The Principality Building Society Welsh Premier League, to give its full title, saw a classic last-day title decider on Saturday. Bangor City, whose most recent championship came in 1994-95, were at home to defending champions The New Saints who were narrow favourites to pick up the point they needed to win a sixth league title in just over a decade. At one time Bangor had enjoyed a massive 16 point lead at the top of the standings but in recent weeks TNS looked to have turned things around and could’ve won the title before Saturday’s game. But TNS lost their anti-penultimate match of the season at home to Neath Athletic who, in turn, were defeated days later at their home ground by Bangor City leaving the destiny of the championship wide open going into this match.
I arrived at Farrar Road stadium, just five minutes walk away from Bangor train station, about three hours before kick-off in order to sense the anticipation ahead of this mouth-watering fixture. Speaking of mouth-watering, I headed to the club bar to buy myself a beer and could also have found myself taking advantage of a ticket for the Welsh Cup final – which Bangor City hopes to win for the fourth year in a row against Llanelli AFC this coming Sunday – for an amazingly cheap £5 as there were a stack of tickets on sale. Following the beer I set out to blend in with the locals and buy myself a scarf but, much to my disappointment, there was nobody in the club shop. I asked a nearby steward when it will be open and all he could tell me was that it’d be open “when the merchandising guy turns up”. As much as I tried to coax any more information out of him he was unable to give me a time so I had to settle for the match programme. I returned to the club shop a little under an hour later and the “merchandising guy” had finally arrived. “Do you have any scarves for sale” I asked him; “No we don’t have any” came the reply. Naturally I couldn’t believe how blasé he was about the lack of available merchandise, especially as the club’s biggest game for years was just little more than an hour away, so just decided to walk around the stadium and plan from which section of the stadium I would watch the game.
Kick-off time of 15:30 finally arrived and I had placed myself behind the goal to which the home side would shoot towards in the first half. Bangor City, playing in their traditional all-blue strip, enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but were unable to make the most of their dominance. With only a couple of clear chances in the opening period it was no surprise to see the first half remain goalless. The point would’ve been good for The New Saints and it was clear that they had come to Farrar Road hoping to frustrate their hosts. In the second half Bangor continued to pile the pressure towards the visitors’ goal but it seemed for a while that luck would allude them. I had changed ends for the second half and was watching the game from behind the goal in which Craig Garside would give the hosts the lead in the 68th minute. A throw-in from defender Peter Hoy was flicked on by midfielder Dave Morley and Garside found himself just yards from goal and able to turn the ball home to send most of the 1,700 capacity crowd ecstatic.
Naturally The New Saints had to come out and attack if they were to re-claim the title and they did threaten in the last twenty minutes but the sense of anticipation around the stadium meant that Bangor gave everything to preserve what they had. When the final whistle sounded it prompted a pitch invasion from the home supporters who could finally celebrate their third league championship title. A media scrum ensued as the game was featured live on the Welsh TV station S4/C as well as an assortment of photographers, supporters and yours truly basking in the warm sunshine and the champagne that was in the air following the Bangor team’s victory. As Bangor City coach Neville Powell and his assistant Marc Limbert lifted the championship trophy in the air it was clear that this ever popular management duo had created even bigger names for themselves amongst the home faithful. Bangor City (played 32, points 70) won the title by just two points from The New Saints and now have a chance to win the club’s first ever league and cup double this weekend. It may only be considered one of the smaller leagues but this was a fantastic occasion for Welsh football and one which would’ve graced any other championship in the world.
WATCH BANGOR CITY v THE NEW SAINTS HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
Stoppage Time – International Football Blog has made the relatively short trip to the North Wales town of Prestatyn to take in a game from the Welsh Premier League.
Bastion Gardens, the home of Prestatyn Town Football Club, is a long way away from the great stadiums of the world but then the Welsh Premier League is one of world football’s more modest championships. Initially I was going to go further along the north Wales coast to see Bangor City v Airbus UK Broughton in the Friday night match, a game which featured the top two sides in the league going into Matchday 5, but timing issues and prior commitments forced me to miss that particular contest. Nonetheless as I boarded the train going from Liverpool Lime Street to Chester, where I would change for Prestatyn, on Saturday I looked forward to some alternative viewing especially as Lee Trundle, one of my fellow ‘compatriots’ from Liverpool and the league’s marquee player, was expected to star for the visiting team who had some title ambitions of their own after a promising start to the season.
The day began with the traditional pre-match pint at the nearby Royal Victoria pub, just across the road from the train station, where a number of people had gathered to watch the early English Premier League game between Everton and Manchester United. Amongst the crowd was a guy called Paul, a West Bromwich Albion supporter and Groundhopper extraordinaire who was fanatical about travelling across the country to watch lower and non-league football. He had arrived a little late so wanted to know how the Everton game had finished before telling me he was ticking off Bastion Gardens from his footballing to-do list. So it was that we took the short walk from the pub to the tiny stadium which, on a good day, can squeeze as many as 2,500 but there was no danger of that as me, Paul and another 218 (yes, that’s two hundred and eighteen) hardy souls took our places to watch the match. Also present were the commentary team from the Welsh language television channel Sianel Pedwar Cymru, better known to British readers as S4C, amongst them was the former Arsenal, Glasgow Celtic and Wales forward John Hartson who stood only metres from where we gathered behind one of the goals and who was providing expert analysis for the Welsh channel’s live match coverage for the Sgorio football show.
The match itself turned out to be a classic “game of two halves” and, with the wind playing its part, Prestatyn Town dominated proceedings in the first half and should’ve scored more than the sixth minute strike which put the hosts ahead. After the Neath keeper Craig Morris had collided with Town’s Steve Rogers both of whom chasing a long ball forward, Lee Hunt was there to turn the ball home from outside the box much to the pleasure of the loyal Town fans present. The hosts had many opportunities including a shot that hit the crossbar and it seemed that Neath, Trundle et al, hadn’t shown up such was their anonymity. Prestatyn Town’s first half performance was in stark contrast with their previous league match against Aberystwyth Town – not that I was present at that game to see it but a certain Groundhopper next to me was – and with the score 1-0 at the break the home side must’ve fancied their chances of an unexpected win.
But Neath finally woke up in the second half, although Lee Trundle was personally not having his best day at the office, and they got a deserved equalizer in the 73rd minute when Chris Jones’ long-range strike was too hot to handle for Town keeper Jon Hill-Dunt who could only despair as his attempts at keeping the ball out were in vain. From then on both teams had their chances to win the game and, with just minutes to go, Prestatyn thought they should’ve had a penalty but referee Kevin Parry looked like he was never going to give any major decisions in this game. After stoppage time was played the final whistle blew and the final score, as some S4C viewers may have heard it, was “Prestatyn Town Un, Castell-Nedd Un” which, to me and Groundhopper Paul, seemed a pretty fair result.
Having learnt earlier in the day that Bangor City had beaten Airbus UK Broughton in Friday night’s game by five goals to one the Welsh Premier League table was starting to take shape. Bangor City still has a 100% record and leads the way with a six point gap from defending champions The New Saints who beat Carmarthen Town 7-0 yesterday and have a game in hand. After this game Neath Athletic are in sixth place with seven points but have also, like TNS, played four games whilst Prestatyn Town look like they could be facing a difficult season at the wrong end of the table as they have four points from five games and currently lie in ninth place in the twelve team league.