On Saturday, we visit Whitley Bay for our annual Jolly Boys outing with Atherton Collieries. Last summer we headed to the island of Anglesey to take on Welsh Alliance Division 1 side Glantraeth. I had never heard of the club before, so it was a whole new experience for me. The only previous time that I had visited Anglesey was in 2004, when we caught the ferry over to Dublin from Holyhead for a family gathering.
Glantraeth football club was founded in 1984, setting up its base on land adjacent to the Glantraeth Restaurant; hence the clubs name. The club is located in Trefdraeth within the hamlet of Bodorgan on the island, which – up until recently – was the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The future monarch started renting the farmhouse of Bodorgan Hall in the summer of 2010. It was said that they left the area with a heavy heart and have promised the local community – of around 1,000 – that they will be back for visits.
As you can imagine, the area had become accustomed to class and royalty in recent times, but all of that was set to disappear with the arrival of us Atherton Collieries fans. The only tenuous royal link that I could find within our ranks was that debutant striker Charlie Stoker shared a similar name to the Prince of Wales.
This friendly had been arranged around three months beforehand, leaving us plenty of time to plan the route and book people on to the coach. We had managed to drum up a lot of support. We had at least 25 fans with us, including Aaron (Curzon Ashton), Joe (Curzon Ashton), Matt (Swansea), Rob (Warrington) and Alex (Buxton). They may not be primarily Colls fans, but they’re certainly adopted ones. With a lot of interest, it was then time to plan the route. After some searching on Google Maps, I told Emil that we’d struggle to get a coach anywhere near the ground; we did get there… but only just.
In all honesty, the coach driver was a bit of an arse. He rolled up at Alder House late and then told us to stick our beers underneath in the luggage compartments. We soon got him to change his mind, and so he decided to turn into Anthea Turner instead, rattling off a number of house keeping rules. When I say Anthea Turner, he could also have been compared to Dakota the coach driver who appeared in That Peter Kay Thing. From now on I’ll refer to him by that name.
Dakota then started to argue with me about a pick up point near Warrington. I told him that he’d be passing Stretton and that would be where Aaron and Rob would get on the coach. Adamant we wouldn’t be passing Stretton he told me he wouldn’t be picking them up and that they’d have to find different transport arrangement. I found it a bit worrying that I knew the regions motorway junctions better than somebody who drove along them for a living.
Five minutes passed before Dakota conceded that I was right, and we were soon on our way to Wales (via Warrington). On our way out of Atherton, club secretary Emil proudly unveiled a commemorative plate which he had bought to present to Glantraeth. It was really nice, but we had to break the news to him that he had spelt the name of their club wrong. As Emil said, it’s the thought that counts. The Glantraeth fans didn’t seem too bothered about the mistake, telling us that they had seen worse attempts at the spelling of their club.
The traffic was horrendous as we drove along the North Wales coast. For a full hour we stood bumper to bumper going past the likes of Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno. It turned out that one broken down caravan on the hard shoulder had brought half a nation to a standstill. In a way, it was probably for the best that we were going so slowly, as midfielder David Hill was by this stage sprawled across two seats trying not to throw up due to problems with travel sickness.
First team coach Jasper was growing tired of the traffic and began to question why we were even going to Anglesey to play football. Apparently it was my fault and he rattled through a whole host of other teams that we could have played closer to home. I didn’t see the problem. It was a day out and a fantastic one at that.
We crossed over the Menai Bridge on to the Isle of Anglesey. The island is the fifth largest in the UK and over 75% of the inhabitants speak Welsh, meaning that at times during the day we found it impossible to communicate with some of the locals. The vast majority were bi-lingual though, meaning we could order beer and food without a problem.
As I had suggested in the weeks leading up to the match, the roads of Anglesey were slightly too narrow for our coach. Our charismatic driver had had enough. With branches screeching down the metal work of his vehicle, and tractors coming the other way, the driver stopped the coach, stood up and asked for some assistance… in slightly more colourful language. “Anybody know where the hell this place is?”. We told him to carry on down the road as it would turn up eventually. All passengers were quiet, trying to hide from the, by now, psychotic driver who obviously wasn’t comfortable away from the streets of Wigan. It was at this stage that Emil said “Well… this is character building!”.
Fortunately, the football ground popped up in a field on the right hand side. A 15 point turn followed, before we crept over a cattle grid into the car park outside the Glantraeth Cottages.
Disembarking the coach, we all avoided eye contact with the driver. The adventure all felt a bit surreal; it didn’t feel like a football match. I had promised to stay away from any Welsh stereotypes for the afternoon, but when the first thing you see is a sign advertising sheep, then you can only laugh. There was a washing line with various garments which swayed in the breeze at the entrance to the ground. The entrance consists of a small bridge which links the cottages to the ground itself, with the players changing rooms found to the rear of one of the cottages. Other than the sheep which bounced around the field behind the goal, there seemed to be no other form of life within the area. With Snowdonia forming a backdrop to the action, it really was an idyllic setting for an afternoon of football.
Trefdraeth is a basic facility, but has everything that you need at this level. It had a small standing shed behind one of the goals, which stood next to the tea hut… or “Hel’s Kitchen” as they had branded it. See what they did there? There was also a very nice seated stand which straddled the halfway line on the far side of the ground, whilst the opposite side comprised of grass banking. With the sun shining, we chose to sit down on the grass by the side of the pitch, which provided a fantastic spot to enjoy Corona all afternoon.
Colls had brought a few new players along with them for this pre-season fixture, which was slightly problematic for us as fans as we didn’t know who to cheer on. Never before had a set of fans had so much to drink and known so little about the two sides in front of them. In the end, the match turned out to be the first in a Colls shirt for James Halpin who had joined the club from Skelmersdale United.
Matt decided that he would make a song in honour of the young full back and it was soon being chanted from the grass banking like he was an Alder House favourite. ♫ He played for Skem… and now he’s at Colls! We’re hoping he’ll score, lots of goals. James Halpin! James Halpin! ♫ Unfortunately for us, James didn’t score and neither did anybody else on the field in what turned out to be a totally awful match in regards to finishing.
Kick off was delayed by seven minutes thanks to that caravan near Colwyn Bay and it was the home side who had the first chance of the match. Colls goalkeeper Joe Brobbin cleared, but it was intercepted by Paul Rowlands who put the ball just wide, nearly hitting one of the sheep in the process.
Atherton could – and should have – had a couple of penalties in the first half, but the local referee, who I thought looked like Des Lynam’s twin thought otherwise.
Colls played well, but couldn’t find a way to get the ball into the back of the net. Probably the most clear cut chance fell to striker Paul Prescott, who fired towards goal just as the ball bobbled up. His shot hit Hel’s Kitchen and that was the first half over with.
At half time, in a slightly inebriated manner we challenged a group of home fans to a penalty shoot out. We managed to find just enough home fans to participate and then we had to find a referee. Des Lynam had gone inside for his half time oranges, meaning that Joe – who also doubled up as our goalkeeper – was the referee.
First up was Alex for the mighty Colls. He dispatched his penalty well past the local welsh speaking youngster before the home side then easily beat Joe. Then it was time for my penalty. I must admit, it was an awful penalty, but the pace of the ball took it through the Glantraeth goalkeeper to put us 2-1 up in the shootout. Matt then dispatched his effort brilliantly into the top left hand corner, followed by another home goal.
3-3 was the score when Aaron placed the ball on the spot. If we were going to miss it was going to be now. His run up looked too long, but he again, executed his penalty well to give Colls a 4-3 lead. Up stepped the Glantraeth goalkeeper, who hit his shot low, allowing Joe to save to his right. Pressure was now on Warrington fan Rob who could win the competition for Atherton. It was never in doubt. Straight into the left hand corner, queueing a mass pile on. It looked like a scene from Newcastle city centre on a Saturday night. Beer everywhere, with a number of black and white striped men hugging each other.
We were in a buoyant mood in the second half as the beer continued to flow. The first chance of the second period fell to Ben Conway after a great cross field ball from Charlie Stoker. Conway controlled well but his effort fell just wide of the post.
The closest Colls came to scoring a goal came through the man himself James Halpin. Obviously spurred on by our chanting he opted to shoot from close to the halfway line. The ball looked to be sneaking in, but it hit the crossbar leaving the score goalless.
One further opportunity arrived in the match, when Gareth Peet bombed down the wing and crossed into Charlie Stoker who was at the back post. Somehow, his legs got tangled and the ball went wide of the right hand post. All of which meant that the game finished 0-0.
The players headed back into the cottages after the match to get changed, meaning we could grab a football and have a kick around for half an hour before getting back on to the coach. One shot from me went flying over the fence into the neighbouring field. This gave us a perfect excuse to play football with sheep; something which I had always wanted to do. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem too keen on us Colls fans. Who could blame them?
Our next stop was The Joiners Arms which was in nearby Malltraeth. Looking at maps, I would guess that it was Kate and Wills local pub – no sign of them tonight though. Players from both sides enjoyed a post match meal together, while we as fans enjoyed more beer before heading back to England.
Anglesey was a fantastic day out, and I will definitely be looking for more football in the area at some stage. Glantraeth is a nice little club, who surely have one of the most scenic football grounds in the UK. Well worth a visit.
I don’t see Whitley Bay being as scenic or as culturally different, but I certainly expect our black and white striped shirts to go down well in Newcastle. Hopefully we can also convince the football club to host a half time penalty shootout so that we can defend our title.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 109 miles
- ADMISSION: Included in the £15 travel cost
- PROGRAMME PRICE: N/A