Tuesday, 20 September 2016

#34 Nou Camp d'Inca, CE Constància

CE Constància 0 SD Formentera 3
Sunday 18th September 2016, Tercera Division Group 11

An abnormally overcast day on the beautiful Spanish island of Mallorca allowed me to persuade my family to take an afternoon out from our normal holiday activities and indulge me with some local forth division fare.

Club Deportivo Constancia are based in the central Mallorcan town of Inca. Formed in 1922 they have spent most of their existence in the Spanish regional leagues but were last in the Segunda División B for two seasons between 2012 and 2014. Their ground Nou Camp d'Inca looked like the best Tercera Division Group 11 ground within a sensible drive from our apartment and the best choice of local football available to us as RC Mallorca's late kick-off that day wouldn't leave us enough time to get our flight. Their opponents for the afternoon were SD Formentera from the Pityusic Islands. Rather impressively, Formentera have been involved in four successive play-offs since gaining promotion from the fifth-tier in 2012, including as league champions in 2014/15.

The Spanish fourth division is quite a staggering thing. Consisting of 18 regional leagues of 20 teams running parallel to one another. The play-offs look particularly harrowing, as the 72 teams that finish in 1st to 4th position in their respective leagues duke it out for 9 promotion places. 

There were scarce signs of activity as Dad and I arrived at the ground 15 minutes before kick-off and indeed no one collecting entry fees at what looked like the main gates. Happily Dad was able to pull his usual technique of accosting a local and speaking simple English phrases to them in a dodgy Spanish accent. The poor unsuspecting gentleman was at last able to see us on our way when Dad added the miming of a football being kicked to the exchange. He pointed us up a road and said 300 metres.

Unfortunately as I would later be told by another friendly local, the grand old traditional stadium wouldn't be played on by the team until November and we would be watching the match on the largest of three training pitches. This was quite understandable, as the grass on the old pitch was sparse to say the least. Thank you to Chris Clements for this information: it seems that the council has given the club €60k to relay the parched surface.

Here's what you could've won

As for the training ground, there's not much to say. There are two stands either side of the AstroTurf pitch, one that stretches along two thirds of the side opposite where we entered and another one half as long that stands closer to the end farthest from the entrance and is about half as long. This second stand has steps on both sides, so that it overlooks both the main training pitch and the three quarter sized pitch next to it. Both stands feature that kind of super wide terracing that can be comfortably used for sitting or standing, though everyone in attendance this afternoon chose the later. The main stadium could be seen through a fence and is separated from the larger stand by a train track, upon which a train would pass by every 30 minutes or so. Just like being at The Creek!

It became my turn to make an arse out of myself when after being greeted by the fast-talking Spanish ticket seller at the gate I was reduced to nervously yelping "English! Sorry!" and holding two fingers up. The entrance fee was €10 each which was a little more than I was expecting and left me with the uncomfortable feeling that the guy saw an opportunity to make some money out of a dumb tourist (I certainly would of if I were him) but a poster I clocked in the refreshment cabin informed me that €10 was indeed the general admittance. We procured "doos surveysors per fervour" and Dad pointed at some pork and pea pies and asked the lady "Como estas?" thinking that meant "what are these?" when it actually means "how are you?" Honestly Europe is probably better off without us.

I wasn't sure how professional this level of Spanish football would be before the game but I got a good idea just before kick-off when a home player came and handed his mobile phone to his Mum in the stands. Bless.

It only took the away side 25 minutes to get the game started when Constancia's keeper failed to get a hand to a corner which fell to an unmarked Formentera head for an easy opener. There was no chanting as such from the home support but there was a seemingly spontaneous display of slow rhythmic clapping around this point. This somewhat eerie display of devotion did not stop Formentera nearly adding a second 5 minutes later. A striker for the blues got himself in a wonderful central position but failed to steady himself and shot well over.

Constancia pull off one or two testing shots in the first half themselves but the gulf in quality is showing. Every first touch from a Formentera player is silky and their midfielders spread the ball around with confidence whilst Constancia, despite a certain amount of fighting spirit, lack creativity and quality up front. 

This being Spain, the game was stopped fairly frequently for soft fouls. One particularly continental display of handbags occurred when Formentera's number 11 was booked for holding his opponent back around the waist but refused to go to or even look at the referee. This led the snubbed official no other option but to wave the yellow card vaguely over in the players direction from half a pitch away.

Ten minutes into the second half Formentera net their second as a low cross is unspectacularly bundled in. At this point the Constancia ultras bring out their drum which is plaintively beaten throughout the remainder. A doff of the PB cap goes to the drummer himself who looked to have a sprained wrist.

Something that I wish could be taken up in English non-league was the way Constancia announced the winner of their raffle. Rather than getting an old man to read out the winning number over a knackered tannoy, the lady from the beer hut was sent around the stands holding a chalkboard with the number written on in a display reminiscent of Ready 2 Rumble Boxing on the Sega Dreamcast.

Formentera look a pro team, Constancia don't. Physicality and height wise the away team have the better of their hosts. Constancia's best players are a floppy-haired attacking mid whose energetic charges were squandered by the lacklustre forwards. A very young looking right back was also noteworthy, getting forward and passing well in the Leadbitter mould but less hesitant.

I was very surprised late in the second half when Redfoo from the band LMFAO came on for Formentera. I guess he has to take work wherever he can get it these days.

(Missed) Shots, shots, sho-sho-sho-shots!

Despite being a tad whistle-happy I felt the referee had been having a good game until 3 (three) handballs in a row went unnoticed in front of me. Constancia also had two penalty shouts during the match. The first I didn't think was anything but the second was a bit harder to call. An Inca man did incredibly well to control a ball that went behind him and beat off several men (stop sniggering at the back) but the effort made him unbalanced. A medium-strength bodycheck took him to the ground inside the box but I honestly believe he was on his way down anyway. Since being firmly behind the home team since entering the ground, Dad was furious.

Constancia heads were firmly in the downward position during injury time, which allowed a pass from midfield to a loose winger who broke through unchallenged for the easiest one-on-one you'll ever see and that was curtains for Constancia.

Desperate to get a closer look at the stadium I'd come to see, I dragged Dad to the end of the car park where sure enough there was an underpass which lead under the train tracks and into Nou Camp d'Inca proper.
Although ravaged by time this is a fine example of a truly old-fashioned football stadium.

A massive stone bowl featuring an imposing 20-tier terrace at each end with wider terraces on both sides with 650 or so bolted-on seats under a cantilever roof on one side. Because this post is already far too long, I'm going to leave you with some pictures so you can see the place for yourself.

Friday, 2 September 2016

#33 Causeway Ground, Cinderford Town

Cinderford Town 3 Merthyr Town 2
Monday 29th August 2016, Southern Football League Premier Division

The August bank holiday found me at a loose end but without any convenient Western League fixtures. It was time to move up in the world and set off on a jaunt to Gloucestershire for some Southern League Premier action. 

Cinderford is a small town on the edge of the Forest of Dean whose football club is currently playing at it's highest level since forming in 1922, albeit against it's will. After a lot of will-they-won't-they during the close season, Cinderford did eventually accept promotion when faced with that or being expelled from the league but not before they'd lost their manager and some of their best players. Add to that an unsettling financial outlook and it's hard to see anything but strife for them this season and they start at the bottom of the Southern Premier this afternoon, with just one win and four losses from the opening five games. 

From one club teetering on the brink, to another coming back from it: Cinderford's opponents were Merthyr Town. The original Merthyr Town lasted from 1909 through to 1934 and spent time in the Southern League and the Football League before winding up. Football would return to the town 11 years later with the founding of Merthyr Tydfil FC, which shared the same nickname as the previous club: The Martyrs. Tydfil enjoyed a wildly successful 65 years of non-league football, winning the Southern League Premier Division on six occasions and seeing off Swansea Town (1949), Cardiff City (1951) and Newport County (1987) in three Welsh Cup finals.

This wasn't to last and they were liquidated in 2010 but a new club was set up under the original name that same year. This new club ground shared with Taff's Well at Rhiw Dda’r and were placed in the Western League Division One, a league it won it in it's first season of existence. After that the club returned to it's spiritual home of Penydarren Park and it was like the previous 77 years never happened. Three promotions in six years now sees Merthyr Town back at their historical level, with scope to push up to the sixth tier.

Looking around the Causeway Ground you get the impression that a similar move upwards would not be an option for Cinderford. It's a decently equipped ground and isn't without it's charms but it needs a lot of love in several places. 

When you enter the ground you are met with a dirt track that spans the entire end behind the goal. On the side of the pitch opposite the clubhouse is a small terrace buried in a grassy hill. The grass, as you can see in the pictures, looks to have seen better days. Add the rickety wooden fence that serves as the ground's perimeter and you've got a scene from Mad Max, I thought to myself as the dust swirled around my feet in the warm breeze. My misgivings wouldn't put a dampener on the mood of the 303 in attendance who were basking in the sun with pints and climbing up on the dry hills for a better view. As I strolled around the pitch I overheard a pleasing number of babs and buttys being exchanged, which told me that there was a large contingent from the valleys down for the afternoon.

On the other side of the pitch things are a lot less threadbare. To the left of the centre line there's a small shed with flat standing. This area is on a lower level than the other two stands. In fact if you stand there you'll find that you're about pelvis-level with the pitch, which is an interesting if slightly terrifying way to watch football. On the right we have a covered terrace with brick and concrete steps packed in five tight rows. The centremost stand is seated and contains seven long benches for the weary traveller. Not too bad, although the visibility is quite poor in a few places. I was taken aback when I entered the clubhouse at half time for a pint by the Butlins style glittery purple curtain covering the stage at the far end of the room. Come to think of it, I actually can't think of any other clubhouses with a stage.

Didn't they do well?

One thing that you can get at the Causeway Ground that you won't find anywhere else is a pint of Cinderford Town Football Club Pilsner™. The sign on the tap was literally just the club's badge with 'pilsner' written underneath. Pretty good stuff as well.

The game began and within 10 minutes a Merthyr forward had collected the ball in a prime central position in the box and rattled the bar with it. Chances kept coming thick and fast, a Cinderford charge at 15 minutes won a corner but the header that followed was offside and later still Merthyr shot another promising one just over the bar. Scoring opened in the 20th minute from a Cinderford penalty given when the Merthyr keeper had little option but to pull a Cinderford player down in the box. Cinderford continued to pile on the pressure as one of their wingers withstood several meaty challenges only for his cross to be intercepted. The Welsh side got themselves back in the game through a series of free-kicks. One from 20 yards, with the reason for it being given unclear, sailed over the bar but another taken from near the corner failed to find any heads as it sailed across goal but curved into the bottom corner anyway. Cinderford 1 - Merthyr 1. 

The first half had been very much a battle of two solid midfields, with both teams struggling to break each other down honestly, hence the number of free kicks. However the same could not be said for the home side's defence as a clearing cock-up gave a Merthyr player, who didn't look like he could believe his luck, the ball at his feet mere yards from goal. After a quick spin to shake off his marker he slotted home Merthyr's second. For the remaining 5 minutes of the first half Cinderford's defence were indeed terrified, with Merthyr rattling the crossbar and going just wide in quick succession. Cinderford were playing very deep and stubbornly refusing to clear the ball which I'm quite surprised didn't cost them but the half ended with no more goals being scored.

At this point I would like to dedicate a word to Cinderford Town's fine chips, which were plentiful in quantity and bore a crispiness that greatly exceeded expectation. It was like a little punnet of fried hash browns. So enamoured was I by my chips that the first thing I noticed in the second half was a fine save by Merthyr's keeper. Utilising the awesome power of his stylish and practical baseball cap he was able to crouch down and collect a probing grass cutter without being blinded by the sun's harmful UV rays. That's using your noodle kids. Merthyr came agonisingly close to their third when a player flew into a cross but his powerful shot was just wide. They came just as close 5 minutes later and were denied only by the Cindy flapper's trailing foot.

However in the 68th minute against the run of play Cinderford notched an unexpected equaliser. A goal-line scramble ended with the goalkeeper falling into the net whilst holding the ball. A true delight to behold. From then and for the first time in the match Merthyr Town looked to be under a bit of pressure. A lone Cinderford forward breaks free and forces the keeper to come out and save with his fingertips, the resulting corner fizzles out to the back and Merthyr reclaim the ball for themselves but fire over the Cinderford goal from close range.

A draw would've been a fair result but Cinderford's Ben Hands had other ideas. Taking the ball on the wing, he launched a rocket from 30 yards that Merthyr's keeper had no chance with, baseball cap or no baseball cap. The manager and coaches flooded the pitch and there was much rejoicing. This was followed by drama as a Cinderford man was sent off, receiving his second yellow for leaving the pitch without the referee's permission, as I would later learn. A bit of a killjoy move on the ref's part, considering Cinderford were celebrating going from the bottom of the table to that all-important for morale purposes safe zone but I suppose rules are rules.

An enjoyable game all considered that had the right mixture of skill, drama and comedy that I hope for on these days out. As I was writing this, news came in that Cinderford's financial future is looking far rosier than previously which is great news. With any luck they can avoid relegation and push on in the Southern Premier.