A proper derby match by Chairman Mao
The recent postponement of the Copa Libertadores Cup Final between Boca Juniors and River Plate sparked a frenzied social media debate as to the most passionate derby match in world football.
Whereas the varied suggestions from Glasgow, Rome, Sao Paulo, Newcastle and even Wrexham all have their claims to the title of the best derby match there is only one true derby match that sets the benchmark for a traditional local football match played regularly between neighbours …..
The Trefechan Derby
The Trefechan estate nestles quietly in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, it is after all in Breconshire and not Merthyr Tydfil, and apart from a fantastic chip shop it’s a pretty quiet place these days but it wasn’t always like this.
They say there are two sides to every story and here on this small housing estate that’s very true as you will always be classed by your side of the Vaynor Road that bisects the village.
Top Side and Bottom Side – taxi drivers know these terms.
I grew up in Trefechan. It was a great place to be young. The mountain above the houses and the woods below leading to the river provided brilliant places to play and explore but there were two arenas amongst the grey buildings that really provided me with an education in life.
Football was a mass participation sport back in those days. Every evening and weekend was spent playing the game on any spare local grass area. The usual format was Wembley; a game played by everyone against a single goalkeeper where a goal scored put you through to the next round and the last lad standing in any round was disqualified and had to sit and watch the rest of the game, there can be no greater punishment for failure in sport. The winner of course being the last player standing.
Killer was also played on various sites in Trefechan; the chip shop wall, Crabtree Walk garages or even Sycamore Cresent. A game of continual rebound shots much like squash but played sometimes with a cast of dozens. A game of skill and power, a well-placed blast from the lad in front of you could find you running down the hill to the shops in a vain attempt to stop the ball and even more impossible task to return it to the killer wall.
Kerbsy, cricket and a fortnight of tennis were distractions for a council estate kid but football was the passion. Replica kits were few and far between although I did once get a really cool Admiral tracksuit of Manchester United one year – the trousers were flared as fuck but I wore that top until it fell off me.
The kit worn by the football youths of Trefechan was jeans, t-shirt, a jumper, maybe even a coat. You went home with mud on your knees and plenty of grazes and bruises. In summer time, especially in 1976, the biggest problem was not the heat but that no-one brought a coat to use as a goalpost so we had to find bricks to form the goals. No issue really on an estate next to a quarry.
Those summer months away from school provided us with opportunities to take our football obsession to the next level though. Only three TV channels, a space invader machine in Allodis chip shop in Cefn and nagging the older kids to get you a flagon of cider from the Pontsarn could only fill so much time for us so we had the challenge matches.
Top Side v Bottom Side, always arranged by word of mouth of course, to be played on alternative grounds. The Top Side team would play most matches on the Top Field which is a sloping piece of grass wasteland at the very top of Crabtree Walk. Smaller games could be played on The Green roundabout and even on the grass next to the Laburnum Lane but for the big games we made the Bottom Side team climb the hill to play us.
Bottom Side only had one football pitch but it was the best one. There is a playing field in the middle of Bottom Side, the streets are formed around it and my Gran’s house in Maple Crescent backed on to it too. The football pitch was a flat, narrow rectangle formed by the nursery school fence on one side, the corrugated sheets and fences of back gardens on two sides and the playing field itself on the open end. It is one of the best football arenas in the world, one day FIFA will recognise it’s place in the development of the game – a place where a one-two off a brick or school fence could give you an extra yard in a crowded area. These games were played by many players who flowed off and on the pitch throughout the day.
The eligibility to play for either team was based on your address of course but this could be challenged as parents split up and lived on either side of the road. Loyalties changed based on strengths of teams on any certain day. The duration of the match could be set at a target result; first team to score 20 goals; or until the ball owner had to go home or even until it just got dark so team strength’s could ebb and flow as players were called home for tea, went for a piss or just headed off to play in the quarry or build a den in the fern fields.
There was never a referee so often disputes had to be negotiated which meant that having a few hard lads in the team was a bonus even if they were shit at playing.
A disputed goal would be solved with the unique solution of “Pen or goal?” which of course resulted in a penalty kick as no one ever chose to concede a goal.
The Trefechan derby was often dangerous, raucous and never boring. Being too skilful often ended with a kick up the arse from a bigger lad, missing an open goal may be rewarded with a slap or two and trying to take your ball home early was practically impossible. Providing the match ball was a great honour and granted the lucky owner with respect during the game but if the ball was kicked into someone’s garden it would usually be the owner who had to climb over the corrugated sheets, dodge a ferocious dog and duck under a wet clothes line to retrieve his precious possession.
Keeping score was a problem too as the goals rained in at both ends. Disputes over a scoreline were again often negotiated by the hard lads and many results were exaggerated by both sides when it got dark and everyone retreated to their favourite bus stop, bench or shop wall to discuss the day’s events.
The beauty of the Trefechan derby though was that a defeat would only last until the next day, although rain could often delay a rematch. and the teams would have changed once again.
The matches just rolled on and on. The grass areas of a council estate became muddy, baked, scorched and green once again as the seasons also rolled by. The players grew up and were replaced. The game remains the same.