Ground: The Airfield
Date: Friday 7th November 2008, 7.30 pm
Competition: Welsh Premier Football League
Match: Airbus UK Broughton 2 Bangor City 3 HT: 2-2 Att: circa 200 tbc
McIntosh 27,33 Sharp 14, 41(p) Hoy 72
Additional: Entrance: £6.00 Programme: £1.50 Coffee £0.50 or 20p from machine in toilets.
There was no dancing in the streets of Airbus last night (Friday) as the Wingmakers spurned the opportunity to cause an upset against 10 man Bangor. This was my first Welsh Premier match, and after a great game at an interesting venue, I feel my addiction to grounds veering West to the Principality. There are nine Welsh Premier teams that I can get to in less than two hours by car, so I’m hoping to slope off after work on a few more Fridays before the season is out!
The history of Welsh football is quite strange and convoluted. The Welsh Premier has only been going since 1992; before that they were unique in having no national league. Historically the best teams in Wales have always played over the border in England – Cardiff and Swansea are both still in the Championship, in the recent past Wrexham and Newport County were also in the league and going back further you have Merthyr Town and Aberdare Athletic. The classic quiz question asks when was the only time the FA Cup wasn’t won by an English team, with Cardiff, 1927, being the answer.
When the League of Wales was set up, it started some lively debate about who should play in it. Some reckoned that all the league clubs playing in England should return to their home country’s league, but the bitterest disputes were between the non-league clubs playing in England and the FAW. The bigger clubs were left alone to play in England, for historical reasons, I supppose; but the FAW tried to drag back the smaller ones to its own league or face consequences. They were known as the ‘irate eight’ – Bangor City, Barry Town, Caernarfon Town, Colwyn Bay, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport County, Newtown and Rhyl.
Bangor, Newtown and Rhyl returned to Wales with the other five forced to play their home games in England! Barry Town played at Worcester and Colwyn Bay had to share with Ellesmere Port and Northwich! In 1995, though, a court ruling decreed that they could come back to Wales and remain in the English non-league pyramid. With Caernarfon and Barry also going back to Wales it left just Newport, Merthyr and Colwyn Bay the remaining Welsh clubs in the English non-league pyramid.
Most League of Wales games only attract crowds of a couple of hundred, and most of the teams are from small towns and villages, but as it is nevertheless the Premier division in Wales the winners get a chance to play in the Champions league with the runners up playing in the UEFA cup! It’s quite an incentive for these village teams to aspire to. TNS have appeared in Europe on a number of occasions despite being a team that hail from the tiny village of Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain, in mid Wales!
Airbus UK Broughton FC (with the Broughton bit having been added this season) were founded in 1946 as a works team, with their name changing over the years in line with the company. Originally Vickers-Armstrong they then took the names de Havillands, Hawker Siddeley, British Aerospace, BAE Systems and then Airbus FC, until this season. Their nickname is the Wingmakers as the factory makes the wings for the Airbus series of planes (or Airbae), before they are delicately transported by road, river and sea to Toulouse in France. They have only been in Wales’s top flight since 2004-05.
As you might guess they play in the village of Broughton in Flintshire, just west of Chester. The ground, called the Airfield, sits within the Airbus complex and due to its proximity to the actual airfield, four of its floodlights are retractable. They fold down like the legs of Thunderbird 2 onto brackets which support them. I believe they are the only ones in the country (and the UK!).
The ground lies just off the A55 next to the Broughton retail park. There is a big car park next to the ground, that is free; the ground lying on the edge of all the big factories and workplaces that comprises the Airbus site. They have a main stand that seats about 250 and opposite this is the clubhouse, a big brick building which comprises the dressing rooms and a further 100 covered seats at the front for officials and people connected with the clubs in some way. It also houses the public toilets, which incidentally have a door straight to the dressing rooms. Tom, who accompanied me, said he could smell the deep heat emanating from under the door, when he went!
In one corner of the ground there are a few portacabins, one of which has the refreshments and an excellent club shop. The club shop sells a vast array of badges from Welsh clubs all the way down the Welsh pyramid, and a sizeable assortment of programmes from all over the uk. There are also numerous club shirts adorning the walls. You could easily spend a good ten minutes browsing there. Tom and I both had a burger and coffee, which while quite good value (£2 and 50p) were absolutely awful. At half time however, we found a vending machine in the toilets, of all places, that did hot drinks for 20p! It’d run out of sugared coffee so I had to go for a tea, which was a huge improvement on the earlier coffee!
Aside from the clubhouse/stand and the main stand the rest of the ground is flat standing behind the perimeter bar, with a grassy knoll of sorts behind one goal.
I have often wondered what the quality of football was like in the Welsh Premier and which English division you could compare it to. I was pleasantly surprised. Both teams were very fit and well organised and both played some good football. I would estimate that its standard is at least Conference level and maybe even League Two. (I am told by someone in the know that it is probably comparable to a few divisions lower than this – sort of Northern League (step 3 of non-league) for the better clubs[see comments]. The attendance I would guess at about 200, which was just enough to make a good atmosphere, enhanced by a fair view vociferous Bangor fans. [Attendances would also be comparable to Northern League (Unibond) level].
Bangor made the better start and looked like they were likely winners, but it all went pear shaped for them after Brewerton was sent off in the first 15 minutes, apparently for swearing. It must’ve been a hell of a swear word to get a straight red – not just darn or bloody. It was actually a Bangor player that told us what happened, while he was waiting to take a corner kick. He said in a thick Welsh accent that the ref had told them beforehand that as long as they kept their swearing to a minimum and kept it quiet he would turn a blind eye, but he then goes and sends James off.
The Bangor faithful behind the goal were furious, but only a minute or two later Sharp put them 1-0 up with an overhead bicycle kick from six yards, that the keeper could only parry into the net. It was a goal of incredible skill and uplifted the disgruntled visiting fans for a while. Send another off ref and we’ll score another you f*****! commented one Bangor fan. As the first half wore on Airbus started to take advantage of the extra man and penetrate the Bangor defence. The equaliser was a volley smashed in from close range after a flick-on from a Rory Delap style throw in. They made it 2-1 shortly after, this time a turn and smash from McIntosh into the corner, again from close range.
At this point there looked to be only one winner, but a penalty was awarded to Bangor on 41 minutes to even up the scores again. The second half was nowhere near as exciting as the first and Airbus looked lacklustre when I was expecting an onslaught to punish the man-short Bangor. They really should have made more of their advantage, but were made to pay even more when a cross was only palmed out by their keeper onto the foot of Hoy who volleyed in from close range to score the winner for championship chasing Bangor City. There is no doubt that the Airbus players will be kicking themselves about three points dropped there. Bangor stay fourth with Airbus in fourteenth.
Tonight was a great introduction to Welsh football, with a smart ground, cheap entrance price and good quality football. For the amount of fans present the atmosphere wasn’t bad either. I’m looking at the fixture list for my next Welsh trip!
Links: Welsh Premier website