Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Rambo's Aeroplane and the Thousand Yard Stare



Caernarfon Town are finally back in the Welsh Premier League and I think it’s correct to say that a superb season ended in joyous, if somewhat prolonged, style. The past month has seen the players and supporters celebrate promotion on more than one occasion and, before relaying how we’ve been doing this, I think it’s worth looking back at the final match of the campaign, an entertaining 2-2 draw with Gresford at the home of Airbus UK Broughton.
The match itself was of little importance in the grand scheme of things. The Cofis had already won the league with victory at Llandudno Junction nine days earlier and so, for once, the action took something of a backseat for me as I looked forward more to seeing the players getting their hands on the league trophy. 
The Cofi Army arriving at our final match of the season
However, this is not to say that there was nothing on the line, as the players were intent on preserving their unbeaten run in the league, which stretched back to August. That last, and only, defeat of the campaign had been at the hands of a fired up Holyhead Hotspur at the Oval, and the squad had responded in style with a run of twenty five fixtures without defeat on the way to the title. This also meant there was the not insignificant matter of preserving Sean Eardley’s unbeaten league record as our manager at stake too.  
As expected, a large contingent of Caernarfon supporters had made the trip to the Hollingsworth Group Stadium and whenever the Cofis are in town, the pyros are usually nearby! I had arrived early and so was lucky enough to see the Cofi Army heading towards the turnstiles. Their chants and pyros increased the sense of occasion at the ground and set us up for the final ninety minutes of the campaign.
With the title already won, Sean took the opportunity to hand rare starts to Liam Jones, Kevin Lloyd and Shaun Cavanagh and all three responded in style with strong performances that proved what the manager has been saying for months, the players on his bench would start for most, if not all, other sides in the second tier. Caernarfon started strongly and when Nathan Craig put us ahead with a trademark free kick early doors I’m sure neutrals in the crowd may have expected Gresford to buckle under the pressure. (You can see the captain’s goal and post-match interview by following this link to the club’s official youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nXBOMg3IJE  Those of us who have seen Steve Halliwell’s side this season would have known better, however, and they showed plenty of application and determination to keep the Cofis from extending their lead before Eyre and Challinor put them ahead with two well-taken goals. 
Danny Brookwell in full flight against Gresford
Jamie Breese rescued a point for the champions late on with an excellent finish to cement his standing as our top scorer for a third successive season and, as soon as the final whistle blew, the celebrations began!
The Cofi Army had been in great voice throughout but excelled before, during and after the trophy presentation as they ran through their repertoire of songs, which included ‘Breesey’s On Fire’, a somewhat colourful song about the talents of Nathan Craig and a ditty about one of our local rivals. The players were more than ready to join in and, led by Eards, that’s exactly what they did, as can be seen on the club's youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJAn7eRsg5s

It was a great end to a super season for the club and, as soon as the celebrations at the ground finished, they continued in various venues until the early hours as the supporters headed home, and the squad headed to Manchester for the first part of their end of season get-together. I’ll be honest and say that when I heard the league trophy was going with them for the weekend I had my doubts that we’d ever to get to see it at the Oval but, despite being taken around goodness knows how many pubs, clubs, train stations and hotels, it did eventually make its way back to Marcus Street a few days later. What’s even more impressive is that it arrived at the ground totally unscathed and in great condition!  
Most of the squad, and management, got together again the following weekend for an open bus top ride around Caernarfon and, despite the very short notice, it was great to see so many supporters waiting to welcome them in the town square, where Sean and the boys joined them for a few beers. One Club is our ethos, and this was just the latest example of why it’s not just a hashtag at Caernarfon, we really are one club and, in fact, one community.
Jamie Crowther with the league trophy 
I’ve read comments from the usual suspects on social media trying to mock the open bus ride but I would have been surprised if the bitter handful had not piped up. Some people love to criticise clubs other than their own and so the remarks were to be expected although, in my opinion, it proves once more that we must be doing something right if so many people are taking an interest in us.

We didn’t have to wait too long for the next example of the One Club ethos as, on the same day as the bus parade, the first team’s presentation evening was held at the supporters club and what a belter it proved to be! Former Town captain and legend, Emrys Williams, was in attendance to present the trophies and it was great to see him again. I remember Emrys playing for us when we were going toe to toe with Barry Town at the top of the League of Wales over twenty years ago and vividly recall him giving opposing strikers nightmarish afternoons, and more than a few bumps and bruises along the way. 
Four hours into the Presentation evening....
The recipients of the various awards were Darren Thomas, Danny Brookwell, Clive Williams and Nathan Craig but in reality the club itself was the real winner as we all got together to celebrate not just last season but something that we’ve all been working towards for the past eight years. Promotion to the top tier has finally been achieved and next season will throw plenty of new, and difficult challenges as the team joins the so-called elite but, for now at least, it’s great to enjoy what has been a pretty special campaign.
If you’ve been reading the blog over the course of the season then you’ll already be aware of  mostly everything that was happening at the club, on and off the pitch, and so there’s really no need for me to write any kind of end of season review. I would, however, like to introduce the very first Oval Ways awards list, and am pleased to announce the winners for the 2017/18 season:  
Rambo.
Bouncebackability Award: Alex Ramsay. Some of us feared ‘Rambo’ may be leaving the club mid-season but he stayed and proved that not only was he the best goalkeeper in the second tier, but also one of the most professional players I’ve seen at the club. Top class throughout the campaign, and a top class number one for the Cofis. 
Surprise of the Season: Joe Williams, for finally getting on the scoresheet for us. To be fair to Joe, his first goal in three seasons (scored during our fightback at Denbigh) was an absolute stunner and, having seen him do it once, there should be no excuses next season that he can’t find the onion bag from outside the penalty area.
Breesey
Best Speech: Darren Thomas. When the Cofi Messi picked up his Player of the Year award at the presentation evening, he took the microphone and raised the roof! Darren is one of the quietest players I’ve known at the club, on match days anyway, and so for me it was a highlight of the night and well worth waiting around for! I’m yet to manage an interview with him but am still hoping he will relent one of these days!  
Best Song: Breesey’s on Fire.
The Liam Gallagher Thousand Yard Stare Award: I have to share this one between Kevin Lloyd and Rhys Roberts and, if you've seen how both of them deal with play acting pompadours, you will need no explanation as to why their my picks!
Presenting Nathan with the Goal of the Season Award
Goal of the Season: This is a legitimate award that I have sponsored for the past three campaigns and, as in past years, I used social media to ask supporters to vote for their choice. Not surprisingly, the winner was Nathan Craig’s strike against Barry Town in front of the Sgorio cameras in the Welsh Cup. I’m sure most of you will be familiar with the goal and I’d love to provide a link to my own clip of it here but, having already been informed I would be in breach of television rights by sharing it, I’ve had to pull the plug on that one. Suffice to say, the goal was from the top drawer and Nathan fully deserved the award. I was lucky enough to present the award to Nathan and had to laugh when the Cofi Army began singing their special, slightly colourful, song about our captain. Just as we were about to pose for the mandatory photo he told me ’I hope they don’t finish this song in front of everyone!” I won’t go into details here but everyone who goes to our matches will know exactly what he meant! Incidentally, the two goals that won most votes after the winner were Joe’s strike at Denbigh and Jay Gibb’s equaliser at Airbus.
Best Goal Celebration: Rambo’s Aeroplane and crash landing after scoring against Rhyl. Priceless!
The Clive Thomas Worst Refereeing Decision Award: This one goes to Huw Jones, who awarded us a free kick just as Danny Brookwell was lobbing the ball over the Rhyl keeper for a goal that would have clinched victory for at Belle Vue. The decision may not have cost us anything in the grand scheme of things but it certainly cost us two points on the day. 
Best Decision: The Board asking Sean Eardley to take on the managers’ job just days after Iwan left. The players, supporters and Board wanted Sean and, thankfully, he was up for it!
Save of the Season: I could probably list two dozen outstanding saves Alex Ramsay has made over the course of the campaign but the one that has stuck in my mind was against Queens Park in February. The side had played just once in four weeks leading up to this match and the home side matched us during a frenzied opening twenty five minutes. It seemed as if Tomas Bunclark had put the hosts ahead when his sweetly struck long range effort seemed destined for the roof of the net until Alex somehow got his fingertips to the ball to push it onto the woodwork. An outstanding save, but nothing less than we’ve come to expect from our number one since he arrived in 2016. A special mention also for the fine point-blank stop by Liam Jones that saved us a point at Holywell when it seemed Phil Lloyd’s late effort would give the Wellmen a rare victory over the Cofis.  
And finally, the Most Puzzling Video Interview Moment: Richard Davies calling Caernarfon a village.
Chris Williams
As with every close season, the next few weeks will see the usual player and manager merry-go-round at all levels and the likelihood is we may well see a few new faces on the playing staff at the Oval too. I was disappointed to hear that Chris Williams has decided to call it a day after an excellent few seasons with us and Sean will have his work cut out to find a left-back who is as good as Chris. He's been excellent for the Cofis and is also a really nice guy, so will be a big loss in more ways than one.
Behind the scenes the club is carrying out work at the ground itself and there are sure to be a few notable differences at our home before the big kick off in August. With a bit of luck I hope to cover most of what’s going on in the ‘Hรขf Gyda’r Cofis’ videos we are putting out on the club’s youtube channel over the next few weeks and if you've yet to see any of these, you'll see the latest instalment by following this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL0bKofML2c
Away from the Oval, I have found recent local football media coverage very interesting and there are three questions I look forward to seeing getting answered over the coming months (I'm sure you'll notice a common thread):
Will the Sgorio team start covering the Huws Gray Cymru Alliance League next season?
Will the television cameras be present on each occasion a second tier club announces a new manager in the future, or was recent coverage of Mr Harrison’s arrival at Nantporth a strictly unique offering? With both Holywell and Denbigh looking for managers, we’ll soon find out!
Will Owain Tudur Jones pick players from outside the Welsh Premier League for the Wales C squad next season?
And finally, as a Caernarfon Town supporter, I wish to convey my heartfelt thanks to all of these guys for making the dream come true this season and getting us back into the Welsh Premier League:
Sean Eardley, Richard Davies, Mike Innes, Rhys Jones, Alex Ramsay, Joe Williams, Jamie Crowther, Clive Williams, Gareth Edwards, Rhys Roberts, Chris Williams, Nathan Craig, Ryan Williams, Kevin Roberts, Gareth Evans, Jamie Breese, Darren Thomas, Danny Broookwell, Jamie Crowther, Kevin Lloyd, Shaun Cavanagh, Liam Jones, Aaron Davies-Thomas, Caio Morgan, Telor Williams, Jay Gibbs, Iwan Williams.  


Diolch yn fawr iawn hogiau! #UnClwb

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Eards, Marti Pellow and Promotion.


When I last wrote an instalment of the blog Caernarfon’s match at Gresford had just been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Seven weeks have since passed and I’m pleased to say that things have gone as well as anyone with an affinity to the Cofis could have hoped for.

It is said that success often generates its own momentum and these past few weeks have proved just that as we have enjoyed five victories, one draw, a Domestic Licence, the Cymru Alliance League title and promotion to the Welsh Premier League. Not too bad for a side that was overlooked by many as promotion candidates at the beginning of the season!

Back in August, Rhyl and Airbus UK were regarded as title favourites and probably rightly so, based on both clubs having been well-established Welsh Premier League sides before relegation just a few months earlier. Much of the talk last summer was of the big budgets the clubs supposedly had available to them, whilst Airbus had the added advantage of their 3G pitch (which may actually have worked against them in some way, which I’ll touch upon later on.)

Despite being overlooked in some quarters, I think most of us in and around the Oval believed we were more than capable of winning the league and I think that became obvious very early in the season. Iwan had strengthened the squad with experienced players and also brought in Sean Eardley as his number two, which certainly seemed to have been a positive move and would, in hindsight,  prove to be a masterstroke.

We all know how the next few months panned out as Sean seamlessly stepped into the managers’ role in November and confidently steered the side to an unbeaten run of ten league matches up to March. The Cofis had been sitting on top of the Cymru Alliance league for most of the season and were still there as we approached the final seven fixtures of the campaign.

As a result of so many postponements throughout the league in February, it was difficult to work out which teams would pose the biggest threats to our title aspirations, although it seemed that Holywell and Denbigh, and possibly Rhyl, would feature amongst them. One thing that was clear, however, is that Sean and his squad were in a very strong position and had promotion in their own hands.

Of course, the Cymru Alliance League is a tough old competition and the seven match run-in was not going to be easy, especially with five of those fixtures away from home. And so, to the first of those, which saw us welcoming the pre-season title favourites Airbus UK to the Oval on March 10th.

The weather in the days leading up to the match had been a bit like Marti Pellow and his gang: wet, wet, wet. However, against all the odds (I was going to reference Phil Collins here, but decided against it?!), our groundsman ensured the pitch passed two inspections and was just about good enough to withhold ninety minutes of action.       

The players celebrate Messi's opener against Airbus.
Our visitors were second in the league at the time and I am led to believe that the Airbus management were just as keen as ours to get the match on, despite the less than perfect conditions, and it is credit to them for this.  However, judging from what I heard from their players once Darren Thomas put us ahead, they may have fancied it a touch less than their coaching staff! And this is where I believe their own 3G pitch may have been a disadvantage to them this year as they really didn’t seem to enjoy playing on a less than perfect surface. They’ve been much better at home than on their travels during the campaign and so I think there may be some truth in this. 

To be fair to the Caernarfon side, however, I think the Wingmakers would have had their work cut out whatever the weather, and the playing surface were like because we proved too strong for them in a blistering first half performance that saw Jamie Breese making the most of a slip up in the visitors defence to double our lead. Rhys Roberts added a third after the break and, with Town’s other main rivals, Holywell and Denbigh both out of action due to postponements, the victory further strengthened our position as league leaders.

An interested spectator on the day had been Holywell manager Johnny Haseldin and his side would be our next opponents, although our visit to Halkyn Road held back for a week because of yet more bad weather. There was plenty of talk, and not a little banter, about a ‘Cae Tatws’ in the fortnight leading up to the fixture and I had expected the worse, but credit to the ground staff there because the pitch looked pretty good from where I stood.

As expected, the encounter was an old-fashioned blood and thunder affair, more akin to a cup match than a league fixture as both sides looked for victory. The hosts were desperate to close the gap at the top and keep their title hopes intact whilst for the Cofis, it was important to keep one of our closest challengers at arms’ length.

Caernarfon started well and just about shaded the first half, which saw plenty of goalmouth action, mostly from the Cofis, who went close to finding the target on numerous occasions before Darren Thomas broke the deadlock just before the break. It was a typical cool finish from the Cofi Messi after had been put through by Gareth Evans and I don’t think anyone could have argued with the half-time score as Caernarfon led by the solitary strike.

I felt quietly confident at half time that the Canaries would go on to win the match but the second period proved to be a very different affair as the Wellmen moved up a gear to put us under the cosh for long periods of play. Having said this I can’t recall Alex Ramsay being forced into too much action and, for all their possession, the hosts did not create any clear cut opportunities to get back on level terms. In fact, I’m not sure if they would have found a way past our backline had it not been for Gareth Evans’ harsh red card in the seventy eighth minute. This had a galvanising effect on Holywell and they eventually got on the scoresheet, courtesy of a late Sam Jones penalty. To be honest we had our reserve keeper, Liam Jones, to thank for securing a point because the young stopper, who had come off the bench to replace the injured Ramsay, pulled off a stunning save to keep out a Phil Lloyd attempt in the final seconds of the game.

I felt the draw was a fair result, despite the predictable outpouring of frustration on social media by those who seemed adamant that the hosts deserved to win. The encounter and ensuing social media  comments reminded me of our opening match of the 2015/16 season, at the same venue, when the Cofis dominated the opening period and the hosts did the same after the break. That one had ended goalless and back then, as now, those with a Holywell affinity were not shy in saying how lucky Caernarfon were to ‘escape’ with a point from Halkyn Road. On both occasions, however, the Cofis could have been two or three goals up at half-time and so it’s always worth remembering that every match is played over two halves, and not one.

On a personal note, I managed to snap a decent photo of Darren as he came over to celebrate his goal with the Cofi Amy (see photo, right) and was delighted to see it used in the local media. As always, Dave Jones seeked permission to use the shot and I’m always happy to help someone who has been such a friend of the club for many years. Other publications also used the photo and it was good to see that they now have the decency to credit me or the club for its use, which has not always been the case! Darren was voted man of the match for us, whilst I thought Jay Crowther was another stand-out performer, particularly as he played in a new position, at right back.

Before moving on, just a quick word about the Wellmen’s manager, Johnny Haseldin, who I know is a keen and loyal follower of this blog! We’ve had a few words over the years, due mostly to how passionately we both feel about our clubs and, whilst I can’t say that I know him on a personal level, I do know that he’s doing a great job at Halkyn Road, and I am sure he’ll lead them to the top tier of Welsh football very soon.

In addition to this, of course, Johnny has also proved a great pantomime villain for Caernarfon Town supporters for a number of years and also for me with this blog. Our recent promotion means I have my work cut out to find an adequate replacement, although I’m sure there are a few candidates who will step up to the plate over the coming months!

Nathan taking on a Caersws defender.
Caersws were the opposition seven days later as we hosted our final home match of the season. The Bluebirds have experienced a difficult campaign, languishing near the bottom of the table for the most part, and it was not difficult to see why during a first half that saw Caernarfon cruise into a three goal advantage inside twenty seven minutes. A Gareth Edwards brace and an exquisite finish from Jay Crowther put us in charge before Darren Thomas added a fourth before the break. The visitors showed some heart to get back into the game as the Cofis took their foot off the gas and, having pulled a goal back on the stroke of half-time, Caersws found the target twice again to make it an interesting finish, although in truth a fifth goal from Jamie Breese was always likely to prove enough to secure the points.

The victory was another important step forward for the side but just as important, if not more so, than the three points was that we submitted our application for the FAW’s Domestic Licence on the same day. I won’t follow the path I’ve taken many times about our failure to get the licence after winning the league two years ago but suffice to say it was imperative for us to get it if we wanted promotion. I can’t pretend to know exactly how much work is involved in making a successful application but what I do know is that our chairman, Marc, and committee member Darren worked their socks off in completing the work this year and last. Having gained the licence last time out I had every confidence in them and, on Friday April 6th, we received the news that we had been hoping for: Caernarfon Town had been awarded the Domestic Licence for a second successive year!

Chris Williams during the Caersws match
in the days following week the Caersws victory, the club held a joint meeting with the Canaries club to discuss the matter of the well-publicised problem we have had concerning our former commercial manager and the planned Evening with Paul Gascoigne. Being a member of the club’s Board I guess I should not go into too much detail here but suffice to say I am saddened for our supporters that someone has been so dishonest with them, and us. On a personal note, I am disgusted by what this individual has done and hope the matter gets dealt with urgently.

On a much more positive note, Sean took the opportunity on the night to announce that he will be staying on as our manager, and will be keeping his backroom staff intact for next season. Wonderful news for everyone connected to the club and here’s the interview where the Gaffer discusses his decision and plans moving forward: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2smCzF1GYro

The licence news was also a massive boost to everyone at the club and I wondered if it would have an effect on the players. We travelled to Ruthin on the Saturday and it crossed my mind if the squad would feel additional pressure now that they knew the licence had been secured? On paper, the match at the Memorial Playing Fields looked to be the trickiest of our remaining fixtures and whilst the hosts played well, the Cofis were superb on the day and the 4-0 scoreline was a fair reflection of the action. Here’s a short video of the action, including the opening goal by Darren Thomas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHhGmBaOSeE

Eards warming up the players at  Ruthin
Jamie Breese enjoyed another fine afternoon in the yellow shirt and his two goals were indicative of what he is all about. Darren Thomas and Danny Brookwell had put us two ahead early on and, having seen Goldstone thwart him once Breesey gave him no chance next time with a stunner into the roof of his net. His second strike was a typical striker’s goal as he showed a clean pair of heels to his marker before slotting the ball past the keeper. It’s unfair to just single out the strikers but a clean sheet for the Cofis speaks for itself and it goes without saying that our defence was excellent on the day. To be fair, it needed to be as the league’s top scorer, Llys Morris, was a constant threat for the hosts. This was my second visit to Ruthin’s ground and I have to mention the great welcome they gave us, both upon our arrival and in the clubhouse. A warm and friendly club that is obviously going places and it will be interesting to see where their journey takes them next.

Breesey grabbed a brace at Ruthin
For Caernarfon Town, the team’s continuing unbeaten run, now stretching to twenty three matches, was making it seem increasingly likely that our dream of promotion to the Welsh Premier League would finally come true, and our next challenge would be a combination of the weather and Caersws! Our fixture at the Recreation Ground had been postponed twice earlier in the season and so it was a case of third time lucky for us as the weather improved enough during the week to enable the groundstaff to get the surface ready for the match.

Things could hardly have started off any worse for the hosts as their goalkeeper suffered an injury in their warm up and, with just five minutes on the click, Rhys Roberts put us ahead when he made the most of a classy Nathan Craig delivery into the box Here’s a video of the goal:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlX9rfMxRL8

Clive Williams gets a cross in against Caersws
Darren Thomas doubled our lead four minutes later and, to make matters worse for Caersws, their reserve keeper injured his hand whilst reaching for a Craig free kick and so outfield player Ryan Davies got an unexpected opportunity to shows his ability between the sticks for the remaining eighty minutes. I imagine that most of us at the match would have expected a comprehensive victory at that point and whilst it ended up as very comfortable afternoon for the Cofis, Caersws showed plenty of grit to keep the scoreline at 0-2 and their makeshift keeper covered himself in glory with an outstanding display as he got his hands, legs, feet or whatever he could to stop everything that came his way!

To cap off a fine afternoon for the Canaries word reached us, via Club President John Watkins’ underground contacts, that Holywell had been held to a draw with Penrhyncoch, a result that guaranteed our promotion! I won’t go all technical about it at this stage but our victory and their draw meant that we could no longer finish lower than runner-up and as the only club challenging for the title who have a Domestic Licence our return to the top tier was confirmed! There’s no need for me to say what it meant to me, and to everyone involved in the club, to receive the news that we had finally made it back but if you really want to know, just take a look at my post-match interviews with Sean Eardley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_Uh2FLKmJ0 and Nathan Craig https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qD4m2VV465w 

Sean refuses an Eards dive at Caersws
I will be writing another piece about this fantastic achievement over the next few weeks but for now, you can be sure that we are all delighted and can’t wait to get down to business and take on the so-called big boys next season. 

After a seemingly never ending finish to the campaign, we finally had the opportunity to win the Cymru Alliance League title last Wednesday, when we visited Llandudno Junction for a rare midweek fixture. Although promotion had already been secured, Sean and the squad were not going to be content until the title had been won and so the Cofi Army arrived at the Arriva Ground en-masse for the 6:30pm kick off. The Railwaymen have been stuck at the bottom of the table for most of the season and so whilst the Cofis were favourites for victory, it was important for everyone to focus on the job in hand.

Of course, there was no fear of anyone taking things for granted and, despite the hosts’ decent start to proceedings, Caernarfon went ahead through Darren Thomas, who struck from a yard out following a save from Junction’s stopper, Tom Hooson. Our number ten ran the show in the first half and it came as no surprise when he doubled the lead as he got on the end of a Breese cross to head past Hooson before the break.
Messi puts us ahead against Llandudno Junction
The second half saw further goals from Breese, Gareth Evans and Chris Williams to complete a 5-0 verdict which confirmed the Cofis as league champions for the second time in three years. It had been a good, solid performance from the side, who were given little space to play from the plucky hosts, who certainly impressed me with their workrate and attitude.

Unfortunately, the trophy itself was not presented after the match and so the players and fans celebrated together, with plenty of songs and champagne! The ovation the team received from the travelling Cofi Army was brilliant and well deserved and it was great to see the squad, led by Eards,  walking along the side of the field shaking hands with the supporters. I’ve posted a video of interviews, action and celebrations on our youtube channel, which you’ll find here:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGul51KITis

Please watch the video until the final scenes, where you’ll get a real glimpse of how close the players have become.

So, there you have it, a not so quick catch up of what has been going on in and around the Oval during these past seven weeks. All our targets for the season have been met and there are exciting, and challenging times ahead for us but, before we can begin to think of next season, we can look forward to our final match of this one, against Gresford at Airbus UK’s ground. Isn’t it ironic that we will be receiving the league trophy at the ground of the pre-season favourites?

It should be a good night…….  

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Wales 'C', The Two Jays and the Jet.


February may be the shortest month but to me the 2018 version felt the complete opposite. January had ended with defeat for Caernarfon in the Welsh Cup but the manner of the reverse to The New Saints, and the team’s impressive performance on the night, certainly filled me with plenty of enthusiasm and confidence ahead of our final nine matches of the league campaign.
As mentioned in recent blogs, three successive draws after the Christmas period had resulted in teams closing the gap on the Cofis at the top of the table, a sequence that had prompted the rather predictable appearance of a handful of keyboard warriors questioning the team’s title credentials.
However, despite what the naysayers would have us believe, Caernarfon were still ahead of the pack and a narrow victory at Flint had seen us stay there. With just nine league matches remaining after our successful visit to Cae y Castell I couldn’t wait to see how Sean and the players would go about trying to secure the points that will hopefully take us back to the Welsh Premier League.
Unfortunately, rain and bad weather is the boil on the face of grassroots football and, as has become the norm in recent years, it well and truly burst in February to play havoc with the Cymru Alliance fixture list. Postponements have been rife across the league and whilst no club has not suffered a completely barren month, fixture-wise, it’s been a very frustrating time for everyone.
Our first match of last month would have seen us travel to Ruthin and, following their excellent performance against Welsh Premier side Llandudno in the Welsh Cup the previous week, I think it’s safe to say that we were expecting a difficult match. Although we defeated Chris Williams’ side 3-0 at the Oval earlier in the campaign, they had played well and have proceeded to do so, enjoying a strong season and sitting comfortably in mid-table. Unfortunately, what had promised to be an interesting afternoon turned into anything but as a waterlogged pitch forced a late postponement. There were a few comments on social media that questioned the lateness of the decision and whilst I agree that it was a late call I also think it’s difficult for clubs in these situations as we’re all in the hands of match officials. Adding to everyone’s frustration was the fact that Ruthin had played their last two home matches at Bala’s Maes Tegid and, in hindsight, it might have been a decent option to have made arrangements for this again. Having said all this, Ruthin cannot be blamed for a waterlogged pitch and I look forward to visiting their ground soon, when we’ll get an opportunity to see all the hard work they’ve been carrying out on the ground in recent months to make it ‘tier two compliant’.
During the following week, Jay Gibbs left the club and Sean brought in his third signing since taking over, bringing Jamie Crowther to the Oval from Airbus UK. To be honest I knew very little of Jamie when Sean told me to announce his arrival but, from what I have heard from others and from looking at his CV, then he seems a high-quality addition to the squad. I took the opportunity of attending Jamie’s first training session with his new team-mates and found him to very friendly, and a pretty big unit too! We had a quick chat and carried out an interview for the club’s youtube channel which you can see via this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIAwFx3GEus 
Sean welcomes Jamie to the club
Of course, I know a lot more about Jay Gibbs and, as a supporter I was disappointed to see him leave, but only because I know how good he is. In the club’s announcement that  Jay was leaving, Sean got it spot on when he said this season has been a bit stop start for him but once thing I do know is that, when Jay is on form, he is amongst the best midfielders in the Welsh pyramid. He has all the tools of a quality midfielder and one of his greatest strengths is that he’s a winner. I like him as a person too and will miss him around the Oval on match days. I am convinced he will be a success in the top tier and hope he proves how good he is now that his suspension is over. Good luck Jay!
Unsurprisingly, our trip to Caersws on the Saturday was a casualty of the incessant rain and so we had to keep our fingers crossed and pray to the ‘Weather Gods’ that the fixture at FC Queens Park the following week would not suffer the same fate. Luckily, someone up above must have been smiling on us and the side was finally able to return to league action after four long weeks.
Having enjoyed a slight detour to a bare and empty ground in Queensway we arrived at a sun drenched Stansty Park rather later than I’d have liked but with just about plenty of time to sample the local culinary delights, which included the finest Hot Dogs in the league, after the ones at the Oval, of course!
Bobby with the league's best Hot Dog!
It was a scrappy start to the match and the hosts started well. They looked a better outfit than they had at the Oval earlier this season, although I felt the Cofis had a gear or two up their sleeves after a quiet opening quarter. The key moment that forced the players to start moving up those gears was Alex Ramsay’s remarkable fingertip save to push Tomas Bunclark’s rocket from twenty five yards onto the woodwork. Rambo had been quiet up to this point but showed his quality and high concentration levels with one of the finest stops I’ve seen in a long time.  The tide swung our way immediately and, once Jamie Breese put us ahead from the penalty spot, Caernarfon dominated the action, ending up with an emphatic and not too flattering 8-0 victory.
The supporters voted debutante Jamie Crowther as their man of the match and rightly so, in my opinion. He will come up against tougher opposition before the end of the season but, as debuts go, it had pretty much everything as he pulled the strings in midfield and chipped in with two goals. Jamie Breese also enjoyed a good afternoon, helping himself to a hat-trick, whilst Gareth Evans secured a brace and Rhys Roberts got on the scoresheet to mark an impressive display at left-back.  So, an excellent return to action for Caernarfon and, judging by his post-match interview, Eards was delighted with his players’ efforts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qhr4Wbnpwug
Before moving on, I must mention the excellent banter between the two management teams on the touchline during the match. I have no idea if they know each other but I noticed that both managers were enjoying plenty of laughs as the action unfolded, and even Kev ‘Bone Cruncher’ Roberts got involved, as shown in the photo below!

Guilsfield were our next opponents and they would provide a very different challenge for the Cofis. The Guils have been one of the best sides in the Cymru Alliance for a number of years and I cannot remember anything but a tough match when the sides have met in recent seasons. We managed to snatch a draw at their place in October but only after the appearance of Kevin Roberts as a late sub turned the match our way and helped put us on the front foot in the latter stages, when Jay Gibbs headed in a late equaliser.
Darren Thomas celebrates his opener against Guilsfield. 
Nathan Leonard’s men arrived at the Oval just two places behind us in the league and were undoubtedly looking to close the gap on us. For Caernarfon, it was good to see Nathan Craig back in the squad after a family matter had kept him away from the previous week’s match, although I thought it was a brave decision by Sean to put him on the bench. I wonder how many other managers would have had the courage to stick to a winning team when he had the opportunity to pick the club captain, and in my opinion, the best player in the league?
As expected, the match was a tough old battle, and there was nothing between the sides for much of the encounter. The Cofis certainly had the upper hand in the opening stages and for most of the first half and were rewarded with a sublime Darren Thomas goal, as the our magician latched onto a Danny Brookwell pass before firing confidently past Wycherly to put us ahead. A reminder of what we missed for two months whilst Darren was out through injury but the good news is that he looked back to his best against the Guils. It’s fair to say that Caernarfon were under the cosh a bit in the early part of the second period but our defence was excellent again and Danny Brookwell secured the victory with an exquisite finish in the sixty fifth minute.
The Cofi Jet
Danny was deservedly voted the Tyn Lon Volvo Garage Man of the Match and it was obvious to see why. In addition to his excellent goal, the ‘Cofi Jet’ caused absolute havoc on the left flank and had a very impressive afternoon in the yellow shirt. I can recall Danny making his debut for us against Buckley two years ago and thinking he was quick but in the time he’s been at the Oval, he has proved himself to be not only lightning quick, but also a team player, who always gives 100% and can be relied on to put a real shift in during every match. Brooky’s also a really nice guy and I hope he gets the opportunity to play for us in the top tier next season, because he deserves to be there.
It was a very important victory for the Cofis as I can imagine that teams around us would have been looking at this fixture as a possible banana skin for the league leaders. The match itself was a fine one, between two very strong sides and it just goes to show that the game is pretty subjective as I read a comment on social media that proclaimed the football on show left a lot to be desired and that it was below the standard of the Gwynedd League! Each to his own of course but the guy who posted this must have been at the Oval in an alternative universe, because the match he saw was not the one I was at.
Darren Thomas
Last Wednesday saw the announcement of the semi-professional Wales squad (Wales ‘C’) to take on their English counterparts at Jenner Park later this month. The squad was picked by Mark Jones and Owain Tudur Jones and I was surprised, and disappointed, to see that Nathan Craig and Darren Thomas had been overlooked. I will, and have been, accused of being biased towards Caernarfon Town on numerous occasions and of course I am, but it doesn’t mean that I’m wrong. It’s undoubtedly a strong group of players and those included are all quality but I still cannot see how Nathan and Darren have been omitted. I have not read anywhere that the squad is exclusive to Welsh Premier League players but I wouldn’t be too surprised if this is the policy, officially or otherwise, in the FAW’s continuing attempts to push the league at the expense of those further down the ladder. In some ways it makes sense because most international teams consist of players from the top leagues throughout Europe but my argument here is that, in my opinion, Nathan and Darren would get into most, if not all, of the teams playing in the top tier this season.
Nathan Craig 
When I posted my disappointment on Twitter, and mentioned Malcolm Allen’s comments on ‘Mwy o Sgorio’ where he made it clear he would have picked Nathan, Owain Tudur Jones replied that they could not pick everyone and that there are reasons why each player has been picked. Respect to him for responding and for also stating that he’d be happy to discuss the matter in person with me, which I am definitely up for. I suggest we do this at one of Caernarfon’s last two home matches of the season, which would give him the opportunity of seeing Nathan and Darren play. Of course, Owain has seen them both in action during our televised matches in the Welsh Cup in recent years, which makes the decision to leave them out even more puzzling.
Before moving on, I just have to mention one joker who had a pop at Nathan on Twitter. I won’t bother to repeat what he said here but my answer is this video, which shows our captain executing the perfect Rabona…. with his right foot, which is allegedly only for standing on!    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Y9-OK7n45M
And just like Owain Tudur Jones, if our friend the joker would like to see how good Nathan is, I’d suggest he visits the Oval before the end of the season to see for himself.
So, two postponements, two matches played and six points gained was the story of Caernarfon’s February and, despite the disappointment of two shopping weekends that none of us wanted the team is still in just as strong a position as it was in January in our attempts for promotion.
The Gaffer
I’m writing this on Saturday, March 3rd, because our match at Gresford has been called off due to a frozen pitch. Thankfully, the decision was made early and the hosts let us know in plenty of time, which always helps. This latest postponement means we still have seven matches to play this season and, looking through the fixtures, it’s safe to say there’s a lot of football and many tough challenges ahead for the players. One thing I do know, however, is that every other team in the league would swap positions with us at this moment and, to paraphrase a well-known football saying, ‘In Eards We Trust’!  

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Mrs Doubtfire, Football Gurus and Bursting Cofi Bubbles….



The Cofis have an impressive record against Flint Town United of late, with a record of nine victories, two draws and a solitary defeat against the Silkmen in the past five seasons. This run includes three League Cup final victories, which probably means we’re not of Flint’s favourite opponents and I’m sure they would have been looking forward to trying to get one over on us during our latest visit to  Cae y Castell.
As covered in the last blog, Caernarfon had drawn the three matches leading up to Flint and this led to plenty of North Wales football gurus predicting the Cofi bubble had burst. I won’t embarrass these local Carraghers by pointing at the social media threads where they confidently proclaimed the wheels had well and truly come off Town’s title aspirations but you’ll probably be aware of what and who I mean. I doubt that Sean and the players felt any added pressure as a result of those draws but would guess that the critics will have galvanised them even more to get back to winning ways at Flint.
Darren Thomas
The hosts had recently appointed former Rhyl manager Niall McGuinness to take over from Andy Holden at the helm and the team had responded with three victories in five outings under his charge, so they were in decent form and it promised to be a tough test for the Cofis.
I had been encouraged before kick off when Darren Thomas told me he was nearing a return to fitness and hoped to train with the squad the following week. This was excellent news as the Cofi Messi is a key member of the squad and I often believe that people from outside the club underestimate how good he is. Most have also decided to ignore the fact that we have remained unbeaten and top of the league despite his absence since the first week of December which, considering his importance to the team, is a pretty impressive feat.
So, what of the match itself? The first thing I noted was the pitch, which looked heavy and wet, although the groundsman must have worked overtime on the surface because most matches in the  area had been called off due to heavy rain in the preceding hours. This resulted in a swollen  attendance at Cae y Castell and I’m sure that the majority of us will have enjoyed what the players served up.
As expected, the hosts began well but, having weathered their initial ten minute storm, Caernarfon settled down and took control of the game. There were a few near misses and half chances in the Flint penalty area as the Cofis pressed forward and it seemed just a matter of time before we broke the deadlock. However a red card for Jay Gibbs after thirty minutes levelled the action temporarily as the Silkmen found renewed hope although Caernarfon continued to edge proceedings up to half time. Jamie Breese and Nathan Craig gave Town a two goal lead within five minutes of the restart and really, Flint did well not to go further behind as they struggled to deal with Caernarfon’s pacey breaks upfield. The extra man advantage finally began to show in the final quarter of the match as the Silkmen pulled a goal back through Jack Lewis and took a more direct approach in search of an equaliser. Alex Ramsay pulled off two fines saves to keep us ahead and some heroic defending by the whole team finally ensured we got back to winning ways, and handing out a king-sized slice of disappointment cake to those who were pronouncing the Cofis’ demise.
Breesey was on target against Flint
It was a gutsy performance from the players, one that showed plenty of character and determination after the early red card and whilst it was squeaky bum time in the final stages, I don’t think there can be any question that the Cofis deserved the points. There was an impressive following from Caernarfon at the match and the Cofi Army certainly encouraged the players on, especially in the final minutes. Their rousing rendition of ‘Ain’t Nobody Like Sean Eardly’ at the final whistle was rewarded with a Klinsmann dive in front of them by the manager and, to be honest, it was a fitting way to end the afternoon.
Away from the action it had been nice to catch up with former Cofi Rob Jones, who now plays for Flint. Rob was an important member of our title winning squad of 2015/16 and was unlucky last year to suffer from injuries and suspensions. I remember talking with him after his final match for Caernarfon last season, where he had been sent off at Llanfair United, and he was extremely disappointed at the dismissal which effectively ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign. Despite his frustrations last season, his quality is in no doubt and it was great to see him on the pitch again, although not in our colours this time1 Unfortunately, Rob suffered an injury in the opening minutes and so had to miss out on most of the action but I hope the ovation he received from the Cofi Army helped him feel better and reminded him of his successes at the Oval. Thankfully, his injury was not as bad as feared and it was good to see he was back for Flint’s match at the weekend.
Once I’d posted the match report, photos and post-match interviews I settled down to Twitter and it definitely seemed a much quieter place that it had been the previous three Saturday evenings. It may well have been that all the footballing gurus of North Wales had gone off to a Sky Football Convention for tactical geniuses or maybe our defender Joe Williams got it right when he tweeted:“I’m sure all the doubters will undoubtedly be doubting Sean Eardley’s ability as a manager! I’m off to watch Mrs Doubtfire!”
Having successfully overcome one stiff test, the Cofis were faced with another six days later when we faced The New Saints in the fourth round of the Welsh Cup. There’s no point in me recounting  what happened the last time the sides met in the same competition and of more relevance is the encounter earlier this season, when TNS beat Caernarfon 2-0 in the Word Cup. The difference between the sides had been minimal then and goals at the beginning and end of the tie had been enough to see the hosts through.
Caernarfon’s Welsh Cup curse struck again in the fortnight before the tie as Chris Williams and Ryan Williams suffered injuries that deemed them unavailable whilst Jay Gibbs was suspended and Kevin Lloyd and Shaun Cavanagh were both cup-tied. This meant that Sean was without five of his first team squad for the match but, on the flip side, the Cofi Messi was back, which must have given his team mates as much of a boost as it did the supporters. We still had a very strong starting eleven to face the Welsh Premier League Champions and, despite going behind in the fourth minute, the Cofis proved a match for the full-timers in every aspect.
Messi was back against TNS.
Correct decisions at key moments can make a huge difference in tight contests and Friday’s match was a good example. Caernarfon had a strong penalty shout just before half-time when a Darren Thomas header hit Connell Rawlinson’s arm at the far post but the referee waved play on, and the ball was cleared. It’s impossible to say how a penalty at that time would have changed the outcome of the match but against excellent sides like TNS these are the moments that you need to go your way.
The Town players deserve huge credit for sticking to their tasks so resolutely after the visitors doubled their lead almost immediately after the restart and, as the match wore on, I felt the Cofis improved and looked quite comfortable against their highly rated opponents. When Darren halved the deficit in the seventy seventh minute I sensed we could get back on level terms and it was great to see Sean pushing his team on in search of an equaliser. The Oval was rocking for those final thirteen minutes as Town put the pressure on, and I think it said a lot that TNS keeper Paul Harrison was looking for every opportunity to waste a few second whenever he could – and not just after Darren scored!
Gareth Evans
Aeron Edwards showed his quality in injury time when he scored a third for the visitors but, despite the result, I think Caernarfon Town were still winners on the night. An impressive crowd of 1489 saw the Cofis go toe to toe against their full-time opponents and, just as impressively is that we played football that was every bit as good as the Welsh champions.
I note that in his post-match interview TNS manager Scott Ruscoe was quite complimentary towards Caernarfon and also alluded to the fact that the Oval pitch was not the type they’re used to, which is definitely worth bearing in mind if we manage to get back into the top tier. o many of the WPL clubs play on 3G pitches these days that keeping a real grass surface may well be an advantage to us in the future. I know the club is looking at putting down an artificial pitch at the Oval to enable it to compete financially with other big clubs in the country and I agree with this, but it would be such a shame to see us lose what’s already there, and something we can use to our advantage in the future.
So, a disappointing result for us but everything else on the night was a success. The players put in one of the best performances from a Caernarfon Town side in recent years and showed again that they’re good enough, individually and collectively, to play in the top tier. The football they played was on a par with a team that play the game professionally and what’s even more important is that nearly fifteen hundred people were there to see the sides put on a great show. I was impressed by TNS, but more so by Caernarfon Town. In the words of a former football commentator who got too big for his boots before getting caught out: Take a bow Alex Ramsay, Joe Williams, Nathan Craig, Gareth Edwards, Rhys Roberts, Clive Williams, Kevin Roberts, Gareth Evans, Jamie Breese, Darren Thomas, Danny Broookwell, Telor Williams and Aaron Davies-Thomas.
I’ll finish this blog off by once again putting my head on the social media block. We had queues stretching out of the car park and half way down Marcus Street on Friday evening as people looked forward to a real football match on a grass surface between two sides who rarely face each other. 1489 people eventually walked through the turnstiles and witnessed a cracker of a match between two very good sides. Yes, I appreciate that the Welsh champions were in town, that it was a cup tie and there were no other matches on in the vicinity but it was still a pretty big crowd, one that other teams in the Pyramid would dearly love to have.
If you were to check the attendances for the next round of Welsh Premier League matches, the chances are that the combined total from all them will not reach Friday’s crowd at the Oval and in my opinion the fault lies with the FAW. They really do need to realise that many people have no interest in watching the same teams face each other between four, five or six times a season. Of course we can all guess at the reasons why the powers that be refuse to change the format (I’ve heard that it may be because they don’t want to dilute the product?) but, common sense and business wise, it must make sense to change things.
I know there are some who are extremely sensitive when it comes to the FAW and WPL but even those who are so precious about the top tier must see it’s time for the governing body to increase the number of teams in its flagship competition to sixteen? Sides facing each other just twice a season may produce better crowds and better matches, as both we and Ruthin proved against higher ranked teams in the cup this weekend.
And talking of Ruthin, the Cofis will be facing them this weekend in what promises to be another very tough fixture. Sean Eardley has already told me the players are really looking forward to it and I can’t wait to see how we go against yet another strong side.
Ain’t Nobody Like Sean Eardley……..