Date of Visit: 11th January 2020
Competition: Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division
Ground Number: 118
- Founded: 1972
- Ground: Castell Alun Sports & Leisure Centre, Hope, Flintshire LL12 9PY
- Colours: Green & black vertical striped shirts, black shorts and black socks
- Website: https://www.pitchero.com/clubs/castellac/
- Twitter: @CastellAlunFC
- Highest League Finish: 1st – Welsh National League Premier Division [2002-03]
It was the start of a brand new year, and a brand new decade (the new roaring ’20’s), so it was only fitting that my first away game of 2020 should be visiting a brand new ground also, and adding to my ground tally. For the second weekend of 2020, and also a weekend where I would be celebrating my birthday that evening with friends (thank you for the birthday messages folks!), I headed towards to the south-eastern tip of my home county of Flintshire to watch my beloved Holywell Town take on Castell Alun Colts in a Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) Premier Division game. A late birthday treat for me, most certainly!
— The 94th Minute 🏴 (@The94thMin) January 4, 2020
The first game I watched in 2020 was (naturally) a Holywell Town match, but at the comforting and familiar location of Halkyn Road, or the ‘Cathedral of Quality’ as I sometimes like to address it as haha. There, the Wellmen started off the year in excellent form, putting in an incredible performance to beat Rhos Aelwyd 6-0. An impressive display on the pitch, especially considering how the reverse fixture was a goalless draw way back in the intense summer warmth of August. A brace each from strikers, Sam Jones and Mark Connolly, as well as first half goals from young talents, Dylan Allshorn and Jake Cooke, ensured the year began perfectly for Holywell in the WNL.
Therefore the second weekend of January brought together the league’s in-form side and out-of-form sides together, in what was planned to be an interesting encounter. Castell Alun’s ground was also one of two Flintshire grounds that I had yet to visit (CPD Sychdyn’s ground being the remaining ground in Flintshire I haven’t groundhopped yet), and knowing this fixture was coming up during the season, I had purposely decided to delay a visit to the Colts’ home until this game occurred. With the fixture finally upon us, and the weather being dry enough for the match to be played, I was looking forward to travelling down to Hope to watch the match, tick off another football ground and ‘hope’ for an away victory…
HOPE / YR HÔB
- Population: 4250
- County: Flintshire
- Historical County: Flintshire
- Nearest Train Station: Hope
The village of Hope / Yr Hôb is located in the south-eastern corner of Flintshire, approximately 3 miles from the Welsh-English border, and very near to the county’s boundary with Wrexham County Borough (with Wrexham less than 5 miles away to the south-east). The village is the largest of a collection of close-proximity villages within the locality, which includes Caergwrle, Abermorddu and Cefn-y-bedd. Hope’s long association with neighbouring Caergwrle has given rise to an amusing local expression of “living in Hope, but dying in Caergwrle”.
The River Alyn / Afon Alun flows from Mold and past the western edge of the village, with Hope situated on the Alyn’s eastern bank and Caergwrle on its western bank. The river acts as the traditional divider between the two villages and old parish parts. The Alyn flows past the two villages on its way to its confluence with the River Dee, situated to the north of Wrexham.
Historically part of the medieval Welsh kingdom of Powys, the Welsh and English names for the settlement originate from the Old English word ‘hop’, which means ‘enclosed land in a marsh’. No doubt coming from the fact that the Alyn meanders in this location, creating loops which could have been marshy in older times. The English origins of this name is also a relic of an old Mercian village that was also situated within the same area.
The main landmark of the area is the ruined remains of Caergwrle Castle, situated on a large hill (which could have also been the site of an ancient hill fort) overlooking the villages and the River Alyn. The castle is quite unique as it is a Welsh-built castle, with construction beginning in 1277 by Dafydd ap Gruffydd, who had been given the lordship of Hope by English King Edward I, as a reward for his services to the English crown against his brother, Llywelyn the Great. Eventually Dafydd revolted against Edward in 1282, abandoning and slighting the unfinished castle to the invading English forces. The castle went into the English crown’s possession, but after a fire in 1283, it was never repaired and subsequently abandoned. Caergwrle Castle is the final castle to be built by any Welsh ruler before the loss of independence.
Today Hope is a sought after commuter village, with good infrastructural links to Wrexham, Chester, Mold and the surrounding industrial centres. The village even has its own railway station, which is situated on the Borderlands Line, further linking Hope with nearby Wrexham, and Liverpool via Bidston on the Wirral Peninsula. In addition, the village has a large English-medium secondary school, Castell Alun High School, which was regarded by Estyn (the school inspectorate for Wales) as one of the top schools in Wales. The high school has over 1300 students, and serves a large area of communities in south-eastern Flintshire, as well as the villages to the north-west of Wrexham. The school is named after Caergwrle Castle, which was the ‘castle of the Alyn’ (Castell Alun in Welsh).
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CASTELL ALUN COLTS
Castell Alun Colts’ 2018-19 performance:
- Welsh National League Division One: Second (PROMOTED)
- Welsh Cup: First Qualifying Round
- FAW Trophy: Round Two
- NEWFA Cup: Round One
Castell Alun Colts were founded in 1972, and named after the local high school (which in turn was named after the local castle and river), on whose grounds they play their home games on.
For entirety of their history, ‘Castey’ have played within the leagues of the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) pyramid, with their most recent history playing in either the Premier Division or Division One. During their 48 year history, the club have won a number of honours, first winning the WNL Division Four League and Cup in 1973-74. In the following two seasons, they also won the Division Three League Cup, followed by the Division Two title.
A Horace Wynne Cup followed in the early 1980’s, when they overcame Treuddyn Villa in the final, before the club won more honours in the mid-to-late 1990’s. Two Division One Cups in 1996 and 1997, as well as claiming the Division One league title in the 1996-97 season. This was followed up by a Premier Division Cup triumph in 1998, where they beat Gresford Athletic at Wrexham AFC’s Racecourse Ground. The side continued to be one of the strongest within the WNL, with its pinnacle coming at the end of the 2002-03 season, when Castell Alun finally won the WNL Premier Division title! Alas the success would be short-lived, as the club had to start the following season down in Division Two, dropping down and replacing their reserve side.
The Colts soon returned to the Premier Division in 2006-07, where they spent the next four seasons competing. However another voluntary relegation in the 2010-11 season, saw the club compete in Division One for the near entirety of the 2010’s, where they were considered one of the stronger teams within the league, but just missing out on promotion on numerous occasions. The nearest they came to any silverware was in the 2010-11 season, when they reached the final of the Horace Wynne Cup once again, although this time, losing out to Saltney Town at the final hurdle.
Last season was Castell Alun’s best league performance since they dropped into the WNL Division One, as they finished in the runners-up position, having accumulated 43 points from their twenty-two league games. They may have finished nineteen points behind the runaway league champions in Plas Madoc, but they crucially finished seven points clear of fellow Flintshire side, Rhydymwyn, who finished in third place. As a result of their second-place finish, they finally earned themselves promotion back to the Premier Division, to play in the third tier of the Welsh football pyramid for the first time since 2010.
Sadly Castell Alun Colts’ long awaited return to the WNL Premier Division had not gone at all well, with the Colts suffering fifteen losses from their fifteen league games prior to this game. Going into the New Year, they found themselves on the bottom of the table, with zero points, and conceding 56 goals from their 15 games (conceding an average of 3.73 goals per game) – the worst defence in the division. The only highlight of the season coming from Nathan Davies, who had scored seven of their thirteen league goals during this campaign!
In their previous match, played on the 4th January, they played Brickfield Rangers, who were below them in the table after having a three points deduction and only drawing twice from their ten games. In the bottom of the table clash at the Hope Sports Centre, the home side took the lead through skipper Tom Adams. A long-range strike from Jon Swales levelled the closely-fought tie up, before Andy Vale grabbed a late winner to give Brickfield their first victory of the season, and to extend Castell Alun’s losing run further. Huge disappointment for the promoted side, who almost got their first point of the season.
Sadly the Colts would not be getting respite in 2020 as their opponents for this fixture was against fellow Flintshire rivals, Holywell Town. The Wellmen, who were in third position prior to this game, were the inform side in the division having earned nine straight league victories, and staying undefeated in the league so far. They were also the league’s third-highest scorers, and had the best defence, despite having played fewer games than Cefn Albion and Rhostyllen above them. Since their relegation from the Cymru Alliance last season, and delayed start to the season, Holywell have only conceded six goals from their eleven league games. Their first match of 2020, saw them overcome Rhos Aelwyd 6-0 in an impressive performance at Halkyn Road.
This fixture would see the league’s in-form team taking on the league’s worst form team! In the reverse fixture, played in late November, Holywell smashed their opponents 12-0 at Halkyn Road. Despite some heroics, and superb saves from the Colts’ young keeper, he could not keep out the fierce-some Wellmen attack. The lethal Mark Connolly got himself four goals (adding to his tally of 11 goals for the season prior to the match), whilst Sam Jones grabbed a hat-trick and the impressive youngster, Dylan Allshorn, earning himself a brace. Further goals from Jake Cooke, Danny Dobbins and Luke Edwards compounded to the visitors’ misery on that afternoon.
CASTELL ALUN SPORTS & LEISURE CENTRE GROUNDHOP
- Distance Travelled: 25 minutes
- Travel Time: 15,5 miles
- Entrance: FREE
- Programme: N/A
The short 20-25 minute drive along the A55 Expressway and A550 road was surprisingly straight-forward, with very little traffic on the notorious dual carriageway causing any potential delays in my journey to Hope. However the strong winds, which had rattled 94th Min Towers throughout the previous night, did cause the car to wobble whilst going along the exposed part of the A55 – never a good sign! Nonetheless, listening to the latest excellent Nordic Football Podcast in the car during my journey helped the time pass by quickly.
Turning off at the Hope junction on the A550, I drove past Hope Parish Church, which still had its nativity scene on display in the church’s grounds and a bright star shining in the belfry. A sign that Christmas had sadly not long past. However unlike the Magi baring gifts, I only followed the shining star for a certain way before following the road signs that pointed in the direction to the Sports Centre, where the match would be played this afternoon.
Castell Alun Colts’ ground is located in the grounds of the Hope Sports Centre, and Castell Alun High School, which share the same location on Fagl Lane. The Sports Centre being open to the public, and is annexed to the high school complex, which naturally dominates the site. As you would imagine for a multi-purpose site, there is a number of large car parks present, so there were plenty of car park spaces available when it came to parking the auto. It did feel strange returning to a high school after so long away (I am old now), and the retro Grange Hill theme song did pop into my head as I was parking up. Thankfully there were no flying sausages on forks to avoid on this occasion… 😉
The playing field is a short two minute walk away from the car park area. I had to walk past the entrance of the Sports Centre, where the changing rooms for both teams were also located, around an enclosed all-weather pitch complete with floodlights, and across basketball and netball courts (which are used by the school) before reaching the pitch itself. It is located on the edge of the school playing fields, with other football and rugby pitches further beyond.
Sadly Castell Alun Colts’ ground was quite basic for Tier 3 level, and is probably one of the reasons why the club have not applied for a FAW Tier 3 licence for next season [The list for the accepted applications can be found HERE]. There was nowhere to purchase a hot drink or snack nearby, nor were there any toilets near the pitch. The nearest facilities were back in the Sports Centre, where there is apparently a drinks machine available also, although I didn’t go looking for either of them on this occasion.
The bobbly, heavy-looking football pitch was surrounded by plastic, temporary standing barriers, which helped separate the pitch from the rest of the field. In addition, they also had clear plastic dugouts on the school side of the pitch, as well as a concrete path which ran down that side of the pitch. The remainder of the perimeter of the pitch was just grass, so be aware that it could be muddy on those sides of the football pitch on occasions, however it wasn’t too bad for my visit there. Finally the ground didn’t have any floodlights, although that is a common sight at this level of Welsh football. However, there were fantastic views of the surrounding hills from the pitch, which helped give the ground a certain uniqueness.
Sadly the weather conditions for this game were not ideal, but they could have been a lot worse for an early January game. The day was milder than usual, although the brisk winds that had plagued the whole day, ensured that the afternoon stayed rather chilly and cold. Certainly a lot of layers of clothing were needed to watch this game! In addition, dark clouds drifted overhead providing a gloomy atmosphere to proceedings, and a potential threat of rain during the afternoon. Despite this, a large amount of Holywell supporters had made the short trip to Hope to watch their team play. There’s no doubt that the visiting support outnumbered the home support, with about 4/5ths of the crowd supporting the team in the red and white stripes.
With a majority of the supporters taking up their positions along the concrete path, either side of the dugouts, the two teams made the long walk from the changing rooms in the Sports Centre, and onto the pitch. Certainly Holywell were considered the favourites for this game considering the form and league positions of the two teams, but it looked as if the pitch could be an equalising factor, and potentially aid Castell Alun to earn their first point or points of the season. As we would subsequently discover, the home side certainly made life difficult for the Wellmen during the afternoon.
There would be a couple of new faces in the Holywell Town team for this league fixture. New midfield signings, Mike Walsh and Alec Williams would be the visiting squad, having signed for the Wellmen during the previous week. Walsh, signed from Rhyl FC but having been on loan at St. Asaph City for the majority of the season, would be starting in a central midfield position, whilst Williams, signed from Prestatyn Town, started the game from the bench.
For this match, there would only be the one official and no assistants, which is sadly becoming an increasingly common occurrence in the lower leagues of Welsh football. I always feel sorry for the sole referee, whose job is made much harder than it already is, as well as having to control the players. It’s a thankless job which is sadly undermanned, and in desperate need of new recruits for the future!
Both sides would be playing in the their traditional home colours, so Castell Alun were in their home strip of green and black vertical striped shirts, with black shorts and socks. Whilst Holywell played in their red and white vertical striped shirts, with red shorts and socks. No clash of colours on display here today!!
- To see the full match report, read Steve Roberts’ excellent write-up here:
- Also to see Lee Douglas‘ photo album of the match, they can be found HERE.
The first half was certainly not the best half of football I have seen this season, no doubt hindered by the windy and pitch conditions. From the get-go, Holywell were the dominant team in the game, as they almost took the lead within the first minute through debutante Mike Walsh. However the home goalkeeper made an excellent save to Walsh’s low drive. and would certainly be the busier of the goalkeepers throughout the first half, making a superb save from a Sam Jones shot on goal.
It would prove to be a frustrating first half for the visitors, as chances were either just missed, blocked by the excellent Colts number one, or the final ball or first touch went awry resulting in the chance being squandered. Mark Connolly certainly deserved a goal, as he stretched the home defence throughout the first half, having a couple of half-chances. The forward’s best opportunity coming through an excellent cross from Jake Cooke, which found the unmarked striker in the penalty box, but his header could only be directed straight at the keeper.
The home side, no doubt inspired by the heroics of their goalkeeper and Holywell’s lack of cutting edge, started to create some chances themselves. The best chance for Castell Alun fell to Robert Darlington, who managed to find some space in the Holywell penalty area to attempt a shot on goal. Sadly for the player, his effort was slightly dragged and zipped wide of the post.
Despite Holywell’s efforts, Castell Alun had held firm against the onslaughts, and both sides went into the break in a stalemate. No doubt, the home side being the much happier of the two sides at the break, and feeling they could perhaps get something from this game.
HALF TIME: CASTELL ALUN COLTS 0 – 0 HOLYWELL TOWN
The second half started as the first half had commenced with Holywell firing out of the traps the quickest, and attempting to break the deadlock, however as in the first half, the luck just wasn’t on the visitors’ side. A glorious chipped effort from Sam Jones beat the keeper, but could only drop on the wrong side of the post, whilst a headed effort from captain Tony Roebuck, sailed just a few inches past the wrong side of the woodwork. Whilst Mark Connolly continued to stretch the home defence with his runs, but was unable to find that critical breakthrough all afternoon, much to his frustration.
Just when it felt as if this afternoon could be ‘one of those days’, with so many chances being spurned, the deadlock was finally broken by Holywell at around the hour mark! Another excellent run from Connolly down the right flank, was crossed into the box, only for it to be headed out of the box by a Castell Alun defender. However the ball dropped kindly to Luke Edwards, who was positioned centrally on the edge of the area, and he volleyed the ball goalwards. His effort rifled past the keeper, and slammed into the back of the net to score against the Colts once again! A huge relief for the Wellmen supporters at last!
Having found an opener, it gave Holywell a ‘second wind’ and a huge boost of confidence, as they had finally broken Castell Alun’s stiff resolve, and were looking more determined to extend their lead. Their position was made easier when Colts’ forward, Stuart Williams, was sent off after lashing out on centre-back Jacob Wise after a challenge. A stupid action considering he lashed out right in front of the referee. Perhaps he was lucky he had been on the pitch that long, as a rough tackle by Stuart Williams in the first half was missed by the official, and could have seen him dismissed much earlier.
Alec Williams (a new signing from Prestatyn Town) came on for his Holywell debut, replacing the impressive youngster Dylan Allshorn, and he made an instant impact to his Wellmen career. With his first touches of the ball, he received the ball on the edge of the penalty area, controlled the pass before firing the ball past the helpless keeper and into the back of the net. A superb start for Williams, which delighted all the Wellmen supporters in attendance. He would be also instrumental in Holywell’s third goal of the afternoon, when his through ball found Connolly on the right-side of the box. His low, powerful drive struck the keeper, but the ricochet fell kindly to Edwards, who was in the right place at the right time again, to slot the rebound into the net and make it 3-0 to Holywell with three minutes remaining.
Sadly the game concluded on a sour note when both benches came together angrily after an incident on the pitch, which caused tensions to bubble to the surface. With the game running into injury time, the referee finally blew for full-time, with both set of benches attempting to separate themselves. All a bit of nothing really, with the usual barbed insults thrown from either side, but a strange conclusion to what was a decent second half between the two Flintshire sides.
FULL TIME: CASTELL ALUN COLTS 0 – 3 HOLYWELL TOWN
POST-GAME & CONCLUSION
It had been a hard-fought game for the Wellmen, but they had managed to claim the three points against a resilient and determined Castell Alun side. Certainly reflecting on the whole of the game, Holywell deserved the victory as they had the lion’s share of the game’s chances and possession, and looked the most likely to score. However, with Castell Alun’s keeper and defensive unit in scintillating form, and keeping the waves of Wellmen attacks at bay, it was starting to look as if the home side might get something from the game, before the opening goal eventually went in. Not to mention, the dismal of Stuart Williams didn’t help his team’s chances of getting something from the game, when they were just the single goal down. On the whole though, the Colts worked very hard and were a lot more defensively solid and organised throughout the match.
The home keeper was applauded by the visiting supporters at full-time, as he had been one of the men of the match, and certainly the star of the first half performance. Whilst the Holywell team were also applauded off the pitch, with the travelling support appreciating their efforts in what was a hard-fought victory. The league campaign may only be a third of the way through for Holywell, but they are certainly looking like they will be one of the teams who will competing for the league title, and looking for a swift return to the second tier of Welsh football.
With that result, it ensured that Holywell Town climbed a place in the WNL Premier table to second position, leapfrogging Rhostyllen who were playing a Premier Division League Cup game that weekend. With three games in hand over league leaders Cefn Albion, the Wellmen were just a single point behind them, as well as becoming the league’s top goalscorers and maintaining their best defence. Conceding just the six goals in twelve games, they have achieved an impressive eight clean sheets this season – 75% of their league games without conceding = an incredible achievement!!
Sadly, this defeat condemned Castell Alun Colts to their sixteenth consecutive loss of the season, and left them rooted to the bottom of the WNL Premier table, having conceded 59 goals this season, and only scoring 13 goals. In addition, Chirk AAA managed to get their first win of the season against Saltney Town, meaning they have managed to open up a five point gap from their relegation rivals. One positive from the weekend is that Brickfield Rangers lost to Llay Welfare, meaning that they remained just the two points ahead of Castell Alun in fifteenth position.
Although the winds made it very cold and uncomfortable towards the end of the game, I did enjoy my visit to Castell Alun after all this time of waiting to visit there. It’s a bit of a shame there’s not much facilities there, such as just getting a cup of tea to warm myself up, but this is not uncommon for many clubs within the Welsh lower leagues. It costs a lot to upgrade grounds, plus with them sharing the ground with the school, any expansion is difficult and limited, so I certainly have sympathy with them. So I would highly advise bringing a flask or water with you if you’re planning on visiting in the future, especially during the winter months.
I would like to thank Castell Alun Colts for their hospitality, and wish them all the very best for the rest of the season, and for the season ahead. I always want to see the Flintshire clubs do well!
Finally, if you haven’t read the previous blog, I am currently doing a charity challenge which involves me staying completely sober for the WHOLE of 2020 – I thought Dry January was a little bit meek and wanted a challenge haha. I am raising money for MIND, a mental health charity, as I wanted to give something back to them because I suffer from mental health issues. If you would like to donate, even just a pound or the price of a pint of beer, please send the donations to the link below. I stayed sober on my birthday night out, whilst everyone else was drinking! Surely that’s worthy of a couple of pounds at least?!! 😉