Saturday 8th July 2017 14.39
Penley 5 Porthmadoc U18s 2 ht: 2-1 att: 11 (plus 1 horse)
from School Lane
The prologue to my season began on Thursday at Hanley Town, for their narrow defeat to Nantwich. This was my first new ground of the season, though. It was a sweltering July day, but with occasional cloud cover to provide respite from the sun. I headed off to my nearest Welsh venue, Penley. Only 38 miles away, Penley lies in a protuberance of the Welsh border, that sticks out like a thumb under Wrexham, almost as far as Whitchurch. A little bit of Wales encroaching on Shropshire.
Penley play in the Welsh National League Division One, the fourth tier. Visitors Porthmadoc play in the second tier Cymru Alliance, put were putting out an under 18 side for today’s game.
I stopped off at the market town of Whitchurch en route, famous for it’s production of clocktower clocks. I sampled two ales from the Wheatsheaf pub, one of which was made specially for the pub, by a local brewer, called Since 1861. Sounds good, but it was pretty rank to tell the truth. The Red Diesel by Colchester Brewery was a fantastic red ale, however.
It was just another nine miles to Penley. Penley could be the proverbial sleepy Welsh village. Even the sign on the way in looked like it was trying to hide shyly in the undergrowth, not wanting to stand out too much.
Past the sign was what looked like a charming village pub on the right, but on second viewing was shown to be half demolished. The only sign of life was a Premier convenience store, that looked like an afterthought tagged on to the front of a ‘business park’, that was a mixture of small enterprises and scrubland. The Premier was poorly stocked, but did do coffee, which was a welcome pre-match refreshment.
Opposite this grocer’s was the large Maelor School, which with its land, seemed to comprise half the area of Penley Village. Penley’s football ground lay behind the school, quite a long way back; from the sports centre one has to traverse a grass 400m track and separate 100m sprint track, with the ground a barred rectangle, at the far end of the school grounds.
Players, officials and staff had to make the long trek from the changing rooms in the sports centre to the pitch. This level of football has a habit of throwing a surprise or two and creating football ‘firsts’. When I got to the School Lane Ground, I noticed with alarm that there were no pitch markings, whatsoever. The only white lines were a javelin throwing arc, comprised of a run-up, then 10 metre interval arc lines, starting from the corner of the pitch towards the half-way line.
From out of a shed behind the goal, a line marking machine appeared, with a reluctant Penley player tasked with drawing the lines. Kick off was scheduled for 2pm, but it was already 2.07, the Penley player was struggling to get the line marking machine to ‘draw’ and was busy stripping it down. At times like this I get wistful, as if I’m outside of myself, peering in at me. A 38 mile trip to a school in Wales, to a pitch with no markings – what has this obsession done to me? I was assuredly the only spectator here who wasn’t connected to either side. There were only 11 of us in total, anyway.
The line marking player, kept stopping and looking depressed, as if he was wondering whether he could be bothered finishing the job. He looked like he was contemplating dropping the white marking trundle-wheel-lawnmower and slowly walking back to the changing rooms. His torpor was irritating me, he’d only done one byline and it was 2.20. The game was in danger of being called off due to apathy. I felt a strange connection to the equine spectator in the adjacent field, who was peering, long-faced, over his fence, watching proceedings. I felt his isolation and sense of helplessness.
The machine was taken over by a colleague, while the former came to terms with his existential impasse. The new handler marked the edges of the pitch, the 18 yard boxes and the halfway line only – it would have to do. The 18 yard box was the biggest ever seen, more like a 22 yard box, and looked like it had been designed by Gaudi, with curves to match the natural surroundings and undulations of the pitch. A more bizarre preface to a game I had not witnessed.
Inauspicious beginnings aside, the game proceeded 39 minutes late, and was an entertaining affair. Porthmadoc’s youngsters looked the better side in the early exchanges and their quick right winger looked like he was capable of tearing Penley apart. All the early chances went to them, and Penley struggled to gain any ground or momentum. As the half proceeded Penley grew in confidence and started creating chances themselves. On half an hour a cross was headed on to an attacker in the six yard box who volleyed in from close range. 1-0. A few minutes later and a corner was bundled in after some pinball in the area for 2-0. This was not predictable in the first 15 of the game. Porthmadoc got one back, thanks to more quick feet from their right winger. His shot was parried and the rebound converted.
The teams broke for half time, milling around the dugouts. The ref went to the toilet, which was a five minute walk each way to the school.
The best strike of the game made it 3-1, a low smash from 20 yards. It was 3-2 shortly after. A poor back pass led to an easy finish.
The young visitors should have equalised many times over as they missed a string of one-on-ones and other chances. Penley punished them with another strike from distance that the keeper fumbled. 4-2.
More chances were scuppered by both sides before skilful control and finish in the box, for 5-2. This was in the 86th minute, but the referee blew the final whistle from the restart. I know it’s only a friendly but a 41 minute half? I felt robbed of my entrance fee. I was really enjoying the match and would have loved that missing four minutes, but nevermind.
This was a really good contest, played in an excellent spirit, with both sets of players respectful to each other and the referee. This prevailing attitude along with an exciting, at at times, skillful match, eclipsed the strange and delayed start. No, you’d never see this in the English Premier League, and probably not in the North West Counties League, even, but it didn’t really matter in the end. The goals had nets, the ball was round, the 18 yard boxes were probably equally large. It was a great day out at the footie.
Penley looked a good side for their division and I wish them well for the forthcoming season.