As the end of September arrived, so did the first washout of the season. Atherton Collieries were due to host Basford United in the league but as we stood on the pitch at 10:00 we became marooned. Huge puddles formed around us as another deluge hit; visibility fell to less than ten metres. Our local referee Darren Handley turned up, signed the postponement paperwork and then made his way across to Spotland to take charge of Rochdale v Wycombe. It was less glamorous for me as I headed off to the gym.
It had been a long week. Secretly a part of me was looking forward to having a weekend off from football. Perhaps I would spend my annual Saturday afternoon off with Sky Sports? As I sat on the exercise bike, contemplating what lay ahead my phone started ringing. It was exiled York City fan, Ben, ringing from Chester. He was straight to the point putting forward the idea of a day out in Wales. The weather, it appeared, was sunnier over the border.
From the options that were listed in an excitable manner down the phone, a day out in the county town of Denbighshire seemed the most appealing. Until then, Ruthin had been completely off our radar as the nearest train station is 20 miles away and it simply wasn’t worth the hassle. Having gained my drivers license a few weeks beforehand, we could now reach places like Ruthin with relative ease.
Within a couple of hours I was outside Ben’s student abode in Chester and we headed through rural Wales until we reached our destination. On the way, we passed through the village of Loggerheads where two farmers appeared to be in the middle of a violent disagreement.
At the time, I had only basic experience of driving around the cobbled streets of Greater Manchester so I was feeling a bit uneasy as we descended down the steep roads of the Dyffryn Clwyd (Clwyd Valley) into Ruthin. We parked down one of the town’s many narrow roads and then had a steep walk into it’s historic centre where impressive buildings stood on each corner.
Yes, the Old Court House, which had stood since 1401 was great. Of course, Nantclwyd y Dre, the oldest timber framed house in Wales was spectacular. But there was one building that brought a smile to our face, The Castle Hotel which sits proudly on the six pronged roundabout at the centre of the town. This offering of Wetherspoons was a posh one – a hotel in fact – and was ideal for a quick pre-match pint before heading on to the match.
Ruthin Town’s pleasant, sprawling home is situated just to the west of the town centre, on the banks of the River Clwyd. Approaching the entrance, we were greeted by a club official who shook our hands and proudly shouted, “Welcome to Ruthin Town Football Club!” before taking our £5 admission money.
We did wonder whether the other 172 in attendance were afforded the same welcome and it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case. The friendliness of the club didn’t falter throughout the afternoon despite the odd spell of rain and a PA system that proved to be as temperamental as it’s comically clueless operator.
Football has been played in Ruthin since 1880. Back then, the town proudly reached the final of the Welsh Cup, losing 2-1 to Druids. The current club originated in the period after the Second World War when Ruthin British Legion FC joined the Welsh National League in 1949. Four years later they changed their suffix to Town.
The start of the 2019/20 season saw a welcome restructuring to the Welsh football pyramid, splitting the second tier into two clear regionalised divisions. Both of these now feed into the Welsh Premier League. Ruthin, who have been long serving members of the second tier were placed in the Cymru North. They had gained promotion back into it’s forerunner, the Cymru Alliance, back in 2016 and had settled well, gradually improving infrastructure as they went.
Their tidy home, which is surrounded by hills is blessed with an excessive amount of flat land. Having looked at photos of the ground in recent years, it looks as if their pitch has been rotated a full 90 degrees. In doing so, the one stand that the club had at the time changed from being a terrace behind the goal to a shelter on the sidelines. A further stand was constructed next to the clubhouse which had been refurbished weeks before our visit.
Inside the clubhouse a large Wrexham flag was pinned to the wall alongside a signed Manchester United print. The latter being a souvenir from a legends match that took place at the ground a month earlier with Bryan Robson, Denis Irwin and Wes Brown playing for the United side. Opposite was a Wales shirt, signed by Neil Taylor. The former Swansea City defender was brought up in Ruthin and attended the local school. Following his success with the national team at Euro 2016, he was invited to become president of Ruthin Town.
The piece of memorabilia that really caught my eye was the Bolton Wanderers scarf, hanging from the ceiling, I assume donated by Chris Hardy, the Ruthin manager who is a fellow Trotter.
Back outside, it was nearly time for kick-off. A metre from the players entrance was a small hatch which was keeping their large group of Under 9’s junior players – who were being mascots for the afternoon – hyper with a range of snacks. They were on the verge of bursting with energy by the time the sides were ready to go into battle.
The referee, who had clearly styled his appearance on Jack Grealish, stood patiently at the door as the players trickled out one-by-one on to the pitch. I think I’ve written this in the past but I love how in the Welsh leagues they don’t mess about with respect handshakes, or walking out together and just crack on with it. Another delight of heading over the border is of course the sight of the much maligned half-way-line corner flag.
Coming into this game, which the matchday programme labelled a local derby, the sides were neck and neck in the table, sitting in 11th and 12th respectively. Ruthin were well worth their 3-1 victory but were made to work for it by a combative Buckley side.
Will Owen opened the scoring for Ruthin on 13 minutes before Llyr Morris doubled their advantage to give them a 2-0 lead at the interval. Rather churlishly, the Buckley match report didn’t feature an account of the first half. In fact, it wouldn’t describe any of the action until the 78th minute when they pulled one back.
Connor Littler it was who reduced the deficit to 2-1. Controversy followed when Buckley thought they had equalised, only for Lewis Hone’s header to be ruled out by the linesman.
In the closing stages, as a spectacular rainbow stretched across the darkening sky, Buckley were caught out when pushing forward in search of a point. Ruthin broke and earned a penalty when goalkeeper Joe Makaruk brought down their forward. It was the captain, Ilan Hughes, who stepped up to score and secure all three points with a 3-1 victory.
The 14:30 kick off meant that it was still light as we headed back to the car reflecting on what had been a lovely afternoon in rural Wales. I had now been to almost half of the Cymru North grounds and this groundhop further whet my appetite to try and complete the league in the coming years.
When the 2019/20 season was finished abruptly due to the coronavirus outbreak, Ruthin sat in 12th place while Buckley were a place behind with four games in hand.