Llanelli 3 Afan Lido 2 ht: 0-0 att: 244
Bowen 83, 90, Rose 89 : Hartshorn 67, Hartland 68
Entrance £7, Prog £1, Coffee £1
AFC Llanelli was wound up on 22 April 2013, ending the 117 year history of the famous Welsh football club. I was glad I went to it when I did, earlier in the season – it was almost a prescient move, considering. I’d never visited a Welsh league team in the south of Wales – the furthest I’d got to was Rhayader, during a mid Wales hop.
I can’t justify the difficult and time consuming journey to south wales for a single game, so I waited for a Friday night/Saturday afternoon double to come up, before pre-booking a cheap train and overnight stay. The first viable double appeared on the weekend starting 19th October, with Llanelli v Afan Lido on the Friday night, followed by Port Talbot Town v Bangor City on the Saturday. Both grounds were within walking distance of their stations and, as ever with the rail companies, the cheapest way to go was not the obvious option. I booked a cheap return to Port Talbot, purchasing separately the extra leg to Llanelli (this worked out roughly £20 cheaper than booking a straight return to Llanelli).
As today’s football culture is one of postponing games after light squalls or fine drizzles I had the fear that all this organisation and expense be thwarted, so I had the back up option of Goytre United (in Port Talbot), should there be a Friday night postponement or a train delay. As it was, the trains ran to the minute, via Bristol Parkway and Port Talbot, before the final stretch to Llanelli: a pleasant coastal train that skirted Swansea bay and the mouth of the River Loughor. I had time to book into my B & B before the walk to Stebonheath Park, home to the Reds since 1920.
Despite playing in Europe on several occasions, it wasn’t until Stebonheath Park was updated with a new stand, taking the seating capacity to 1,003, that they were able to host European matches. Their first in 2010-11, their fifth consecutive season in Europe, saw them draw 2-2 with Lithuanian outfit FK Tauras Tauragein, in front of a sell out 3,700 crowd. Before this their European adventures had been played at Stradey Park and Parc-y-Scarlets, former and current home to the rugby club, Carmarthen’s Richmond Park and Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium.
I walked from my B&B in the south west side of town to the ground on the north east side, taking in a few real ales on the way. Stebonheath Park is a grand stadium for the Welsh Premier league, certainly up there with the best of them. It has a running track round the outside, but of all grounds of this type I’ve been to, Llanelli’s was the least conspicuous, with the atmosphere not really affected.
The main stand is a solid affair with ornate roof and interesting cupola sat on the top. The seats start high up on a brick mount. Next to the main stand, each side, are two buildings; the Red’s café and the Jock Stein lounge. Behind the goal you had to be careful not to fall down the trough that is the 3000m steeplechase water jump.
On the other side of the ground is the new tranche of seats to take seating over the UEFA required 1,000 mark.
Down from the seating is a TV gantry and small terrace.
The game was a classic. Llanelli, who in recent years have been regularly in the top three, if not winning it, were having a poor season, in the bottom half of the league. Newly promoted Afan Lido, another team from Port Talbot, were rock bottom and in need of the points. Despite good action, the goal scoring didn’t happen until the 67th minute, when Afan Lido took a surprise lead, a well taken goal from the edge of the area. Their pocket of fans were rapturous. Within sixty seconds a brilliantly taken one on one, with some shaking off of defenders, looked like Afan Lido had secured a shock double grab and run win. It was surely heading for a great three points for them.
However, the Reds pulled off the best comeback I’ve ever seen. It started in the 83rd minute when Bowen received the ball on the edge of the area and hooked it over the defence and in off the post. The glimmer of hope turned into a point as a scramble was headed over the keeper by Rose who rose highest, the defender only able to smash it in to the roof of the net. In injury time Llanelli were awarded a penalty which was converted by Bowen, to send the home crowd wild, and the away fans into disbelief. For the neutral, it was fantastic.
Llanelli was a great ground and club and I sincerely hope they can re-form and get back into the Welsh Premier, where the town and the ground belong.