A Safer Space by Marc ap Dafydd
The recent Sgorio piece on our game v Weston Super Mare gave the club an opportunity to express everyone’s frustration with the Covid-19 restrictions imposed by our very own government. That game, in particular, seems the most ridiculous of the two games played behind closed doors. The “Boxing Day” game would have seen a crowd possibly close to 1,000 fans which is sadly unusual for us in recent seasons, a day of reunions as exiled fans return home to celebrate Christmas with loved ones, a slice of Valleys life concentrated into a football ground. There would of course have been cwtshes all around the terraces on that day so maybe a note of caution over the festive period was warranted but the next home game with no fans seemed absurd to everyone at Penydarren Park when the S4C cameras came to film our empty terraces.
Our average home crowd is about 400 fans these days and let’s be honest we can probably provide any authority in the land with a map of where each of our fellow supporters watches the Martyrs on every home game. Club volunteers had already painstakingly painted 2m socially distanced “footprints” around the ground so we could be ready for any eventuality if we had to prove our processes to host crowds in a safe environment. None of these mitigations seemed to matter to the grey suits in Cardiff Bay so it was a depressingly empty ground that welcomed our lads for another battle in our war against relegation.
Sgorio of course usually provides in-depth coverage of the Cymru Leagues so it would need an unfamiliar event such as an empty ground to facilitate a visit by them to PenydarrenPark. The coverage was sympathetic and allowed us to relay the temporary issues of a behind closed doors game; cash flow problems, no atmosphere in the ground, the mental health of fans and the risk of supporters finding other attractions to keep them occupied on any given Saturday.
It was predictable that the question of our participation in the Cymru leagues would be asked by a TV company who invests so much into the Welsh domestic football product. It can be said that the rise in standards both on and off the pitch in the Cymru Premier is partly down to the thorough coverage of the games, stories and characters of the league by the S4C production team.
No surprise in the response provided to the inevitable question of our joining the Welsh system. It’s true to say that we should never discount the option of playing in our National League, the reasons for and against that course of action would need to be intensively debated by every Merthyr supporter before a ballot of the owners to decide on such a huge step for the Martyrs.
It was interesting to note that the feedback after the release of the game coverage on the Sgorio social media channels wasn’t about the empty terraces and the challenges posed by zero income for the club over two home games or even the dodgy radio show hastily put in place to relay the joys of another home defeat to fellow fans. The discussion on the Forza Martyrs page on Facebook was also all about the England v. Wales pyramid debate.
I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised about that as it will always divide our supporters, this has often resulted in an acrimonious argument, but it was refreshing to see a more balanced discussion on the merits of each system rather than the usual entrenched views of such an important matter for all Merthyr fans.
The benefit of the Facebook discussion was that there was no anonymity available to everyone participating so the points made were honest and in the main respected. Other platforms like Twitter and even our deserted Fans Forum have descended into petty nonsense on so many occasions over the years.
The Facebook discussion got us thinking though as to how we keep these important debates on our future strategy going in the future. How can we ensure that Merthyr fans get together to discuss the club’s values, identity and direction more often?
The clubhouse at the ground would seem a natural environment for such gatherings but do they need to be formal evenings with a guest speaker, Q&A and maybe even a quiz to ensure greater attendance by our fellow fans or is a matchday a more convenient time for a cup of tea or pint of beer to debate the team’s performance, management and our general future?
The pandemic has certainly changed the way we all live our lives now, nothing is certain, it’s a brave man who books anything in advance so we may have fallen out of the habit of socializing together as a fanbase (the Christmas sporting lockdown did us no favours in this regard at all), any return to normality as we hopefully move into a more solid future will surely provide an opportunity to share memories, complaints, ideas and our love of the game with the people who may understand us the most; our terrace comrades at Merthyr Town FC.
Feel free to raise your voice about our great football club but let’s be kind to each other too.
Until we meet again ….
MARC AP DAFYDD