Do you remember the first time - by Chairman Mao
So do you remember the first time? Was it how you imagined? I remember all my friends in school talking about it. A few of them boasting that they’d already undertaken this rite of passage but were they lying?
I was twelve years old when I finally did it and travelled to an away game solo.
It was always going to be Barry Town. Our closest rivals and of course our derby match.
Jenner Park was a hostile place back in those days. It was the era of youth tribes of course so you had to belong to one of them. The Trefechan lads had already adopted the skinhead look as the two-tone movement spearheaded by The Specials swept across the country. Tuesday night at the youth club, if it wasn’t closed because of fighting, was spent around the single turntable record player trying to get your vinyl played. Did you get the older lads’ approval or was your choice of music laughed out of the hall?
Being a member of one youth group attracted the attention of other groups of course, by the age of twelve I’d already run the gauntlet of rockers and teddy boys on a Saturday with the other Trefechan skins. In hindsight nothing really happened but for a lad not even in his teens those afternoons seemed to last forever with the threat of violence everywhere.
If it was tense being a youth in your home town it was even worse when you travelled to another so a short trip to Barry was not for the faint hearted.
Merthyr had a decent team in the 1979/80 season and a few of us from Vaynor & Penderyn School had already caught the bug and would attend every home match. A football club badge adorned the school blazer, I’ve still got mine, which was a rare purchase from the old club shop shed that opened rarely and when it did you could only get a rosette or possibly a badge.
Ray Pratt led the line for the town before he headed for Exeter City for a record £10k and he was scoring goals for fun. Ian Docherty ran the midfield with Chris Holvey adding some steel to the defence. Don Payne was the loudest goalkeeper in the country and the team could do no wrong that season as they eventually finished fifth in Midland Division behind the eventual champions Bridgend Town. A Welsh Cup semi-final defeat at Somerton Park ended our hopes for Europe we would have to wait a few more years for that adventure.
So a trip to Barry was the right choice and so me and Tim Twomey jumped on the supporters bus to Jenner Park. My first journey with the Two Freds who ran the buses in those days.
I remember arriving outside the old social club on Jenner Road and not heading off to the local shops to get something only to be faced with local lads who threw bricks at us from the estate opposite. A quick retreat by us which became the theme of the afternoon.
Jenner Park in 1979 was a very different place to the stadium it is now. The main stand had rail sleepers as terraces and the nearest thing to catering was a few blackberry bushes growing through the back of the building.
There was always a decent crowd for the biggest derby match in Welsh football and the locals seemed to relish confronting the large travelling support that always accompanied Merthyr Tydfil AFC in those days.
Pretty soon we were under attack from a barrage of fireworks thrown at us from close range. No segregation of course, that was left to those softies who followed Cardiff and Swansea.
Time to scatter, every boy for himself, to escape the imminent kicking from the local skinheads.
Find a Merthyr adult quick is the plan. We sidle up to our mate Neil Morgan and his dad Alf who stands by my Dad on the Wank Bank during home games, we’ll be safe here. Alf’s having none of it, it’s a stern fuck off and we’re back to the mercies of rockets & fountains.
On the pitch the game is going well and Ray Pratt is already on the scoresheet but it’s difficult to concentrate on the pitch when you’re expecting a banger to explode in your pocket or coat hood.
It’s end to end stuff and my memory may have been shot to pieces drinking Doom Bar on an industrial scale but I’m pretty certain that Mickey Carter scored one to add to a Ray Pratt brace as the Martyrs ran out 3-2 winners.
The final whistle sparked a free for all on the terraces with punches thrown in the darkness but by then we’d slunk away via the cinder athletics track and were sitting in the safety of the bus before the driver had even got behind the wheel.
Survivors. The trip back to the Pearl spent swapping stories of false bravado and embellishing scuffles into fights. By the team we reached the lockers in school on the Monday we had spent the game in the midst of a riot.
You never forget the first time.