Team bonding exercise

Despite what you may think or believe, this veritable organ is not just thrown together willy-nilly. As if! There is a plan, an overall structure and a strategy to deliver for our shareholders. Shareholders? Shareholders? Yes indeed. At this point we need to bow, curtsey and generally laud praise in the direction of the mysterious GTC Media. A shadowy, shady company operating from a state of the art office adjacent to an exclusive London golf course, sending email missives to us on a daily basis as to what we should be doing and where. Enron would be proud of the complex structure of legal entities, preferring the glamour of the Isle of Sheppey rather than the Caymans or the Bahamas.

In the past few months they have expanded their operations relying on some new talent to breathe life into our website. Two such stars, unearthed in the valleys of the Tawe in Wales have been Mark Pitman and Abigail Davies. Talk about knowing their subject, these two could win Mastermind, University Challenge and Blankety Blank on their own with their knowledge of the Welsh game at all levels.

What's wrong with stopping in inside lane to take a snap?

As a token of their gratitude I was sent down the M4 to take the team out as a thank you. Some companies whisk their staff off to Las Vegas for a few days of sin, others arrange a weekend on the piss in Prague, and more refined corporations take their key people on a trip to Glyndebourne. GTC? Well how could we really grumble about a trip to see Port Talbot Town versus Llanelli, the Flanking Swansea Derby.

Port Talbot isn’t a place on the tourist map. For those of you who have travelled down to Swansea and beyond to the delights of the Gower you will have passed Port Talbot on the M4. It is that bit just after Bridgend where the huge chimneys of the steelworks rise up and puncture the sky. Once you see them, hang a left and drive down toward the “beach”. Yes, Port Talbot has a beach and actually if you stand in a place where the steelworks cannot be seen, the view across Swansea Bay to the exclusive Mumbles is quite pleasant. Just a few hundred yards from the Port Talbot Riviera is the homely GenQuip, home of Port Talbot Town.

Make sure you do head for the right set of floodlights though as just a stone’s throw away (quite literally), is the Marstons Stadium, home to Division One team Afan Lido and fierce rivals of Port Talbot Town.  Apart from the two teams in Dundee I have never seen two closer sides in the UK.  And with Afan doing quite well this season there is a chance this old rivalry will see the light of day next season.

The Genquip in all its glory

Welsh football is at a bit of a crossroads.  The perennial argument over the validity of a league where your four biggest clubs actually play elsewhere is a constant thorn in the side of the FAW.  And here is a fact I learnt this week.  Neither, Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County or Wrexham can play in Europe as it stands today.  Because essentially they are simply “on loan” to the English leagues, but because they play in these leagues they cannot play in the Welsh Cup.  So when Cardiff City played in the 2009 FA Cup final they wouldn’t have been given a Europa League spot if they would have won.  Harsh but you can see how the only way to make the league stronger is to stick by your guns.

The Welsh Premier League has been quite a competitive competition with three different winners in the past three seasons.  This season Bangor City seem nailed on to make that four in four as they lead the division by some way as the season enters the final few games.  Port Talbot have never had the honour, with last season’s third place finish their best ever.

Could we class this as an European Football Weekend?  Wales is in Europe, it was the weekend and we were here to see football.  The English invasion had started, although it was a week early for the main attraction due to take place in Cardiff next Saturday.

After a very pleasant afternoon with a Celebrity Masterchef Finalist (my lips are sealed who, why and where) I arrived in Port Talbot around 6pm and immediately saw the away supporters having an ice cream on the lido.  This was going to be a keenly fought game between 4th place Llanelli from just down the M4 and 6th place Town.  The two third season split meant that Port Talbot in 6th place actually had less points than seventh place Airbus, and could quite easily finish the season with less than 8th and 9th place.  The visitors, on the other hand were nine points adrift of third (the last European spot) so had little to play for.

Ultras warning

Port Talbot Town are famous for their vocal, loyal and extremely passionate fans, widely regarded as some of the best in the league. The faction of Ultras, who call themselves the Burns Road Enders or Burners bring a bit of life to an otherwise snoozy league and with a few Reds fans in town we hoped it would be a decent atmosphere.

Llanelli, managed by 44 year old ex-Swansea City player Andy Legg, had been to the top of the Welsh League and back down again.  Champions in 2007/08 they had struggled with consistently since, playing in a town that is overshadowed by the Rugby team, the Scarlets.  It is also the home town of one of our favourite Twitter friends, Sophie Dee, who sent a message of good luck to her team pre-match all the way from LA via Twitter.

Excuse me mate, that's my seat

We parked up with surprising ease in the road next to the stadium.  Strange – I’d have expected it to be busier.  Our names were on the list so we passed through the hallowed portal with ease to be met with the vista of the ground.  Two decent size covered stands and two open ends.  It would not look out of place in the Blue Square Bet South (or North).  Behind the north goal was the clubhouse, with a small terrace allowing fans to have a beer and watch the game.  On the far side cars were parking up next to the main stand.  Hang on, cars were actually parked on the hill facing the ground.  So that is where they all were!  In a scene that I have only ever seen at Kent CCC St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury, people could drive their cars in and sit inside, with their flasks and larva bread and enjoy the game from there.

The team news saw Andy Legg take his place in the Llanelli starting line up, along with ex-Welsh International Jason Bowen (a combined age of 82), whilst Abi was able to update us on the progress of ex-Swans in the Port Talbot side including Casey Thomas (on loan from the Swans) and Luke Bowen.

There was also one other famous name in the ground.  Michael Sheen, no relation to Charlie of course but one of the finest current British actors.  Famous for his roles as Brian Clough in the Damned United, and Tony Blair in The Queen, Sheen could have easily taken a different career direction.  He was offered a trial at Arsenal FC after being spotted by Tony Adams’ Dad during a family holiday at Pontin’s on the Isle of Wight.  He recalled: “I was wearing a Swansea kit at the time, so everyone called me Swansea, which I hated. Tony Adams was playing against me and I skinned him a few times, so I must have made an impression.” Deciding not to take the trial as it would have meant the family leaving Port Talbot for London,so he stayed. A justified decision I think.

Port Talbot Town 0 Llanelli 0 – Genquip Stadium – Friday 18th March 2011

Blue moon?

A game high on excitement but low on goal scoring chances was a good summary of the game by Mr Pitman, and that says it all really.  We stood with the Borne Enders, who despite their name took up their place in the main stand, making quite a noise.  A bumper crowd of nearly 450 on a pleasant nice just wanted a goal.  In all honesty there really wasn’t one effort bar a Llanelli free kick in the second half that came close.

I didn’t realise Legg was playing at first until he launched one of those throw ins.  Rory Delap eat your head out.  Legg held the world record for the longest record throw in for nearly eight years after an effort of 44.6m, which as any good school boy will know is 144 feet, essentially from the half way line to the goal line.  Where as Delap relies on a flat trajectory, Legg’s effort have height and have provided countless goals over the years.  And here he was again tonight, rolling back the years (he is actually a good player and adds other values to the team unlike Delap).

I have never met anyone who lived, breathed, talked and probably snoozed with so much passion for a team than Abi had for the Swans.  Her knowledge of the team was immense and we are not just talking about recent history, but going back to the glory days of Toshack, Leighton James and her favourite, Alan Curtis.  Her early summary of on-loan striker Casey Thomas provided absolutely spot on. The twenty year old had only played one game for the Championship club and lacked a clinical finish which is why he was here on loan.

The best view in the house

Half time came and went and discussions were had about the impact of the game here (and in money-bags Neath) about the impact it would have if Swansea City were to reach the Premier League.  Probably not much was the consensus as teams around would simply move their games to accommodate, although the number of 3pm kick offs on a Saturday in the Premier League is so few that 3pm on a Saturday would still be the norm for FAW teams.

The second half continued much in the same vein as the first half.  Tackles were mistimed, rather than deliberate and although the yellow card came out a few times there was no maliciousness in the game.  I had predicted a draw pre-match and I would have been a very happy man if I had put my winnings from the Gold Cup (Long Run at 7/2 thank you very much) on the outcome.

Full time and after presenting both Abi and Mark with their lavish “thank you” presents from GTC Media it was time for me to head back to the big city, via nineteen sets of roadworks (yep I kept count to stay awake).

As they say in these parts, “nos i maes i mewn Cymru ydy mo pawb am scoring”

You can follow Mark Pitman and Abi Davies on Twitter.

More pictures from the evening can be found here.

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