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Thursday, 29 September 2016 08:03

Ripping Yarns

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TUESDAY 27th SEPTEMBER - The Harry Williams Riverside Stadium: a fine, dry evening.
RAMSBOTTOM UNITED 1 COLWYN BAY 3 (Evostik Northern Premier League - Div 1 North)

It's an odd week: after the busy early season period, now here's a week with hardly any football in Wales. Although keen to travel while the weather is still OK, and Arriva have their fares offer running, I'd expected to miss out until I noticed a full Evostik Northern Premier programme, with games in the Arriva network area - and one of those games has a tenuous (very tenuous) Welsh connection - Colwyn Bay are away to Ramsbottom United. 

Now I confess, I had to look up Ramsbottom (I even contacted the club via their website - but heard nothing back). I was pleased to find it was close to Manchester (the northernmost point of Arriva's network). So once again football has provided an unexpected opportunity to get to know a place that I'm probably never likely to visit otherwise.

The journey: just a simple four hour bus/train/tram/bus itinerary. Everything goes to plan and by 4pm I am exploring the former mill-town on the River Irwell - an attractive, busy town overlooked by steep hillsides. At 7pm, after a little refreshment, it's time to head to the Harry Williams Riverside Stadium, which shares its entrance and car park with the local cricket club - as well as the Homing Pigeon club. The ground is a delight - a variety of blue-painted buildings beyond the turnstiles on the near side, and sections of cover on the other three sides of the ground.

Now for me, reporting on "exile" clubs is never easy: people always assume I have an agenda. But I am here to observe rather than judge - simply catching up on Colwyn Bay, arguably the least Welsh club in Wales. They've had two disappointing seasons, but there are signs they are stabilising, even turning a corner, in recent weeks. Coming into tonight, they are on a three-game winning run. I'm interested to see if they can keep it going - but I don't come to support either side here. That deliberately neutral position isn't helped, though, by an ill-judged comment piece in Rammy's programme, a one-eyed and selective view of the Welsh football politics of 25 years ago.

And so to the game, with Colwyn Bay playing in an unfamiliar yellow away strip. As usual, their squad is predominantly Merseyside and Manchester-based players. Playing in this league, with regular trips across the north, it more or less has to be - local north Walians wouldn't and couldn't do the travelling, especially to midweek games like this. Add to that the fact that local players nowadays find Bay's many Welsh Premier neighbours more attractive employers. Still, none of this is a problem for the Seagulls - they like things as they are. They may be an anomaly, but they're doing no-one any harm.

It's soon clear that Bay are the more organised and competent side here - although I am a little surprised at the standard of football (I'll not name an equivalent Welsh pyramid level, because it would only be seen as provocative). The game's error-strewn, with a surfeit of long downfield punts. Passing moves are at a premium, but the left side of Rammy's defence is having a torrid time and Bay's most promising moves develop here. For over half an hour, they rack up a decent tally of shots - but hardly any on target. The breakthrough comes after a break on the right - and a miscued clearance - with Luke Benson in the right place to capitalise on it. Bay lead by the single goal at the break.

There's no real change in the balance of play after half-time. Bay continue on top, but for nearly twenty minutes fail to build on their lead. Then Rammy concede a dangerous free-kick which Benson strikes perfectly past the wall, and the visitors are 2-0 up. The home fans' despair - resigned, not angry - is inescapable. As they bemoan the prospect of a long hard winter campaign, I suddenly have flashbacks to Barnstoneworth United, of Ripping Yarns fame. I half expect Michael Palin to appear with a plan to revive Rammy's fortunes.

The Rammy team battles away to try to get back in the game - plenty of honest effort, but little inspiration. The effort is finally rewarded though, from a corner, Bradley Roscoe netting from close range. They try to press forward for an unlikely equaliser, and force a couple of corners. But it comes to nought, and Colwyn Bay seal the three points in stoppage time as Edwards is set free and rounds the home keeper to score. 1-3 the final score, and a pretty fair reflection of the play, in my opinion at least.

Conclusions? Colwyn Bay are now on a four-match winning run and high on confidence. They should be OK in this league, and if that run continues might be able to challenge for promotion. It's hard to judge how likely that is on one performance - particularly as their hosts tonight are clearly struggling at the moment. But it's been interesting - and a real change from my usual fare.

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