Welsh Football

Switch to desktop

Sunday, 04 July 2021 09:34

A Football Homecoming Featured

Rate this item
(8 votes)

Ruabon small

SATURDAY 3rd JULY 2021. Ruabon Recreation Ground: mild, cloudy, thundery.
RUABON ROVERS 2 BRYMBO LODGE 1 (North East Wales League, Championship Division)

It’s a Saturday, and I’m going to a proper grassroots football match. Until early 2020, that would have been an unremarkable and unnecessary statement – it’s what I did just about every Saturday. But the last time was 490 days ago (February 2020) and so today it is worth saying, and celebrating.

In fact, there is more to today’s trip to north Wales than my own personal ‘return to normality’. Something even more important is being restored today – football is returning to Ruabon. In a week when the “Football’s Coming Home” frenzy has been building across the border, here in Wales it actually is returning to its home town, the birthplace of the ‘Father of Welsh Football’ Llewellyn Kenrick, Wales’s first captain and a driving force in the creation of the FAW. Today, Ruabon Rovers, formed a year ago but unable to start until now, are playing the first competitive football match in the town for fifteen years. And I just have to be there.

The train journey from Cardiff to Ruabon, via Shrewsbury, is so familiar, but as I haven’t done it, or indeed spent this long on a train, for well over a year, the whole day’s outing is a bigger deal than it would have been. It’s not helped by the fact the Transport for Wales pay no more than lip service to Covid safety: no capacity limits, no seats out of use, and not a guard to be seen to remind the non-compliant passengers. But at least we’re not delayed.

At lunchtime on a Saturday Ruabon is quiet, its High Street far from thriving. The only coffee shop has just closed, at 1pm. As the forecast rain hasn’t materialised, I elect to watch the match-day build up in the Rec., a public park tucked away between the High Street and the by-pass. This is where the last Ruabon team played – Ruabon Villa – but the whole vicinity is steeped in football history: just to the south-east, Wynnstay Park, where the original Druids of Ruabon had their home ground from the 1880s; 100 yards away, the Wynnstay Arms where the FAW held met to draw up its first rules and regulations, and the one where the Welsh Cup competition was initiated. Across the road, the site of the courthouse, where Kenrick presided as a magistrate; further up the High Street, the grammar school he had attended (his footsteps later followed by another Welsh football great, Mark Hughes).

From near-deserted at 1.30, the Rec. comes to life in the hour that follows. Teams – already changed – arrive in car-loads. Home officials complete the job of securing the nets. Spectators begin to trickle in, eventually out-numbering the children and mothers in the adjacent playground. Social distancing isn’t a problem, even as the crowd swells. It’s a real mixture: families, curious residents, enthusiastic founders crossing their fingers for a smooth first match-day, former players reminiscing about the town’s former clubs. Out here in the open air, in a ground with no cover other than the odd overhanging tree, ventilation is not a problem.

The two teams warm-up, both eager to get started on their first competitive fixture. Rovers are a new club, their name harking back to an original incarnation of the 1870s, one of the clubs that Llewellyn Kenrick co-erced into amalgamating to form Druids of Ruabon. But the visitors are new to senior football too, and despite the occasion seeming to centre on the home club, it would be wrong not to allude to their story: Brymbo Lodge are a well-established, FAW gold-accredited youth club from the former steelworks village, but in order to keep a talented group of older teenagers together, they’ve decided to step up into men’s football.

Rovers make the brighter start and are ahead after five minutes, Owen Bathers firing through a crowded penalty area to record his club’s first-ever goal in the North East Wales League. A couple more chances come their way, but down at the bottom end Dylan Sutcliffe heads in a corner to equalise for Brymbo.

The goal seems to boost the visitors’ confidence, because from this point they more than hold their own in midfield. It’s a pretty even match, both sides create chances, but a series of misses keeps the score at 1-1 until half-time, and well into the second period. Rovers are reduced to ten men by a straight red card for a dangerous challenge, but within minutes are 2-1 up, a through ball beating the Brymbo defence, Chris Bennion keeping composure to score.

Nearly half an hour left, with a man advantage, and it looks odds-on that the young Brymbo Lodge side will level things up again. There couldn’t have been any complaints if they had, but somehow Rovers keep them out. Tiredness begins to show in both sides, and the final ten minutes are made more of an ordeal by a fierce downpour as a thunderstorm finally rolls in.

At the final whistle, there’s delight for the home officials – three points and a great turnout from the village – while the visitors look dejected as well as bedraggled as they trudge back to their cars. The youngsters probably deserved a point here today, and they’ll pick up points soon enough on this showing.

For me – once the storm relents and I can abandon the shelter of a tree – it’s back to the station for the long, and disconcertingly busy train journey back south. By the time we reach Abergavenny, the train has thinned out, the sun is shining on horses and foals grazing on the slopes of Skirrid Fawr. The scene, and the satisfaction of a groundhopping trip accomplished after so long a wait, combine to give a sense that all is well in the world (it probably isn’t, but it’s the thought that counts).

(We hope you've enjoyed reading this blog, and if so you might enjoy the magazine too. We're the only publication covering every level of football in Wales in every region. Subscriptions are what keep Welsh Football going and remember, all monies are channelled back into improving the magazine and into football good causes) 

Read 1231 times Last modified on Sunday, 04 July 2021 09:52
More in this category: « The Return Sevens »

© Copyright 2013 Welsh Football

Top Desktop version