Newtown 1 The New Saints of Oswestry Town & Llansantffraid (27/10/2018)
A quirky ground, hilly views, and a dodgy sat-nav thinking I’d prefer a scenic route brought me to Newtown in the middle of Wales, a place that felt so far off the beaten track when approaching it that you wondered if they’d have electricity, let alone a phone signal, yet possessing a main street congested enough to necessitate starting the construction of a bypass around the town.
No suggestion of congestion just a couple of hundred metres from that crowded road at Latham Park, the leafy home of Newtown AFC since 1951. Photos in the club bar, and a small fuzzy one in the programme, show the ground in its early days. The large crowds have long gone, but there are still some remnants of the ground from those times.
One small stand is still there, albeit altered and extended to be all-seated, and one corner features grass banking. Many grounds in England had grass slopes, but whereas all have fallen victim to “heath & safety” red tape and cordoned off in England, on the Welsh side all seems fine. What’s more this “terracing” even featured crush barriers, and some benches as the back. One such barrier didn’t quite match the slope, meaning one end of it was so low as to of only be of use to small children.
A young female steward with colourful hair smiled in my direction as she saw me wandering about the slopes, taking pictures. Either I still have “it” despite my ever-advancing middle age, or she saw me as an easily pleased harmless nutter. Sadly I think I know which. Despite the good view, few watched from this corner, although the slope behind the goal was quite popular.
Despite allowing this grass banking terracing, the move at the top of the Welsh pyramid is definitely towards seating accommodation, with Latham park offering nearly 1400 seats spread across five separate stands. Sadly, even with this being a Welsh Premier League fixture, that number is far more than were needed, with the entire 302 crowd possibly being able to fit into the seats of that converted old original stand.
What those that did turn up saw, apart from some nice scenery, was a game in which the host started brightly and took the lead early on from a fine individual goal. Newtown’s Ethan Jones picked up the ball on the edge of the area, cut inside, then cut back outside again, making room for a shot, before hitting a low shot across the keeper to make it 1-0.
They should have been further ahead before the break, spurning another good chance or two. The best was probably when a half clearance fell to a Newtown player in the middle of the box. He swung a leg at it, but pulled it wide of the post, when a foot or so the other way would certainly have been 2-0. Had they managed that, they might have gone on to win.
The New Saints (or The New Saints of Oswestry Town and Llansantffraid, to give them their full name, not quite managing to take the mantle of the longest name in British football from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch FC) is the current name for the club once called Total Network Solutions. To much amusement at the time, village side Llansantffraid were sponsored by the software company, and despite that sponsorship money no longer being there, the club has hardly faltered.
The New Saints have won the last seven league title in a row, and 11 of the last 14. Given that their success has largely been bankrolled rather than “earned” through regular income – last season’s average crowd of 307 was no better than average for the league – they perhaps aren’t the most popular club. While they may not be popular off the pitch, nor looked anything special at all on it in the first half, their full time status in a part time world did start to show in the second half.
A half time team talk which was probably a slightly stronger-worded version of “come, come, lads, I think we can play a little better than that” stirred the TNS players into a half of nearly one-way traffic towards the Newtown goal. They still didn’t look like champions, but they did at least start to look dangerous, to the encouragement of the knot of away fans in green and white.
In contrast, the home fans got slowly more annoyed, mainly with the referee, and his fondness for giving free kicks around the Newtown penalty area. “Is that your wife’s deodourant?” shouted one, as the ref got out his magic spray yet again, to mark out another set of white lines.
Bored with giving free kicks around the box, he decided to give one inside with 15 minutes left, which unsurprisingly didn’t please the home fans either. Greg Draper, who was fouled/dived (depending on your viewpoint) stepped up to fire an unstoppable spot-kick into the top corner, to level the scores.
At that point TNS looked the most likely to get a winner, but actually it finished more even. Newtown did have a penalty shout of their own, but neither side really had a clear chance to get that winner. Newtown’s best hope was probably right at the death. TNS had a player sent off for a second yellow well into injury time. The ball was launched into the TNS box in the hope of something against a short-handed defence, but it wasn’t to be. A game played in the first real chill of winter ended up a bit of a disappointment for both sides. Still…nice scenery.