Groundhop 1881 – Colwyn Bay FC

Pre-Season Friendly – New Stand Opening
Colwyn Bay FCv Manchester City FC
Wednesday, 15th August 2012, 7.30pm
Llanelian Road
Entrance £10, Programme £2
Distance 230 miles, Attendance 700 (approx)
The recent momentum of back-to-back promotions was almost bought to a juddering halt last season by the immovable force that is National Ground Grading. Having beaten FC United of Manchester in the 2011 Play-Off Final, Colwyn Bay were on their way to a respectable mid-table finish, but if they did nothing The Seagulls would be automatically relegated from the Conference North, the division they’d strived so hard to reach.
Category B grading states strangely that “A minimum of FOUR rows (of seats) is required” yet, founded in 1881, Colwyn Bay still only had three. Club staff and supporters quickly rallied behind “Back the Bay” fund-raising. The resulting community effort saw a new stand constructed in a mere five weeks along the east side of the Llanelian Road Stadium, and on 2nd April 2012 The FA awarded them the required certificate.

Four months on, at the behest of two directors, I found myself standing as part of a very select group in the centre circle before kick-off, photographing special guest Mike Summerbee and Chairman Bob Paton at the grand opening of the new stand.
Whilst their first team were elsewhere Summerbee’s club Manchester City were providing a mixture of youth players and trialists (one of which was not allowed to be named, though I have a photo if you’re interested) as the opposition for this special pre-season friendly. Even so the visitors still drew both media and celebrity interest in a larger than usual crowd. Also much bigger than usual – causing some bemusement amongst the locals – was the visitor’s coach which was struggling to navigate the car park, as I’d pulled up an hour earlier.
As the game started City’s youngsters seemed totally disjointed and uncommunicative whilst the impressive home side – in their new away kit – easily overran them. On seven minutes Kevin Holsgrove scored from a tight angle, then two minutes later Allan Collins re-directed Joel Richardson’s long range effort. The media had evidently come to see the likes of City’s young keeper but his defence were making him look poor. As O’Brien left the pitch for the interval, he could consider himself lucky to have only conceded two. Clearly the away support didn’t seem so content with this. “Get on the club’s youth team and you’ll get paid stupid money” bemoaned one looking for excuses.
With both clubs making wholesale changes at the break obviously we were to see two very different halves but, emerging again, it was The Seagulls who were on the attack and soon scoring through Matthew Berkeley. At three up you’d be forgiven for thinking Colwyn Bay were safe but, the second-half-City were more disciplined at the back and far more potent up front. A 63rd minute Cole penalty opened the floodgates, before Pozo and Almieda both finished good moves to level the score. With minutes remaining a second Cole penalty, annoyingly identically to his first, sealed a slightly undeserved win.
After a stormy afternoon it had been an entertaining match on a warm sunny evening. Directors’ had synchronised watches for the perfect event where their team had outplayed the National Champions for long periods of the game. The close encounter saw seven goals scored for proud parents with children in the replica kit of both sides, and a welcoming air greeted all. I’m not quite sure how I got to this somewhat flattering stage in my journey but, the more I travel to clubs the more I find a friendly reception from total strangers willing to help me. Tonight this culminated in me (thanks to Escape To Victory) being contentedly only two degrees of separation from Pelé.

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Initially appearing in this season’s Watford FC matchday programmes, consequently Groundhop 1881 reports will appear late on here. At the end of the journey, a book will be published telling the full story.
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