- Entrance: £1.00 [for charity]
- Programme: N/A
- Cup of Coffee: £1.00
This would not be my first visit to Holyhead Road, as I made my first (and only) groundhop to Chirk AAA way back in October 2016. On that occasion, Chirk played against Hawarden Rangers and produced an exciting 4-4 game in the Welsh National League Premier Division fixture. The home side were 0-4 down and reduced to ten men after 65 minutes, but an incredible and unlikely fightback from the Colliers culminated in an injury time equalising penalty that ensured both sides shared the points. A truly spectacular game! Having experienced such an epic encounter, and kicking myself for not writing a groundhopping blog about it, I was really excited in revisiting Holyhead Road and finally writing about my visit.
Even though kick-off for this game was at half six in the evening, I decided to head down to Chirk from 94th Minute HQ early as I wanted enough time to have a look at Chirk’s aqueduct, which is only a short distance away from the football ground. Having spoken to Gareth Thomas, fellow groundhopper and owner of the excellent blogging website Gareth’s Football Travels, he encouraged me to have a look at the aqueduct as it would be interesting to view plus it was a pleasant and calming walk along the Shropshire Union Canal. With such a recommendation, I had to go and check the structure out before the game (as well as take pictures of it for the history section ha)!
Setting off about 16:20 from HQ, it would take me about fifty minutes to travel the thirty-five mile journey. As it was a late Friday afternoon, I was weary that the traffic would be more excessive than usual, with the combination of the usual commuter traffic being added upon by the weekender holiday traffic. Thankfully the majority of my journey on the A55 Expressway was fairly straightforward as the traffic jams and slow moving traffic were heading westbound and in the opposite direction to myself. I would have hated to have been stuck in that for the length of the A55! It was only when I reached the Wrexham-Chester roundabout and on some sections of the A483 did I encounter heavy traffic and jams.
The Wrexham-Chester roundabout being especially annoying with articulated lorries and cars crammed with holidaymakers and suitcases continuously moving between lanes, plus the traffic lights changing colour every ten seconds! Although still not as blood-boiling rage-worthy as Holywell’s one-way traffic system at the moment, where a brutal combination of kamikaze buses, tight junctions and pedestrian crossings where the red light is shown more often than the green one, contribute to blood pressure rising dramatically. In Dante’s Inferno, Dante had to endure the nine circles of Hell – I am pretty certain, had he had to endure a tenth circle, it would have been driving around Holywell’s one-way circular system!
Having reached Chirk about 17:10, I initially parked up in the car park next to Caffi Wylfa (which was sadly closed ten minutes previously) as it was only a short walk down to the canal and aqueduct beyond. On the canal, there were a number of brightly painted barges moored up for the evening, whilst a lone angler was sat in a foldable chair just in front of the Chirk Tunnel entrance hoping to hook a couple of fishes potentially darting in and out of the darkness of the tunnel. It is quite an ominous sight to peer in the dark depths of the tunnel and just see a small glint of light in the distance. If you’re claustrophobic or scared of the dark, I would not recommend walking the length of the tunnel along the towpath next to the canal.
Just a short walk down the canal path and the aqueduct appeared in front of me, with the taller (and, in my opinion, more impressively constructed) railway viaduct next to it. Whilst it was similarly designed and built to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, it is not as high as its more famous cousin, lifting the Llangollen Canal twenty-one metres above the River Ceiriog flowing below. Sadly it does not have the same incredible views either as a lot of the surrounding area is covered in trees and foliage. However it is not as busy as the other aqueduct and certainly a more pleasant walk along the canal (especially if you’re scared of heights as I am) as the path is wider and it’s a lot more tranquil.
What I found fascinating about the aqueduct is that it is situated on the Welsh-English border, with the border following the old route of the River Ceiriog (although the old river meander has dried up and it is now a field, with the river now flowing more directly). I always find border locations intriguing places, with the curiousness of having one foot in one place and the other foot in another. Also the history behind it all, and how a decision that was probably made centuries ago had defined that specific location as the border between countries/counties.
At each end of the aqueduct there are signs identifying to canal boat user which country they were now in. So on the Chirk side of the aqueduct, there is a “Welcome to Wales / Croeso I Gymru” sign whilst there is a “Welcome to England” sign on the opposite end. I walked as far as the English sign before hiraeth hit sharply and I swiftly turning back and retreated back over the border – I wouldn’t be venturing into England on this occasion haha. However if you continue to follow the footpath along the canal into Shropshire, you will come across The Bridge Inn, which is sandwiched between the canal and the Ceiriog. Alas with time ticking away rapidly, I didn’t have enough time to walk along the canal and pop into the pub for a quick half. So having taken a number of pictures, it was a quick scoot back to the car and a short drive towards Chirk AAA’s social club car park on Holyhead Road.
With time sadly against me, I was also unable to have a wander around Chirk’s high street, which seems very pleasant and quaint from the driver’s seat of my car. I will have to come back when I am not so time constrained and have a good explore of the town (as well as have a drink at The Bridge Inn).
The social club is situated on the northern outskirts of the town, and only a ten minute walk from the quaint high street. It has a sizeable car park, although when I arrived at 17:45, it had already filled up considerably with only a few spaces remaining. No doubt a number of supporters were enjoying some liquid refreshment in the social club prior to the game starting. Entrance to this evening’s game was just a pound, which I was told the proceeds of tonight’s game were all going to a cancer charity, which is a great gesture by the club. Alas there were no programmes available for the game otherwise I would have bought one of those also.
The football club is part of a section of the Chirk AAA complex, with the football pitch at the far end of the large sports field. Just like Mochdre Sports and Gresford Athletic, the football pitch is part of the greater cricket pitch which dominates the area, with the creases covered up in the middle of the large pitch. At one of the ends of the football pitch are a couple of mini-pitches that can be used for kids or warm-up areas, whilst Chirk AAA’s immaculate bowling green is positioned next to the mini-pitches and opposite the social club.
Next to the social club, and to the side of the pitches, are the changing rooms complex. Here there is a small sheltered standing area and a couple of seats which can allow supporters to enjoy the football / cricket games played here whilst staying seated and protected from the elements. At the end of the complex is the snack bar, which sells all the usual hot and cold drinks, as well as hot snacks. For this particular evening I didn’t fancy any hot food snacks and so I just bought a cup of black coffee for the standard league price of one pound.
Right next to the snack hatch is the football club’s main stand, which is located on the corner of the pitch. It is a fairly modern built concrete stand which houses about 100 covered seats and provides a decent view of the football pitch. It was officially opened in August 2011 by the then Welsh national manager, the late, great Gary Speed, with a metal plaque fixed onto the stand to rightfully proudly display that Speedo had opened the stand. Certainly a poignant reminder considering he would depart from this world three months after he opened the stand.
With the coffee in hand, I decided to have a wander around the pitch whilst both sides were making use of the cricket pitch space to conduct their warm-up routines. As with many other grounds at this level, there are no floodlights at Holyhead Road. However they do have a permanent standing barrier surrounding three sides of the football pitch, along with a concrete path adjacent to the barrier. Whilst on the barried side of the pitch, the ground has permanent, brick-built dugouts built. Finally on the fourth side, the cricket pitch side of the football pitch, a temporary barrier was erected which used rope and stakes to separate the standing area from the playing area. It was from this side of the pitch that you could see the towers of the Mondelez factory from behind the trees, one of which was ejecting a great column of continuous steam into the already cloudy atmosphere.
With kick-off time approaching, more and more supporters had come out of the social club and were now standing around the pitch in preparation for this evening’s Aqueduct Derby match. I think there must have been well over a hundred supporters at the game prior to kick-off, with more arriving after the game had started. It was good to see the locals had come out in force for this derby fixture – although watching some local football then returning to the social club for some Friday evening drinks does sound appealing anyway.
The weather conditions for the game would be overcast with dark clouds, breezes and starting off mild but cooling throughout the evening. Alas as kick-off was nearly upon us, and both sides now on the pitch, the weather took a turn for the worse with a light shower cascading down upon all the supporters. Waterproofs and umbrellas would be needed for this game! Considering the gloomy clouds above, it was no surprise that intermittent light showers would materialize throughout the game.
Chirk AAA would be playing in their home strip of an all-red Macron kit, complete with white trim. Their shirt design being very similar to Wrexham AFC’s shirt design from last season. In comparison, Cefn Albion would be playing in an all-blue with white trim Macron kit, with their shirt being a royal blue/dark blue hooped version of this season’s Wrexham’s shirt.
The first ten minutes of the game would provide a snapshot of how the game would develop with a number of strong tackles and a combative atmosphere, especially in the midfield, being evident. The official being surprisingly lenient early in the game, allowing a number of tough challenges and not cautioning anyone. As expected from a local derby, both sides were certainly fired up for this game and had early chances from corners, although nothing came from them.
After twenty-three minutes, the deadlock would finally broken. With the momentum of the game slightly swinging in Chirk’s favour, it would be the home side who would strike first from a corner. Chirk’s #10 whipped in a superb cross into the centre of the six yard box, where among the crowd of players congregated in front of the Albion goalkeeper, Chirk’s #8 got ahead of the crowd, and before the goalkeeper could jump up to intercept the cross, to nod it past the flapping keeper and into the net.
Chirk AAA 1 – 0 Cefn Albion
Five minutes after taking the lead and Chirk had doubled their advantage, this time from a superbly struck counter-attack. After a Cefn Albion attack phase had broken down, the ball advanced quickly to Chirk’s #7, who had the great vision to spot #9’s advancing run and execute a delightfully weighted lobbed pass over the covering Cefn defenders and allowing the home forward to break clear of the defensive line. The Cefn keeper came rushing out of his area to eliminate the threat, but #9 coolly slotted the ball past the isolated goalkeeper, from outside of the penalty area, to score Chirk’s second of the evening.
Chirk AAA 2 – 0 Cefn Albion
Cefn Albion could have instantly halved the arrears a minute after going two goals down when they got a corner in the Chirk end. The Chirk goalkeeper failed to gather the cross allowing a Cefn player to divert a free header towards goal, although it agonisingly went just wide of the left post. They would be subsequently punished for their missed chance as Chirk soon increased their lead by scoring a third goal through another slick counter-attack. The counter allowed Chirk’s #10 to run down the middle of the pitch unchallenged and lay-off a superb pass to #7, who managed to run clear of Cefn’s defence from the left flank, and fire low past the onrushing goalkeeper into the net. Chirk had scored three goals in just eleven minutes!
Chirk AAA 3 – 0 Cefn Albion
Despite finding themselves three goals down, Cefn Albion were galvanised by their unfortunate position and ended the first half in the ascendancy, having had a number of decent chances to get something before the half ended. Firstly they had another free header when a cross found #9 clear at the back post, but Chirk’s keeper completed a superb block to deny the striker. A couple of minutes later, a defensive error meant Cefn’s #10 was able to just behind his marker with only the keeper to beat. The home keeper made himself big and jumped in front of the advancing striker, and distracted just enough to make the forward’s shot cannon back off the post.
Finally the goalkeeper almost contributed to his own downfall when he misjudged the bounce of the ball, allowing the ball to loop over his head and find the Cefn player who had ran beyond him and was bearing down on a potential open goal. However the Cefn forward was in an acute angle in which to attempt a goal-bound shot, and sadly could only hit the side netting when he attempted an effort.
HALF TIME: CHIRK AAA 3 – 0 CEFN ALBION
The second half was only a minute old when a lapse in concentration from the Cefn defenders allowed Chirk to extend their lead. A long diagonal ball from defence found Chirk’s #7 on the left side byline, and he was given enough time and space to nod the ball inwards towards #9 in a more central position. The forward was able to out-muscle his marker, breaking clear of the challenge and defender, allowing him to advance towards goal and roll the ball past the helpless keeper, who had been sent to ground by the forward. A superb start for the home side but a nightmare for the visiting team!
Chirk AAA 4 – 0 Cefn Albion
Chirk were playing with great confidence now and were passing the ball around the pitch very slickly, carving apart their opponents on occasions. They almost scored their fifth goal when some decent passing around the penalty box allowed their #6 to attempt a long range shot, which just fizzed over the crossbar. Then some delightful 1-2 combinations and movement from the Chirk players ensured their #7 could curl a dangerous looking cross into the penalty area and towards #9. Alas he was unable to cap-off the excellent build-up play as his glancing head could only just spinning beyond the back post and out for a goal kick.
Having found themselves four goals in deficit, a tactical change was made when they made two substitutions and changed to a back three in defence. The tactical change had an impact for Cefn as achieved more ball possession and were having more attempts on the Chirk goal. They almost scored on the fifty-seventh minute when #9 couldn’t get a good connection with a cross, seeing his header tamely drift wide of the Chirk goal. Seven minutes later and they had their best chance of the half when the substitute #14 shot towards goal, but the Chirk goalie was able to parry the ball away. Alas the ball ricocheted into the path of #11, who had a great chance to score but disappointingly could only scuff his shot wide of the left post.
The momentum of the match was in the visitors’ favour, and on the seventy-first minute, Cefn Albion came close to scoring yet again when a cross from the right side of the pitch found their #11 in clear space at the back post, having peeled away from his marker momentarily. Alas for the winger, his downward header was not enough to beat the host keeper as he dived in time to deflect the ball away from danger. However a minute later, and Cefn earned themselves a fully deserved goal when a long ball from the left wing managed to hit the crossbar and deflect downwards. A Cefn forward ran into the box, avoided the challenge from both the defender and keeper to deflect the ball just inside the far post. It was more than deserved for the visitor’s exertions in the second half!
Chirk AAA 4 – 1 Cefn Albion
Having just found an opener, and with enough time to potentially start a fight-back, Cefn’s hopes were dashed when former Chirk player, Nik Jones, was sent off by the official about thirty seconds after having scored. The decision would not endear the official to the Cefn Albion management or fans, who were more than vocal about their displeasure for his erratic and strange performance throughout the game. I would have to say some of his decisions, especially in the first half when robust tackles from both side were going unpunished, were confusing to me as a neutral fan. Having gone through the first half being lenient with the challenges, he was now brandishing the cards. Alas there was no consistency in his decisions, which naturally frustrated both home and visiting supporters.
The official would then provoke the ire of the home supporters with just five minutes remaining of the game, when he sent off Chirk’s #8 for seemingly a late challenge from behind. With both teams playing a player disadvantage, light rain falling once again, and the light quickly fading, the game fizzled out with the sadly maligned official finally blowing his whistle to end the Welsh National Premier contest.
FULL TIME: CHIRK AAA 4 – 1 CEFN ALBION
POST MATCH & CONCLUSION
After the weekend’s matches, Chirk AAA stayed in second place in the Welsh National League Premier Division table having maintained their 100% league record after three games played. They are only kept from top spot by early leaders Corwen, who also have nine points but a superior goal difference of +14 in comparison with Chirk’s +10. Pre-season title favourites Brickfield Rangers are the third team with three wins out of three games played, but have an inferior goal difference of +6 and are positioned in third place in the table.
After the heavy defeat and following Saturday’s games, Cefn Albion would drop from seventh to eleventh place in the sixteen team league, being the only team with three points from three games played. However with so many key players unavailable for them in the early games, it would be anticipated to see Albion start to rise back up the table when all the players return to first team action in the near future!
As mentioned previously, I thought the official’s performance took the shine off what I found to be a very decent match between two decent sides, who were both struggling with unavailable first team players. It was that brief ten minute period in the first half which ensured Chirk would come away with the three points from that encounter, although Cefn Albion continued to work hard throughout the game and were unlucky not to have scored more than just their one goal from the afternoon. I think the difference in the end was that Chirk were able to convert their chances when they appeared, whereas Cefn spurned a number of decent chances. I was very impressed with the rapidness of Chirk’s counter-attacks with their wingers causing problems for Albion’s backline all game, whilst their #9 played superbly holding up the ball and strongly evading challenges.
Saying that, Cefn Albion created some good chances, especially when they changed their formation and were the superior side for the majority of the second half. However with Chirk being four goals up at that point, they probably sat back and perhaps allowed the visiting side to advance forward. Had Cefn had more of a cutting edge upfront, it might have gave the game a more exciting finish – it wouldn’t have been the first time I had seen a comeback from 4-0 down happen at Chirk!
Anyway I enjoyed my groundhop to Chirk, and once again had seen the home side score four goals in a game. It was also good to see a lot of people turn up for the derby game – I think this Friday night football may becoming popular in Wales? It’s certainly a hit with me anyway! I will certainly be returning back to Chirk in the future, and next time I will come with plenty of time in hand so I can go explore the town more freely, have a drink in the social club and perhaps venture over the border into Shropshire….who knows? Haha!
Best of luck to both Chirk AAA and Cefn Albion for the rest of the season and hope to see both sides in the near future!
Diolch yn fawr iawn!