Welsh League Ground #12: Glenhafod Park Stadium (Goytre United) – Just About the Best WL ground you will find and a Story of How to Build a Grassroots Club

Ground: Glenhafod Park Stadium (home of Goytre United)
Date of visit: Tuesday 10th March 2018
Fixture: Goytre United v Ton Pentre
Welsh Football League Division One
Admission: £5 (programme £1)
Attendance: c. 40 (h/c)

One of the virtues of groundhopping is the platform it provides for learning. There’s the obvious like learning about new places and how to get there, but it is hard to groundhop and not want to learn something about not just the football club, but the place or community you are visiting.

I started this ‘odyssey’ last summer because I wanted to engage more with community football after years of just processing the professional game, in search of something more than just being another number through the turnstile. While I still enjoy the professional game and remain a season ticket holder for a professional club, I can’t deny a lot of the soul is lost at the higher levels. Clubs don’t really exist for or as part of their communities anymore; the overwhelming majority are loyal to the balance sheet, shareholders or the whims of an egotistical owner.

When you start getting involved with grassroots football you start to realise the club lives and breathes through the people who are there, through the local community and individuals that make it happen. I’ve been to some superb clubs and I’m not even halfway through the Welsh Football League. At the heart of each one are hard-working volunteers, people who give up their own time for the love of their club and the grassroots game.

Yet, I hadn’t come across a club that owed its existence to the tireless work of a single family. Well, until I visited Goytre United. Primarily a club known for having one of the most picturesque grounds in the Welsh League, Goytre United are a club with a fantastic story about a small-village club that set out to give local players the highest possible platform on which to play football and went on to become one of the greatest success stories in the Welsh League in the past two decades.

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The village of Goytre cannot be more than a couple of miles (as the crow flies) from Port Talbot Steel Works, yet it is the picture of idyllic retreat, nestled in a narrow valley (Cwm Dyffryn) along the Nant Ffrwdwyllt. Like many of the valleys of the south of Wales it is historically associated with coal mining.

The origins of Goytre United FC is traced back to the 1960s when a trio of local men – Boris Suhanski, John Tobin and David Evans – used a tin box full of cash to found the club and bring football back to the village. Ever since the Suhanski family have played an integral role at the club, the match programme indicating no less than six members presently have some role at the football club. Goytre United also enjoy the patronage of former Wales international goalkeeper Martyn Margetson.

The first two decades of Goytre United’s existence largely played out in the local Port Talbot leagues, with a brief spell in the now defunct South Wales Amateur League in the 1970s. The move towards a more progressive future began in the 1980s with the construction of the social club at Glenhafod Park Stadium. As well as providing a community hub it brought a source of income for the football club.

Goytre United rejoined the South Wales Amateur League in the late 1980s, built their 350-seat grandstand in 1989 (a remarkably ambitious and forward thinking development to the football ground) and were promoted to the Welsh League for the 1991-92 season. By the start of the 1996-97 season, Goytre United had advanced to the top tier of the Welsh League and have remained in Division One ever since.

With steady progress on and off the field (floodlighting was added at the turn of the century), Goytre United embarked on their most successful period between 2005 and 2010. The first taste of success arrived in the 2004-5 season when Goytre United lifted the Welsh Football League Cup. The following season they won the Welsh League for the first time in their history, adding two further League wins in 2008 and 2010, as well as a second Welsh League Cup in 2008 (a league and cup double season).

This decade has seen Goytre United maintain their Welsh League top flight status, but results have been more inconsistent. A 4th placed finish in 2014-15 is their best finish since their last Welsh League success. Early in the season it looked like Goytre United might offer a title challenge, but that faded through the winter, although the club remain in contention for a top five finish.

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Goytre United’s home ground, Glenhafod Park Stadium, is well known as one of the most picturesque in the Welsh League. Ask anyone familiar with the Welsh League to list their favourite grounds and Glenhafod Park is almost universally mentioned by anyone who has visited, played or managed there.

Glenhafod Park Stadium is just north-east of the village, fit snugly between the hills of the narrow single-road valley that is largely uninhabited between Goytre and the village of Bryn that rests north-west on the hills between the Afan and Llynfi valleys. It is a ground and area of the South Wales Valleys that is quite unique.

The grounds of Glenhafod Park boast a licensed bar, plenty of car parking space and the football ground itself. The Glenhafod grandstand is itself a feature, an elevated, sturdy concrete structure extended across half the length of the pitch that feels more nostalgic than the drop-in stands that will continue to appear outside the Welsh Premier League due to the implementation of the FAW’s tier 2 (and forthcoming tier 3) ground regulations. The ‘Corner Flag Cafe’ offers hot drinks (£1) and the usual snacks. It’s a fantastic football ground that does justice to the setting and it’s a credit to the hard-work and progressive thinking of the Suhanski family and all that have built this club from the very earth up.

As with all Welsh League clubs there is a match programme on offer, with a mix of colour and mono printing. While the cover reflects the club opting for a season template, inside there is more match specific detail and some notes on the current goings on at both first and reserve teams levels. It’s a bit disorganised with variable print quality and contains less features of interest than you might find in other Welsh League club programmes.

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Goytre United 4 (Rhodri Cole 4, Sam Johnson 24, Liam Griffiths 66, Thomas Walters 76)
Ton Pentre 2 (Lewis Baldwin 31, Stuart Brock 33)

On the surface it would seem the visitors Ton Pentre had more riding on the game than Goytre United. The Rhondda side are bottom of Division One and facing an uphill task to try and avoid relegation. Goytre United, on the other hand, are merely playing for pride as relegation and the title are neither a threat nor an aspiration this season. This status is probably reflected in the side’s inconsistent results of late.

Nevertheless, Goytre started the game on the front foot and Rhodri Cole in particular looked menacing on the left wing. Cole opened the scoring in the 4th minute, getting on the end of a Sam Johnson cross (recently acquired from Taffs Well) at the back post. This pattern of Goytre attacking and Ton Pentre hanging in there continued for most of the first half hour and the hosts squandered several good chances before Johnson did double the lead in the 24th minute.

You often see games turn on a moment of fortune or a struggling side finding a spark out of nowhere, the latter certainly being the case as Ton Pentre turned the game on its head within a couple of minutes after the half hour. Captain Adam Lewis showed desire with a strong challenge in midfield, the ball was sent wide for Matthew Smith to cross for Lewis Baldwin. The former Cardiff City academy player got off his shot and via a deflection it beat the Goytre keeper. Two minutes later, pressure high up the pitch produced a turnover for Ton Pentre. Baldwin combined with his strike partner Stuart Brock and the latter thundered a drive into goal off the inside of the post. All square at half-time, but Goytre could easily have been four or five goals to the good at half-time.

There was certainly belief in an upset from the Ton Pentre early in the second-half. Baldwin – involved in all of Ton’s good play – could have completed the turnaround, but his header from a left wing cross forced a good save out of Luke Martin. At the other end, Liam Griffiths wasn’t short on confidence and had several efforts from distance, but each one failed to give Ton keeper Stephen Hall any work.

After such a determined performance, it was a shame for Ton Pentre that an individual error turned the game against them. Keeper Hall failed to grasp a long ball into the box and in the subsequent scramble Liam Griffiths was gifted a tap in. Ton kept plucking away but frustration boiled over when Adam Lewis was sent off for dissent after objecting vocally to the award of a Goytre United free kick. From that very set-play, Goytre star man Thomas Walters (who recently trialled with Cardiff City) curled home a left-foot strike from the right channel to extend the lead to two goals for a second time and put the game beyond Ton Pentre’s reach.

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Glenhafod Park Stadium lives up to the expectations. A superb setting, an excellent football ground for a club with a fantastic story behind it. That it’s less than five minutes from the M4 is just far out. If you’re coming to Wales for a game, put Goytre United’s home at the top of your list.

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