On Saturday a trip to Mansfield ended with a night out in Nottingham where I went out drinking with Aaron. Monday, he turned up at Atherton Collieries and on Tuesday morning, for some strange reason, he texted me saying he wanted to go to even more football. The plan was simple; drive to my house after work and we would pick a match to go to on the spot.
Now, when I woke up on the Tuesday morning I didn’t for one minute imagine that I would end up walking across Britain’s largest aqueduct with a couple who live in Belize, nor did I think I would have photographs with ducks before watching a football match in a quarry. That is the beauty of being spontaneous. Of course, I could have photographs with ducks anywhere but that defeats the object of this entire paragraph.
Aaron was already at my house when I arrived home from a family gathering in Stretford. Fortunately, my mum was on hand to provide hospitality while he waited for me. Within seconds of me bursting in through the door I shouted “Right, where are we going then?” as I opened my laptop to view the evening’s fixtures.
We started off by looking at Conference and Conference North matches, before going down every level to the NWCFL. It was at this stage my Dad jokingly looked at Welsh fixtures on his mobile phone and mentioned that Rhyl were at home to Denby. This caught us slightly off guard as we hadn’t even considered crossing the border for our daft little adventure. We crammed more Welsh fixtures on to our shortlist and were ready to make our choice.
The frontrunners were Prescot Cables, Glossop North End and Cefn Druids. I hadn’t done any of the grounds but we soon had our heart set on the last option after we saw photographs of the unique ground that Druids call home. My Dad convinced us that this was the place to go and within minutes we were on the road to Wales.
Setting off from Atherton we wondered whether anybody else would fancy a road trip. There was only one man who would be hardcore enough for such a spontaneous and daft journey and this man was Rob. Despite only waking up five minutes before I rang him (at 16:15) he quickly gathered his stuff and we picked him up from Warrington fairly quickly.
Winding through the busy streets of Warrington, Aaron had obviously had enough of me singing along to The Smiths as when we arrived at Rob’s he tried to run over numerous cats on the estate. This estate in the far corner of the town has more cats than humans and they will slowly, but surely take over the town one street at a time. I can guarantee that by the time Warrington Town are in the Football League in 2022* their manager Shaun Reid will have been replaced by a feline tactician.
As is common place with our road trips, we didn’t have a clue where we were going. We vaguely knew that Cefn Druids is found just past Wrexham but other than that we were struggling. In fact, we were struggling that much we have a shout of having made the quickest journey in and out of Wales as we took a wrong turning and ended up in Broughton. A quick u-turn and we were back in England before going back to Wales once again. It was a bloody good job they don’t have border checks and immigration as we’d have been there for hours as customs rummaged through Aaron’s boot full of rubbish.
Close to Cefn Mawr where Cefn Druids play is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain; Pontcysyllte. Admittedly, I had to programme this into the phone to get us there and it was definitely worth the slight detour. We parked up in the Thomas Telford Pub car park, named after the great man who helped build the structure which opened in 1805.
As the three of us strolled down the canal towards the aqueduct I was greeted by an old couple who were emerging from underneath the road bridge. “Hey there, where are you from?” shouted the happy sounding female. Either the Welsh accent was even stranger in this village, or an American couple were sightseeing. It turns out these two had been travelling around England and Wales on a barge… during their two week trip from their home country of Belize. The two of them reminded me of the old American couple on Harry & Paul who seemed amazed by everything around them; and rightly so!
The two of them went off for a cup of tea in the Anglo Welsh while we carried on towards one of the finest sights I have seen on my travels. Despite being so high up and having very little path to stay on I loved every single second of it as barges travelled past and herons swooped above. The place is so good that Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the surrounding area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, ten years after it had first been nominated.
With half an hour to go until kick off and realising that we still weren’t in the right village and didn’t know where we were going we jumped back in car. I delayed the next leg of the trip slightly by insisting that I had some photographs with the local ducks, but we still made it to The Rock on time.
Cefn Druids have played at their current home for just over five years. They moved from Plaskynaston in 2010 in a deal which saw Tesco build a large store on the site. In return, the supermarket giant would fund the club’s move to The Rock, which at the time was a disused quarry. For once, it appears a large national company has given something back to the community.
The club itself is only relatively new in reality, having being founded in 1992 following the amalgamation of Cefn Albion FC and Druids United. The latter were originally named Plasmadoc FC and were founded in 1869 which apparently makes Cefn Druids the oldest football club in Wales; think of that what you like.
The Druids made their European debut in 2012 when they hosted Finnish side MyPa at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham. Now playing in the second tier of Welsh football they top the table after five matches and hope to regain Welsh Premier League status at the end of this campaign. Their opposition for the evening were top flight Airbus UK Broughton (see what I did there?), who currently sit in fifth place behind the likes of Newtown, Port Talbot and TNS.
A few TNS fans were knocking about with supporters of other sides when we approached the one turnstile that was in operation. It was a rather spare crowd for this Word Cup first round tie. It did sound as though we were actually watching a World Cup match as the tannoy announcer introduced the match through his microphone, accompanied by an eclectic mix of songs that would sound fitting at a wake.
The matchday programme didn’t have a lot of information which I was slightly disappointed with having paid £2 for one. It an article titled When Druids beat Bolton Wanderers; they obviously knew that I was coming. It felt strange being so far away from home and reading how after the Druids beat Bolton, they came up against current West Lancashire side Eagley in the FA Cup.
We stocked up on food from a small hutch that overlooked the pitch and got ready to watch the match. We knew that Airbus were managed by former Northwich Victoria coach Andy Preece, but other than that we didn’t know any of the players. That was apart from Rob who was convinced he used to manage Airbus striker Tony Gray on Football Manager. After we had laughed at him and ridiculed him it turned out Rob was correct and the frontman did used to play for Chester.
Preece was able to rest some key players for Airbus, handing starts to youngsters Keighan Jones in goal, James Murphy and Bailey Jackson, and also bringing-on Charlie Short and Zeb Edwards for debuts as substitutes.
What I love about Welsh football is the lack of messing about. They have early kick offs, don’t tend to have pre match handshakes and even when a player breaks his leg you only get two minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half. I say the Cefn Druids player broke his leg, he got put in a brace and carried off the pitch on a stretcher by a mixture of stewards, coaches and whoever else could be arsed to muck in and help the stricken Gareth Partridge.
Despite rarely being able to test the Wingmakers during the evening, it was Cefn Druids who posed the early danger when they missed from close range following a decent Jack Edwards cross.
James Murphy opened the scoring for Airbus on 17 minutes after Andy Jones had headed down a Tony Gray cross.
The home side had their tactics all wrong, with two small lightweight strikers constantly being expected to get on the end of long balls over the top. The Airbus defence were well organised and experienced and never looked like being tested by such tactics. Druids did go just wide with a volley on the half hour mark but soon found themselves two goals behind.
Tony Gray picked the ball up on the right hand side and pinged the ball into the top corner of the goal. He gave the goalkeeper no chance and that goal proved enough to take Airbus through to the next round.
We left straight after the final whistle and I was back in Atherton for around 22:30, meaning it wasn’t such a long night out after all. It made us realise that it’s just as easy to watch football in nice scenic parts of Wales as it is to endure long, cold and uncomfortable nights in the arse end of Lancashire.
Cefn Druids ground is a must visit. Despite being of Evo-Stik standard the setting is what makes it. In honesty, if it wasn’t built in a quarry it would be another boring new build but thankfully it isn’t. If you get the chance, do go and walk across the aqueduct. If a couple from Belize can make the trip to this area of the world, then so can you.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 58 miles
- ADMISSION: £4 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £2
The pre-match handshake is a sign of weakness on this side of the border!