I’m an ex Cardiff City fan, who spent most of my formative years watching the Bluebirds home and away – a devotee of the Church of Ninian Park. My first match was in the 75/76 season, and I went with my uncle and my grandad, and stood on the Bob Bank. They stood alongside their mates, who debated the bad decisions, castigated the lazy player, and jumped high in the air when we occasionally scored. I can’t for the life of me remember who we were playing in that first game, and I’m sure I was more fascinated by the various chants and songs that reverberated around the rusty ground. The smells we’re all OXO, cigarette smoke, stale beery blokes, and the odd whiff of piss. Despite all that, the 6 year old boy from Barry was hooked. For the next 38 years, variously as a season ticket holder or not, I was never far away from the footy. More accurately I was never far away from Cardiff City – I had no second team, unlike most of my friends – just Cardiff. In all those 38 years we lurched from poor, to reasonable, but mostly we were a second tier team, but I really didn’t care. I was a committed ‘City ’til I die’ kinda guy.
Then the ‘football finance revolution’ started to kick in, and my passion for the game ebbed. I kept my season tickets going, but felt less and less like going. I tried to do something about it – I helped establish Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust, but increasingly my heart wasn’t in it. City’s first season in the top flight in my lifetime proved to be the beginning of the end of my relationship with the Bluebirds, and last season I found myself giving my tickets away to friends rather than going myself. The final straw came when I was a guest of a friend watching Gloucester City play Worcester City (a local derby). Gloucester play at Cheltenham Town’s ground at the moment, but I found everything about the match more enjoyable than my visits to the Cardiff City Stadium – the atmosphere, the banter, the amount of families in attendance, and the affinity between the players and the fans – the fans’ favourite was also a local secondary school teacher.
My long marriage to Cardiff City AFC had ended – there wasn’t anyone else involved; I’d stopped loving them…. They weren’t the team I knew at the start – they’d lost their soul.
Modern football had lost its soul – when family members took their youngsters to the game; when players came from local schools to represent their boyhood team; when dodgy burnt burgers were the best fare on offer; and when Cardiff City were more interested in their supporters from Canton, Llanerdyn, Merthyr & Barry, rather than those from Malaysia or elsewhere.
Yesterday, I watched Barry Town United take on Aberdare Town in the second round of the Welsh Cup. I met Barry’s real ‘Gavin’, Hammers supporting Andy Green for a couple of pints up the Tynny (Tynewydd Inn) beforehand. Both of us chatted through our first experiences of watching Barry. Mine was just prior to my inaugural visit to Ninian Park, and I remember getting Jimmy Andrews’ autograph – the Cardiff City manager of the time was scouting for talent in Barry. My last visit to watch Barry Town was probably the first round proper of the FA Cup when they played Reading at Jenner Park. That was an age ago – I was still in school.
This match against Aberdare Town in the Welsh Cup was Barry’s first back at their home, Jenner Park, since the installation of the 3G pitch, and a bumper crowd of 446 turned up to watch. Given we’d met for a drink beforehand, we hustled in at one min to two, and paid the turnstile man (who’d sold out of programmes) a fiver each. Here’s the first thing I noticed….
People knew each other – Andy chatted to about twenty people before we got to our seats. One of them, Terry is Barry Town’s bugler. Not only that, he sold the raffle tickets, and I even spotted him offering Damon Searle a reviving sweet when he came off towards the end of the match (to be fair, Damon had put in a shift, and looked like he needed a mars bar!)
Next thing – Kids were everywhere – some even in their Halloween costumes. They weren’t all watching the game; some of them seemed to be playing their own games of tag, rather than watch the match unfolding in the sunshine. Families were there supporting the local team. People were friendly, and there was more singing than I heard at the Cardiff City Stadium last time I went.
It wasn’t all about the game on the pitch was my next observation – there was a parade of affiliated football teams, girls (kitted out in Argentina-esque strips), boys and the disabled team at half time, and they seemed to lap up the applause as they walked around the running track. When I popped to the clubhouse for my OXO, a coffee for Andy & a couple of Kit-Kat Chunky bars (oh yes!), the team behind the counter were excellent, and I could pay for the cuppas & snacks from coins in my pocket rather than needing to take out a second mortgage as often seemed the case at Cardiff City.
Then to the game itself. Barry Town United may have a relatively short history, but Barry has a rich footballing heritage stretching back over 100 years. Jenner Park has seen the likes of Porto, Aberdeen & Reading visit amongst others. But yesterday a record was broken. It was the first time a Barry Town player scored five goals at Jenner Park in its history. Barry’s No. 9 James Dixon, a worthy man of the match winner was given the honour of being substituted just before the end so he could enjoy the standing ovation from the fans. Well done to the manager, Gavin Chesterfield for this well deserved accolade.
Nine goals in any game represents great value for my fiver, but the whole match was of a pretty decent quality too. I’m not sure Aberdare were five goals worse than Barry – sure the better team won, but they were worthy opponents, unlucky to be playing against a team, whose centre forward seemed to be able to score at will. The pitch performed well, with 3G pellets rising from every bouncing ball or scraping of studs.
As we were buying our raffles tickets from Terry at the final whistle, Andy asked what makes fans stick to clubs. For me, I was taken in by the sense of community spirit from all involved – from the hard working club secretary, David Cole who was the best dressed steward at the game, the team on the pitch, the ladies selling the Kit-Kats, the programme editor, to Terry the bugler/raffle ticket salesman/sweet giver outer. Being part of a community is what I once felt at Cardiff City, but no longer.
You’ve got me Barry Town United at the first attempt – if I can help in any way, just ask (I can’t bugle, mind!)