Saturday 22nd August 2009 kop 14.30

Cymru Alliance


FLINT TOWN UNITED 3 (S Thelwell 14 PD Williams 45 Beck 86)

Att 54

Entry £3

Programme £1

In the days of the Welsh Alliance hop there was one club that GroundhopUK notably failed to visit and that was Bethesda. There was nothing sinister it it, the club suddenly folded just before the final hop in 2015, although the rejigging of the event to cover their absence did indirectly cause a real schmozzle at Llanllyfni when the league told us all we were watching a cup game, when that wasn’t quite the case. That is to be regretted but I had further regret, I knew just how lovely Maes Meurig is.

But back in 2009 I had an unusual reason to be in North Wales. Back then my now ex-wife used to buy a weekend ticket to the “V Festival” at Weston Park near Shifnal. I preferred standing in muddy fields watching football rather than standing in muddy fields watching bands so my job was to drop her off each morning at the festival, and organise whatever hotel we were staying in each evening. I’d then collect her at 11pm when the music finished. That gave me roughly 3 hours to get to a game.  Or putting it another way on this day I watched Bethesda, and she watched Oasis’ final ever gig!

According to groundhoppers’ logic, Bethesda is just down the road from Shifnal, which it is, just the M54 that comes the A5 and the football ground is right by the main road too. The logic dictates that we minimise thoughts of the 95 mile drive from rural Shropshire to the foothills of Snowdonia!

You’re in Welsh-speaking slate country here. You pass the Penrhyn Quarry on the way to the ground, once the world’s biggest slate quarry. They still produce the most beautiful plum slate here but the concern is much smaller since a 3 year strike (still the longest in British Industrial History) in 1900. The dispute over working conditions saw thousands of miners laid-off and new mines opened up that employed many of the now unemployed staff. In its peak the mine employed upwards of 3,000 quarrymen, but these days the figure is around 200.

You can see the hills, stepped through slate extraction in the background to many of the photos. It’s not as obvious as at Blaenau Ffestiniog where you’d have difficulty taking a photo that didn’t include slate, but the backdrop is equally stunning. And like at Ffestiniog there’s an zip wire attraction at the old slate quarry, I wonder if either would take my weight?

I was far from being the only groundhopper there. My reason for being there was one of geography but many of the other hoppers had other motives.  Their reasoning was one of paper, as Bethesda had just been promoted from one league- the Welsh Alliance where producing a programme is optional to the second-tier Cymru Alliance where it was mandatory.

Given that they’d won their place in the league only after a ground grading appeal and their stay was to be only for one season, the game attracted the paper chasers, a subset of the hobby who do not consider the ground ticked off unless they get a copy of the match programme. There’s a subset amongst German groundhoppers around match tickets by the way, I assume its part of the male psyche to collect things.

To reduce a trip to Bethesda down to whether there’s a programme or not is to do the place a massive disservice. Noone could visit and not enjoy where you are, it is genuinely stunning in whichever direction you care to look in. It was a wonderful afternoon out. I arrived back at Weston Park to listen to Oasis’ final song, a cover of “I am the Walrus” from the pick-up point.

I’d be remiss to fail to contrast what happened to the completing clubs since. Flint stayed in the Cymru Alliance then moved into the new Cymru North for last season. They finished a fairly distant second behind Prestatyn Town but since Bastian Gardens failed ground grading Flint will play their first season in the Welsh top flight since 1998.

Bethesda returned to the Welsh Alliance after this season falling foul of the knock-on effect of the Welsh Premier reducing their numbers from 18 to 12. They returned to the Welsh Alliance, and after folding in 2015 have picked up the pieces in the Gwynedd League. They’ve appointed a new management team and will no doubt try to regain lost glories next season. It goes without saying that Bethesda should be on any groundhopper’s bucket list- programme or no programme! I’ll leave you to decide whether to go on the zip wire first!