A Letter from America

The San Fransisco Martyr contacted Dial M today with some great moments of past Martyr magic. Take it away Spic.........

So here’s my list of the top 10 Merthyr games that I have attended. Some choices are obvious, others a little more esoteric, but all are games that have stuck in my head for various reasons. I make no apologies that the bulk of the games are drawn from the late 1980s and early 1990s. This of course, is because I later became an expat and martyr fan in exile. Coincidentally we got crap again around this point in time as well…..

1. Merthyr vs Atalanta Won 2-1 European Cup Winners Cup, 1987
The obvious choice – the Sgt Pepper of the survey. The strangest thing about this game isn’t that we beat a top draw Italian side containing the majestic, Swedish footballer of the year Glenn Stromberg. The strange thing is that it didn’t seem like a surprise to me. For a week Merthyr was the centre of the universe. Ceri Williams was on St and Greavsie tarmaccing (check THAT out on Urban Dictionary) roads. We were backpage headlines in National newspapers. The Merthyr team met the Pope (Ok, I exaggerate… anyway who needed the Pope when we had God A.K.A Lyn Jones).

2. Merthyr vs Newport, Drew 2-2, Won 1-0 Welsh Cup Final, 1987For some purists this may well be number 1, the earlier work that made the magnum opus of Atalanta possible. Continuing the Beatles theme, think Revolver. The key to the success was coming from behind twice in the first game wasn’t seen as a victory, only a draw. Underdogs rarely win big game replays, but we did – victory duly crowned from the spot by Chris Baird. Ahh the good old days – Thursday cup final replays, only one substitute, Carol Jones’ buses, Stevie Williams tackle. It also meant I got to go and watch one of those open top team parades that I only normally get to see on the news.

3. Merthyr vs Crawley, Won 3-1, Southern League Premier, 1989
This game has attained legendary status. Penydarren Park has been described a dustbowl as temperatures soared into three figures , and my personal memories recall massed pitch invasions for each of our goals and at the final whistle. It capped the end to a remarkable run-in where, according to some sources, we played our last 10 league games in just a two week period, and Dai Webley broke Dixie Dean’s record of 60 league goals in a season. Although some of these stories are undoubtedly Apocryphal it was a remarkable game to cap a remarkable run-in to cement our place in the Conference for the first time in our history.

4. St Albans vs Merthyr, Won 5-4, FA Trophy 1993
A nine goal thriller – 3 of which I missed either side of the half time break due to either refueling or taking toilet pit stops. My goal celebration for the winner is still talked about by Moppy to this day. Unfortunately, so are my navigation skills for the trip back to Stevenage. I was the self proclaimed lucky charm for the Martyrs FA Trophy run that year, making several successful away trips. I still have pangs of guilt for pulling out of the trip to Gateshead at the last minute, where we spectacularly surrendered a 2 goal lead to crash out.

5. Bristol Rovers vs Merthyr, Lost 6-0, FA Cup 1987
The omens were not good when Dai Webley sustained a work injury prior to the game and missed out. Gary Wager breaking his leg when the score was goalless did not help either. Roger Mullen went in goal, but he also got injured, or sent off, or something. Peter Jones was definitely sent off for a Cantona-esque kung fu attack. These were still the heady days of one substitute so between the injuries and red cards we must have finished the game with 8 or 9 men. So why is this game in my top 10? Our third goalkeeper of the day, centre-forward Chris Williams, dived (surprise surprise..) to save a late penalty. The Merthyr faithful responded like we had just won the entire trophy – it was the ultimate Pyrrhic victory. It also began a run of four five seasons where we were an ever present in the 1st round Proper of the Cup.

6. Swansea vs Merthyr, Won 2-0, Welsh Cup 1988
Away to league opposition with Wayne Jones in goal – this was to be the game in which the cheeky non league upstarts were to be brought down to earth. However that reality check would have to wait for another round as the good times just continued to roll. This was the beginning of seven successive years when we would draw the Swans in the Welsh Cup. We won some, we lost some, but like all sequels the original remains the best. This would be higher up the list but for the fact that on the bus trip home I over enthusiastically signed up for an away trip to Buckingham the following Saturday. In a classic case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show they hammered us 3-0.

7. Newport IOW vs Merthyr, Won 3-2, Southern League Premier, 2002
The game which heralded the start of my Renaissance period with the Martyrs after several years of self imposed exile. Tickets to Ryde, fish pie to die for, attaining hero status at the Balcony nightclub, second winds, avuncular feelings and heading back on the ferry with all 3 points. It was a game where I had forgotten the joys of non league football – not only can you abuse the opposing goalkeeper, but he can hear you, and will more likely than not abuse you back. Who would have thought that a British seaside resort in January could be so much fun.

8. Merthyr vs Stafford Rangers(?), 4-3, Conference 1991(?)
The height of the ‘lucky seats’ phenomenon. Having used them to overturn a 2-0 half time deficit earlier in the season we faced an even steeper mountain as we trailed 3-0 at the break. We believed, and Mick delivered, calling on the Roman pantheon buried under Penydarren Park to deliver our Istanbul. The lucky seats era were happy days but unfortunately the fickle Gods have long since abandoned us and are now rumoured to follow Liverpool around Europe.

9. Merthyr vs Malta, Won 2-1, International Friendly, 1988(?)
This game was a symbol for how much Merthyr were conquering all that lay before them in their glory years. They were playing, and beating international teams. My favourite touch with this game was that our opponents were billed as a “Malta World Cup XI”, as if Malta have ever been near one…However we did beat Malta, who have beaten Greece, who won the European Championship in 2004 – few non league teams could lay claim to such grandeur with just two degrees of separation.

10. Merthyr vs Wealdstone, Drew 1-1(?) Conference 1990(?)
From the stands at Penydarren Park it has been possible to spot a few big names – Bob Latchford, Paul Merson, Robert Prosinecki, Norman Whiteside… Nothing compares however to seeing my childhood hero Trevor Cleaver from Grange Hill in the away end. His clandestine card playing days in the Boiler Room were to provide the inspiration for my own shenanigans in my school’s Computer Room, and he even got to stalk my childhood sweetheart Georgina Hayes. Saying that, he did look a little too much like Brent Carter. B+.

The Placid Ex-Casual


Chairman Mao said…
Some great memories there from the San Francisco Martyr, the Bristol Rovers defeat was the most enjoyable 6 goal defeat of all time. Our support was determined to enjoy itself from the moment we arrived in Bath and the full away end certainly did that. The hoax goal celebration was quality as it spread across the terrace. The penalty save was greeted like a goal and the Peter Jones arse kicking sending off was hilarious.

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