Hooked by The Wandering Martyr
The recent resurgence of the club has attracted over two hundred Under 16’s who attend on a regular basis and have become part of the massively important match-day atmosphere generated by the CTM stand.
An important part of our community engagement programme is to engage with grass-roots clubs and local schools, who benefit from complimentary match-day tickets. The look on the faces of the young children as they cautiously push their way through the turnstiles, many for the very first time, walk down the Lyn Jones Grandstand spectator tunnel and see the vastness of the stadium that brings joy and a wide smile to their face is just worth the time and effort to try to engage with our potential fans of tomorrow.
Most will have persuaded their parents to take them after proudly bringing the laminated complimentary ‘golden’ ticket home with them. They may have noticed the mention of the team we are playing and if they have nothing planned for the family that Saturday perhaps a parent will indulge their football crazy child, who may be getting obsessed with the game and decide to take them.
It’s really important that the first visit to Penydarren Park is special and they are hooked before they even arrive at the ground. Hooked by the other fans walking together towards a shared destination, hooked by the cover of the programme, hooked by the glare of floodlights in the late Saturday afternoon gloom.
The real epiphany though may be the fact that as they walk through the turnstiles and start making their way towards the section of the ground where they will watch the game together, that everyone is friendly and says hello. Small groups of bodies huddled together reading something important in the programme or fanzine, other people eating cob and chips, a general buzz of anticipation as the teams warm up, people know one another and they all know other people back.
Men call out a name, people stop and chat, share a joke or a reminiscence, asked after a friend or relative. The sense of belonging could be instant. This could feel a bit like coming somewhere were they could consider a home-from-home.
Most families will live within a few miles radius of the ground but many may not even know of it’s existence, many first time visitors will drive or walk through the maze of streets, past the Catholic church or climb the steps at the side of the YMCA building and wonder out loud to themselves if there can possibly be a football stadium in this urban labyrinth.
There will be a cross-section of the community at the game: school friends, parents workmates, perhaps some family acquaintances. Previously watching matches on Sky Sports from Old Trafford or Villa Park, this may be the first time to grasp the idea that a football club could be at the heart of their own community, that it could be a meeting place, that it is about the collective, that it is about shared history and about identity, that going to the match meant more than just how the team played.
As mature supporters we will never lose that memory - you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression - just like we never loose the memory of the smells and the sounds of our first match at Penydarren Park, sitting or standing, changing ends at half time as we grow through our teenage years.
As the young children get older, they will start to go with their friends or on their own eventually. But the Martyrs will always resonated with that first occasions because it is our town and it will be a parent or grandparent who takes someone to that first game and it will be the family who pass on the importance of being part of the football community. Coming to games provides us with a sense of belonging that represents the lure of football for fans of all clubs.
When the Board announced that the 20/21 season would be suspended, after the null and void of the previous season, the potential threat to an element of our cultural and social history started to feel under a very real threat. Partly because as a smaller club we have never seemed so precious.
There was no floodlight glare, there was no cob & chips or burgers at half time, there were no programmes to read and pluck from a box in 20 years’ time. There would be no parents bringing their children to watch the Martyrs.
Thankfully we were able survive the pandemic and have emerged from our enforced hibernation relieved and rejuvenated. We survived the indifference of the top clubs who seem to care little for the traditions and the health of the lower leagues as their chairmen talk eagerly about killing off the game’s ‘corner shops’ with talk of setting up a European Super League so that they could mitigate their own shameless profligacy. Who sunk that idea? It was fan power, so that went well didn’t it!
We did play on and that’s why making the community element a strong part of the Club is so important for our future. The game outside the Football League had been brought to its knees by the pandemic and existed in a state of barely disguised chaos.
But we are vital to the very social fabric of out community, we always have been and always will be, we will still glue families and communities together as part of our shared history, how we maintain our traditions, how we bind our communities and dance in our memories, how they must be cherished and not allowed to wither.
We will never forgot our roots even when we struggle with everyday problems of life. Even if individuals move away they will want to revisit the places of their youth.
Sometimes, they’ll want to pay another visit to Penydarren Park, past the spot where they used to stand on the terraces. It’s part of our history. Taking a child and grandchild is one of the many things they will be grateful to a parent for. And so, the Martyrs and Pontsarn Viaduct where perhaps picnics have been eaten in the past, are landmarks of which we can be inordinately proud of, as fond memories of formative years as they grow up.
We can recall games that we’ve seen weeks even years earlier. We can visualise the terracing, walking up Park Terrace as the ground looms into view, glancing at the playing surface – just as we always do – as we take our place and where you stood or sat that very first time someone takes you to Penydarren Park.
We are hooked and nothing can take those first impressions away from that child.