SAY IT AIN'T SO, JIMMY? Newport.Pt1
It's been the match that has stood out for all Martyrs fans since the season started, another opportunity to educate our neighbours from Gwent in the social etiquette of non-league football. Our chance to provide their supporters with the fundamental requirements for football at our level; hospitality in our clubhouse, four sides to a ground with no segregation (and no crowd trouble). What we couldn't rely on was what would happen on the lush green lawn that is Penydarren Park. It had been a tidy Christmas but to be honest it was all going to be little more than a warm-up for the main event; Merthyr Tydfil -vrs- Newport County.
I'm glad they've adopted their old name, it just seems more honest and gives a historical edge to matches. Against my better judgement I felt quietly confident about the encounter, the Martyrs record against the Gwenties isn't very good but recent performances if not results had been encouraging with the lads attempting to play a passing game whenever possible. Upon arrival at Penydarren Park, the clubhouse was there before me; A beacon of welcome to the lost souls who have kept the faith in North Glamorgan. Time for a quick pint before the main event, it was good to see both sets of supporters mixing before the match. A cold can of Carling later and out to the most revered piece of real estate in world football; the Wank Bank. It never disappoints me, whenever I enter this haven of football passion I can sense the previous generations of Merthyr supporters before me moaning and heckling the referee whatever the state of play. Long may those traditions continue.
A l pm kick-off; now for those Newport fans reading this I must advise that I am using the verb "to kick-off' in the traditional start of a match sense and not in the Spytty Park 1995 version of events. So most of the talk around me was of the session after the match and where we would end up at the end of the night, the Baili Glas being the favourite. The main body of the Newport support was directly in front of the DMFM posse during the first half so we had to endure the continual dirge of "Cum'on Newpoooor!" But worse was to follow as the Martyrs makeshift defence collapsed under the pressure of Bayliss & Dale and the goals started at the Theatre End. So you have stand there and take it, fair enough but what was not on was a brief outbreak of racism mid way through the first half when Cohen made a run in front of the Wank Bank. Subsequently, I have been informed through the mailing list of the Merthyr web-site that other Newport County supporters have identified the muppet responsible for the racism and have appealed for information on his identity, it's absolutely brilliant to see supporters taking that kind of direct action. Not even a couple of cups of the strongest tea in the world could lift the gloom as the Gwenties totally dominated the first forty-five minutes.
At half time I would have settled for the 0-3 scoreline as a result. Newport were too strong in all departments for a surprisingly lacklustre Merthyr team, Lee Jarman was experiencing a baptism of fire especially from the impressive Carl Dale who was unstoppable. Those of us on the Theatre End at the start of the second half were pretty much resigned to a heavy defeat and then the Martyrs scored. Now I can cope with losing pretty well, I'm a Merthyr fan after all, but it's the hope that gets to you. It was 1-3, could we get it back? The Martyrs were a different side, more direct, playing with passion, what was next? An amazing Carl Dale volley that flew past Neil Thomas that's what. I experienced a moment of calmness as I watched the Newport supporters celebrating in the Wank Bank, an out of body experience. Why don't Merthyr compete in derby matches? We lost to Barry Town and Cardiff City earlier on.
The Jenner Park experience only improved by the lack of their junior ninjas; Flying cans etc. The black humour was flowing around me, a dog was trying to get on the pitch. People were trying to help the canine intervention. Even that didn't go to plan. then, the Martyrs get another. Chaos, celebrations, dancing. Hope springs eternal, and that's the problem. I can cope with defeat but we'd got another chance, everyone's up for a revival. The Martyrs press on without really causing Pat Mountain any problems. You get a really good view down the Penydarren Park pitch towards the Chapel End from the Theatre End, so we could all watch as Merthyr's wall fell apart to allow a straight driven free kick to fly in past Neil Thomas to finally settle the match. That really summed up the match, Newport's determination only matched by the Martyrs' capitulation. The joy of non-league football, after match pints in your own clubhouse. Time to reflect on the match, the Strikers club full, plenty of cash going over the bar, Newport and Merthyr fans together, no problems, let's hope we get the same hospitality for the return match at Spytty Park. Walking round the town later that evening you could spot the Martyrs faithful by their desperate attempts to prise some positives from yet another derby defeat, it's amazing how easy it is for Carling Black Label to cure a broken heart.