FOOTBALL IN BLAENAU FFESTINIOG
FOOTBALL has been very popular in the Blaenau area since it became a sport for the masses in the 1880’s. The earliest known version of the town’s organised clubs was in 1885 but it was not until four years later that the club became fully established. The religious fervor rampant in the 1870’s and 1880’s had begun to wane and by the early 1890’s players could take part in the sport without fear of expulsion from their chapel!
The club progressed slowly and rode many a financial crisis, closing down and re-forming, in the same breath almost, on many occasions. During the early days they played their matches at Holland Park, now buried under “Domen Fawr”. This was the first of many homes used by local clubs. In the period 1889 to 1905 records of the Leagues they played in have not yet been found although two Leagues then in existence have been suggested – the Carnarvon & District League (not the current League of the same name) and the South Carnarvon League.
Holland Park Map
There are two indications that organized football was in place in these early years. The first is a Ffestiniog District League result in the North Wales Pioneer of 17th February 1908 – Manod v Moelwyn United 4-4 with another fixture announced for the forthcoming Saturday of Villa v Prysor Rovers. Other teams in the league are listed as Ystrad Albions, Baltic South End and Wrysgan City.
The second is a photograph existing of a North Wales XI that played a South Wales XI at Towyn, in what was believed to be a trial match for the full national XI in 1898. In the photo are two brothers from Blaenau, John Hughes Roberts and Griffith Hughes Roberts, the former being the father of J H ‘Non’ Roberts who played for Blaenau and Tanygrisiau - amongst others - during the inter-war years.Non Roberts in turn was the father of Richard Hughes Roberts who played for both Blaenau Ffestiniog FC and Blaenau Colts in the 1960’s. He was signed at 16 as a junior with Nottingham Forest by Bob Davies, himself a famous footballing native of Blaenau and at that time a player with Forest. Richard was a fine defender in his time and quotes other former Blaenau team-mates – Glyn Owen, Dai Thomas and Ronnie Jones - as some of the finest players of the era and a great influence on his football career.
The name Blaenau Ffestiniog FC first appears in an organized League in 1905 when they entered the North Wales Coast League – the most senior League in the region and one that had been in existence since 1890. They struggled for the first few seasons before taking the title in 1912-13. By this time the club’s home base had changed TWICE! From Holland Park they moved to Cefn-y-Maes later the site of the Manod Granite Quarry and now the home yard of E.Hughes’ transport fleet. After only one season in the North Wales Coast League they moved to Newborough Park, where they settled until 1930, now the site of the Somerfield store and car park. Apparently the move from Cefn y Maes was due to the fact that spectators could view matches without paying from various points outside the ground – including, to many’s disgust, Bethesda Cemetery
Meanwhile on the playing side the club failed to retain the Coast League title in 1913-14 when they appear to have been known as Ffestiniog Town – a title used also for the 1911-12 season. It is hoped to clear up this naming anomaly in the near future.
When football re-started after the First World War, the North Wales Coast League resumed activity for the 1919-20 season and the town team registered under the name of Blaenau Ffestiniog Comrades FC. The tag Comrades was used by many re-forming clubs during 1919 and reflected the camaraderie surviving players and officials had experienced on the Western Front. They reverted to Blaenau Ffestiniog FC for the following season which turned out to be the last for the North Wales Coast League as league football in Wales was completely re-organised into the Welsh National League for the 1921-22 term.
The club does not seem to have existed at senior level at least during this season, but took its place in the Welsh National League Division 2 West for the start of the 1922-23 competition. They remained in this Division and won the title in 1925-26, but not only opted against promotion but disappear completely for 1926-27! This is currently under investigation.
Surfacing again in 1927-28 they won the Division 2 West title but again did not take the step up. Despite finishing only second in 1928-29 they were promoted to Division One and fielded a Reserve side in their place at the second level.
During this time football was flourishing in the area and the club had already been joined in the National League set up by both Tanygrisiau FC and Ffestiniog United.
In fact, such was the demand on the playing side during the 1920’s that a District League was formed by William Jones Penny and others. It was then that the famous names of local soccer were in daily conversation and memories of Offeren, Black Stars, Gwynfryn Celts, Manod Villa, Manod Swifts, Blue Boys, Married Men, Coming Stars, Dixie Kids, Rhiw Corinthians, Ystradau Celts, Moelwyn Rangers and Happy Eleven still abound amongst the older generation. Unfortunately no records covering this local league have been located but the search continues. Many of these names were to appear again with the inception of the Inter Quarries Competition. However, the original clubs were to remain all too briefly as the depression, the Second World War and the start of the decline in the slate industry all combined to bring on a steady decrease in the town population and the District League’s disbandment.
1929-30 turned out to be the last season for the Welsh National League system as divisions broke away and senior clubs either set up their own league or went bankrupt! The senior League competition to come out of all this was the North Wales Football Combination up and running for the 1930-31 season. Blaenau Ffestiniog FC were elected into the League but in August 1930 it is reported that they had a debt of £343 and would be withdrawing from the league. It is unclear to which, if any, League competition they played in after their withdrawal, but strangely this season shows them taking part in the Welsh Cup for the first time – a 2-6 defeat at Bethesda Victoria in the First Round of the 1930-31 competition.
It was at this point that the club moved from Newborough Park – partly due to poor drainage but more importantly because the ground was too small. The club was ineligible for some cup competitions – notably the Welsh Cup – as the playing area was too small. The new, temporary, home was Oakley Park, but its exact location remains a mystery at present. It is believed to have been at the site of the old Oakley Quarry stables, now – like Holland Park – the victim of the slate tips. Second to the present ground, the most popularly known home ground was Heygarth Park, now the site of the Metcalfe Ltd factory, and it was to here that they moved in 1931.
The District League disbanded but by the late forties both Llan Ffestiniog and Tanygrisiau had clubs with Trawsfynydd joining them in the early fifties. They played in the Cambrian Coast League - a different League to the town team who remained in the Welsh League as it was then. The Traws team was formed by Gwilym Roberts (Bolton Café) when he was invited to do so upon his return from Bolton Wanderers - after doing his national service at Trawsfynydd camp and Caernarfon.
In 1931 they re-joined the North Wales Football combination and remained there until it was disbanded to enable the formation of the Welsh League Division 1 (North) in 1935 – another attempt at nationwide reorganization. For the 1931-32 season they also fielded a reserve side in the Vale of Conwy League.
In fact when the two English-based sides in the Combination – Ellesmere Port Town and New Brighton – left the competition in 1933 the league resurrected the old title of North Wales Coast League for the last two seasons.
During this period the club entered a side in the Cambrian Coast League as well as the North Wales Coast League and its new successor. Blaenau Ffestiniog FC took over the fixtures of Tanygrisiau FC in the Cambrian Coast League during the 1933-34 and continued their presence until the end of the 1937-38 season. The same team was fielded in both sets of fixtures and at the end of the seasons it became ridiculously hectic with the team sometimes playing two matches on the same day. Worse, two away matches on the same day meant no time to bathe and change so they started the second match in the same muddy condition as the finished the earlier one!
It would seem that in the post-war era this practice was only attempted once – in the 1948-49 season.
The Cambrian Coast League was disbanded in 1963 but the clubs at Llan and Tanygrisiau had both well faded away by then. In its heyday the League had seen many then- famous member clubs: Blaenau Ffestiniog, Porthmadog, Bala Town, Dolgellau, Machynlleth, Tywyn, Aberystwyth Town, Aberdyfi and the famous army side 55th R.A.Tonfannau who, like most of these clubs, went on to a higher grade.
The formation of the Welsh League Div.1 (North) as the senior competition in North Wales set up the region’s longest running, and more importantly stable League. BFfFC in fact played a major role in its success. During the seasons leading up to the Second World War, the club began to bag some silverware. They took the 1935 Cookson Cup beating Llandudno FC 2-1 at Llanrwst and beat the same opponents, who had already taken the League championship, 2-0 in the 1938-39 final at Llandudno.
They also reached their two most major finals so far during this decade, with appearances in the North Wales Amateur Cup finals of 1937 and 1939. Unfortunately they lost to Buckley Town on both occasions – 1-4 at Rhyl in ’37 and 1-2 at Llandudno in ’39.
After the Second World War, the town team became well established at Haygarth Park, and although attendances had dwindled a little from the 2000-3000 that almost regularly watched their matches pre-war, large crowds still flocked to watch them. Gwilym Roberts was suggested by many for the post of manager during the early 50’s but the Committee’s insistence on spending money to paying imported players’ wages at the expense of providing cover for the spectators proved enough for Gwilym ‘Peniel’ to turn down the offer.
The ground was offered to the club for sale at £250 and Gwilym had negotiated the free provision of enough shelter to surround the ground from a dismantled firing range in Harlech, but still the Committee preferred paying players to spectator protection and long-tern planning.
Their stance backfired when the Ffestiniog Urban District Council bought the land for the purposes of building the existing factory on the site.
A home was found at Y Ddôl in Tanygrisiau which had been the base for that village’s own club in the 30’s, 40’s and 50's
As part of the deal set for the vacating of Heygarth Park the FfUDC built a new ground on an old rubbish tip at Congl-y-Wal and they moved to the new ground at Cae Clyd in 1956. Covered accommodation was provided by a disused railway shelter bought from the Ffestiniog Railway. The shelter, from the old LNWR/FR Exchange Station in Glan-y-pwll was installed after an Appeal Committee raised the cash two years after their move to the new ground.
Many people are still of the opinion that Heygarth Park would have been a far better location than the present Clyd ground due to its siting closer to the town centre.
On the field, the town team continued despite such errors of judgement and persisted with imported players. It was not until the late fifties/early sixties that their next period of success came about.
With the highest placing in the League so far being third in 1952-53, they came closest to silverware for the first time since the war at the end of the 1954-55 season. They took on the then mighty Rhyl FC in the North Wales Coast Challenge Cup final at Bangor, but went down 1-3. The following season, 1955-56, they reached the final of the Cookson Cup before losing 1-2 to newly formed Borough United at Llandudno.
Much improvement was to follow in 1958-59 when, having again finished third in the League, they won the Coast Challenge Cup 3-2 at Bangor beating a strong Holyhead Town side, and to cap a great season they also took the Cookson Cup for the first time since the war at the same venue beating Llandudno 3-1.
Perhaps of all the Cookson Cup finals the 1960-61 final would have given the fans the most satisfaction – a 6-1 hammering of deadly rivals Porthmadog at Bangor. To complete the successes of this period, the Alves Cup was added to the roll in 1962-63 with a narrow 1-0 win over Rhyl in Colwyn Bay. Another Coast FA Cup final defeat was suffered in the intervening season as the Quarrymen succumbed to Pwllheli & District at Bangor by two goals to one.
Having been in the Welsh League (North) since its 1935 inception it was to be at the end of this season before they claimed their first title, having finished runners-up the previous season. It was a close run thing with the Town Team pipping Holyhead Town by a single point.
This period of success was the result of using players from outside the town and the cost of this was two-pronged. Firstly, a slump set in with a recurrence of the financial problems that had dogged the club in earlier eras.
Secondly, the formation of a second club – The Blaenau Colts in 1962. Research is beginning on this club’s history and their contribution to the football history of Blaenau will hopefully soon be unveiled.
The Colts remained in existence until 1970 when, having existed throughout in the Vale of Conwy League, they disbanded.
Financial re-grouping brought about a revival for the senior club in the late 60’s marking the beginning of their most successful period ever.
The highlight was the Grand Slam season of 1971-72, when they won all four North Wales trophies – the North Wales Coast FA Challenge Cup, Welsh League(North) championship by five points from Bethesda Athletic, the Cookson Cup and the Alves Cup.
The cup final details are as follows:
North Wales Coast Challenge Cup – won 4-2 against Pothmadog at Bangor.
Cookson Cup – won 4-1 against Bethesda Athletic at Bangor.
Alves Cup – won 3-0 against Connah’s Quay Nomads at Denbigh.
In 1972-73 they took the championship again by three points from Caernarfon Town but lost 0-1 to Denbigh Town at Rhyl in the Coast Challenge Cup final. They retained the Cookson Cup by beating Porthmadog 1-0 at Bangor and at the same venue held on to the Alves Cup by the same score against Penygroes based Nantlle Vale. With the hat-trick of League championships completed in 1973-74 – with Bethesda Athletic again runners-up - they became only the third club in the history of the League to win three consecutive titles.
They lost their grip on both the Cookson and the Alves Cups in this third championship season, but they managed to reach the Cookson Cup final only to lose 0-2 to Colwyn Bay at Bangor. In their third consecutive NWCFA Challenge Cup final they went down 0-3 to Porthmadog at Bangor and lost their fourth final on the trot in 1974-75 going down to the same opponents 1-5 at Pwlheli.
Again there was a price to pay for this success, gained as it was with a costly out of town squad. The threat of disbandment reared again in the mid-70’s averted only by Gwilym Roberts taking over the manager‘s job and running a purely local based squad.
A fine local side did extremely well during this period especially when one considers the opposition were following what had been a distinctively Northwalian trend of using Merseyside and Wrexham based players. This enabled the finances to improve and in the late 70’s the club once more dropped the local talent in favour of players from these areas. This was to prove fatal for the club as can be seen later. In 1976-77 the locals reached the Alves Cup final hosted by Bangor where they succumbed to a 0-2 defeat against a strong Porthmadog side. They got to the final again the following season but lost 1-3 to Caernarfon Town after extra time, this time Cae Clyd.
Their fourth North Wales Coast Challenge Cup final defeat of the 70’s came in Porthmadog at the end of the 1976-77 season where they lost 0-3 to Courtaulds Greenfield who defeated them again by three goals to two in the 1978-79 final at Pwllheli.
With the hiring of better quality players further honours soon arrived, firstly in the shape of the League championship in 1979-80 when they finished a single point in front of Caernarfon Town and it was also at the end of this season they won the highest trophy in the history of the club when they defeated Brymbo Steelworks in the Welsh Intermediate Cup final by 1-0 in a replay after a 3-3 draw. Success in the Alves Cup returned with a 1-0 home win against Colwyn Bay in the final.
Becoming the holders of the Barritt Cup for the first and only time with a win over Porthmadog was the highpoint of the 1980-81 season, but they failed at the last hurdle in the Cookson Cup at Llanrwst, this time Colwyn Bay gained a 3-1 revenge.
The following season, 1981-82, saw them finish second in the League by one point from Courtaulds Greenfield and by a lone goal lost the Welsh Intermadiate Cup final against Conwy United at Aberystwyth.
Two finals in 1985-86 – both at Bangor – saw them lose 0-3 to Bethesda Athletic in the Cookson Cup but a thrilling Alves Cup end-game saw them win a penalty shoot-out 4-3 against CPD Y Felinheli after the match remained scoreless after extra time.
Finally, financial pressure and lack of interest in running the club by all except a few forced the club to exist in name only during 1986-87 by which time Blaenau Amateurs FC was well established and running two teams.
At the end of that season - its centenary - the club was formally disbanded.
During its one hundred—year life span, Blaenau Ffestiniog FC had seen many a change in fortune and played in almost every part of Blaenau. The club played a major part in the history of football in North Wales over its century of existence but its almost persistent habit of ignoring all but the exceptional in local talent often brought severe criticism and eventually played a large part in its demise. Many of the town’s best were forced to rival clubs for a place, and a few were put off all together by the thought of such a move.
The past had seen many locals attaining success in the English League.
Dr.R H Mills-Roberts played in the 1887-88 and 1888-89 FA Cup Finals for Preston North End, being successful in the second when they beat Wolves 3—0 at Kennington Oval.
Gwilym Roberts played for West Bromwich Albion and Bolton Wanderers.
Bob Davies played for Nottingham Forest.
Orthin Roberts also turned out on 22 occasions for the same club.
In his book “STINIOG”, Ernest Jones lists others with English League experience:
William Jones (Grimsby Town)
David Jones (Stoke City)
Gwynfor Hughes (Northampton Town)
O Billie Parry (Gillingham and Tottenham Hotspur)
Richard Arfon Griffiths ([uteri Town)
David Felgate(Lincoln City)
The most significant happening in football terms during the tail end of the last century and the direct result of the senior club’s decision to drop local players was the setting up of the town’s only current club - Blaenau Amateurs FC - in 1980.
On the 7th of July,1980 a meeting was held at the North Western Hotel to discuss the formation of a new football club. Chaired by Gwilym Penniel Roberts the meeting was a great success and the present BLAENAU AMATEURS FC was formed and officials elected to administer the club. These were:
President - John Cadwalader Jones (then Queens Hotel landlord)
Chairman - David Emlyn Griffiths (Haulfryn)
Vice- Chairman - Austin Roberts (Glanwern)
Secretary - Robert Ll.Roberts(Wynne Road)
Assistant Secretary - Philip Roberts (Llan Ffestiniog)
Treasurer - Rob Harris (North Western Hotel)
Assistant-Treasurer - Mrs Rob Harris
Committee - John Williams, David Coleman, Ken Hyde, Brian Jones, Glyn Crampton, Gwilym Price, Gary Jones, Emyr Williams and Gwilym Thomas.
Of the above named, only Robert Roberts is still with the club and has been club secretary throughout the life of the club.
Gwilym Roberts was elected as Manager for the first season and the club successfully applied for mastership of the Vale of Conwy Football League, gaining entry to Section A. Aided by numerous cash donations - the first noted as being from Glyn Crampton - the club started its first playing season, with the following squad being named for the first League fixture sway at Conwy British Legion:
Kevin Spencer Hughes
Gareth Jones (Porthmadog)
Robert Llywelyn Roberts
David Benjamin Williams
Robert Thomas (Porthmadog)
Clifford Williams (Penrhyn)
All of the above have now retired from active play; the last to hang up his boots being goalkeeper Kevin ‘Spens’ Hughes who remained as the club’s number one custodian for twelve years broken only by a short spell with Machno United. Out of a possible 186 league matches he missed only five with three of those during a season as manager. His loyalty and dedication on the field helped the club to victory on numerous occasions and his heroics between the posts sometimes staved off a heavy defeat against more experienced opposition.
David ‘Benj’ Williams returned to the club for a season to play alongside hie son Keith, who had trials for Arsenal and Glyn Jones became manager for a period, pulling on his boots once or twice during the end of season fixtures.
The first match ended in success, a 5-1 win for the Amateurs, but the club took time in establishing itself and it was not until the 1983-84 season that the club gained its first honour in the form of the League’s Frank Tyldesley Trophy which they successfully retained the following season and regained in 1986-87.
The most successful season so far on record was the 1987-88 term when the club won the Vale of Conwy League title by two points from Penmaenmawr in a very tight finish. Having completed the season as runners-up the previous year, it was an even greater pleasure to take the championship unbeaten and to complete the double by winning the League’s Challenge Cup - then sponsored by the North Wales Weekly News - in a final against near-neighbours Dolwyddelen.
This success, coupled with the fact that they were by now amongst the top clubs in the Vale of Conwy League, prompted an application to join the Gwynedd League. The application was successful and their membership of that League commenced at the start of the 1988-89 term.
To be continued………….