Date of Visit: 17th November 2018
Competition: Welsh Premier League
Ground Number: 58 (Revisit)
- Founded: 1880
- Ground: Maes Tegid, Bala, Gwynedd LL23 7UY
- Colours: White shirts with black sleeves, black shorts & socks
- Website: http://www.balatownfc.co.uk/
- Twitter: @BalaTownFC
- Highest Ever League Placing: 2nd – Welsh Premier League [2014-15 & 2015-16]
BALA TOWN’S 2017-18 SEASON
- Welsh Premier League: Fourth
- Welsh Cup: Round Three
- Welsh League Cup: Round One
- UEFA Europa League: First Qualifying Round
- North East Wales FA Challenge Cup: Preliminary Round
It was the third Saturday in November and I was on the lookout for a groundhop. Ok, ok most weekends I am looking for a potential groundhopping visit, but if Holywell are playing on the Saturday afternoon, I often attend their game. However on this specific weekend, Holywell would have another free weekend due to the Cymru Alliance League Cup fixtures being played, their second free weekend in as many weeks. This meant I had to look for alternative fixtures that I could occupy my Saturday afternoon with.
Throughout the week prior, I scoured the fixtures of all the leagues to find any interesting games at grounds that I had yet to visit or not written a blog for. This is becoming increasingly difficult as a lot of the local clubs around HQ have been visited and written about, therefore I had to cast my net over a wider area for an increased number of options. After much deliberation and uncertainty (standard practice in 94th Minute HQ), I chose an interesting fixture at a ground that I visited a few years ago but did not write a blog about at that time. Therefore it was settled, I would be spending the third weekend of November at Maes Tegid to watch the intriguing Welsh Premier League fixture between home side Bala Town and in-form Aberystwyth Town.
This game peaked my interests due to both teams being in great form prior to the upcoming fixture. Bala Town had won their previous two league games, which included an impressive 3-0 defeat of Cardiff Met University, and were sitting in fourth position in the table. The Lakesiders being only three points away from Connah’s Quay Nomads in provisional top spot. Whereas their opponents, Aberystwyth Town were the league’s current best form team, having won their previous four league fixtures. In their previous two games, they had managed to shockingly defeat league champions, The New Saints, by a single goal at Park Avenue, followed up by beating Cardiff Met 3-2 away at the Cyncoed Campus. Impressive stuff from the Seasiders!!
With two in-form sides squaring up against each other, and with Bala wanting to reek some kind of revenge over Aberystwyth after having lost to the Green and Whites by a scoreline of 2-3 in the reverse fixture, played in the middle of September, all the signs were pointing to it being an exceptional contest that was worth watching. Not to mention that the weather for the Saturday afternoon was predicted to be dry and sunny in Bala. Plus the town is a tourist hotspot and always worth visiting regardless of the time of year. I could not pass on such an excellent opportunity to revisit Maes Tegid and finally write that Bala blog I had been promising myself I would do for the past couple of seasons!
So despite the low clouds hanging over 94th Minute HQ like a grey, gloomy blanket, I left HQ just before half eleven in the morning and set off on the long journey down to Y Bala for the afternoon, hoping for a bright and exciting game!
- Population: 1,980
- County: Gwynedd
- Traditional County: Merionethshire
- Nearest Train Stations: Blaenau Ffestiniog [20,8 miles north-west]; Barmouth [27,4 miles south-west]; Ruabon [27,8 miles east]
Bala / Y Bala is a tourist, market town of just under two thousand inhabitants situated in the eastern corner of the North Welsh county of Gwynedd. Historically within the eastern part of the old county of Merionethshire, the town is located on the northern end of Llyn Tegid (English: Bala Lake). The freshwater lake is the largest natural body of water within Wales being four miles long, half a mile wide and 138 feet deep. As a result of its proximity next to the lake, and very near to Snowdonia National Park, Bala has become a desired tourist location with flocks of holiday-makers arriving in the town every summer either doing water sports on the lake or using it as a base for hiking the surrounding hills. Either way, the influx of tourists bring great wealth into the town every year.
The name Bala originates from the Welsh word for “outlet of a lake”, which makes reference to the River Dee / Afon Dyfrdwy which flows out of the north-east corner of the lake. The river flows along the southern outskirts of the town before meandering its way eastwards towards the towns of Corwen, Llangollen, before sharply diverting its path northwards towards Chester. From the ancient city, the river eventually flows out into the River Dee estuary, which divides Flintshire and Wales from the Wirral peninsula and England.
As with a large number of settlements beside a major river, it is thought the foundations of the town originate from a Roman camp. The nine metre high Tomen y Bala (English: Tower of Bala) is a tumulus/moat-hill that is located at the northern edge of town and is thought to mark the site where the Roman camp may have been located. This would have been an advantageous location for a defensive camp as it would have had the River Dee to the south, and the Afon Tryweryn to its east (before the Tryweryn flows into the Dee in the south-east corner of the town).
Bala’s ‘golden period’ was in the eighteenth century when it became famous for the production of flannel, stockings, gloves and hosiery. It was also a religious centre, with the Coleg Y Bala, a theological college, being founded in 1712, and local vicar and theological writer, Rev. Thomas Charles, founding the British and Foreign Bible Society within the town at the start of the nineteenth century. Today the town has fully embraced the tourism trade, utilising the freshwater lake to its south and the local rivers for water sports (with a number of national and international white-water events held in the town), the surrounding hills for hiking/walking trails and the countryside for relaxation.
The infrastructure in the town is as expected for many Welsh towns deep within the heart of the country, as Bala can only be reached by car or bus. The major A494 trunk road runs straight through the town connecting Bala to Dolgellau to the south-west, and the settlements of Ruthin, Mold and the Deeside conurbation to the north-east. In addition it connects Bala to the towns situated on the major A5 road that runs through the Dee Valley (such as Corwen, Llangollen etc.).
The town does not have its own National Rail station, with the nearest being either Barmouth, Blaenau Ffestiniog or even Ruabon, and having no station being located within a twenty mile radius of the town. Bala used to have a station on the Great Western Railway branch between Ruabon and Barmouth before the line was closed during the Beeching Cuts of the mid 1960’s. Today a section of that former trackbed is used for a tourist heritage railway line, the Rheilffordd Llyn Tegid (English: Bala Lake Railway), which runs for 4,5 miles along the length of Llyn Tegid between Bala and the village of Llanuwchllyn at the opposite end of the lake.
Finally Bala is still a strong bastion of the Welsh language, with 78,5% of the population being able to speak Cymraeg, and ranked within the top twenty areas of Wales with the highest percentage of Welsh speakers. It hosted the Urdd Eisteddfod as recently as 2014, whilst hosting the National Eisteddfod on three separate occasions in 1964, 1997 and most recently in 2009.
- 1 x Welsh Cup Winners
- 2 x Welsh Premier League Runners-Up
- 2 x Welsh League Cup Finalists
- 1 x Cymru Alliance Winners
- 1 x Welsh National League Premier Division Winners
- 3 x Welsh National League Division One Winners
- 3 x North East Wales FA Challenge Cup Winners
Football has been played in Bala since the very early days of football appearing in Wales. So much so that a Bala side appeared in the very first Welsh Cup campaign way back in 1877-78. That side was knocked out in the first round of the cup by a single goal from Corwen, but only after playing two goalless replays.
The current side, Bala Town Football Club / Clwb Pel-Droed y Bala, was formed in 1880 although initial league records of the club date back to the 1921-22 season when they played in the Welsh National League North Division Two. The side initially played at Castle Park before moving to their current home of Maes Tegid in the early 1950’s. From there, they played in the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) between 1950 to 1954, before a move to the Cambrian Coast League for nine years, and then once again returning to the Welsh National League for the start of the 1963-64 season.
Bala Town would continue to play in the Welsh National League league pyramid for forty-one years, flittering through the various WNL leagues at times, although playing the majority of their time in the top league of the WNL. They managed to claim three Division One titles during that time but alas never came close to challenging for the Premier Division title. However the breakthrough for the Lakesiders came in the 2003-04 season, when under the management of newly-appointed boss, Colin Caton, they won the Premier Division for the very first time and gained promotion to the Cymru Alliance and the second tier of Welsh football. They also won the NEWFA Cup for the first time during that promotion season to make it a double-wining campaign.
They would spend the next five seasons in the Cymru Alliance and always achieving a top half finish during their tenure in the league. Bala finished runners-up in two consecutive seasons to Llangefni Town and Prestatyn Town respectively between 2006 and 2008 (as well as claiming a further two NEWFA Cups), before making it third-time luck in the 2008-09 season and finally winning the Cymru Alliance league. Bala claimed the title by just three points from their nearest rival, Holyhead Hotspur, and gained promotion to the Welsh Premier League for the first time in their long history! They also claimed the CA League Cup during that season, beating title rivals Holyhead Hotspur once again for silverware, to achieve an historic double-winning season!
Initially Bala found life tough in the Welsh Premier League during their first two seasons in the top flight, by just escaping the drop on both occasions. In their debut season they respectably finished eleventh out of eighteen teams but narrowly avoided relegation when the WPL was reduced from eighteen teams to the current ‘Super 12’ format. In the following season, they finished in eleventh yet again but this time it was in the relegation zone. Only the denial of Welsh League Division One champions, Bryntirion Athletic, to gain promotion to the WPL after their ground was not to the required WPL standard saved Bala Town’s position in the top flight.
Since their extremely close brush with relegation, Bala Town have become a firm fixture within the WPL, and since the 2014-15 season have become one of the strongest teams within the league. They achieved their highest ever league position of second place in the 2014-15, and then repeated the trick in the following season, each time finishing behind eventual champions, The New Saints. The Lakesiders followed those excellent league placements with a third place finish in the 2016-17 season, and subsequently finished in fourth position last season.
The Lakesiders have also appeared in European competition during these past few years by appearing in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League with some relative success. Their first European campaign came at the start of the 2013-14 season after they had won the Europa League playoff at the end of the previous season, defeating Port Talbot Town by a single goal. In that initial campaign, they played Estonian side Levadia Tallinn, and despite a spirited performance which included a 1-0 win at home, they lost the reverse fixture 1-3 to get knocked out of the competition.
Since that initial appearance, Bala have qualified for Europe on regular occasions and represented the WPL in the Europa League. Despite some decent individual performances in recent campaigns, they have yet to progress to the next round in the Europa League, with this season’s defeat to San Marino side, Tre Fiori, in the preliminary round being especially heartbreaking.
- 2015-16: Differdange 03 [LUX] 3-4 on aggregate
- 2016-17: AIK [SWE] 0-4 on aggregate
- 2017-18: Vaduz [LIE] 1-5 on aggregate
- 2018-19: Tre Fiori [SMR] 1-3 on aggregate
Bala’s greatest moment in their history came in the 2016-17 season when they achieved history by claiming their maiden Welsh Cup. They had gotten close in previous seasons, having reached the semi-finals in 2010, 2012 and 2014 but finally made the 2017 final. They had to work incredibly hard for their final berth as they trailed then Cymru Alliance side, Caernarfon Town, 0-1 at the neutral venue of Belle Vue. However three late goals from the Lakesiders ensured they would reach their first final, where they would face league champions, The New Saints.
TNS were strong favourites going into the final held at Bangor, having won their sixth straight WPL title by a ridiculous margin of 27 points, and winning twenty-eight of their thirty-two game campaign. They had also won the Welsh League Cup that season, beating Barry Town United 4-0 in the final, meaning they were looking for another treble winning season. It started to look a formality when TNS scored in the 56th minute through Greg Draper, but a 77th minute equaliser from Jordan Evans was followed up by an 85th minute winning goal from Kieran Smith to ensure the old trophy would be heading Tegidside for the first time in its illustrious history!
Bala Town’s historic 2016-17 Welsh Cup campaign:
- R3: Caldicot Town (h) 6 – 1
- R4: Pen-y-Bont (h) 4 – 1
- R5: Guilsfield (a) 0 – 3
- SF: Caernarfon Town (n) 3 – 1
- F: The New Saints (n) 2 – 1
MAES TEGID GROUNDHOP
- Distance Travelled: 40,0 miles
- Travel Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
- Entrance: £6.00
- Programme: £2.00
- Raffle Ticket: £1.00
- Tray of Chips: £2.00
- Cup of Coffee: £1.00
I arrived at the ground at about 12:40pm, nearly two hours before the scheduled kick-off time of half two. The seventy-five minute drive down through the North Welsh countryside had been a fairly decent one. Starting from a gloomy looking 94th Minute HQ, I went through a bustling Denbigh and past the picturesque Llyn Brenig reservoir towards the bright and sunny, if chilly, Merionethshire town of Bala. There are plenty of car parking available in the town but I decided to park up at the ground considering I would be there later on (plus parking is free there in comparison with the council-ran ones in the town). The ground is situated to the north-western section of the town, down a couple of side streets from the high street, and opposite Ysgol y Berwyn, the town’s Welsh language high school.
When I parked up in the large car park situated just outside of the ground (with enough space for 100 parked cars), many of the Aberystwyth players, decked out in club training tracksuits, were also arriving at the ground at the same time. They too were parking their respective cars in the car park before walking towards the ground’s players’ entrance. I decided that as the weather was nice and sunny, with only a light, yet chilling, breeze in the air that I would delay entering the football ground for the time being and take a wander around the pleasant looking settlement before the game.
The town itself was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday afternoon even though the weather was delightful for mid-November. I was expecting large amounts of tourists, backpackers and walkers to be roaming the high street yet there were only a few people walking on the pavement, and most of them must have been locals. There was no sign of any hiking gear on show! It was a massive contrast to how the town was when I visited it last back in early August when it was bursting with tourists and holiday-makers. I guess that’s the obvious distinction between “peak season” and “off season” in the tourist industry.
As I was walking along the wide Stryd Fawr (or High Street in English), I did notice a cavalcade of luminous yellow lycra-clad cyclists had congregated inside one of the cafes that lie on the street. No doubt acquiring some well-earned added sustenance before continuing on the undulating roads leading into and out of the town. So perhaps not all the tourists had shied away from Bala at this point of the year just yet!
One of the reasons I wanted to travel down to Bala this weekend was to visit the famous Spirit of 58 shop that has now opened on Bala high street. Every Welsh football fan has heard of Spirit of 58, with a vast majority of them owning at least one piece of Spirit wares, whether it be a pin badge, scarf, bobble hat or (most probably) one of their famous and bestselling bucket hats. I own a number of items from the shop, having bought them from Beautiful Game in Prestatyn, however, I wanted to browse the new store and perhaps treat myself to a couple more items. I mean the weather is all scheduled to become colder, so surely buying another bobble hat is a perfect logical decision???
Alas when I arrived at the shop, with its distinctive forest green facade, it was sadly shut. To be honest I should have expected it as the Welsh national team had been playing the previous night in their Nations League defeat to Denmark, so owner Tim Williams (who is a really top bloke by the way) was probably still down in Cardiff or travelling back up at least. Cursing my poor timing, I could only push my face against the glass and drool as I peered through the window, scoping the vast array tempting of Welsh football wares on display, which I wanted to purchase so, so, so badly!
With no further additions from Spirit of 58, and plenty of time to burn before kick-off, I decided to have a wander around the town and take a few pictures of the place. Bala is a very scenic town in the Welsh countryside with plenty of history connected with it. Located on the high street was an information panel detailing the famous barefoot journey of fifteen year old Mary Jones, who walked from her home in Llanfihangel-y-Pennant to Bala (a taxing, mountainous journey of 26 miles) just to buy herself a Welsh Bible from clergyman Thomas Charles. Her story inspired Rev. Charles to set up an organisation that supplied bibles to Wales, as well as establishing her as a Welsh nonconformist and national icon in the nineteenth century. Perhaps fellow 94th Minute colleague, Greg, who is not a stranger to walking obscene lengths for charity having walked 40 miles between Keswick to Barrow in the Lake District on numerous occasions, may re-step her arduous journey in the future??
Strolling down the sparsely populated stryd fawr, I did finally realise where the majority of people were hiding as they all seemed to be occupying the cafes and restaurants situated on the main thoroughfare. This was very clearly evident when I wanted to pop into the excellent Y Cyfnod for a cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich. Gazing through the glazed front of the café, I could see the place was extremely busy and bustling with people clearly enjoying their Saturday lunchtime. Certainly no spaces or the right atmosphere for myself to enjoy a quiet cuppa and a bite to eat before the match. Sighing at my rather unfortunate afternoon of looking through windows and desiring what was unattainable on the other side, I continued my stroll down the high street. I suppose I could get something from the ground….well so I hoped anyway….
Bala itself is certainly a picturesque town with a number of historical buildings dotted about the town. I spotted one such building standing resplendent at the end of one of the side streets from the high street, and so went to have a closer look. It was a traditional Welsh chapel, the likes of which were built extensively during the evangelical Victorian period to the almost same design. They appear in every Welsh town or village although the usage of the majority of them seem to have changed from the spiritual to the cultural, financial or domestical, either being public centres or shops, or converted into domestic homes/apartments.
In the November sunshine, its light grey and cream façade with royal blue door was shining brightly, like a beacon of light lighting-up a gloomy side street and naturally catching my eye. I suppose in a theocratic sense, its appearance and location were purposely arranged in such a way, acting as a metaphor that the church acts as a beacon of light for people through dark times, especially during the grimy period of the Victorian age. I don’t really believe that nowadays being an agnostic fellow, but have an appreciation for good architecture and historical buildings, something which this ecclesiastical centre certainly had.
It was whilst I happily snapping away taking pictures of one of Bala’s Welsh chapels, one of the locals, who was walking down the side street with a bag of shopping at the same time I was taking pictures, noticed my interested in the chapel. He thus came up to me and struck up a conversation in Welsh about the chapel and its history.
Now I have been trying to learn Welsh in my spare time using a combination of Duolingo and Memrise to help me understand Cymraeg, and I have been fairly pleased with my progression so far. Alas in this instance, it would be fair to say that I failed badly as all previous knowledge of Welsh words drifted away quicker than shed autumnal leaf floating on the surface of the River Dee. Even though I could understand what he was trying to say to me in Welsh, my attempts to reply to his questions were either muddled or panicked Cymraeg. Thankfully John (I think that was he said his name was) was so patient with my ‘attempts’ at replying back to him and came across as a top bloke, and I can only apologise to him for my bungled replies to his questions. Needless to say I felt a bit dejected with my blotchy endeavours of a conversation as I sheepishly returned to the stryd fawr. I won’t be appearing on Sgorio detailing my views on the state of Welsh football in ‘rhugl Gymraeg’ just quite yet…
I continued my browsing along the high street a bit further, admiring the numerous Victorian-built grey buildings and turquoise-coloured statues situated on the stryd fawr before eventually settling on walking back towards Maes Tegid. Even though there was a good hour before the scheduled kick-off, I could at least get in the ground early and most importantly, get something to eat and drink prior to the game!
Entry to today’s Welsh Premier League game would cost £6 (a pound cheaper than the average price of £7 for other Welsh Premier League clubs), whilst I picked up a raffle ticket for another pound which I unsurprisingly I failed to win. Surely I have to win one of these football raffles one day???? Just inside the ground was another volunteer who was selling today’s accompanying match day programme, so one of those picked up for another two pound outlay.
I found the match programme to be of an exceptional quality with all pages printed on high quality paper and in colour. The articles about the various Bala sides were extensive and informative, whilst the programme was complimented by some additional interesting articles. There was an excellent article from Mark Pitman about Anderlecht’s James Lawrence getting a surprise call-up for the Welsh national team, as well as a superb article from Y Clwb Pel-Droed about Nantlle Vale’s newly appointed manager, Daniel Bell, who is just 24 years old! Blooming ‘eck, I feel very old now…
Maes Tegid is an impressive venue for football with the ground seeing a lot of development within the past decade or so. The ground’s iconic structure is the brown panel clad changing room complex which is adjacent to the pitch, but situated at a slight angle to the orientation of the 3G pitch. One of the oldest parts of the ground, the building displays the words “BALA TOWN F.C.” proudly in large white letters, which brightly stand out in contrast to its deep brown background, above the entrance to the changing rooms.
Along the remainder of the length of the town side of the pitch are a hotchpotch line of little covered stands which all contain plastic seating. Even though it seems they have all been added at different times through Bala Town’s successful tenure in the WPL, the combination near enough contributes to a continuous stand running the length of the pitch. The pattern of stands only broken up at the halfway line by a small, glass fronted building that houses both the media teams and the club’s personal announcer.
On the opposite side of the pitch is another media centre, although a much more modern looking and impressive structure that towers over the pitch. Here is where the Sgorio media reside, with its television studio at the bottom and the camera gantry perched on top of the building. As with every other WPL game, the Sgorio cameras would be in attendance on the gantry for this afternoon’s fixture, filming the game and splicing together highlights in preparation for Monday evening’s excellent WPL highlights show shown on S4C.
There is another covered stand at the car park end of the pitch (the ‘Tyfos Stand’), although this one is used for supporters wishing to stand on terracing, and for disabled supporters. Finally on the opposite end of the ground, it has a large grassy slope which backs onto the rather pleasant gardens of the houses that back onto the ground. Although the football and domestic worlds are separated by a phalanx of spear-like trees, which also act as a protection against any stray shots landing in the neighbour’s garden. It is from this slope that provides the best views of the pitch from an elevated position, but it tends to be more exposed to the winds (something I would experience later on in the game).
Next to the entrance, in one of the corners of Maes Tegid, was the ground’s snack bar which was already open despite there being an hour spare prior to kick-off. I decided to buy myself a warming cup of black coffee for the price of a solitary pound to slowly slurp whilst wasting the time away watching the two teams warm-up on the 3G pitch. There was some delightful smells of cooking burgers, hotdogs and chips coming from the snack bar that was certainly making my stomach rumble and mouth salivate, but I would resist the urge for food for now, getting some nearer towards kick-off.
Whilst calmly sipping at my ever cooling cup of coffee, I got chatting to the father of one of Bala Town’s players who was also watching the teams’ exercises by the snack bar. We were chatting about all things Welsh league football, about the recent form of Bala and how his son really enjoys playing for the team, the recent form of The New Saints and how it has made this season an actual title race, the previous night’s Connah’s Quay result in the Scottish Challenge Cup and all other things Welsh football. In all fairness to the Nomads, that result at Hampden Park was an incredible result for Welsh football, even if Queens Park’s controversial keeper thought they “weren’t playing football” or “fitba” in his case.
The wafting, glorious aromas coming from the snack bar were now becoming far too tempting to ignore anymore and so a return trip back to the snack bar was made. The snack bar at Bala has the usual hot food options on the menu, and despite the hamburger looking very nourishing, I craved some chips and thus bought a tray of them for £2. I applied lashings of salt, vinegar and brown sauce upon the golden fries and sat down on a wooden bench happily wolfing down the chips and quelling the hunger prangs of earlier. I was certainly in my happy place at that point!
Whilst eating, I noticed an impressive looking large building looming on the far hill and was intrigued to know what it was. Apparently it is Coleg y Bala, which was originally a theological college which was founded in the early eighteenth century by the Calvinistic Methodists and possesses a statue of the Rev. Thomas Charles, he who received Mary Jones after her marathon barefoot walk. Today the building is still used for promoting Christian values but in the form of a Christian children and youth centre where groups of kids can spend a weekend doing activities whilst learning Presbyterian ethics. Certainly not my kind of thing, but the place looked impressive from the ground anyway.
With the chips now taking their rightful place in my stomach, I decided to have a wander towards the far side of the pitch in preparation of the game. Not before I happened to notice the club shop in a small portakabin next to the row of stands. In keeping with other club shops I have experienced around the grounds, it may not be the largest in terms of space but jam packed with items, and Bala was no exception. Bala home shirts, scarves and training gear were hung up on hangers on the walls whilst a table displayed Bala Town branded mugs, car stickers, pin badges etc. Normally I would have bought a pin badge and mug at this point but considering I already possessed such items after a previous trip, I just had a the briefest of looks before continuing onwards. It’s well worth a look if visit Maes Tegid, that’s for sure!
By this point, the ground was now filling up with supporters from both sides and it was during this point of time when I met up with Callum Howen, founder of the This Is Welsh Football account, and an avid Aberystwyth supporter. We had a quick chat over the status of TIWF and how it was surprisingly suspended by Twitter a few days before this game for a supposed break in its rules. However by the time of our meeting, their appeal against the suspension had been successful and their account was finally back to normal.
In addition we had a chat about the upcoming game where Callum wasn’t feeling too confident in getting a result at a notorious difficult venue to get points from. Whereas I was more positive in Aberystwyth’s chances of getting the three points – they were the in-form side in the league after all, having won their last four games including a surprising win over TNS at Park Avenue!
Certainly whilst talking with him, both himself and the other Aber fans were obviously not big fans of former Greens favourite and now Lakesider captain, Chris Venables, who was training on the pitch near our position. Despite the fact he won the WPL Top Goalscorer on three occasions and the WPL Player of the Year whilst at the Seasiders, they still haven’t forgiven him for making the surprising switch to Maes Tegid in July 2016. They would be making their feelings for him known more vocally during the game. Personally I quite like Chris Venables but that’s possibly because he never scored past Holywell during his time at Aber plus he’s a good signing on Football Manager haha.
I wished Callum well for the game, where he joined the remainder of the Aber fans who were congregating in the stand nearest the entrance for the game. I did consider standing with them as I knew they would create a good atmosphere, but I wanted to watch the game “on my terms” so to speak. So I continued to walk past the number of stands that lined the length of the pitch and made my way onto the grassy slope at the end of the pitch to gain a more elevated view of the pitch. Not to mention the slope was within the warming sunshine. Considering the sun was still shining in the cloudless sky, and considering winter would be fast upon us, I took the opportunity to bask in the relative warmth of the November sunshine before it would soon depart beneath the hilly green horizon (and possibly not return until late March-time).
Having found an ideal spot high above the goal, it wasn’t long before both teams soon left the iconic changing rooms complex and filed out onto the pitch, headed by the match officials. The atmosphere prior to the start game was electric with the Aberystwyth fans, and a clump of younger Bala fans situated in the Tyfos stand, naturally being the most noticeably vocal of the 300 odd fans in attendance, and thus initially creating a decent atmosphere for this crucial game.
For the game, Bala Town would be playing in their home strip of white shirts with black sleeves, black shorts complete with black socks. Whilst Aberystwyth were wearing their alternative strip of bright yellow shirts with black stripes, white shorts and yellow socks.
Here are the highlights from the game courtesy of Sgorio:
The game started fairly evenly with neither side getting the upper hand early on, although as the game progressed, it would be the home side who would create the better chances on goal. Firstly an Andy Burns’ header was cleared off the line by Paolo Mendes after Aber keeper, Terry McCormick had previous diverted a Henry Jones corner past the post. This was followed by an impressive Henry Jones strike which could only cannon back off the woodwork.
However after nearly half an hour of the game played and the hosts would indeed take the lead through their clinical striker Steven Tames. Winger Evan Horwood whipped a cross towards the far post that allowed Tames to slide in at the back post and score his eleventh goal of the league campaign, giving Bala a deserved lead at that point.
Bala Town 1 – 0 Aberystwyth Town
At this point, Aberystwyth came into the game as the game became an even affair once again and would have some half-chances at Bala’s goal. Yours truly would pull off a fantastic reflex save from a rogue Ryan Edwards shot which drifted wide of the left-hand corner of the Bala goal and towards my position on the grassy slope. I was quick to the misdirected shot and it was halted by my left hand. Disappointingly Sgorio failed to show such a magnificent highlight haha. I’m not saying it was the best save in the first half, but it was in the top one… 😉
Just before the half time break Aberystwyth would have their best chance to equalise when a Paolo Mendes flick-on found Ashley Ruane sprinting into the penalty box. However the quick forward couldn’t quite direct his header on target as it just bounced wide of the post. Chris Venables also had his own headed chance to double the Lakesiders’ lead before the break, but like Ruane, he could only divert his effort the wrong side of the woodwork. Regardless Bala maintained their lead and the teams went into the intermission.
Throughout the entire half and game throughout, the Aberystwyth fans situated in the far stand were by far the most vocal within the ground, constantly making louds chants whilst banging the corrugated iron sides of their covered stand. They would continuously show their support for goalkeeper Terry McCormick, whilst other Aber players received their own chant throughout the first half. Whilst they engaged in some “banter” with the younger Bala ‘ultras’ when they attempted their own chants. As expected, ‘Aber enemy number 1’, Chris Venables, was also subject to the many Aber fans’ chants, often being derided as a “greedy bastard” every time he touched the ball.
Sadly there were some unsavoury moments during their chanting when they chanted “greedy physio” at Bala’s physiotherapist, Ffiona Evans. Evans had been Aberystwyth’s physio for eight seasons before making the switch to Bala in the pre-season. Despite this, the multi-talented Evans still played for Aberystwyth Town’s ladies team in her spare time! Needless to say I found the Aber fans’ chant towards her quite disrespectful, especially to a person who had given good service to the club, and was still playing for the ladies team. Thankfully I did spot a number of Aber supporters apologise to her on Twitter after the game but still, it was a poor show there from some of the Aberystwyth supporters!
HALF TIME: BALA TOWN 1 – 0 ABERYSTWYTH TOWN
Anyway at half time, the sunshine was dipping beneath the far horizon meaning my previous warm position on the grassy slope was covered by ever lengthening shadows and thus becoming colder. As a result, a quick sprint was made to the parked car in front of the ground to pick up a scarf and gloves for the second half. It would prove to be an excellent decision as the temperature rapidly dipped as the sunlight gradually faded out of view throughout the second half.
Having acquired additional clothing for warmth, I decided to move to a new viewing position for the second half. I chose to watch the game down by the dugouts and near to the far by-line of Maes Tegid, resulting in being closer to the action on the pitch. In addition, it also meant I continued to stand in the sunlit area of the pitch before it too would ascend into the chilling shadows in the middle of the half.
Seeing his team in a disadvantageous position, Aber manager, Nev Powell, changed the formation of his team as well as bringing on Rio Ahmadi and veteran winger Geoff Kellaway early in the second half. The substitutions proved inspired as a couple of minutes after the latter was introduced, that he made a huge impact on the game. On the 58th minute, Steff Edwards advanced down the left flank before curling an inviting ball towards Kellaway, who had darted through a crowd of defenders towards the back post. The club legend superbly volleyed the ball into the back of the net from twelves yards (and with his first touch of the game) and quickly ran over to the fans to celebrate with them.
Bala Town 1 – 1 Aberystwyth Town
The momentum of the game had certainly shifted in the visitors favour, with the feeling in the ground being that Aberystwyth looked the more dominant team now. Sensing Bala were reeling from having conceded, Aber put the hammer down on their hosts and the Greens would soon be celebrating once again six minutes after equalising. Wes Baines swung a free kick into the penalty area, where Ashley Ruane managed to hit a high, looping header (I initially thought it might have taken a deflection off a blocking defender) which arced over Bala keeper Morris’ reach and nestle into the far corner of the net. Cue pandemonium in the Aber supporters’ stand!
Bala Town 1 – 2 Aberystwyth Town
Having been subjected to a quick-fire double salvo from their opponents, Bala clicked into gear and started to control ball possession and threatened Aber’s goal on several occasions, forcing Terry McCormick to make a couple of crucial saves. However the Lakesiders’ sustained pressure would eventually reap rewards on the seventy-seventh minute when Mike Hayes deftly played in Sean Smith, who broke clear of the offside trap and then squared his cross the penalty area towards Steven Tames at the back post. The forward wouldn’t pass-up on this golden opportunity and coolly tapped home for his and Bala’s second of the afternoon.
Bala Town 2 – 2 Aberystwyth Town
It could have been forgiven had both sides then settled for the draw as both sides deserved something from the game. However there was a feeling a winning goal was in the offing and thus both sides pursued it intensely. It was also at this point that I switched my viewing position back to the grassy slope to get a better view of the concluding part of the game. By now, dusk was now settling on Bala and the floodlights on full beam. Also I was absolutely freezing due to the clear skies making temperatures drop rapidly!
Despite the cooling temperatures, it was rapidly heating up on the 3G pitch! The mercurial Henry Jones could have won the points for the hosts five minutes from time had his flicked header bounced the right side of the post. It would prove a costly miss as on the third minute of the four allotted additional minutes of injury time, the visitors would break Bala’s hearts. Substitute Rio Ahmadi had just enough time on the right wing to launch a cross towards Declan Walker, who had advanced towards the far post. The right wing-back managed to rise above his markers and divert the cross into the Bala net from close range to grab the predicted winning goal. Aber would be beating Bala 3-2 for the second time this season!
FULL TIME: BALA TOWN 2 – 3 ABERYSTWYTH TOWN
POST MATCH & CONCLUSION
After the match, the Aberystwyth fans and players were understandably ecstatic and jumping around from their injury time victory, especially considering some of them were not expecting to get anything from the game beforehand (I’m looking in your direction Callum!). The Aber supporters clapped their players off the pitch and started to comically sing about Nev Powell’s “lucky hat”. There must be some kind of magic in that woolen headwear by the fact that Aberystwyth were now the WPL in-form team having clocked up five consecutive victories and had earned another impressive away victory.
“AND NOW YOU BETTER BELIEVE US! AND NOW YOU BETTER BELIEVE US! AND NOW YOU BETTER BELIEVE UUUUUUSSSSS…..WEEE’RRREEEE GONNA WIN THE LEAGUE!!!”
The Seasiders fans clearly had believe that their team could now challenge for the Welsh Premier League title as they chanted the above song when the players had returned back to the changing rooms. Aberystwyth were clearly in title-winning form and had now risen to fifth in the table, equal on points with Bala Town in fourth (Bala’s goal difference of +6 is superior to Aber’s GD of -2) and only three points behind league leaders The New Saints. It is certainly apparent that this season’s Welsh Premier League is certainly a lot more competitive than in previous seasons and that there might be a proper title challenge this season, rather than TNS running away with the title by a large winning margin.
As for Bala, it was another disappointing defeat at home to a rival, having lost to both Barry Town United and Connah’s Quay Nomads by a single goal the previous month. It now means they have lost three of their last four games at Maes Tegid, something which is very surprising for a side that made their ground a fortress the past few seasons and at the start of this season. If they are to launch a serious challenge for their first WPL title, they need to restore their home form whilst ensuring they don’t concede any more goals late in games. From their 23 goals conceded so far this season, eight of them have been scored in the last ten minutes of games – that’s 35% of their goals conceded in the final ten minutes of league games this season!
With the cold airs of Maes Tegid filled with the sounds of jubilant Aberystwyth supporters, I briskly retreated to the shelter of my car, where the air conditioning heating was blasted up to the maximum temperature to help reheat my rather chilled exterior. When the feeling and warm blood eventually returned to my hands, I made the long and taxing journey back to 94th Minute HQ. The drive back was certainly not so fun as the rest of the day considering I was stuck behind slow moving traffic for a good distance of the return journey. All the while traversing unlit, meandering roads through the Welsh countryside which required all ounce of concentration, else I would have become an unwanted addition to a farmer’s field! Ultimately, this meant when I finally arrived back at HQ around 17:45, I was absolutely shattered!! What a day!!
In all fairness though, I really enjoyed my day in Bala despite the agonising drive home and the Spirit of 58 shop being shut also. The town itself is always worth spending your time in, regardless of the weather, whilst the club itself is an excellent venue for watching football in. Plus, most importantly, Bala Town are such a warm and welcoming club to all supporters, and somewhere where you are always guaranteed to encounter a great groundhopping experience throughout the season. Certainly one of my favourite venues and clubs to visit in North Wales! So if you are exploring the area, I would highly recommend you pop into Maes Tegid for a game, you will certainly not be disappointed with your decision, although I cannot guarantee you will experience warm temperatures haha!
I would like to wish Bala Town and Aberystwyth Town all the very best of good fortune for the rest of the season, and hope to see them again some time very soon in the future!