With not much happening in the world of Welsh football as clubs around the nation wait to find out if the FAW will be promoting and relegating teams based on the points-per-game league tables, we look back on another famed away day for Port Talbot Town supporters. Brandon Arthur, Liam Griffiths, Craig Mapstone and Anthony Tippet look back on a pre-season friendly across the border as the Blues ran out 3-0 winners at Paulton Rovers in the latest edition of The Fans Who Were There.
What are your first thoughts when this game is mentioned?
“Get all the lads together because this is going to be a jolly boys’ outing” recalls Anthony.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much what I remember going into this friendly” says Brandon. “It was just a cracking away day that had everything you could have wanted to be honest. Good numbers, vocal in the stands and a great performance on the pitch.”
Craig remembers this one being a “good trip to a proper club over the border” and for Griff “it was funny as what really drew the boys to the 10.30 bus that morning was an opportunity to cross the bridge for the first time since England were dumped out of the World Cup in the group stages that summer. The problem was that the supporters at Paulton were so friendly that any songs mocking their nation’s early exit would have been savage.”
Anything you can tell us about the trips there and back?
“I think it always made a nice change not having to trek through the windy roads of our beautiful Welsh country which probably made it a puke-free trip for myself!” remembers Craig.
Griff echoes similar sentiments describing how “it was nice not having to wake up at 6am to get to an away game! Back in the WPL, distances to games could range from a five minute walk to five hour drive so this was a nice change.”
“There something special about having all of the boys on a bus together and we’ve done that many a time over the years, but to share the bus with the players like this was quite unique” recalls Brandon. “I’ve gone up to North Wales on painstaking five-hour journeys with 4 or 5 of us travelling but having 20 or so of us on the bus with the players was a brilliant experience. I remember Daniel Sheehan bursting out into one of our popular chants as the journey home neared an end which was all the thanks we needed for our support that day.”
Anthony also has memories of the “great banter on the bus and there was loads of beer flowing. It was also nice to catch up and meet some new supporters.”
Just how unique of a friendly was this one?
“The cool thing about this was that it was nice to have a friendly that wasn’t against Swansea or Cardiff reserves!” says Griff. “It also gave us a good indication on how far up the English pyramid that our squad at the time could compete at. So obviously, seeing them demolish the opposition that day settled any doubters once and for all.”
Anthony describes how the fixture was “very unique and random. It was very odd when the friendlies were released and we end up playing in some sleepy town in England!”
“You don’t get to play sides under the English FA banner and we pretty much only get that chance these days through pre-season” states Craig. “Paulton is our equivalent of a pre-season tour in another continent!”
Brandon also remembers “being very excited about getting the opportunity to watch the Bleus across the border. It was great going to another nation as on top of supporting our club, we also felt like we were representing Wales which felt quite big. There was almost something of an added edge for a friendly.”
Do you remember much about the game itself?
“The game was good from what I can remembers” says Anthony. “We gave them a hiding and Craig Hughes scored a worldie I think!”
Brandon remembers events slightly differently, stating “It was a great game right from the off. McCreesh gave us the lead very early on and I remember we celebrated that one quite joyously despite being the other side of the ground. I think it was Borelli that scored a beauty late on. The game is also remembered for having a scuffle and two players getting sent off in the first half! Our Casey Thomas had to miss four league games then because this was considered an ‘international friendly’ if I recall.”
Griff recalls how “we were spoiled rotten that day. It felt like the goals were on tap and it’s just a shame that no points were up for grabs that day.”
Craig’s memories are less clear, “to be honest you can ask me about the last league game and I’ll struggle to remember moments of play, let alone for a friendly six years ago!”
Any funny memories to share of the day?
“Man! During the warmups I jumped onto the pitch to knock a ball back to the Paulton keeper and as I jumped back up into the stand, I completely ripped my cargo shorts” Craig recalls. “One of the flags we had was converted into a skirt for me for the rest of the day. It got plenty of attention from the pensioners post-match back at their club!”
Griff remembers how “this was the first game that the fans got a taste of the soon to be traditional warm down, something one of our top supporters Andy Jones was inspired to do by the Paulton Rovers players. As they stretched and jogged away the strain of a 3-0 defeat, they were joined by pretty much all the boys that travelled that day. Andy was taking charge of the drill instructions. I couldn’t imagine us being able to do that down the Liberty Stadium, can you?”
Anthony also fondly recalls this incident, “didn’t a few supporters run on the pitch after the game to lead a warm down session with the players?”
“Yeah, those are the two incidents that definitely stick out as comical memories!” says Brandon. “I think I can still hear Craig’s shorts ripping and the initial reactions of some of the players when Andy started conducting a warm down were tremendous.”
Why do you think this was a popular trip for supporters?
Anthony sums it up nicely saying “this was a popular trip as it’s random and only just over the Severn Bridge so it wasn’t far. A bus was put on and having a day out with the club and beers is hard to say no to.”
“It’s help up over time as a fan favourite because it was what any football would have wanted” recalls Griff. “It was a relatively short journey, blazing sun and a 3-0 win celebrated in the beer garden. It ticks all of the boxes.”
“It was just perfect to be honest” says Brandon. “A couple of hours on the bus made for some good comradery and got us excited for the match and the season to come. It was a nice way of bonding with the players, was cheap and just a perfect summer’s day outing. The result was the cherry on top.”
Craig describes similarly how this was “an easy trip with no concern about the result. It was a nice day to hit the beer again and meeting up with boys you hadn’t seen for months between seasons.”
What was the highlight of the day?
“It’s difficult to pick just one” says Brandon. “Proudly singing the Welsh anthem whilst supporting your local club in England was pretty special, even if it was only a friendly. The comedy moments along with the party bus atmosphere on the bus back were all wonderful.”
Craig remembers “a few of the boys crashing a bunch of wedding photo shoots when we were dropping players off in Cardiff post-match. I seem to remember a lot of topless football supporters to trying to get in with the bride… and groom.”
For Griff, it was “probably Andy’s post-match interviews on the bus home which are still on Facebook for anyone that wants to see it. Walking around filming himself interviewing the boys using his first for a microphone. He managed to get a range of opinions from “we were very brilliant” to “it was alright, I guess” before the bus erupted into chants of Port Talbot Town.”
“The highlight of the day had to be the fans doing the warm down on the pitch or just the general banter on the bus there and back” remembers Anthony.
How were the fans welcomed?
“In a pleasant surprise we were well received by the home supporters” describes Griff. “It turned out that they had heard tales of the “world famous” Port Talbot fans and couldn’t wait to greet us. The problem was that they were keen to carry on our conversation past kick off, so it was a little tricky trying to sneak off to our chosen stand to watch the match.”
Brandon remembers how “it was probably the nicest welcome I’ve ever had on an away day. Being told “welcome to Paulton” and having my hand shook by a friendly old lady was unlike anything you got in the Welsh Premier League!”
“The locals were as good as gold” Anthony recalls. “We chatted to quite a few of them about some of the respective club histories and in general they were just a really nice buch.”
Craig fondly recollects how “the supporters and officials of Paulton were a top bunch. Their keeper was desperate for some pyrotechnics during the game. That was different!”
Would you be in favour of another friendly outing over the border?
“It would be my first choice if I was in charge of organising pre-season fixtures to be honest” states Brandon. “It would be great to have an overnight trip across the border representing Wales and showing both patriotism and support for our team. I’m sure it would be hugely popular amongst supporters and players at the club now.”
“Oh abosolutely!” Griff says emphatically. “As long as we can arrange it to go ahead after the next time England are knocked out of a major tournament…”
“Yup, I’ll send a few emails over the summer” says Craig, whilst Anthony is ‘definitely in favour of another trip out over the border. There’s nothing better than getting everyone together on the bus and having a great laugh and day out!”
Anything else to add?
“I think it was the first and last trip for one of Benji’s friends and also where Griff debuted the Cesaro swing, but I enjoyed anyways!” says Craig.
Brandon adds “shout out to Paulton for their burgers. Top notch quality. I think it was called the whimpy burger – divine.”
“If we can get any friendlies played next season then ones like these would be preferred over teams from around Swansea, Cardiff and Port Talbot” concludes Anthony.
Check out the video pre-match as the teams walk out.