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Sunday, 08 November 2015 21:06

Martyrs Stumble at the Crossroads

SATURDAY 7th NOVEMBER. Penydarren Park, wet.
MERTHYR TOWN 1 WEYMOUTH 3 (Evostik Southern League Premier Div.)
The wettest spell of the season so far means widespread postponements and only fixtures on 3G surfaces are a safe bet. What better excuse to catch up with the Martyrs for the first time this season - especially as pre-match comment has suggested they are at something of a 'crossroads'.

Merthyr found the early months of the season tough. Promotion to the higher level, then player losses and injuries, a limited playing budget, all combined to bring a worrying run of results through September and into October. But fortunes have improved recently and the question now (the one presumably behind the crossroads analogy) is whether Merthyr can build on this, and push on up the table.

It's only just over six months since my last visit here, but much is slightly unfamiliar as I approach up Park Terrace. Alongside the challenges on the field, supporters have to cope with building works as Penydarren Park is being redeveloped. The project - due to complete in the spring - has put part of the ground out of bounds, with all access round the back of the stand at The Walk end of the ground. Bars, offices and changing rooms are all relocated away from the main stand, and the players emerge from a temporary entrance in the corner rather than the traditional point under the grandstand. In the circumstances, the crowd (later confirmed as 474) is pretty healthy on a nasty, damp afternoon, though maybe the postponement of so many local games actually helped swell it. No doubt the recent upturn in results played a part too.

Published in Football
Sunday, 14 December 2014 20:11

Easy does it

SATURDAY 13th DECEMBER: Penydarren Park (the Cigg-e Stadium), sunny and cold.
MERTHYR TOWN 6 BASHLEY 0 (Evostik Southern League, S& W Division)
Four months into the season and I haven't yet been up to take a look at Steve Jenkins's Merthyr side as they attempt once again to win promotion to the Southern League Premier Division. Time to remedy that, especially with the Martyrs sitting top of the league, having recently overtaken Stratford.

It's a sunny dry day in north Cardiff as I set off at lunchtime, feeling warm on the walk over to Llandaf having dressed for a cold afternoon to come, but sure enough, in Merthyr an hour later, it's a couple of degrees colder - but still pleasant in the strong winter sun. The walk up to Penydarren Park is familiar enough but there are changes afoot: the old Strikers building has been demolished and is now a building site, while the iconic high terrace is condemned and out of bounds. A couple of pre-match conversations confirm a positive, optimistic mood, and once I peruse the match programme I can see why fans would be expecting to stay top of the table today: visitors Bashley seem to be cannon-fodder, the club struggling on after near-extinction but fielding a team with many young recruits from local Wessex football. I'd not realised I was choosing another potentially one-sided game, for the third week running.

Published in Football
Tuesday, 06 May 2014 07:15


MONDAY 5TH MAY : The Cigg-E Stadium, Penydarren Park - sunny, then rain.
MERTHYR TOWN 0 PAULTON ROVERS 2 (Calor Southern League S&W Divisional Play-off)

There's a great deal of expectation, not least on social media, as Merthyr Town's season hinges on one more match. They looked certainties for automatic promotion a couple of months ago, but a few bad away results cost them top spot. Still, they have the alternative route of the play-offs, and got through their semi-final on Tuesday. Now they face Paulton Rovers, at home. The expectation comes from the fact that they finished above Paulton, the fact that the town's rugby team won the Swalec Plate only yesterday, and well... the feeling that, willed on by a big crowd, the Martyrs should be able to deal with a village team from Somerset.

It's a sunny afternoon in Merthyr, not unlike another one 25 years ago: then, my five year-old son and I made this same journey up to Penydarren Park for a vital promotion game. Then, Merthyr overcame the nerves to beat Crawley and earn promotion to the Conference. Bitter-sweet memories, certainly in retrospect, but it was a good day, one that has stayed clear in the memory. For old times sake, I walk up the High Street (not the most direct route from the station now, as the steps up by the old Education building are long blocked off), but that's the way we walked in 1989.

Published in Football
Saturday, 08 February 2014 20:14


SATURDAY 8TH FEBRUARY: Penydarren Park - wet, wild and stormy.
MERTHYR TOWN 12 GUILDFORD CITY 0 (Calor Southern League, South & West Division)
Another weekend, another storm. It's rained during the week, and it's forecast to rain some more today, so the football programme will be washed out again, but on this occasion the weather is only a minor nuisance, as I have already decided to head for Merthyr for the first time since they installed their 3G artificial surface at Penydarren Park.

The lure is not just the all-weather surface - I need to catch up on Merthyr, topping their division of the Southern League, as I last saw them in that FA Cup defeat at Bridgwater. And their opponents today interest me too, Guildford City, a famous old name from my early days of watching Southern League football, except that in those days Guildford played at St. Joseph's Road, one of my favourite venues. That club lost its ground 40 years ago and slipped into oblivion, and today's incarnation is a new entity that has adopted the old name and plays in the same red and white stripes that I remember (though not today). They're back in Guildford too, but at a leisure centre ground as different from St Joseph's Road as you could imagine.

Published in Football

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