The Poetry Club gathered at Penydarren Park for beverages, sarnies and a pre-match chat.
There's no such thing as Merthyr Poetry Club but, no matter, five of us
( Al, Julie, Bernard , Phil and myself) from the Open Mic at the Imp took up the invitation to attend the home game v. Cambridge City on March 25th.
On the way the steps were open again, but the Tregenna Hotel looked run-down.
Memories take short-cuts.
For me this fixture was Nostalgia United, as City happened to be the first team I ever supported : from ten years old parking my bike outside Milton Road or, at nights, sneaking in dangerously over high wire fencing.
In the clubhouse, the Atrium, Merthyr FC was starting to bustle.
A row of hospitality rooms would soon full up with various groups and, before long, Webley's bar was 'eavin' and we were all ready to read poetry to......
Well, it didn't work out ; but maybe next season, with a mic stationed in the bar.
Al was coming over all Zen and declaring we'd actually 'died' and were invisible.....he announced this in such a perky way that it seemed quite attractive!
However, our task lay ahead : to write poems about the game, to be used in future programmes and also part of the club's literacy scheme, working with local schools. Some of us behaved like proper writers, taking notes and photos.
I made a bee-line for the Cambridge supporters, just a handful who'd come as stowaways on the team bus.
We reminisced about the old days when they had their own ground (Milton Road), long knocked down.
In the programme was a report of Merthyr v. Cambridge City in 1971 and I recognized more of the latter's players.....amazingly , the great Welsh international winger Cliff Jones among them!
Talking to them - one with country accent and the other an urban cockneyfied one - took me back........
I did so much growing up inside that small stadium and a few away trips I went on with my mates from the Grammar school.
In Cambridge, you were City or United and they were both in the same league at that time ( must've been Southern Premier).
Evening matches were best , as the darkness added to the furtive riskiness of the place........back of the main stand smoking Consulate; bored and playing our own games on the adjacent training pitch, so sometimes our plastic ball would be kicked over into a goalmouth melee on the actual field! ; courting couples in the ditch alongside the training pitch we'd goad , but ,above all, the chanting.
I loved the chanting ( as I still do ) : the sense of belonging to a tribe, wearing the colours, sharing stories.
Rugby friends use the word 'tribal' in a derogatory way in relation to football, but for me it's always been a question of identity.
As my own family were fracturing, with separation and then the messy business of divorce, it gave me an alternative one and even when my best mate Lart was brutally attacked at a Cup game in Hendon, we still carried on following our team.
The Cambridge team which took on Merthyr seemed to consist mainly of young players, in contrast to my memories of a team made up largely of retired pros and those who hadn't made it professionally.
We Famous Five poets sat in the shade of the Grandstand on a typical sunny day on the Costa Taffia.
At one end of the stands opposite was a sign declaring the club's proud fan ownership, on the other the sponsorship by rapacious opencasters Miller Argent...... the uplifting and mercenary aspects of club survival!
Merthyr were on their worst run all season and had three key players out injured or suspended ( McLaggon, Reffell and Prosser).....though, luckily, the latter was on the bench.
However, Town were expected to win comfortably against a team second from bottom , yet struggled till an excellent Barrow free-kick shortly before half-time.
No players kicked up arrow-heads on the fine, carpeted 3G pitch.
The first half was dull, but at least my Eggman friend Al was wrong with his prediction of 0-0.
Phil had disappeared to sit in the reporters' box, his habitual perch.
Al and I yearned for that legendary curry and chips, so we decided to move on and gain entry to the stands simply by announcing ourselves as 'the poets'.
I met my good friend and Merthyr fanatic Roger on the Theatre Royal end, getting a tan and contemplating writing his next match report for the programme in sonnet form ( now there's an idea!).
On the sunny side we feasted on veggie curried chips as tasty as Merthyr's football became.
The sauce was prophetically the colour of Ryan Prosser's beard and I told Al he'd come on and transform the game.
Sure enough, Prosser scored with his very first touch ( his 150 goal for the club) and new signing Josh Bull had an equally powerful impact getting another.
On the wing. Ian Traylor was a different player, scoring with a flick and a pen. 5-0 !
With some fans still en route back from Cymru v. Iwerddon the attendance was somewhat depleted, but this result should give Merthyr the boost they need to reach the play-offs and then, to quote a cliche, anything can happen.
Football is all about raising money, connecting with the community, working with charities, sosializing and sharing memories, but ultimately it's about bringing hope.
Merthyr, like so many places blighted by poverty, needs this so badly.
( Look out for our poems in forthcoming Merthyr Town FC programmes.
This is one I wrote specifically to read to the Cambridge fans, though it never happened. )
Cambridge City, My First Team
Got the scar to prove it
white line above left knee
where we sneaked in:
wire fence , torn jeans, cut skin.
Rivalry with United,
same league then
and always two huge fans
to fight and settle it.
Evening games couples snogging
we’d annoy with ‘Pull it out!’ ;
one girl surrounded by boys,
all hands were snaking.
Away games , Corby full of Scotsmen,
celebrating on the field with the team;
Hendon, my best mate attacked,
blood spurting as we stood, aghast.
Always the one character (or nutter!),
bloke with a shopping bag
of bottles who railed at the ref,
walked round the ground never stopping.
My first team , my school next door
to a ground since knocked down ;
though United won trophies
I learnt barbed love and loyalty.