Merthyr 3 North Leigh 2

Merthyr Town FCFew grounds enjoy the great views from a terrace like Merthyr Town.

But the crumbling bank withthat glorious vista down the Rhondda Valley is now officially out of bounds due to league regulations.

Otherwise the rest of the ground is much as it was in the 1980s – it doesn’t look fresh, a bit down at heel but the new pitch is the saving grace.

Penydarren Park revamp

The pitch is artificial 3G grass, installed last year, and Merthyr played at Cinderford in Gl0ucestershire until October, while work was carried out.

Work being carried out in July last year
Work being carried out in July last year

20140105-124006.jpgThe previous club went bust in 2010 and the fans regrouped and the side are now in the Southern Football League Division One South and West.

Rivals include towns like Taunton, Tiverton and Mangotsfield – something of a far cry from the late 80s when, as a mate, insists they were the best team in South Wales – they beat Newport in the Welsh Cup final in 1987 and famously defeated Italians Atalanta Bergamo in the European Cup Winners Cup that year.

The Cigg-e Stadium!
The Cigg-e Stadium!

Fifteen years at least since I was here – to see a teenage Robert Earnshaw play for Cardiff in the FAW Premier Cup or whatever it was called.

And I recall Gary Speed playing here in 1990 for Wales under-21s against Poland, the day before he made his debut for the national side against Costa Rica.

Penydarren Park is now renamed the Cigg-e Stadium with sponsorship from the makers of the prosthetic fag.

The £500,000 for the club’s revamp which has seen the introduction of the 3G pitch comes from the Ffos y Fran community fund.

This is supplied under an agreement between the  borough council and a firm extracting coal from nearby Ffos y Fran.

Possibly the only artwork tribute to the Welsh Cup in Wales - on the wall next to the terrace cafe
Possibly the only artwork tribute to the Welsh Cup in Wales – on the wall next to the terrace cafe 

Gavin Williams makes his debut

Merthyr were second in the table and the Oxfordshire visitors sixth before the match.

The signing of former Welsh international Gavin Williams, 33, a local lad, gave this game extra spice.

It was hailed as the club’s biggest in 20 years by manager Garry Shephard, with Williams’s most successful spells being at West Ham and Yeovil.

He played twice for Wales – getting a run-out in the 0-0 against Slovenia in 2005 and then playing the second half in the fiasco against Cyprus in Limassol.

North Leigh's keeper keeps Merthyr out
North Leigh’s keeper keeps Merthyr out

This is one of the great forgotten pathetic nights of Welsh football – not remembered because very few fans went and those that did have done their best to bury the pain. Thank God it was  only a friendly.

We lost 1-0 and it should have been more. He didn’t play again for Wales and may have been unlucky not to feature more often but the reveral was certainly none of his fault.

His professional class showed throughout the game, particularly when he moved with the ball with great economy of effort and balance – a marked contrast to most players.

Kerry Morgan was the other stand-out player. North Leigh, somewhat against the run of play, took the lead when Morgan Williams struck an impressively angled shot into the corner from just inside the area.

Shortly after, Merthyr keeper Giles Cutlan came for a wickedly swirling cross and missed it, the wily Woodley from North Leigh neatly passed it into the net on the volley. It looked like a key error.

But Morgan pulled the Martyrs back in to it. He had a few runouts for Swansea several years back and last year was at Bath City.

Before the break he gave Merthyr hope with a header from a dinked-in cross to pull one back.

Then he followed that up with a superb swerving shot from the edge of the box for the second and a 2-2 half-time score.20140105-123921.jpg

Centre half Steve Williams was pushed in the box and that gave Morgan the chance of a hat-trick. The visiting keeper had tried to intimidate him by strolling up to take the ball off the penalty spot while the ref fought off the attentions of the North Leigh team’s protestations.

But Morgan kept his head and made it three, celebrating wildly.

A scything tackle saw him booked not long after and he was wisely subbed.

Ian Traylor missed a great chance for 4-2 which would have nailed the game cold as North Leigh were always quite sharp going forward and looked well capable of equalising.

That left the Martyrs to hang on to a game they should have walked away with. Cutlan gave the 450 or so fans kittens with his erratic handling.

Every time he pouched the ball in the tense ten minutes, he straddled it like a rugby player going to ground for a ruck.

He did pull off a good save to seal the win near the end but he gave many by me the heebie-jeebies.

The whistle finally blew. The happy dad next to me said to his young son: “We’re back on top, with a bad keeper.”Merthyr Town FC

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