Sunday, 12 November 2017

James Bond, Cofi Messi and the Serial Whistleblower.

Visits to Guilsfield are always tough, from the long and winding roads I’ve mentioned in the past, to taking on a home side that can turn over allcomers on their day. Despite the Cofis having enjoyed an impressive unbeaten run of ten matches, which included six successive victories leading up to our trip to Powys, I still felt that a point against the Guils would be a good one and, as things unfolded at the Community Centre Ground, I cannot say I was disappointed with the 2-2 draw the teams played out.
Caernarfon began the match well enough and, having peppered Gresford’s goal in the opening exchanges, Jay Gibbs put us ahead courtesy of a free-kick that took a deflection off the wall on its way into the net. At that time I half-expected Town to push on and possibly increase our lead before the break but it did not pan out this way and, in fact, there were signs that the Guils were in the mood to cause an upset. I liked their midfield duo of Andy Ford and Chris Cathrall but thought that the former was lucky to stay on the pitch after a high challenge on Darren Thomas midway through the first period.
I enjoy seeing players tackling, and one of the things I have come to dislike about the game today is the referees’ overuse of their whistles, most of them finding a reason to stop play whenever two players of opposing teams are within five feet of each other. Andy Harms is a fine example of this type of official but, on this occasion, he decided to keep his whistle dry, so to speak, which was surprising as the tackle was reckless in my opinion. The referee’s decision was not the reason Caernarfon seemed to lose their way slightly for the remainder of the half, but it’s worth mentioning that Mr Harms had another one of his inconsistent afternoons at Guilsfield, with a number of decisions being made that puzzled both sets of players, and supporters.
It was in huge contrast to the refereeing display we had seen seven days earlier when we played Lex at the Oval, when Cheryl Foster had once again impressed with her common sense approach to the action. Maybe she can give Mr Harms a few pointers?
Yet another stoppage by the referee....
Alex Ramsay came to Caernarfon’s rescue on a number of occasions as the hosts took control of the match, whilst Brookwell and Breese went close to doubling our lead. A quickfire Asa Hamilton double midway through the second period put the hosts ahead and from that point on, the Cofis struggled to get back on level terms. A late substitution by Iwan saw Kevin Roberts enter the fray and this seemed to do the trick for Town as he provided some impetus in midfield and a decent period of pressure paid off when Jay Gibbs headed in the equaliser. There was still time for a winner and whilst Town was the only team looking to get it, Guilsfield deservedly held on for a share of the spoils. Whilst hanging around after the final whistle for post-match interviews I could sense that the Town players were frustrated but, taking all things into consideration, a draw against the Guils on their own ground is a decent enough return.
The biggest disappointment as far as I was concerned was the performance of my satnav, which has definitely had better afternoons! I’m slightly embarrassed to confess to using it for a trip I’ve made on many occasions but did so in the hope that it might find an alternative, and faster, route than the usual journey from hell. To be fair, it did its job and got me to the ground, and did indeed take me on an alternate route, but only after a trip through Bala, a seemingly endless barrage of villages and a massive near-miss incident on the way down a dirt track that felt steeper than the drop James Bond faced in that opening scene in Goldeneye! 
Another tough trip awaited us seven days later as we travelled the short distance to Porthmadog, where Craig Papyrnik and his players awaited us for a second battle of the season at ‘Y Traeth’. We had inflicted a league defeat on Port earlier in the season courtesy of a late Darren Thomas strike and so their players will have been delighted to have an early opportunity to avenge that reverse.
The sprinklers were not required in Porthmadog.
The weather in the days leading up to the league cup tie had not been good, and the forecast was even worse, with heavy showers and very strong winds promised for the Saturday. It seemed to me  there was more than a decent chance the tie would be called off due to the conditions and I must have checked Port’s twitter feed every twenty seconds after waking up that morning. Despite my misgivings the referee’s call that the match could be played was the correct one and, during a decent first time showing by the Cofis, I was more than pleased with the decision. Despite the poor weather, Caernarfon were on top for most of the half and created a number of goalscoring opportunities, none of which they could put away. Predictably, we were made to pay for it with an improved second half showing from the hosts, who clinched the tie by scoring twice in three minutes after the break. The opener came immediately after Jamie Breese’s exit through injury and whilst I did not think Port were that much better than us, they deserved to win and it was good to see Cai Jones playing so well for them, the former Town striker enjoying a deeper role than usual and pulling the strings for the hosts.
The defeat meant an end to Caernarfon’s eleven match unbeaten run but what was particularly disappointing was that it marked the end of our two year hold on the League Cup. Of course the management staff has made absolutely clear on more than one occasion that the team’s only priority this season is to win the league and thus gain promotion, but it still doesn’t ease the disappointment of getting knocked out of a cup, especially when you’re the holders. Iwan had been unavailable for the match and so I carried out my usual post match interview with his assistant, Sean Eardley and was pleased that he pulled no punches when discussing the afternoon’s action. I always tend to ignore post match interviews on the television because the managers and players are afraid to say anything that may stray from the usual party lines but I believe we’re lucky at Caernarfon that the management team is honest and happy to discuss things in a straightforward way. It’s what the supporters want to hear and if they’re not being honest with their appraisals then what’s the point?
Sean Eardley was honest in his appraisal after the Port match. 
Yet another away cup tie awaited the team three days later and, as if recent trips to Guilsfield and Porthmadog had not been tough enough, this time the hosts were Welsh Champions The New Saints. The competition was the Nathaniel MG Cup and a semi-final berth awaited the victors. I was extremely disappointed to have to miss the match due to work commitments and was reliant on club president John Watkins to keep me abreast of the latest developments via text. I feared the worst when his first message arrived four minutes into the match and we were already a goal down and although I’ve seen plenty of Caernarfon Town sides capitulate against TNS over the years I still felt this current squad of players would dig deep and give the champions a run for their money.
This is exactly what they did and, having enjoyed parity with the hosts for the majority of the match, it took a late second goal to finally secure the holders’ passage to the next round. I arrived home from work with around twenty minutes of the match remaining and put on TNS radio in the hope of listening to the final stages. Unfortunately, despite hooking up immediately to the channel, I heard very little action being described and even less mention of Caernarfon Town and any of our players. Of course, I understand that any club’s radio station will always concentrate on its own team but I would have appreciated hearing a bit more about how we were playing, and not just the hosts. I have met the commentator, TNS media man, Stewart Bloor, and read his excellent blog regularly but recall mentioning after a friendly between the sides two years ago that he did not give Caernarfon the credit they deserved in his commentary that day and whilst I understand it can’t be an easy job, I hope that he might be able to give us at least a few mentions when we next play them, hopefully some time next season!
Despite the lack of information garnered through the radio I have been reliably informed that Caernarfon were impressive and matched up well to their hosts, showing what the Cofi Army already know, that we have a side capable of playing in the Welsh Premier League. I believe all our players are technically gifted and it would suit us to play on artificial pitches, as proved when we deservedly defeated Llandudno on their own ground earlier this season. As a traditionalist I can’t say that I agree with the FAW’s preference for these plastic pitches but, from a purely business point of view, it does make a lot of sense. The pros are many, from requiring less maintenance to providing an excellent training facility and a probable income stream, it ticks many boxes and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before most clubs in the top two tiers will have 3G/4G pitches at their grounds.
After a challenging run of matches on the road we were back at the Oval for our next test, a tough-looking encounter with Gresford. Followers of the league will know that their manager, Steve Halliwell, has done a superb job since taking over at Clappers Lane early last season. He stepped into the post after Eddie Maurice Jones left the club for Denbigh last November and turned the side from a bottom half outfit to one that ended the season third in the league. They may have lost their opening four league matches of this campaign but arrived at the Oval full of confidence on the back of an undefeated seven match run, five of which they had won.
As an added point of interest, I had found out during the week that Darren Thomas was just one netbuster away from securing his hundredth goal for the club and I knew he would be all out to reach the milestone in front of the Oval faithful. I cannot pretend to be a font of all Caernarfon Town knowledge and must thank the club’s historian, and a lifelong supporter, Ian Garland for providing me with Darren’s goals tally. Ian co-authored the ‘Canaries Sing Again’ book in the eighties and is always ready to help with any and all information regarding the Cofis. He was a massive help to me when I wrote Oval Ways three years ago and a great friend to the club, so it was thanks to his record keeping skills that we knew how close Darren was to reaching his ton.
Breesey celebrates his second goal against Gresford.
After an exciting start to the match that saw both sides set a blistering pace, Nathan Craig put Town ahead with his thirteenth goal of the season and from that point onwards Caernarfon bossed the action, racing into a five goal lead before the hour mark and eventually winning by six goals to two. Nathan was voted man of the match and quite rightly so, completing yet another brace for the club when he slotted home from the penalty spot in the second period and Jamie Breese matched his captain’s efforts with a brace of his own. However, Darren Thomas was the star of the show for me as he notched up his hundredth goal for us with a classy strike to put us five ahead. Typically, Darren  was not content with just reaching his fantastic milestone and insisted on having the final word when he popped up at the far post late on to meet a Chris Williams cross and begin his quest for a second century of goals for the Cofis.
Readers of this blog will already know what I think of Darren, and the moniker ‘Cofi Messi’ sums him up perfectly. He is, without doubt, one of the finest footballers to have played for us in the last four decades and when club legends such as Ray Woods and Russ Hughes mention him as a stand-out player after watching us in action last season, then you know there’s something special about him. Incidentally, another former Town player Derek Highdale was also singing Darren’s praises earlier this year and he was a pretty decent ‘number ten’ himself.
The Cofi Messi celebrates his 100th goal for Caernarfon Town.
I’ve seen hundreds of Caernarfon Town matches over the years, both in the English non-league system and the Welsh Pyramid and I can’t remember too many players like Darren, if any at all. His pace, movement, trickery and his eye for goal make him unique and I can imagine he must be an absolute nightmare for opposing defences! If I could point out any weakness with Darren it is that he has thus far refused a post-match interview with me but, fingers crossed, we’ll get one done before long!
So there we have it, a mixed bag for the Cofis that began with a decent away draw and elimination from two cups but ended with Messi’s hundredth goal as we reclaimed top spot in the Cymru  Alliance League.
Next time up I’ll be giving my thoughts on the Welsh Cup, a shock resignation, new manager and a barnstormer at Airbus. Oval Ways and Exciting Days….

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Six of the Best!

After last week’s sidestep of posting an exclusive interview with Caernarfon Town legend Ray Woods I’m back on normal blog duty this time around and, such has been my recent lack of activity on here that there’s a decent amount of football to write about!
First of all, however, I need to say how nice it is to know that Andrew Howard, head of competitions at the FAW, reads this blog. In my last regular blog I mentioned how unfair it is that Welsh Premier League clubs receive £28,000 to help fund their Academies whilst clubs outside the top tier receive no financial support from the governing body, even those with full Academy status, such as Caernarfon Town. Mr Howard was kind enough to refer me to an old UEFA article that makes clear  the ‘current principle for youth grants’ as he puts it and, having read the said piece, the only point worth making is that the policy clearly states ‘in principle, the money should be shared equally between all top division clubs concerned in each league or association.’ Obviously, the word here is ‘principle’ and there is no reference to the funds being given ‘exclusively’ to our ‘Top Twelve’ clubs,  although I see that when a member of the Cofi Army mentions this on twitter, the exchange of tweets seems to have come to an abrupt end. It’s good that one of the FAW’s luminaries is so ready to comment on issues raised by grass-roots supporters such as I but if he isn’t prepared to enter into a meaningful discussion about such matters that so obviously confound the governing body’s remit to improve the game at all levels (and not just the top tier) then I’d rather he didn’t bother. To be honest, it just raises more questions. 
Chris Williams and Jamie Breese celebrate with Messi.
Anyway, back to the football that’s been played! The Cofis had just earned a point at Rhyl when I last signed off a normal blog entry and, although the point had seemed more like a defeat than anything else when considering the circumstances that led to the draw (have a look back through this link if you need a reminder of what I’m talking about ) there was a sense that the frustration of that afternoon would spur the team on to greater things. Iwan had hinted at this in the post-match interview we did at the Corbett Sports Stadium and victories in all six matches since then suggest that he was right!
The players had the perfect opportunity to bounce back from what they probably perceived as a wasted opportunity at Rhyl when Flint Town United came to the Oval seven days later. There have been rumours every summer since we got promoted into the Cymru Alliance League that the Cae y Castell outfit would be spending big money to return to the Welsh Premier League and whether that’s true or not I haven’t got a clue but what I do know is that they always have a good side and so it promised to be an ideal challenge for the Cofis to prove their credentials. The encounter proved just as tough as everyone had predicted and it took a very good performance from Caernarfon, and Darren Thomas in particular, to secure the points. The Cofi Messi netted both goals as he produced a virtuoso display against the Silkmen and such has been his form thus far this season that I believe he’s in the form of his life, certainly in a yellow and green kit. Sports Journalist Dave Jones recently tweeted that he thinks Darren is the best player he’s seen in this league and this in itself says a hell of a lot about his talents and if our number continues this form for the remainder of the season we have some very special moments to look forward to! 
Nathan Craig with the match ball after his hat-trick.

We were back at the Oval four days later for a rare midweek match and Llandudno Junction were the unlucky visitors this time, as they faced high winds, torrential rain and a wrecking ball called Nathan Craig! Junction have struggled this season after an unexpected late promotion from the Welsh Alliance and it is to their credit that they refused the temptation to put eleven men behind the ball from the start, manager Iain Bennett obviously giving his charges the freedom to play football and look for the victory. This probably played into Caernarfon’s hands a bit and once Darren Thomas scored after a fourth minute error from the visitors’ stopper, Gwydion Owen, it soon became evident that Junction had a long evening in front of them. This point was made absolutely clear two minutes later when Nathan stepped up to thunder his free kick around the defensive wall and past Owen. When Clive Williams added a third on twenty five minutes the game was up for the visitors and the one-sided contest ended with a not too flattering scoreline of 8-1 for the Cofis, which included two penalties for Nathan to complete a dead-ball hat-trick, a second goal for Thomas and strikes from Jamie Breese and Gareth Evans. Although the weather had been pretty atrocious, it was hoped that the football on display pleased the club’s special guest at the match, Mike Plotnikoff, CEO and Co-Founder and Director of our main club sponsors, Lite Access Technologies. It was Mike’s first visit to the ground and we managed to get him to the dressing  room to meet all the player before kick-off, which I think he enjoyed! Hopefully it won’t be the last time we see him at the Oval, especially of he manages to inspire the players to such a great performance! 
CEO of 'Lite Access', Mike Plotnikoff (right)
Another home match awaited us seven days later and a good Ruthin side gave the Cofis a stern test, although the 3-0 scoreline was still a fair reflection of the action. Chris Williams’ side had made a decent start to their campaign and in Llyr Morris had the league’s leading scorer in their line-up. They had recently defeated Rhyl on their own ground and obviously have something going for them,  so it was no surprise to read Iwan’s notes in the match programme where he made it clear that the players would have to be at their best to achieve success on the night. Nathan Craig binned any early nerves, however, when he put us ahead courtesy of another of his trademark strikes as he netted expertly from a free-kick. Ruthin looked dangerous on the break and, despite failing to score, I can  see how Morris has made his mark this season, looking very sharp and full of running throughout the ninety minutes. Caernarfon were too good for the visitors however and a goal before half-time from Jamie Breese was followed by a second half strike from Nathan, who this time scored from the penalty spot. 
Jamie celebrates one of his four goals against FC Queens Park
It’s safe to say that the side was playing some great football by now and things got better against FC Queens Park. The highlight of the 7-0 victory, and there were many to choose from, was seeing Jamie Breese bagging four goals and, after a frustrating time in front of the onion bag at the beginning of the campaign, he seemed much more like his old self against a defence that had no answer to his pace and movement. Everyone who has seen Caernarfon Town play under Iwan Williams will know that Breesey has been a major factor in our successes over the past two years and, having finished as the side’s top scorer in both of his seasons with us it’s safe to say that he’s up there as one of the best strikers in the Welsh Pyramid season. Jamie had not been as prolific as usual earlier on this season and Iwan took him out of the firing line for a week or two, although it’s important to point out that the striker still made plenty of impact off the bench whenever he was named amongst the replacements. The break seems to have worked because our number nine has returned to the starting line up with a vengeance and has found the net nine times in the last five matches. Jamie is a really nice guy, quite quiet and, just to paraphrase our manager Iwan, he is as committed as they come. Despite living in mid-Wales, Jamie has been travelling to each training session and his hard work and effort has paid off as he has played his way back into form and looks as deadly as ever in front of goal. Welcome back Breesey! Messi, Nathan and Danny Brookwell also got on the scoresheet against Queens Park and, just to put a nice sheen on the victory, the three points put us top of the Cymru Alliance League for the first time this year!
Jamie Breese with the match ball after his man of the match performance against FC Queens Park.

The side has recently had a break from the rigours of league action with two cup matches, the first being a trip to the New Stadium where Holyhead Hotspur awaited us in the second round of the Nathaniel MG Cup. The Harbourmen are a good side and defeated us at the Oval in August, going on to enjoy an early stint at the top of the table although they have slipped down to fifth recently, though they have two matches in hand on us and second-placed Airbus. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the ground is that the usually strong wind we always seem to attract on our visits there was hardly in evidence and, in my opinion, this would help us more than the hosts. Campbell Harrison’s side play a more direct style of football than the Cofis and I have seen them use this to great effect against us in the past, last season being a prime example when they beat us 3-1 in the league. This time, however, I felt Caernarfon looked stronger than Hotspur and Nathan Craig’s superb twenty seventh opener gave us a lead that we never looked like giving up, in my opinion. As always, Holyhead threw everything and the kitchen sink at us later on but, for all their efforts, they forced just one save out of Alex Ramsay, whilst two late goals by Breese and Messi gave us a deserved victory. To cap off a fine evening for Town, assistant manager Sean Eardley treated the Cofi Army to a ‘Klinsmann Dive’ celebration, which went down with not only us, but a Hotspur official who could not help from smiling as he saw it! The players have been rewarded for their impressive  victory with a trip to Welsh champions The New Saints in the third round and, whilst we would all have loved a home draw against them, I know that Iwan and the players will be looking forward immensely to the challenge. 
Jay Gibbs was on the score sheet against Lex Glyndwr.
On Saturday, the Cofis began their quest for another run in the Welsh Cup and, despite going down to an early goal against Lex Glyndwr, the side turned on the style after a slow start to win the tie by five goals to one. Goals by Nathan Craig, Clive Williams, Jay Gibbs and a brace from Jamie Breese proved more than enough to see us advance to the second round, although it must be said that Ricky Evans’ side were a tough outfit and gave as good as they got in a closely fought first half. If you’d like to see them, videos of the goals scored by Nathan and Clive have been posted on the club’s official youtube channel:
The draw for the second round of the Welsh Cup has been made today and we’ve been lucky enough to have been handed another home draw, with Berriew due to make the trip from mid-Wales to the Oval on Saturday, November 4th. If I’m right, the last time the sides met was in this same competition back in September 2012, a match we won by four goals to three. It was a memorable day, not just as a result of the victory and an impressive Paul Roberts hat-trick but more so because Paul’s first goal was celebrated by a streaker running onto the pitch with just a cardboard box on his head! I’m not sure if those present have fully recovered from that bizarre scene that unfolded before our eyes but hopefully we won’t be treated to a repeat performance at the Oval next month!

Come on Town!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Ray Woods. Interview with a Legend.

Where legendary Caernarfon Town players are concerned Ray Woods is up there amongst the footballing Gods. Cofi supporters of a certain age will need no introduction to Ray and in fact I’m sure that even today’s younger generation have probably heard tales of how he used to rule our right wing, terrorising defenders with his trademark zig-zagging runs and generally causing havoc to all comers who fancied their chances on our patch.  
In a time where moustaches and permed hair ruled football fields across the country, Ray was a cut above most of the players you’d see in non-league football grounds and, far from being the typical troubadour you’ll see in the professional game these days, he was the real deal. Quick, tough and tricky, Ray became a vital member of John King’s squad that put us on the footballing map by reaching the third round proper of the FA Cup in 1986/87.
Ray visited the Oval during the 2016/17 pre-season schedule and I was delighted to finally get to meet him. I have already written an account of this in a previous blog so won’t repeat the details here but suffice to say it was a thrill to chat to him about his time with the Canaries. He promised me that day to answer a few questions for the blog and, of course, he has been true to his word.
A small part of this interview has been published in the special booklet I produced for Alex Philp for the FA Cup team’s reunion last March (which is still available in the club shop) but most of it is new, including Ray’s thoughts on the reunion and the present Caernarfon Town side.       
So, here it is, my interview with a real Caernarfon Town legend, who also just happens to be my favourite ever Town player….

Can you give us a brief breakdown of your career in the game Ray, from the very beginning right through to the time you hung up your playing boots?
Early Days….
I began at Fender middle school where I played two years above my age and then Woodchurch High school. I played for Birkenhead, Wirral and Merseyside representative teams and between the age of eleven and fifteen I played for Shaftesbury Boys Club on a Sunday. At fourteen, I was scouted to play for Prenton Park Rovers, who were Tranmere Rovers’ youth team and signed apprentice forms for Tranmere at sixteen. I made my debut for Tranmere at seventeen against Bristol Rovers. 
I signed professional forms a year later and made around eighteen appearances before leaving the club at twenty. I played Sunday League football for the Victoria Lodge where I played alongside players such as Ian Woan and Mark Carter, who had good professional careers later on, and others were Ian Cockbain, Russ Hughes, Bobby Tynan and Mark Palios, who is chairman of at Tranmere these days. The manager was Barry Mitchell, who became a good friend and massive influence on my career. On Saturdays I played for Runcorn and then Mark Palios took me to Bangor before I moved on to Northwich Victoria and played with Steve Craven who became a good friend of mine.

Initially I said no….
Steve Craven left to play for John King at Caernarfon and John, who knew my mother well, asked her if I would be interested in a project he was building in Wales.
Initially, I said no but then John came to work on Council Sport Initiative AT4 giving sport to people out of work, which I was working on as a coach. John persuaded me to leave Northwich and join Caernarfon, who were rock bottom of the Northen Premier League, many points adrift from safety. The rest there is history!

Colne Dynamoes….
I was bought by Colne Dynamoes but didn't fit into their playing style and, whilst keeping my hand in playing for local Birkenhead team Heswall and the Victoria Lodge, I was spotted by Brian Hamilton, my old Tranmere Rovers, whom I didn't get on with, but he was by then General Manager at Wigan Athletic. He told their manager, Ray Mathias about me and Ray, who was my old coach at Prenton  Park, came and watched me play on Sunday for the Vicky Lodge. After the game he asked me to sign for Wigan but there was an issue with Colne Dynamoes about my registration contract. It got sorted and I signed for Wigan on the agreement that Bryan Hamilton had nothing to do with the first team training. I made a couple of substitute appearances and after two months Ray Mathias was sacked and Bryan Hamilton took over. I thought my professional career had finished before it got started due to my relationship with Bryan from from days gone by but he put me in the starting line-up straight away which was a big shock!

PFA and Lilleshall….
I made seven appearances up to the end of the season and looked forward to pre-season but in a friendly match against Heswall I tore my adductor muscle which kept me out for over a year. The PFA helped fund my rehab at Lilleshall and I was there for nearly four months. I was sure Wigan would release me but Bryan signed me on a month to month contract to see if I could get back playing again. At Lilleshall I not only got the injury fixed but also used their faculties to get fitter than I'd ever been!

Wigan’s Number 7.
I started pre-season in 90/91 flying and went to Russia with the squad where I had a reaction to my groin after one of the games. Nigel Adkins put me in an ice-bath and I recovered well after we got back and so started the season as Wigan's No.7. After twenty matches I'd won ten man of the match  awards and was attracting interest from a string of clubs, including Sunderland, Celtic and Milwall.

After one of our matches was postponed I was phoned and asked to go into the Club. I wondered what was wrong and if I'd done something wrong but when I got there Bryan and the club secretary put a new contract in front of me.  I asked why as I'd already signed three new contracts since my good form began and Bryan then told me they had received five bids for me but only one matched  their £250K valuation of me and that was from first division club Coventry City, who we had just played on the television in the F.A. Cup over a replay and I had been man of the match on both occasions.

Coventry and England ‘B’.
I met with Terry Butcher and Mick Mills that night and agreed to go down to their training ground, taking my friend Barry Mitchell with me and we agreed a three and a half year deal after negotiations. A week later I took my mother with me and had my first training session with the likes of Kevin Gallagher and Cyrill Regis, completed my medical and then signed my contract at the Press Conference on Midlands television. I played my first match in a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace and went on to make over twenty appearances, attracting interest from the then England boss Graham Taylor,  who had watched me as we beat Luton 5-0 and wanted me for the next England 'B' call up.

Unfortunately, my groin problems returned after a game against Arsenal and this time it was to keep me out injured for nearly two years, after having a stomach repair and a tenotomy which was the same injury I had had at Wigan but on the other leg. This effectively killed my career at Coventry and after a number of changes in management, all of whom had not seen me play. I was released and signed a two year contract with Shrewsbury, a team I'd joined on loan earlier and helped win promotion.
In the second year of my contract I produced some of my best form for years but fell out with our boss Fred Davis after a game with Liverpool in the F.A. Cup so left when my contract was up and joined Wayne Clarke at Telford before finishing my career at Worcester City, where I became Youth Academy Manager for nine years.

Question and Answer Session:
OW: What was your favourite position as a footballer?
Ray: “I have played in a number of positions but always classed myself as a right winger.”

OW: Who was your favourite player whilst growing up and who do you support?
Ray: “I have always supported Liverpool and my favourite players were Roger Hunt and then Graeme Souness, who I got to play against later in my career.”

OW: Who was the biggest influence on your footballing career?
Ray: “Barry Mitchell and Bryan Hamilton”.

Oval Days with Caernarfon Town.
OW: What did you know of Caernarfon Town Football Club before you joined us?
Ray: “That it was in Wales!”

OW: Do you recall your first match for Caernarfon and what were your first impressions of the club?
Ray: “It was against Southport away. They won the league that year and we were miles behind anyone in the league. We were 2-0 down at half-time and I was expecting a rollicking off John, which is what I'd been used to from previous managers, but John was calm and upbeat and said we were ‘As good as them but just need to prove it to ourselves’. He asked us to go out and win the second half, no matter what the end result was. We went out and battered them second half and went 2-3 up before they got a late equaliser but that was the start of the run that kept us up and led to better things. Impressions of the Club were it was smaller than I was used to but homely and friendly and the feeling that it was a nice place to play.”

Ray (back row, third from left) lines up at the Oval with his FA Cup team-mates. Photo by Richard Birch.
THE FA Cup run.
OW: Do you recall anything of the qualifying rounds before the first round proper?
Ray: “I don't really recall the games other than the last one at Chester Le Street. We were leading 2-1 with a few minutes left and I gave the ball away and they went and scored. Kenny Jones came running up to me and said he'd kill me if we lost this game. He then proceeded to pick the ball up forty yards out and put it in the top corner for us to win 3-2.”

OW: As the team started getting into the latter stages of the qualifying rounds, did you start to believe that you could possibly make a real impact on the competition?
Ray: “We were doing really well in the League and carried the form on from the middle of rhe previous season. We had very good players and you knew we could achieve good things as a group. We had good team spirit and believed we could give anyone a game on our day but we also had consistency which was important.”

OW: Can you please recall your memories of the matches in the first, second and third round:
Stockport at home: 1-0.
Ray: “I remember the crowd and the brilliant atmosphere they created. I knew Clive Evans, who played for Stockport, very well as I cleaned his boots as an apprentice at Tranmere Rovers.”

The matches with York, 0-0 at the Oval and 2-1 away. 
Ray: “I remember setting up Austin's goal in the replay by a deflected cross and being part of a great team move for Cravo's second. I recall the reaction to beating York, who in that year had knocked Arsenal out of the League Cup, being one of shock by professional in the game and everybody else but we thoroughly deserved it on the night and it was no fluke.”

The matches with Barnsley, 0-0 at the Oval and 0-1 away.
Ray: “The only thing I remember is it wasn't a great game but we had Phil Wilson's chance in the last few minutes to win the game but ‘50p head Wizza’ missed a sitter to put us into the fourth round.”

OW: Looking back at that run, did you feel disappointed at the time not to have been drawn to face one of the First Division sides in the third round?
Ray: “I never felt disappointed with the draw as it was still a good second division team managed by a legend, Alan Clarke and a team we could give a good game to.” 

From left to right: Russ Hughes, Ray and Dave Martindale celebrate Town's victory over York. Photo by Richard Birch.
The FA Cup Squad in Ray’s own words…..
Russ Hughes - Reliable and agile but too many teeth in that head of his.
Dave Higgins – Nut job but strong and a great defender.
Glynn Jones - Quiet, reliable and steady but looked like Me Bean.
Robyn Jones - Intelligent and solid like a bulldog.
Ken Jones - Old and scary but team's rock.
Huw Williams - Strong and steady.
Dave Martindale – ‘Del Boy’ with talent who would try to sell dodgy gear to supporters out of a van at half-time.
Dave Wignall - What a passer and would have been brilliant if he could run.
Bobby Tynan – ‘Mr Crocked Knee’ would have to ice after every game but what a player he was and had everything to be top player.
Phil Wilson - My wife has a brown leather distressed looking handbag that's wrinkled with age and that’s Wizza for you but what an engine and heart.
Steve Craven - Sometimes you'd have to wake him up on the pitch when he was having a snooze as he was so laid-back but what talent with immense ability.
Austin Salmon - Worked on the trainlines and had the touch of a train but also the impact of a train at times. So strong and powerful and with an eye for goal.
Stuart Clynch - Little ‘Billy Whizz’ had great technique once you got the splinters out of his backside from sitting in the bench so much. 
Ian Cockbain - As a footballer Ian was a great cricketer. Shirley Temple look-a-like he liked a lollypop or two but was a good impact sub who loved coming on for me so he could gloat about it.

OW: Obviously, those were special days at the club, and the FA Cup team is still regarded by many supporters as the best we’ve had. How good do you think was that squad Mr King put together?
Ray: “It was a very good non-league squad and possibly could and should have got promotion to the Conference if we had not have had so many Cup games to add to a tough league. We had strength, pace, ability, maturity and fight in all the right positions due to Kingy's good eye for spotting players.”

Thoughts on Mr King….
OW: What are your thoughts on Mr King? How good was he as a manager and what made him so special?
Ray: “John and I worked together as I've already mentioned and sometimes out relationship was strained as I was quite head-strong and argued with him when I shouldn't. I don't think John was a particularly great coach on the training pitch but he had a focus on how his team should play and what each player should do within that formation that was unshakable. I feel he was a brilliant manager of players because he made you feel you could achieve great things for him and you wanted to do so.
He was eccentric in the way he put across his philosophies and I remember Ian Muir, at Tranmere, telling me he thought he was a crack-pot with his boat and rowing analogy for the season ahead, until he bought into it, saw it worked and that he was a great man-manager.”

OW: Do you have one special memory of Mr King?
Ray: “This is bitter-sweet for me as I was very disappointed John didn't take me with him when he left for my hometown Club at Tranmere and I felt I'd done enough for him to warrant the chance to go with Dave Higgins and Dave Martindale. I won player of the year in our most successful year and wanted to break back into professional football but he didn't take me with him.
Many years later we were on a panel for a Question and Answer session at the Victoria Lodge with people like Jim Harvey and Ian Muir and my overall feeling was that I'd proved him wrong and reached the top of English Football League on my own. However, I do think he taught me great lessons and I thank him for that.

Commando Style….
OW: Do you have a story or memory from your time at the club that stands out and is suitable to share with us?
Ray: “Ian Cockbain started a home game for us and after about fifteen minutes you could see him running off the pitch and into the changing room. He came back a bit later and at the end of the game he told us he'd had a bad stomach and needed the toilet urgently. As he's telling us this I'm looking for my underwear and I can't find it and Coey starts laughing and hands me a pair of my underpants that he used as he had to change his own. Obviously, I threw them away and went home 'commando' style!”

OW: In addition to the cup run, the team also finished third in the Northern Premier League. How good an achievement was that?
Ray: “I think we played over sixty five games that season in all competitions and possibly would have won the league without the Cup games but it was still a great achievement to finish in the top three of a tough league.”

OW: What did you think of the Oval as a ground?
Ray: “The Oval has a large slope on the pitch but always felt great to play on for me and I felt at home there. The ground now looks fantastic, having recently visited, and is really set up for the next level.”

OW: What was your professional job at the time you played for us Ray and what do you do these days?
Ray: “I worked with John King for Wirral Council's AT4 Sports project as a football coach. Now I run my own football company in schools and holiday clubs called 'Nutz4 Soccer'.”

OW: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your time with Caernarfon Town?
Ray: “For me, this represented the real start of my career in football and I will always have a great deal of affection for the club. The one down side was not being presented with the 'Player of the Year' trophy that I won that FA Cup run year. Steven Craven had won it the season before and was presented with it at the last home game of the season and I remember thinking I wanted that.
However, at the end of the season we were so pre-occupied with John's and a few of the lads’ departures to Tranmere and also a trip to Spain, which the club had authorized, that I didn't actually receive the trophy.”

The Reunion of the FA Cup side….
On March 18th 2017, the FA Cup side returned to the Oval for a special reunion to celebrate that special time for the club and Ray and his former team-mates enjoyed the present side’s victory over Holywell before enjoying an evening at the social club, where they and the supporters were treated to the premiere showing of ‘All the King’s Men’ a dvd release consisting of highlights and interviews from that memorable cup run. Ray was also finally presented with his player of the year award for the 1986/87, with Steve Craven also receiving his Top Goalscorer award. I asked Ray for his thoughts on this special day:
OW: How did you enjoy the recent reunion with the FA Cup side Ray, and how nice was it to meet up with your former team-mates, and also with Mr King's family? 
Ray: “The re-union was a brilliant occasion for the former players and the appreciation we felt was overwhelming.
It was great to see some old friends again and remember/relive happy memories. People like Stu Clynch, Steve Craven and Russ Hughes whom I had good friendships with but as often happens in football, drifted apart and others like Dave Wignall, Ken Jones, Bobby Tynan whom I have a lot of respect for but never thought our paths would cross again.
It was great seeing Marion King looking so well and lovely catching up with John’s daughters, Jackie and Jane, as I used to attend the same school as them and they seemed happy and content with life. We all massively appreciated the effort the Club and the people of Caernarfon went to for bringing us all back together for this celebration.”

Ray finally receives his award from Richard Morris Jones.
OW: How happy were you to finally receive your Player of the Year award for the 1986/87 season?
Ray: “On a personal note, it was fantastic to receive the Player of the Year Award from all those years ago and it sits pride of place in my living room. I understood that there was a lot going on at the Club after the cup year with many changes as John left for Tranmere and so what a brilliant gesture to make by marking both Steve Craven (Top Goalscorer) and my achievement with such wonderful trophies. It will be remembered with gratitude by myself and I`m sure Steve forever.”

OW: Did watching the FA Cup video on the night bring back a few memories for you?  
Ray: “Seeing the Cup Video Highlights was a memorable part of the evening and even brought back some long forgotten memories. The time taken to source the content and then to put it together in such a professional manner was outstanding and everyone involved should be very proud with the outcome.”

The FA Cup side with Mrs King. 
OW: And finally Ray, what do you think of the side Iwan has put together and did anyone particularly impress you on the day, as we beat Holywell 6-2?
Ray: “The current team put on a great display. I enjoyed the way they built from the back and played through the thirds of the pitch with everybody looking comfortable in possession. On the day it was a mismatch and the team scored some great goals both collective and individual. Darren (the Cofi Messi) stood out on the day and his strike was pure quality. I would have been happy to play with him in our FA Cup team but as a team they look strong and organised and Iwan should be proud of the legacy that he is building.”

My heartfelt thanks to Ray for taking the time to do this, and for being so honest with his answers. A class act on and off the pitch!  

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Not Quite Our Zico Moment But.....

There had been a decent amount of hype and lots of looking forward to our match at Rhyl last week and the encounter certainly lived up to everyone’s expectations. Six goals, two red cards, touchline handbags and a confused referee who forgot his bearings and in so doing seemed to channel former professional referee Clive Thomas with a poor decision that cost the Cofis a late winner. 
Huw Jones’ decision to blow his whistle for a Caernarfon free-kick as the ball headed into the Rhyl net with their keeper beaten was wrong and cost us two points but, in all fairness, I would also say that the draw was probably a fair result, though Rhyl were obviously far happier with the point than the Cofis. 
I’ll get back to the referee later but what of the match itself, was it a good advert for the Huws Gray Alliance League and did we see two sides capable of challenging for promotion to the top tier? Well, the encounter itself was exciting and had all of the ingredients required to entertain and whilst it’s probably too early in the season to make assumptions, I believe the answer to both of those questions is yes. Firstly, the standard of football was high and at the very least was on a par with anything I’ve seen in the Welsh Premier League recently so to that end it certainly reflected well on the second tier. Also, I am confident that Iwan has put together a squad that can challenge for the title this year and I although haven’t seen enough of Rhyl to be sure of their credentials, the way they fought back last Saturday having twice been two goals behind was impressive and suggests to me that they will be there or thereabouts. 
Danny Brookwell puts us ahead against Rhyl. 
I felt Caernarfon started really well and deserved our early two goal lead, courtesy of Danny Brookwell and Darren Thomas. In fact, at the point Darren made it two nil, I thought we looked comfortable and well in control of the match. An uncharacteristic mistake by Alex Ramsay gave Rhyl a lifeline before half-time and, despite Jay Gibbs restoring our two goal lead with a cracking half-volley, the hosts fought back well to grab a point. 
Darren Thomas celebrates his goal at Rhyl.
I’m sure some of you may have had to read that last paragraph again, particularly the part about Alex Ramsay making a mistake. It’s always a given that mistakes are made in every football match and it’s also well-documented that a higher percentage of slips by goalkeepers are more likely to result in goals for the opposition, thus always being highlighted more by supporters and the media. This is unfair but that’s how football is and, when it happens to someone like Alex, it just re-affirms to me how good he is. ‘Rambo’ has been with us for a year and in that time I cannot think of a match where he has been anything less than excellent. In addition to his technical abilities, Alex is very strong mentally, as he proved last week, when he more than made up for his slip with an outrageous acrobatic save to claw the ball off his line in the second half, and also saved a Mark Connolly penalty, although the ball rebounded kindly for the latter to clinch a point for the hosts. Iwan said in his post-match interview at Rhyl that we have the best goalkeeper in Welsh domestic football and I concur wholeheartedly, there’s no-one I’d rather have as our number one than Alex. 
So, after an entertaining affair that saw the sides share six goals and settle for a point each, the biggest talking point was the referee’s late intervention as Danny Brookwell seemed to have struck a late winner for us. The official thought otherwise and, with the ball on its way into an empty net, he brought play back for a Caernarfon free-kick. To add salt into the wound, he determined that the foul on Danny had occurred outside the penalty area when everyone in the stadium could see it had happened inside it so it was a case of two incorrect decisions by Mr Jones that frustrated those of a Caernarfon Town persuasion but delighted Rhyl followers. Whilst I gather he later conceded to his mistake, stating he had lost track of the match at the time of the ‘goal’, the truth is if he was in any doubt he should have given himself a few seconds to think things over or, better still, have asked his assistant for his thoughts. As I’ve already said, I believe Rhyl probably deserved a share of the spoils due to their fightback, and I’m not saying the referee was solely responsible for us dropping two points but he certainly cost us victory as a result of his poor decision. 
To make matters worse, the man in the middle gave Jay Gibbs a red card for dissent in the dying seconds of the match and whilst I am no apologist for such offences it should be noted that this would not have been an issue if Jones had not made such a poor decision in the first place. It was a sad way for Jay to leave the action as he had been brilliant and fully deserved to be named our man of the match.
Jay Gibbs.
Whilst driving home after the match and trying to make sense of what I’d seen I couldn’t help but be reminded of iconic referee Clive Thomas, who was prone to the odd controversial decision in high-profile matches. The incident I had in mind was when Thomas had famously disallowed a goal by Brazilian legend Zico in the 1974 World Cup by blowing the final whistle as the ball was heading towards the Sweden net. Here’s the link to what I was thinking of:
Now, I’m obviously not comparing the importance or magnitude of the incidents (I’m making this clear now before the usual suspects pipe up on social media!) but it was the same type of peculiar decision by a match official and, having looked up the incident on youtube, it’s not the only similarity. The way Mr Thomas dealt with the Brazilian players is identical to how Mr Jones dealt with our players, whilst Sweden’s celebrations in ’74 are not unlike Rhyl’s last week! I also wonder if the colour of the kits have something to do with it?
Incidentally, I happened across this quote from another former referee, Graham Poll, who offered his thoughts on the Clive Thomas and Zico incident: “Perhaps Thomas’ decision to end play as Zico was about to score was a horrendous error of judgement. Or it is even possible he blew up when he did as a theatrical demonstration of his own importance.” I’m sure that neither scenario is true of last weekend’s pantomime villain! 
It’s not the first time we’ve seen a referee misinterpret a situation and affect the course of a league match this season, and we’re still only five matches into the fixture list! The FAW should take note and look at ways of either improving the standard of their officials or invest to attract additional officials for each match. The present situation is not good enough. 
An animated touchline.
Taking a step away from the action, it was great to be back at the Corbett Sports Stadium, which must be one of the best non-league grounds in the country. The pitch looked superb, sheltered seating surrounds three quarters of the ground, there’s a bar with a balcony for those who want a beer whilst watching the match and I’ve been told that the burgers and chips are worth a go! The admission charges were a little high at £7 for adults and £2 for children but prices are decided by each club and so there’s not much one can do about these things, although the charges may have been a reason for the relatively low turnout of home supporters on the day?
Before moving on, I had the pleasure of finally meeting sports journalist Dave Jones at the match, something that was long overdue! In addition to being the best sports journalist in Wales, Dave has been a massive help to me in my role as Caernarfon Town’s media officer and I’ll forever be in his debt for the assistance he’s given me, and for what he has done for the club, by way of his excellent work and coverage of what we’ve been doing at the Oval, both on and off the pitch in recent years. Unfortunately, we only had the briefest of chats last week but it was still great to catch up with him and hopefully he’ll be able to visit our ground soon to watch a match and see the special brick he has on our wall of fame. The words on it are Dave Jones: Friend of Caernarfon Town FC and that says it all!
I mentioned in the last blog that the club now has a new website but what I failed to disclose is that we decided to introduce a new site because it has lots of additional features that we can use, with the benefit that this will enable us to share news about the ladies team and academy. Therefore, you will find dedicated pages on our new site for each team that will be updated by the academy and ladies teams, so you can be sure that the information provided is correct whilst I will continue to work on the first team and general news duties. Another useful feature is the video page, which will allow us to add to it all the videos from our official youtube channel. The new website can be found by following this link:
Jay Gibbs fires in our third goal against Rhyl. 
Having mentioned the Academy, someone told me that Welsh Premier League clubs are given £28,000 annually to help towards running their academies, whilst clubs outside the top tier receive nothing, although I believe we have been offered £400 or thereabout towards the cost of match officials for the whole of this season for our Development side, who have been invited to play in the Welsh Premier Development League. The last time I mentioned the FAW are unfairly helping out Welsh Premier League clubs at the expense of the lower leagues, their Head of competitions, Andrew Howard, sent me a tweet in response and whilst I would hate for Mr Howard et al to think I’m having another pop at them, I have to point out the unfairness of the grant policy for Academies. I’m obviously looking at things from a Caernarfon Town perspective and feel frustrated that our Academy receives no financial assistance whilst top tier club’s academies receive £28,000 and yet we have the exact same full Academy status as the clubs in the WPL. Surely, all clubs with Academy status should be given identical financial support, whilst those without the full status should receive assistance to help them develop? If the FAW is serious in its oft stated aims to help grow the game in Wales, then I’m sure there’s a fairer way to help clubs who are trying to achieve good things but are not part of the ‘Golden Dozen’ in the WPL? 
We have two home matches to look forward to in the next few days, the first being against Flint Town United this Saturday. The Silkmen always provide tough opposition and, having recruited well during the summer months, they are one of the sides being tipped for promotion this year. They have certainly started well enough, being unbeaten in their opening four matches and so we will have to be at our best this weekend. Having held the FAW Domestic Licence for the past few years, Flint have everything in place to go up and will be desperate to get one over us, whilst the Cofis will be determined to get back to winning ways after last week’s frustrating draw and so it should be a cracking match between two good sides.
Jamie Breese #No9
Then, on Wednesday, we will be welcoming Llandudno Junction to the Oval and whilst the newly-promoted outfit have not had the best of starts to the campaign, they will be looking forward to playing under the floodlights at our ground. As we saw against Llanfair last year, every team is capable of beating each other in this league and so it will not be easy for Iwan and the players.
Iwan mentioned in last week’s post-match interview that he is looking for maximum points from the next four matches, all of which are at home. It’s going to be a really tough task and if we're going to achieve this goal, Iwan will need his squad to be 'on it' from the off, and will want his goalscorers on fire. With this in mind, by his usual very high standards, it's been a quiet start to the campaign for Jamie Breese but he'll be chomping at the bit to play his part and I have a feeling our number nine is going to be in the thick of things during the next few weeks! 
Finally, I’ve recently been in touch with two real Caernarfon Town legends who have given me great interviews for the blog and, if all goes according to plan, you’ll get to read them very soon….