Ground: Ynys Park (Port Talbot)
Date of visit: Saturday 3rd
Fixture: Trefelin Boys and Girls Club (BGC) v Panteg
Welsh Football League Division Three
Admission: £3 (programme £1)
Attendance: c. 35 (h/c)
Since I began this Welsh League adventure last summer two grounds have been towards the top of my to-do list. Goytre United’s Glenhafod Park and Trefelin BGC’s home Ynys Park. If you are unfamiliar with either of those grounds ‘google’ them and you’ll know exactly why.
Despite this status I hadn’t really made an attempt to visit either ground until a couple of weeks ago. This was largely down to convenience – there are a lot of clubs in the RCT area that it was easy to groundhop – and although a 45-minute drive is hardly a long distance, I was planning to save these grounds (which are both in the Port Talbot area) for the spring months when the conditions would show off the surroundings better and there would be less risk of a late postponement and a wasted journey.
A fortnight ago I decided to take the plunge and travel to Glenhafod Park, but the game was called off en route. This was no surprise given the conditions and that was a bit of lesson for me in not planning to venture too far when the weather is as bad as it was that day (especially with a grass pitch). With a better forecast last weekend and Trefelin BGC at home it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get Ynys Park checked off early in this odyssey.
As it turned out the weather was better than the forecast and with the game confirmed around 10am I headed down the M4 safe in the knowledge I wouldn’t be disappointed this time. Disappointed I certainly was not, the Trefelin trip being one of the best Welsh League ground visits I have done so far.
Before the game I spoke to Trefelin BGC’s long-standing chairman and founder Steve Green. Steve gave me a tour of the clubhouse: explaining the changes the facilities had gone through over the past 21 years and outlining the ongoing work to meet the expected roll-out of further FAW ground regulations for tier 3 in a year or so. We also talked through the club’s origin from humble roots as a social institution, the acquisition and development of Ynys Park and a fair bit on some of the current affairs in the Welsh League.
As well as providing a warm welcome, these encounters are what makes the appeal of the grassroots game so strong. Meeting real football people (for want of a better phrase), closely connected with their communities, volunteers who have put plenty of their own time, manpower and (in some cases) money into building their clubs.
Steve is immensely proud of Trefelin BGC and Ynys Park and it is easy to understand why when you realise he has been there since day one, watched every brick of Trefelin’s fantastic clubhouse laid and helped create a set-up off the field that has developed a successful football club in an area where there is no shortage of rivals, with nearby three former Welsh top-flight clubs and four current Welsh League Division One sides nearby and competing for limited playing and revenue resources.
Trefelin BGC was formed in the mid-1980s and initially played in the local leagues in the Port Talbot. In 1994 they were accepted into the South Wales Amateur League as champions of the Port Talbot league and moved to their current home Ynys Park in 1996. It was in the Amateur League they remained for 21 seasons (spending 13 campaigns in the top division), twice winning the Second Division Title (1995/6 and 2006/7) and the Division One championship in 2013/14. They also claimed two W. John Owen Cup (the equivalent of a League Cup) successes in 2011/12 and 2013/14 (the latter part of a league and league cup double season).
For the 2015/16 season the South Wales Amateur League merged with the South Wales Senior League to become the South Wales Alliance League (SWAL). In the SWAL’s inaugural season Trefelin BGC were crowned Premier Division champions and granted promotion to the Welsh Football League. In their Welsh League debut last season Trefelin consolidated their status finishing 12th (out of 16 teams).
The club’s biggest success though is undoubtedly winning the FAW Trophy (a national ‘amateur’ competition for teams competing at tier 3 and below) in the 1999/2000 season, defeating Bryntirion Athletic 6-2 in the final.
Trefelin have made further strides again this season following the appointment of Richard Ryan as first team manager last summer. Ryan – a highly decorated Welsh League footballer – has overseen a transformation on the pitch from consolidation to title challengers. Going into this game Ryan’s Trefelin were the only unbeaten team left in the whole Welsh League, leaders of Division Three since pretty much the opening weekend, as well as semi-finalists of the Welsh Football League Cup (the tie to be played against Pontypridd Town in April).
Ynys Park is approximately five minutes off junction 40 of the M4, between Port Talbot and the village Cwmafan on the B4286. It is a bit of a convoluted journey from the M4 exit through several residential streets, but out of nowhere you find yourself transported from a world of industry and concrete into the wonderfully picturesque Afan Valley.
Ynys Park rests on the floor of the valley, adjacent to the Afan River, hemmed in on all sides by the steep hills of this narrow valley. It is a quite breathtaking vista when you arrive, all the more staggering for the ugliness you circumvented just minutes earlier.
Trefelin BGC has been based here since 1996, acquiring the ground on a 99-year lease from the Ynys Park trust. It has been built from scratch, from a patch of playing space into an improving Welsh League ground.
The first thing to point out if you are heading to the ground out of Port Talbot is to be careful not to miss the turn-off (it’s on your right). This may not be a problem for most, but I did miss the turn. Fortunately you can turnaround at the next village (Cwmafan), which is about half a mile about the valley.
There is parking at the ground on a grass verge outside the ground. Based on the club’s typical attendance of around 30-40 there should be plenty of space; parking wasn’t a problem at all for my visit.
Inside the ground to the immediate left is Trefelin’s clubhouse, serving a range of beers and ciders (all less than £3 per pint), as well as hot drinks (tea, coffee, bovril – all £1) and some hot snacks. The clubhouse also has two televisions for sports coverage and toilets that are probably the best standard I have come across so far in the Welsh League. There is also a small ‘beer garden’ too with several benches behind one of the goals, from where you can presumably take in the action while supping a pint.
Ynys Park has one covered stand on the halfway line between the dugouts. This stand was acquired through fellow Welsh League club Ammanford, where it used to form part of their ground. There are no seats yet, but Steve Green told me there was capacity for 100 seats which will be installed as necessary in accordance with future FAW ground regulations. It’s proximity to the pitch means you are close to the action and get the chatter from both benches, something that’s always an essential part of the grassroots experience.
The pitch is grass and like many has taken a battering this winter. In fairness, Trefelin had got the pitch to a point where the game could be played, considering it was more or less under water a few weeks ago and was, according to the club, in a really poor state for their last home game. Steve Green explained there is ongoing work to improve drainage, which is a particular problem in one corner of the pitch. Trefelin, like many clubs, will hope the worst of the wet weather is now behind us.
Facilities are a hot topic in the Welsh League at the moment with structural changes to the Welsh football pyramid and ground regulations overlapping somewhat. The FAW regulations give primacy to spectator over playing facilities. While I understand this is to ensure consistency with tier 1 licence criteria (which is aligned with UEFA regulations), an argument I am hearing from those running the clubs is that were there is a need for investment it would be better served going into the pitch. This argument emphasises that player development and consistent pitch quality should be the primary focus for improving the pyramid’s standard and encouraging better spectator engagement.
Ideally a balance would be struck between these two viewpoints. Licensing has improved the stability of clubs at the top of the pyramid, although it seems to have had the effect of stifling competition and movement from below. These changes are designed to alleviate that. I can’t comment on the whole of the country as I am only experiencing these developments through a Welsh League telescope, but I certainly understand the misgivings in the south about clubs being forced to spend large sums of money on white elephant stands or stagnate, while the true quality of football to be found in the Welsh League is inhibited by sub-standard pitches.
Nominally it costs £1 but I believe based on what was in my wallet after paying for entry on this occasion it was given to me free of charge. It means I won’t complain, but Trefelin are a club I would say have yet to fully embrace the potential of a good matchday programme.
Content-wise there are some stats, squad lists and a brief note ahead of the match from manager Richard Ryan. Otherwise it is essentially a pamphlet of sponsors’ adverts.
Steve Green gave me a rough estimate of 30-40 when I asked him about typical attendance figures, by my rough head count there were around 35 people at the game; not bad when you consider there was a Six Nations home fixture being played at the same time.
The atmopshere at Ynys Park exudes a down-to-earth friendliness. Everyone I spoke to was open, helpful and really welcoming. There were a handful of Panteg supporters too, which always adds to the touchline atmosphere when they congregate around the benches like they did.
Also in attendance was groundhopper extraordinaire Laurence Reade. I really enjoy reading Laurence’s blog about his football adventures so it was nice to meet the person behind that and have a chat.
Trefelin BGC 2-1 Panteg
Despite being unbeaten in the Welsh League this season Trefelin found themselves in second place at kick-off following a win for Swansea Uni on Friday night. An interesting scenario for the home side who have led the league since day one and knowing that anything but a win would see them surrender that status for the next week at least.
Panteg are very much at that stage of the season where they are playing for pride and position, even though they still have more than half of their fixtures to play. Ultimately, that is the challenge now to cram 18 further fixtures in between now and the end of the season.
The Torfaen-based club have enjoyed a little bit of success and exposure this season though, a Welsh Cup run earlier in the campaign took them to Cymru Alliance giants Porthmadog. The trip saw Panteg well-beaten but the game was covered by Sgorio and the club received a number of plaudits for the way they went to one of the biggest clubs in Welsh football and tried to take the game to their hosts.
It was evident here that Panteg are a side built on attacking principles and they certainly didn’t give Trefelin too much respect as title contenders, applying the squeeze on a difficult pitch, forcing mistakes and looking the most threatening side for much of the match. Typical then that Trefelin broke from a Panteg corner and scored with their first real chance on 20 minutes. Dylan Thomas driving forward and waiting for exactly the right moment to play a perfectly weighted pass to Jamie Latham, whose composed finish from 20 yards squeezed just inside the post.
For the remainder of the half Panteg generally dominated and created enough chances to win the game. A combination of some poor finishing and a virtuoso display by the home goalkeeper, including a superb penalty save just before half time, somehow meant Trefelin got to half-time with a narrow lead.
The second half was more end to end, but Panteg did eventually get themselves level courtesy of a flowing move and outrageously good finish from Jordan Ryan. Like all successful sides, Trefelin – enduring a poor day by all accounts – managed to dig out a second goal; another fine finish, this time from Jordan Edwards on the turn.
Panteg pressed in search of an equaliser right up until the final whistle, but with the pitch deteriorating more as the game went on and taking its own toll on the efforts of the players, Trefelin saw out the final stages relatively comfortably. There was a bit a melee shortly before the final whistle, but referee Paul Meredith – despite an otherwise peculiar display – dealt with the handbags pretty well, satisfied that yellow cards for the chief instigators was sufficient action.
Although the second-half was much more of an even contest, Panteg’s total domination of the first half meant they would be justified in believing they were unlucky to head back to Gwent empty-handed. But such is football sometimes and when you are going well like Trefelin are, often that bit luck to make the difference follows you around.
Trefelin BGC is a fantastic football club with a superb set-up, run by some of the warmest people I have met so far in Welsh football. Throw in the postcard location and you’ve got an excellent groundhop destination in the Welsh League.