Park Life: Four Seasons of Rhondda Football Club is a revealing and humorous insight into the world of Sunday League football, where you have to pay to play. The book recounts the story of four eventful seasons for the Maindy Con Football Club. Here they find a special camaraderie that is difficult to match elsewehere. Park Life is a story – a celebration – of those Sunday League footballers; a million miles away from the pampered prima donnas of the Premier League, but whose defeats are just as painful and whose successes are every bit as glorious. as they ply their trade in the Rhondda Valley & District Sunday League in South Wales.
The game may still be eleven players versus eleven, and the pitch is a similar size, but football has changed since the early games at the end of the nineteenth century.
The birth of the Premier League changed it. It is now big business – very big business. Who would have thought, back in 1961, when Jimmy Hill fought and overcame the salary cap (then £20 a week) that football players would be paid hundreds of thousands pounds a week (a week!). Even a single game in the second tier of British football is reputedly worth a staggering £150 million to the winners, who get to grace the Premier League. A huge gulf exists between players and supporters; there is little or no common ground between them. The footballers themselves are now more likely to be from Portugal rather than Preston, Scandinavia rather than Scunthorpe, and the days are long gone when a Ford Cortina Mk 3 was the car that footballers dreamt of.
Supporters, on the other hand, who travel miles and pay good money attending games up and down the country, are only seen as customers. Customers my arse!
During this period of change in the top echelons of football, luckily ‘real football’, as I call it, has not changed. ‘Real football’: where you have to pay contributions to play, hope that a referee turns up, get changed in a shed, play on a rain-sodden cabbage patch and even take your own kit home to wash. It is at this level of football, however, that a special camaraderie exists that is difficult to match elsewhere. Those of you who have played will know what I mean.
I have been involved in this ‘real football’ for many years, as a player and as a manager, and what follows is an insight into four eventful seasons in a South Wales Sunday League. It is1all amateur players and football fans can relate to, as the events like those detailed here happen every Saturday and Sundays up and down the country… providing there is a referee! As you will see, ‘real football’ is truly a million miles away from the pampered prima donnas of the Premier League. It has provided me with the best of times.
On the beginnings of a post-match ritual involving the man-of-the-match:
The afternoon became even more memorable as it was the first appearance of the ‘yard’. This was a three-pint cylinder that was normally safely hung up behind the bar in the Con, minding its own business. Not that day, though, as Chubby, the Club Steward, suggested each team have a whip-round and fill the yard and then present it to the Man of the Match of each team. For fairness, they were given a choice of what to put in the yard: lager, cider, beer or even Guinness! It was then over to the Man of the Match to do the tricky bit and drink it.
This soon became an entertaining regular post-match ritual along these lines: the Man of the Match (or ‘victim’) would stand on a chair in the club lounge during half-time of the Sunday Sky game and attempt to drink the yard in front of everyone present. Even the boys from the snooker room would briefly put their cues down to come through to the lounge to have a look at the free entertainment. The ritual included much encouragement and vocal advice from the baying crowd (especially the women present), such as ‘twist it’ when the victim hit the bulb in the yard. Sound advice, I might add, as without a timely twist at the bulb stage the lager (or other drink of choice) would pour out onto the drinker, soaking them. If you don’t believe me try it for yourself!
On winning the Cup in their Second Season:
‘Offside,’ I screamed, standing directly behind the linesman on our side of the pitch. My voice was added to by about another 10 of our lot right behind him, all screaming ‘offside’ in unison. In truth it looked really tight to me but then, as if in slow motion, the linesman raised his flag for offside. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief. ‘Well spotted, lino,’ I shouted to him, ‘good decision. That was clearly offside’.
We were hanging on and needed support. Club chairman Mr David Ray tried his best repeatedly
screaming: ‘Mind over matter, boys… mind over matter, boys… we don’t mind and they don’t matter!’ The support raised us and we managed to get to full time level at 1-1.
The boys were knackered, so Choc and I rushed to them with the water bottles. It was up to me to try and get that last bit of effort out of them for the extra time. I tried, but I could sense they already knew how close we were to winning or losing the cup. During the first half of extra time we made a good counter-attack following another of their frequent attacks, which resulted in tricky winger Neil Coles beating their full back before delivering an inch-perfect cross into the heart of their penalty area. Time stood still again as their goalkeeper misjudged the flight of the ball. After what seemed like an age, out of nowhere Ian Lewis rose at the far post to head home in the bottom corner. We were in dreamland. Unsurprisingly Cwmafan refused to lie down, and threw the kitchen sink at us.
I put myself on to waste some time (watching the Premiership had even affected an old goat like myself). The boys at the back were incredible and after what seemed like a lifetime, the referee finally blew his whistle.
We had won the cup!
On the ‘Anglo-Welsh Cup’ in Season 4…
Although the 52-seater bus was not quite full, there was much excitement and anticipation as we boarded at the Con at 9am sharp, Saturday morning. The driver Dorian and his co-driver Sid would be staying in Ashby overnight on Saturday, before driving us back on the Sunday, hopefully with the Anglo-Welsh Cup on board. Those boys present but not playing later in the day set about the booze on the bus as soon as we pulled off from Ton Pentre.
After a long, warm, four hours on the bus (great preparation for the game, I must say) we arrived in Ashby. Those who had started drinking as we left were by now in a bit of a mess.
Dorian and Sid located the ground and dropped all of us plus our kit/overnight bags off near the ground. Ashby is not a huge town and, as a result, we had booked into three different hotels/bed and breakfasts. Some of the boys were getting concerned that they had not seen their hotel. I reassured them by informing them that some places are bigger than Ton Pentre!
Park Life: Four Seasons of Rhondda Football is available now (£7.99, Y Lolfa)