How I watched football: 2021-22

Blaenau Ffestiniog Amateurs play a match against Llay Welfare in the sunshine at their Cae Clyd stadium; view from the corner flag with the town and mountains in the background

Hiraeth is a Welsh word meaning a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, or a home which maybe never was. I’m not sure it has an antonym, but if it did, that is what I experienced on the last Saturday in August, 2021. Standing in uncharacteristic sunshine, looking over Blaenau Ffestiniog Amateurs’s Cae Clyd ground towards the mountains of Eryri – including the peak of Moelwyn Mawr which I’d been stood on just three hours earlier – I felt a pleasingly strong sense of finally returning home to a place I’d never previously lived.

After nine years of living in South East London I moved to North Wales last summer. It was a move that put me near family, and enabled me to put down roots in a way that London never would. And, for the benefit of those of you who enjoy these annual recaps in particular, it has opened up a world of new football grounds to enjoy, and experience. Much as I grew to love Lewisham, football played against backdrops of mountains and sea, is a real joy after trying to find visual stimulus from the backend of Dulwich Hamlet’s giant Sainsburys or the suburban nothingness that surrounds Cray Valley Paper Mills.

One up shot of this is, as the Doncaster Rovers fans among you will note, I saw my own football team very few times. I actually managed to make it to more games during lockdown than the two I saw in the flesh in 2021-22. There was opportunity to double this total, but the second of those Rovers games was so abject, so devoid of anything to get enthused about, that I abandoned plans to watch them again. If Rovers’ woeful season can be surmised in a moment, it’s the relief felt in my mum’s kitchen when she and I both admitted to each other that actually, neither of us really wanted to put ourselves through the experience of watching Rovers bumble about against Charlton. We went to watch Alfreton play Southport instead. Not an ounce of regret between us. 

So rather than a diary of a Rovers supporter, this year this blog instead offers a snapshot of football across North Wales. Welsh domestic football is a strange beast, one which manages to feel both progressive and yet down to earth at the same time. There’s a definite bounce in interest, coming off the back of a pandemic that locked it away from us, and also the success of the national team; something you can see embodied most strikingly at Colwyn Bay’s Llanelian Road, where having finally embraced Welsh football after years in the English system, Bay are now drawing four figure crowds. 

But its compressed nature – by the fifth tier you’re watching games at grounds like Llysfaen’s Bananabeu which somehow manages to slope in every direction – means it also forces clubs to be humble. I watched Y Rhyl 1879 at their 3,000 capacity home ground against their main title rivals Llannefydd, a club from a tiny Denbighshire hamlet whose pitch doesn’t have so much as a stand. And after watching Ruthin Town defeat Bodedern Athletic in a Welsh Cup tie, I sat in the beer garden of a village pub on Ynys Môn whilst each team’s respective men of the match stood on a picnic table and raced to down a pint of Guinness. Ruthin, it should be noted, are a second tier side.

However, all this, no matter how enjoyable, was merely a long drawn out appetiser for the season’s main course, served up in June, in the pissing rain of Wales’ capital. In the final game of my 2021-22 season my national team did something I’d always dreamed of them doing, but never expected to see. Wales qualified for a World Cup. It makes my move here look less of a homecoming and more of a glory seeking. But so what. That single life-changing moment means that everything that came before in this season was a complete irrelevance; and as a Doncaster Rovers supporter that was certainly a blessed relief.

by Glen Wilson

Below is a photograph from every match I attended this season. No expensive cameras, no special lenses. Just a far from the latest iPhone and the Instagram app.

Match 1 | July

A man and his dog watch a Llandyrnog United player take a corner in a match against Penmaenmawr Phoenix, whilst smoke drifts over from a bonfire in the corner of the latter's Cae Sling ground

Penmaenmawr Phoenix 3-5 Llandyrnog United
Welsh Cup 1st Qualifying Round, Cae Sling

Match 2 | July

Players of Glan Conwy and Abergele compete in the air for a corner on a sunny afternoon at Glan Conwy's Cae Ffwt ground, with the action reflected in the clubhouse windows

Glan Conwy 3-1 Abergele
FAW Amateur Trophy 1st round, Cae Ffwt

Match 3 | September

Betws-y-Coed's number 5 takes a long throw in against Rhos United on a sunny evening at Brookfield Drive

Rhos United 3-0 Betws-y-Coed
North Wales Coast East Football League Division One, Brookfield Drive

Match 4 | July

An old couple – the man standing, the woman seated on a plastic chair – watch Chirk AAA take on Rhos Aelwyd in a Welsh Cup match

Chirk AAA 2-2 Rhos Aelwyd (3-4 on penalties)
Welsh Cup 2nd Qualifying Round, Holyhead Road

Match 5 | August

Two Llandudno Junction players stand with their hands on their heads, whilst a Mochdre Sports player gathers the ball from the back of the net after Sports had equalised in a match at The Flyover Ground

Llandudno Junction 1-1 Mochdre Sports
North Wales Coast East Football League Premier Division, The Flyover

Match 6 | August

Penrhyn Bay Dragons number 10 delivers a corner kick in a match against Llandudno Amateurs at The Oval

Penrhyn Bay Dragons 2-4 Llandudno Amateurs
North Wales Coast East Football League Division One, The Oval

Match 8 | August

A Llanrwst United forward holds off a Llanfairfechan Town defender during a Welsh Cup match

Llanfairfechan Town 1-2 Llanrwst United
Welsh Cup 1st Round, The Recreation Ground

Match 8 | August

A Llandudno Albion player takes a corner against Nantlle Vale at Maesdu Park as the sun sets

Llandudno Albion 1-0 Nantlle Vale
Ardal North West, Maesdu Park

Match 9 | August

Blaenaue Ffestiniog Amateurs take on Llay Welfare at the Cae Clyd ground with the mountains of Snowdonia in the background

Blaenau Ffestiniog Amateurs 1-4 Llay Welfare
Ardal North West, Cae Clyd

Match 10 | September

A Bodedern Athletic player keeps the ball in play against Ruthin Town, whilst ten supporters watch on from a small stand

Bodedern Athletic 4-5 Ruthin Town
Welsh Cup 2nd round, Cae Ty Cristion

Match 11 | September

A steward steps out of a blue gate at Wigan's DW Stadium

Wigan Athletic 2-1 Doncaster Rovers
Football League One, DW Stadium

Match 12 | September

Supporters watch a match from the terrace at Conwy Borough's Y Morfa ground

Conwy Borough 0-1 The New Saints
Welsh Cup 3rd round, Y Morfa

Match 13 | October

A group of five people watch Colwyn Bay and Llandudno play a match in front of a big crowd at Llanelian Road

Colwyn Bay 1-2 Llandudno
Cymru North, Llanelian Road

Match 14 | October

A Mochdre Sports forward gets ready to attempt an overhead kick at goal during a match against Bro Cernyw

Mochdre Sports 5-1 Bro Cernyw
North Wales Coast East Football League Premier Division, Mochdre Sports Association

Match 15 | October

A large crowd watches Colwyn Bay take on Cardiff Met at Llanelian Road

Colwyn Bay 1-0 Cardiff Met
Welsh Cup 4th round, Llanelian Road

Match 16 | October

A Llysfaen forward holds off a Penrhyn Bay Dragon defender on Llysfaen's sloping home field

Llysfaen 7-1 Penrhyn Bay Dragons
North Wales Coast East Football League Division One, The Bananabeu

Match 17 | October

A man and his son seated on a picnic table, both in bobble hats, watch Conwy Borough take on Bangor City at night

Conwy Borough 4-2 Bangor City
Cymru North, Y Morfa

Match 18 | October

Llanrwst United clear a corner against Rhostyllen on a sunny afternoon in front of a flooded adjacent field

Llanrwst United 1-5 Rhostyllen
Ardal North West, Gwydyr Park

Match 19 | November

The Albion Rovers goalkeeper gets ready for a Cwmbran Town attack, as seen from behind the Albion Rovers goal

Albion Rovers 1-2 Cwmbran Town
Gwent County League Premier Division, Kimberley Park

Match 20 | November

A spectator enters the Cardiff City Stadium from the concourse

Wales 5-1 Belarus
FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifying, Cardiff City Stadium

Match 21 | November

Wales on the attack against Belgium in front of a large Canton Stand crowd at the Cardiff City Stadium

Wales 1-1 Belgium
FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifying, Cardiff City Stadium

Match 22 | November

An assistant referee gestures at players from Llandudno Junction and Penmaenmawr Phoenix during a match

Llandudno Junction 3-2 Penmaenmawr Phoenix
North Wales Coast East Football League Premier Division, The Flyover

Match 23 | November

Betws-y-Coed play Llanelwy Athletic in front of a backdrop of autumn trees and woodland

Betws-y-Coed 0-3 Llanelwy Athletic
North Wales Coast East Football League Division One, Cae Llan

Match 24 | December

Llandudno successfully defend a corner against Guilsfield at Maesdu Park

Llandudno 0-0 Guilsfield
Cymru North, Maesdu Park

Match 25 | December

The Glan Conwy goalkeeper makes a save against Penmaenmawr Phoenix with Penmaenmawr mountain in the background

Penmaenmawr Phoenix 2-1 Glan Conwy
North Wales Coast East Football League Premier Division at Cae Sling

Match 26 | January

Mochdre Sports number 11 takes a throw in during a match against Kinmel Bay

Kinmel Bay 1-5 Mochdre Sports
North Wales Coast East Football League Premier Division at Y Morfa Leisure Centre

Match 27 | January

Two spectators watch on as Y Rhyl 1879 take on Llannefydd at Belle Vue

Y Rhyl 1879 1-1 Llannefydd
North Wales Coast East Football League Premier Division, Belle Vue

Match 28 | February

A view from high behind one goal as Prestatyn Sports attack against Meliden

Prestatyn Sports 2-0 Meliden
North Wales Coast East Football League Premier Division, The Meadows

Match 29 | February

Spectators in hats and gloves watch, and one films on his phone, as Colwyn Bay attack during a night game against Buckley Town

Colwyn Bay 3-1 Buckley Town
Cymru North, Llanelian Road

Match 30 | February

A full rainbow arcs above Conwy Borough's Y Morfa ground as they play Llandudno

Conwy Borough 0-4 Llandudno
Cymru North, Y Morfa

Match 31 | February

A view through the stand at Prestatyn Sports Bastion Gardens as they take on Colwyn Bay

Prestatyn Town 0-3 Colwyn Bay
Cymru North, Bastion Gardens

Match 32 | March

Llanrwst United's number two takes a corner against St Asaph City on a sunny afternoon

St Asaph City 1-1 Llanrwst United
Ardal North West, Roe Plas Meadow

Match 33 | March

Three men stand watching the game in a gap between the two stands at Llandudno's Maesdu Park

Llandudno 3-0 Colwyn Bay
Cymru North, Maesdu Park

Match 34 | March

Spectators and players watch on as Y Felinehli's number seven gets ready to take a late penalty in front of a backdrop of brown trees

Y Felinheli 4-3 Llay Welfare
Ardal North West, Cae Seilo

Match 35 | March

Doncaster Rovers Josh Martin runs at the Fleetwood Town defence in front of the large main stand at Highbury Stadium

Fleetwood Town 0-0 Doncaster Rovers
Football League One, Highbury

Match 36 | March

The New Saints number three takes a corner against Colwyn Bay in front of a packed terrace behind the goal at Rhyl's Belle Vue ground

The New Saints 1-0 Colwyn Bay
Welsh Cup Semi-Final, Belle Vue (Rhyl)

Match 37 | March

Wales fans in red yellow and green bucket hats watch on as Wales play Austria at Cardiff City Stadium

Wales 2-1 Austria
FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifying Play-Off Semi-Final, Cardiff City Stadium

Match 38 | March

The view of the match from the back of the covered terrace at Alfreton Town's ground is partially obscured by a big yellow and black flag belonging to the visitors Southport

Alfreton Town 2-2 Southport
National League North, North Street

Match 39 | March

Wales supporters in hoods stand out in the rain during a match between Wales C and England C at Caernarfon Town's Oval

Wales ‘C’ 4-0 England ‘C’
Semi-Pro International, The Oval (Caernarfon Town)

Match 40 | April

Colwyn Bay players return to the field from the tunnel; a disused fixtures board is propped up behind the small corner stand at Llanelian Road

Colwyn Bay 5-0 Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant
Cymru North, Llanelian Road

Match 41 | April

The sun sets over Llanelian Road, home of Colwyn Bay, as Y Rhyl 1879 and LLannefydd play out a local cup final

Y Rhyl 1879 2-0 Llannefydd
Cookson Cup Final, Llanelian Road (Colwyn Bay)

Match 42 | April

Long shadows on the pitch as Mochdre Sports take on Penmaenmawr Phoenix in a late spring evening fixture

Mochdre Sports 1-0 Penmaenmawr Phoenix
North Wales Coast East Football League Premier Division, Mochdre Sports Association

Match 43 | April

The Bethesda Athletic goalkeeper parries away a well struck free kick as the other players watch on during a mach played at Mynydd Landygai's ground with the mountains of Snowdonia behind

Bethesda Rovers 0-7 Bethesda Athletic
North Wales Coast West Football League Division One, The Playing Field (Mynydd Llandegai)

Match 44 | May

Glan Conwy 2-2 Penmaenmawr Phoenix
North Wales Coast East Football League Premier Division, Cae Ffwt

Match 45 | May

CPD Llanberis 1-4 Bodedern Athletic
North Wales Coast West Football League Premier Division Cup, Ffordd Padarn

Match 46 | June

Wales fans celebrate in the Cardiff City Stadium, and a red smoke bomb goes off, as the scoreboard above the Canton Stand reads 'Qualifield'

Wales 1-0 Ukraine
FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifying Play-Off Final, Cardiff City Stadium

Further photographs from each of the games featured in this blog can be found on the popular STAND fanzine, Instagram account

popular STAND on Instagram

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