The second day of my Welsh trip will forever be remembered for trundling up and down the Valley’s in a Morris Minor. No seat belts, no indicators and a very long stopping distance; I did wonder if we would even make it to Abergavenny.
The day began by being awoken by the smell of a full breakfast, expertly cooked by Matt’s dad. There was a slight problem when beans were placed on Matt’s plate and he had a strop akin to a child being handed something rather unpleasant for their school dinner. Fortunately the situation was soon rectified and we were ready to head out into Merthyr Tydfil for a drink.
Bob slowly emerged from the garage with the aforementioned Morris Minor. It was absolutely amazing. Unless I one day travel to a match in a barge then nothing will ever top the experience in the car which was built around 50 years ago.
Merthyr was heaving when we arrived as was the Wetherspoons. Sweet Action is slowly becoming my favourite beer in Wetherspoons, especially seeing as though many of the pubs are flogging cans of it at half the price. Perhaps this is because many punters are too embarrassed to ask the barmaid for some Sweet Action? I didn’t mind though, as Matt stood behind me giggling each time I bought a can.
Having had a free guided tour of Merthyr by the Harrison family, we then drove over to Abergavenny which was 20 miles down the Heads of the Valleys Road, which is exactly what you’d expect it to be. Bob dropped us off, and we had around five hours to wander around the town which labels itself the “Gateway to Wales”. Does that mean to get to Wrexham from Manchester I would have to travel all the way down to Abergavenny?
As I pondered this, we hit our first pub of the day. You guessed it, it was indeed another Wetherspoons. The Coliseum was originally opened in 1913 as a cinema, was then transformed into a bingo hall, before then becoming a pub. It’s previous guises reflect the sheer size of the place which even had a stairlift for when you’ve had one too many and can no longer walk. Nice one Wetherspoons!
Another barmaid was asked if I could have some Sweet Action; which once again tickled Matt. For this I took my time with my drink, eventually leaving the place an hour later to find a more niche place to have a drink. Walking down the high street there was a ginnel on the right hand side that seemed to be a bit busy with a lot of people outside drinking. The Hen & Chickens Pub was found at the end of Flannel Street, just past a butchers that was advertising “Half a Lamb” for £45. It was even cut and packed for you… would you expect anything else?
Back home, whenever I say to Emil that I am going over to Wales, he immediately talks about Brains Bitter. It doesn’t seem to be much of a phenomenon in North Wales, meaning I’ve never really had the chance to sample it. I was in my Wales shirt that I had recently been given, and I found myself in a Brains owned pub; now was the time. It was alright, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get another pint of it though.
On the other hand, the Hen & Chickens had an absolutely fantastic taste in music with the musical highlight being Manchester based Bipolar Sunshine. It’s very rare you hear the former Kid British vocalist played in Manchester, nevermind in a pub in South Wales. I tweeted my delight at hearing one of Adio’s songs echoing through the room and he even favourited it. I could tell this was going to be a good day.
Leaving the pleasant surroundings of the Hen & Chickens our next port of call was the Coach & Horses, which was quite an odd pub, very much a local stronghold. In fairness to the place, it had one of the best beer gardens I’ve ever been in as it quite literally was a garden. The whacky locals were out in full force as we all sat in the sunshine listening to David Bowie and a large collection of Kings of Leon (pre Only By The Night that was released in 2008, meaning I didn’t know the songs).
By the time we had finished in the Coach & Horses it was our time to head up to the ground. The Pen-y-Pound Stadium is one of the strangest settings for football that I have visited. You simply wouldn’t find this ground in England as the FA ground grading nazi’s would have banned all football from being played there, eventually leading to it’s cruel destruction and horrid demolition.
Originally home to Abergavenny Thursdays FC, the ground lay empty for a year up until last summer when a new team moved into the facility. Thursdays won the Welsh League four times and reached the height of their fame after winning their last title in 1991-92 and subsequently becoming League of Wales founder members.
A disastrous first season saw them finish bottom with financial problems caused by floodlight construction at the Pen-y-Pound. Soon, Thursdays found themselves slipping through the leagues at a remarkable rate. During a five year period they suffered four relegations, conceded 675 league goals and eventually folded in August 2013 while playing in the Third Division of the Gwent County League – the seventh tier of Welsh football.
Having lay vacant for a year, what remained of Thursdays merged with Govilon FC. This new team took Govilon’s place in the Welsh pyramid, and moved into the ground naming themselves Abergavenny Town FC. Matt had visited the ground a year ago to the day that we visited, and he was amazed at how much the place had been refurbished and looked after in the past 12 months.
The large main stand is asbestos ridden, and doesn’t look to be opening again anytime soon, if at all. A sizeable covered terrace behind the goal is still decorated with the word “Thursdays”, while ridden with graffiti, it is something that should remain at the ground despite the name change.
It’s hard to believe that in 1991 one of my footballing heroes was playing in a match at Abergavenny. Wales U21 lost 2-0 to Holland 21 with a young Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids scoring the goals as Holland won 2-0. More importantly though, Patrick Kluivert was also playing for Holland. The striker was the player on the back of my first ever football kit, that was a Barcelona one. I later saw my early hero play for Newcastle United against Bolton Wanderers at The Reebok, in one of only 25 matches he played in English football.
No such stars this evening though for a match against Llandrindod Wells. The visitors, who were relegated from the Cymru Alliance at the end of last season, gave the home side a competitive match before the first goal arrived on 25 minutes. It was Dan Jenkins put Abergavenny ahead before another goal was added nine minutes later. Aaron Norman who would go on to score a hat trick scored his first of the match on 36 minutes to give Abergavenny a 2-0 half time lead.
At half time I headed into the clubhouse with Matt where they had a range of beer. I had a pint of Fosters, which like at Salford City a couple of weeks beforehand was spot on. I enjoyed a pint while watching St Helens on TV in the Challenge Cup. A local came over to tell us how he had been to Wembley to watch his beloved Saints, seemed legitimate enough; he was still clueless about the match. It was a running theme in the Valleys, as quite a few people seemed to convince their mates they were clued up on the sport when they really weren’t.
We asked this bloke to confirm the story of Clarence Seedorf and co. playing in Abergavenny once upon a time to which he replied, “Oh yeah. They bang on about that here!” at which point we left him and went back outside to watch the football.
Early into the second half the unfortunate Chris Murphy saw the ball rebound off his knee giving Llandrindod’s goalkeeper Joe Prosser no chance as Town went three ahead. On 82 minutes, Aaron Norman settled matters grabbing his second.
Norman completed his hat trick two minutes later when he hammered in from the penalty spot after Jamie Laurent was brought down in the area. Llandrindod grabbed a late consolation almost in the final minute when Darren Murphy pounced.
The match ended as a blue moon set over the main stand. I don’t know what a blue moon is, but they don’t happen often and the moon doesn’t even turn blue. Not to worry though, we were soon walking back through Abergavenny where Matt’s mum and dad had arranged to pick us up.
We had had a few pints during the day, and I was more than ready for bed when we got back to Quakers Yard. I hadn’t even taken my shoes off when the sentence “Shall we go to the pub?” caused shockwaves in my plans of a good nights sleep. I was tempted, but at the same time very tired. “If we’re going to go we need to go now!” and before I knew it we were walking at pace down the hill to the pub.
I say it was a hill, it was a pitch black drop down through a load of trees to the bottom of the valley. Matt was confident walking down it without lighting, but I had had a good day and didn’t want to end it by going arse over tit and breaking something in the process. If I was back home, a path like this would have resulted in somebody being mugged or stabbed.
The Quakers Yard Inn looked to be shut for the night, so we headed over to the Glan Taff Inn where I had been on Thursday afternoon when I arrived. What a decision it turned out to be. There were loads of locals in, and we had a good laugh with Sophie who was behind the bar. I don’t know how long we were in the pub for, but I had such a nice time I even bought Sophie a drink. Now, I know a lot of you will think I’m lying as I’m not really known for buying people drinks, but it was true. I’m a changed man. Or maybe I was just won over by a beautiful Welsh girl?
Matt, Sophie and I walked back up the hill together (this route back had a strange name too, I think it was called the Ding Dongs), and we strolled in a good few hours after I had originally wanted to go to bed. Ironically, I no longer wanted to sleep and could have quite happily stayed drinking in the Glan Taff until sunrise.
Overall, this day was my favourite of my short stay in the Valleys. Travelling around in a Morris Minor, visiting loads of decent pubs in Abergavenny and finishing the night in the Glan Taff with Matt and Sophie. The downside was my blood contents comprised mainly of Fosters beer when I woke up the following morning.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 172 miles
- ADMISSION: £3
- PROGRAMME PRICE: Free