Merthyr Tydfil
Penydarren Park

Ground No. 179
Visited - Saturday 11th April 2009
Result - Merthyr Tydfil 2-2 Oxford City
Competition - Southern League Premier Division
Attendance - 274

Merthyr Tydfil: The Martyrs.

There are probably few clubs with such an apt nickname as the side from the Valleys. Formed just after the war, they’re one of the ‘Welsh rebels’ who refused to join the new Welsh Premier League in 1992, instead opting to continue in the English system that they had been a part of for practically their entire existence. After a lengthy legal battle, they won their case in 1995 and have continued in the English Leagues ever since, but 14 years on and their future looks distinctly bleak again.

With debts spiralling, the clubs very existence is in question, and their Penydarren Park home with it. It was a ground I’d wanted to visit for a while, so with Wolves’ game against Southampton moved back to Good Friday, then I grabbed the opportunity and pencilled in the fixture against Oxford City to make the trip.

There had been some doubt whether the game would actually take place, their previous fixture only having been confirmed 24 hours before it kicked off, but this was definitely on, so I set off not too early, changing trains in Cheltenham and Cardiff before arriving into Merthyr just after midday. A small market town, it’s set right into the valleys and it was a pleasant train journey there with the surrounding scenery of the Brecon Beacons to pass through. At one time it was actually Wales’ largest town, booming on the coal and iron industries, but nowadays it’s more known for its poetry and music festivals. In the 1920’s, the town boasted a Football League side, Merthyr Town, with Penydarren Park hosting games, including an FA Cup fixture against Wolves (we won 1-0!), but in 1930 they were eventually cast out in favour of the ill-fated Thames FC, before going bust four years later.

Having had a brief look around the town, then I made my way up to the ground, situated on a small hill 10 minutes walk from the centre. From the outside, there isn’t a great deal to see, the rear of the Main Stand and club shop behind a small car park, with the turnstiles at the bottom of the hill prior to this. There’s also a clubhouse, however the state of the clubs finances were evident with this having been closed the week before. After going in, then the ground does open up a lot more, and despite having heard it was a good one, I was a little taken aback to see just quite how good! Opened in 1909, 21,000 once crammed in to see them play Reading in the third round of the FA Cup, although it holds only half of that these days. Behind the near goal is the Family Enclosure, a small covered stand that features blue bucket seats, however this has recently been closed to the public following the council discovering it wasn’t licensed, another kick in the teeth for the struggling club. The Main Stand sits on the near side towards the far end, again this provides covered seating, with a low roof that makes the exterior feel rather gloomy. Most of the grounds facilities are behind this, with the stand itself set back quite a distance from the touchline. A small uncovered terrace takes up some of the near end where the stand itself stops just past the halfway line. Banked terracing wraps around the other two sides of the ground, rising quite highly on the far side, with a pitched roof in the centre, and a more modern addition tacked on to the far end of it. The far end is uncovered, and one thing that is notable is the segregation, which is unusual, if not unheard of at this level, not that it’s enforced, but there is high fencing in the corner to split the two terraces, whilst there are gates around the pitch side wall which suggest at one time that there was perhaps perimeter fencing more commonly found in the Football League pre-Hillsborough.

After having had a look around, then it was eventually time for the game to start. Only a point separated the two sides before kick-off, with Merthyr in 8th and Oxford 9th, so a close match was expected, but from the start it was the hosts who dominated and they went ahead in the 11th minute through a bit of a fluky goal when Mike Jones chased a lost ball only to see Oxford ‘keeper Ryan Harrison smash the clearance right against him which went straight back past the hapless goalie and into the net to make it 1-0! Merthyr had more chances as the half wore on, with Oxford not having much in reply, presumably glad to have made it to the break only a goal down. In the second half, things started to even out, although the game wasn’t without controversy, the hosts being denied what looked a good penalty shout early on when one of their players was flattened in the box. Typically, with the protests still continuing, they took their eyes of the ball and Oxford equalised shortly afterwards, Alex Fisher nodding the ball home in the area. This gave the visitors a bit more confidence, and 10 minutes later they were in the lead, Craig Falconbridge tapping home from close range. They could have buried the game just a couple of minutes after, with a shot cleared off the line, but the Welshmen were in defiant mood, and with just three minutes left on the clock, they got the goal they deserved thanks to Gareth Cullimore finding space in the box to turn home a good cross. Both sides still had chances in the time remaining, but in the Bank Holiday sun, the ref finally blew his whistle to indicate the points were being shared.

After leaving, I made my way home via Cardiff, meeting with a group of Belgian and Dutch travellers inside Ninian Park who had also been at the game (see some more pics here), before getting home later on, pleased to have come.

The ground itself is a real classic, and whilst perhaps not now, really wouldn’t have looked out of place as a Football League venue not so long ago. That said, it is tired in parts, and with the clubs future in real jeopardy then you have to wonder what the future will bring. Hopefully things will ease themselves out over the summer, and if the club do start the 2009/10 season, then I’d highly recommend a visit here.

Outside the Ground

The Main Entrance

The Club Shop

The Clubhouse

Rear of the Family Enclosure

The Family Enclosure

Seating in the Family Enclosure

The Main Stand

The Main Stand

The Far End Terrace

The Far End

The Far Side Terrace


Mural in the Far Corner

The Far Side

Ready for Kick Off

The Far Side Terrace

The Far End

The Main Stand

Penydarren Park Panoramic 1

Penydarren Park Panoramic 2


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