Saturday 22 July 2023

Blaenavon Blues - Memorial Ground

Blaenavon Blues FC
The Memorial Ground
Stable Row
Off Abergavenny Rd

Ground Number: 1206
Saturday 22nd July 2023
Blaenavon Blues - Pontyclun


The club was established in 1946, following the end of the Second World War. They played in local leagues at first and saw great success in the Gwent Central League. They won the title three times in the 1960s and had a further runners-up spot. In 1968, they joined the Welsh Football League, starting in Division 2. By 1975 they were title winners, going up to Division 1. A 6th place finish in their debut season was a great showing but by 1980, they were relegated back. The 1983/84 season saw Baenavon finish 3rd in Division 1 after they'd been placed there following a reogthe previous season. Three seasons were spent in Division 1 with a 7th-place finish in 1986. Relegation followed the next year and then they left the league altogether in 1991.

They had a spell back in local football with them winning the Gwent Central League again in 1993 & 1997. In 2000, Blaenavon joined the Gwent County League Division 3. In 2003 they were promoted to Division 2 as runners-up behind Cwmffrwdoer Sports. It was a double promotion when the following year they were runners-up to Coed Eva Athletic. They'd remain in Division 1 for some time, finishing as runners-up to Abertillery Excelsiors[ when it was renamed the Premier Division in 2020. Following a break due to Covid, Blaenavon finished as runners-up to Lliswerry in 2022. This was good enough for promotion to the Ardal South East where they finished 7th last season.

Cup wins include the Gwent Senior Cup in 2022, the Langdon Cup four times, the Benevolent Cup six times, the EI Peake Cup in 1960, the Gwent Open Cup twice and the Gwent Super Cup in 2006. The town of Blaenavon is nestled high in the Welsh valleys and has a population of 6,000. Blaenavon literally means "head of the river" or loosely "river's source" in the Welsh language. Like many places round here, it has a strong history of ironmongery. In 1836 Robert William Kennard formed the Blaenavon Coal and Iron Company, which subsequently bought the Blaenavon Ironworks.


A visit to Abertillery Bluebirds was decided upon around a month ago when the Welsh League Cup draw was made. Garw is probably the most anticipated ground to visit in South Wales but Abertillery Bluebirds was not far behind. Therefore, it was good news when they were drawn at home in what was a competition for teams that compete within the top two levels in Wales. I'd already visited their rivals, Abertillery Excelsiors earlier this year as part of a treble. Their ground had been great but I was informed the Cwmanygroes, the home of their cross-town neighbours was even better. I missed out on visiting the Wetherspoons last time due to driving but was hoping to put that right this time due to getting a lift. However, a chance of another game would always take precedence and it looked like that was going to be the case.


Following a break from work, it was back to the grind. My work life has always been very up and down and it was not a pleasant return with me wishing retirement would hurry up around 20 years early within a few hours of returning. Far too much time is spent working and not enjoying yourself. I was absolutely shattered after a nine-hour shift on Thursday and seem to be suffering from a complete lack of energy and motivation at work since my return. I perked up slightly when I came home and watched the Haverfordwest game on YouTube. In a tense game and thrilling shootout, the Welshmen equalled the tie on aggregate and ten triumphed on penalties over Macedonian champions KF  Shk├źndija. Similar drama in this game was hoped for.

Friday was another draining day at work, despite being only a six-hour shift. Perhaps it had something to do with a stinking cold coming on but I was knackered. There was also a potential spanner in the works when the ref for our first game pulled out of his duties around 6 PM. If the game did not go ahead, at least I had the compensation of a decent pre-match as there was very little near either ground in terms of food or drink. I had a couple of drinks Friday night to take the edge off but got a fairly early night. I'd have loved a good night's sleep for once but I woke just after 5 on the day of the game. I got up and had breakfast and got dressed. I left at 7.40 and was at work by 8. The guys had been delayed due to M25 traffic so I popped into the store and got some bits.
Dan turned up at 8.20 as I was coming out of the store. If I'd had time I'd have popped back to the car and got my waterproof jacket given the inclement weather. Dan, Richard and Colin were present and we made good time. There was disappointing news regarding our proposed first game at Llanhilleth which was called off due to the lack of a referee. It was to be just one game for a while, but when we pulled over at Chippenham Services, we found an early 12:30 game at Abertillery Excelsiors. It would even be a new ground for me due to them using an alternative venue for pre-season. We'd probably have time to get a Wetherspoons in too which is another bonus. The only dampener, quite literally, was the weather. Hopefully not match-threatening, but once more, the weather had saved it's worst for a Saturday. 
From there, we headed to the town, seeing a brilliantly named shop called Turner And Pooch on the way to Wetherspoons 264, The Pontlottyn where I had steak pudding, chips and gravy along with a pint of Strongbow. It was not bad, lots of flavour but I think the chicken wings are the best thing here. Dan had those, along with a full English, a strange combination indeed. We had time to kill so I got a bottle of Gwynt Y Ddraig Old Crow. Service was slow with drinks taking 15 minutes to come. Overall, it got a generous 6/10 as it was the first good point of the day. Typically our game was the only one in the Welsh Cup that was off but I liked Abertillery. The others though it was run down but give me a place with character over a fancy shopping centre anytime. Lots of people took great delight in the game being off, but I guess that's the mentality of people nowadays. Working in retail gives you a negative impression of the public, even though 99% are fairly decent, as hard as that figure is to believe sometimes.

We got to our replacement, Blaenavon Blues an hour before kickoff. It was lovely scenery but it was the standard kit stand. Entry was free and they were lovely people so I got a cheap badge and a can of Thatcher's Blood Orange, a new tick for me. I went to the toilet and when I returned, a few hoppers, including Graeme the Everton fan. The ground was 1,410 feet above sea level, not quite La Paz but one of the highest I've been to. Despite the weather, the pitch was perfect, and Blaenavon were the better side over Pontyclun in the early stages. The rain continued and so did Blaenavon's dominance. They took the lead a couple of minutes before halftime, a ball slotted in the bottom corner from a few yards out. I had a fairly decent burger at halftime. Blaenavon had previously had a goal ruled out for offside and a couple of good saves from the keeper denied them at the start of the second half. The hosts made it 2-0 around 20 minutes from time, a good finish on the break.
The rain was still not abating, but 53 had braved the weather and had been rewarded with a decent game. Blaenavon Blues had been nice and friendly and had kept everyone informed of the pitch. The playing surface was superb, taking a heck of a lot of water and still playing well. We headed to Texaco near the ground so Dan could get petrol. Despite only being ten minutes away, Colin was fast asleep by the time we got there. He'd had a sleep on the way down too, no doubt shattered from his four-hour working week because of his epilepsy. I was not looking forward to nine hours of hell on Sunday but we were due to drop me off just after 7. The plan was to have my blog done before then, not helped by having to research Blaenavon Blues post-match due to the late change. A few cans would be enjoyed too. As much as I felt like drowning my sorrows, I vowed to be fairly sensible on this occasion.

THE MEMORIAL GROUND is set in lovely scenery in the Welsh Countryside. There is just the one stand, holding around 50. There are literally hundreds of carbon copies of this stand but on the day, it did as good as job as any stand. The clubhouse is smart and offers a good range of cans as well as burgers and basic snacks. The ground is not far from the town which has a few pubs, a chippy and other amenities. There are public transport links and a reasonable amount of parking. 

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