Farrar Road, a eulogy

3 01 2012

Before you read on think of the song “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”. This famous tune will set the scene because it provides the basis of our new song……………..

“Oh the Caernarfon and Rhyl are tragic……
 
                                       …….but Bangor City are magic!!!!!!
 
We’re losing our spiritual home…..
 
                 ……..FARRAR ROAD, FARRAR ROAD, FARRAR ROAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

As with all the best songs our creation wrote itself in about 5 minutes. Now we had a lament for our impending loss……

 

                                    …….And so it came to pass that upon that particular Tuesday at the end of December in the year of lord Two Thousand and Eleven Bangor City did play their last ever match upon the hallowed turf of  Farrar Road, and lo there were many tears……….  

 

Even with a decade to prepare for last Tuesday the tears still arrived, no-one could believe that the final day had finally arrived, in fact someone would have been able to cut the disbelief with a blunt knife.

Over the last few months there has been a justifiable display of heartfelt emotion; deep mourning , recrimination, accusation. Unfortunately none of it could alter the watertight development contract that the club was subject to. The development contract of Damocles cast a very long shadow and probably led “casual observers” to wonder why Bangor’s fans were in a state, but then in my experience casual observers tend to stick their oars in, ahem, notice things. 

In the minds of “casual observers” “casual observers” are special people in local football circles because they think notice things that others don’t, consequently they will have noticed that Farrar Road was a bit of a ramshackle place. When it come to issuing opinions “casual observers” are anything but casual so we can take it as red that their observations will not have remained unexpressed.

If you’ve ever visited non-league circles you will have seen “casual observers” before, if you haven’t seen them before don’t worry, they’re very easy to spot. Just look for the group comparing notes with a knowing smile and measured tone of voice. If they’re nice people they’ll be comparing notes about the standard of pies they’ve received at various grounds.  If they’re nasty they’ll be comparing notes about the gossip they’ve heard.

If you actually try to converse with the nasty ones, and they deign to reply, you’ll find that they won’t have an allegiance; “Oh, I just like local football” will be their approach. Usually they will inadvertantly shatter your preconceived ideas about how you think your clubs’ season is going with a well-placed opinion. “Jones isn’t playing very well this season is he?” If you converse with them for long enough they will try to ellicit your opinion so they can add it to their local football gossip databank. For your continued mental health I suggest that you ignore them. If you’re you’re an agent provacateur, like me, I’d suggest that you feed them some erroneous gossip for a bit of laugh.

Normally I don’t spare more than a passing thought for irritants. Normally I’m the dude that abides, people are just people after all. Essentially the “casual observers”, even the nasty ones, aren’t actually hurting anyone. However when I combine Farrar Road and “casual observers” I don’t feel as charitable towards them. I’ve stood close to a group of these anti-social pests on too many unfortunate occasions to feel that way, I know how these anti-social pests operate.

Consequently I can picture their fevered conversations about Farrar Road; they will have told people not to peer too closely at the historic ground lest they see that it’s a little frayed around the edges. They’ll have said that it’s a shame that Farrar Road has seen better days and it’s a shame there’s now air of dampness, mildew and weeds, they’ll say how it’s shameful the terraces are now a bit bumpy and uneven. They’ll have said that the approach to the ground flouts most health and safety legislation. They’ll tell you the club shop is damp and the toilets are basically a walled cesspit. They’ll have pointed towards the main stand, highlighted the bits that cannot be used any more, and then told people that the ground is on it’s last legs. They’ll say how glad they’ll have a new ground to visit.

It’s not just what they say, it’s how they say it, it’s the self-satisfied air they use. Unfortunately they are too self-satisfied to realise that everybody has already noticed what they’re talking about. Most people, even Bangor fans, will have noticed that Farrar Road has seen better days.

Unlike the “casual observers” a lot of people won’t have  restricted their view to the obvious evidence, we won’t need a soul transplant either but that’s another story. When the less visible aspects of Ffarrar Road are considered Farrar Road ceases to be a tip, it becomes an historic football venue.  The obvious surface blemishes can’t hide the 90 odd years of social history that was around us. It’s was a history that we felt, a history that we helped to create. With the direct help of the players Bangor’s fans have helped transform Farrar Road from a blank canvas……….

….into a historical masterpiece of such glorious vividness it reduces grown men to silence. Just because most of us haven’t actually witnessed the 90 odd years of history doesn’t mean we can’t feel the history, we can all still visualise it.

We can see the crowds of 3,000, 6,000, even 10,000, we can visualise the Napoli, Fredrikstad and Atletico matches. For us the old Welsh Cup Finals and semi-finals, the FA Trophy runs and the FA Cup runs all happened yesterday. We have justifiable pride in our achievements;  founder members of the Conference, Northern Premier League and even League of Wales, the only Welsh club not to have lost at Wembley,  the only Welsh club to have played in all 4 of UEFA’s club competitions.

We can close our eyes and still see the legends in blue upon the lush green turf, we can see them all; Iorys Griffiths, Jimmy Conde, Albert Jackson, Tony Broadhead, Paul Whelan, Viv Williams, John Mcllelend, Neville Powell, Ray Stubbs, Mark Palios, Marc Lloyd Williams, Phil Lunn, Paul Roberts, Owain Tudur-Jones…… All we needed to do was close our eyes.

Each story, each image, each memory was passed on in such detail that the history continued to live. Each memory spoke of a great connection to a place, every memory meant something to people. This is major problem with our move, now that the action has stopped, now that we’re cast out of our spiritual home, these memories will begin to lose their potency. The visualisation of historical events become difficult without the site.

The ground was a connection between an area, it’s people and history, without the ground these connections are lost. Living breathing social history suddenly becomes pictures in dusty books. “Casual observers” couldn’t see any of this no matter how hard they looked.

The fans weren’t just witnesses of history, they helped to create the history. Without fans the atmospheric ground could not have existed. At Farrar Road the fans didn’t stop at building an atmosphere , they actually helped to build the ground, they built history.  Fans helped build the High Street terracing and they helped to build the fencing UEFA demanded for the Atletico match in 1985;

It may be obvious thing to say that people cannot spend so much time in a place without feeling a connection but it’s true. Therefore the impeding loss of Farrar Road was obviously going to be felt keenly, as my friend Ian Gill says;

“It’s really been a character in my childhood. The back of our house looked over on the ground. Each morning I’d open the curtains and the first thing I’d see would be the goal at the Farrar end and the back of the stand. This was my back garden to all intents and purposes. This is where I would come and kick a ball after school and I’d come and watch the team training.

Bangor City’s president, the ex-FIFA refereee Gwyn Pierce Owen said this;

“It’s 65 years since I’ve been coming here to watch matches. There are many memories – good ones and unfortunate ones – but mostly good ones.

“I remember coming here with my father at the age of 12 when the place was packed and trying to find a place to watch the game. You couldn’t watch it from behind the barriers. It was that popular. We used to sit between the touchline and the barriers. I remember the public address man saying ‘would everyone sitting in the stand please move inwards to leave more room for people.’

Phil Stead has also noticed that there is something special  at Farrar Road;

It was 1995 when I first made a visit to the ground. A car-full of Cardiffians made the five hour drive to Bangor to watch the UEFA Cup defeat to Widzew Lodz. I was smitten. Here, in one of the most beautiful, remote parts of our country was a proper football ground. It had fans who cared just as much as we did, and the Bangor City support that night for a team that was outclassed stayed with me. It even influenced my decision to move my family to the area a decade later.

These were glory nights for a stadium that sits right at the centre of its community. Bangor citizens rightly have a pride in their club’s achievements that are tied inextracibly with their ground.

And here as well;

That’s what we want from our football – for once, the players are behaving like fans behave – it means as much to Les and Sion as it does to the Bangor faithful. That’s rare these days. After Cardiff City beat Leeds 4-0 at Elland Road recently, the players wandered about 5 yards towards the 1200 fans who had travelled for 5 hours on a Monday night and half-heartedly applauded.

But Bangor City are good at this. In fact, I can’t think of a club that has a closer relationship between team and its supporters.In this image below, the man in the brown coat is Bangor City Chairman Dilwyn Jones, a long-time fan himself. A moment before I had overheard the manager Nev Powell telling his team to go over to the fans “Go on – get over there, get right in amongst them”

Fans of other clubs have also seen something special in Farrar Road;

For me, it represents a reminder of childhood holidays and a rare occasion when I actually made an accurate football prediction. I should really try to get back there one last time before it disappears for good……”

This one too;

“Farrar Road1, Bangor’s footballing Mecca, is home to Bangor City Football Club. It was the scene of some magic moments, like Bobby Charlton’s last game ever and the visit of Athletico Madrid, and is the place where all Bangor’s devotees congregate to worship their heroes.

The ground’s capacity is approximately 5,000, of which 350 are seated, and the team it hosts have proved themselves capable of challenging for the Welsh League Cup (finalists in 1999-2000), Welsh Cup and the League of Wales. Farrar Road lies about five minutes’ walk from Bangor’s mainline railway station and does a mean line in pies.”

A Merthyr fan wrote this;

“Always enjoyed our visits to Farrar Road especially of course our Welsh Cup semi-final win on penalty kicks in 1987. A great old-fashioned stadium very much like our very own Penydarren Park. Good luck to them at their new stadium in Nantporth.”

These feelings are not just the sentimental cliches of idealistic fans, they are tangible, they are felt by the players too. Neville Powell, ex-player and present manager, said this;

“It’s been a special place for so many people and I’ve been lucky to be part of it. There’s been some really special times there and for me to go back and do it as a manager has been doubly special.

“Bangor’s been one of the top non-league clubs in the country for decades. The Farrar Road ground has meant so much to so many people – players, managers and fans. Visiting players always like playing there – it’s a proper football stadium that creates the atmosphere you want to be involved in.”

Owain Tudor Junes, the Welsh international and ex-Bangor captain said this;

“I have many different memories from being a young boy growing up seeing Nigel Adkins’ Bangor City side winning the league to initially playing with the reserves and moving on to the first-team under Peter Davenport.

“It was always a good place to play and certainly intimidating. Certainly teams didn’t like coming up to play against Bangor.”

Marc Lloyd Williams, or Jiws as he’s known to us, said this;

What has made Farrar Road an iconic place over the years has been the faithful supporters that have continually given their all to the club and who have been fundamental in securing financial stability in recent years – the atmosphere they generate has been second to none.

There will be no ground like it ever to grace the WPL again, although I am confident the faithful Citizens will do their utmost to re-create the magnificent Farrar Road experience at their new home. I will always treasure the memories I had of playing there.”

Southampton’s manager Nigel Adkins won two consecutive league titles as Bangor’s goalkeeping player-manager,  he said this;

(Adkins and Bangor parted company in 1995)………. “However, there were no hard feelings on Adkins’ part and he remains a City fan to the present day.

“I’ve got nothing but happy memories of my time at Bangor,” he said. “We had some good players, played good football and were successful……….The fans at Bangor were amazing and made Farrar Road have a unique atmosphere all of its own.”

The TV presenter Ray Stubbs is an ex-Bangor City player and he sent me this tweet;

“………sad day but positive day in same breath I guess …. Best wishes to great club”

One of the best quote I’ve heard about Farrar Road was made by FC Midtjylland’s general manager in 2008, he described Farrar Road as a “place that smells of football”. This is the effect that Bangor City amd Farrar Road has on people.

I can’t explain exactly how much I will miss Farrar Road. I may not have been going there for as many years as the other hard-core fans (I’ve only been going for the last 18 and a half years) but I’ve still managed to feel that Farrar Road means something. And now for a bit of a personal tribute from me….

During the early 1990s BBC Wales used to broadcast a programme called  “Wales on Saturday”.  Every week Alan Wilkins would tell us all about sport in Wales, he even told us about non-league football because the  programme had a weekly section about the Welsh non-league clubs, it then had section about the League of Wales after the league’s formation.

Thanks to this coverage Farrar Road reminded me of the grounds that featured in the less well known Roy of the Rovers stories. I think it was mainly the perimeter fences.  It was nice to see that there was a proper football ground in north Wales that was a bit closer than Wrexham. At this point in my life I never been to Farrar Road but due to the programme I’d gained a sense of of what Farrar Road was like, it also gave me a sense that I was missing something.

It may seem odd that took me so long to visit Farrar Road, especially with Bangor being so close to Llandudno. With the power of hindsight it certainly feels odd to me. You have to understand that when I was younger I felt that there was a gap between Llandudno and the rest of the world, I suppose that every young person must feel this about their town. Even though I knew that I was born Bangor the city felt quite far away, I wasn’t even sure where it was exactly. This sense of alienation is down to the A55. In my youth the A55 wasn’t the slick motorway that connects north Wales to civilisation that we enjoy today, it was a turtuous strip of tarmac that connected me to travel sickness and ruined bank holidays.

If I think back to the late 1980s/early 1990s I don’t remember much coverage of Bangor in the local media until the start of the League of Wales,  I certainly don’t remember too much coverage of Bangor in Llandudno’s papers – although I must qualify this statement by stating that I don’t remember being an avid reader of the local press. I don’t remember many people talking about them in school and my dad didn’t really mention local football either so I continued to live in ignorance of the soulful city. I knew that Bangor had beaten Napoli in the 1960s but not much more.

My desire to visit Farrar Road really began in Autumn 1993 when I went to Bangor University for an UCAS open day. I walked up the slope at the side of the University’s main arts building and I saw Farrar Road for the first time in the flesh. It looked like I’d imagine it; a proper football ground. I resolved there and then that I would go to Farrar Road at the next available opportunity.

I first went to Farrar Road in November 1993. I don’t remember too much about the match, I remember that that there was a bit of sun but that’s it.  There are two matches at Farrar Road that I remember vividly from my first season. A Wales v England non-league international that was played in a virtual blizzard and the historic 9-0 victory over Haverfordwest that took place on the same day as the 1994 FA Cup final. The vistory meant that Bangor only needed a draw in Porthmadog to win the league. I was there with the other 3,000 Bangor fans to see the victory, as the scar on my right hand will testify.

My next three notable games were two European matches and a Welsh Cup quarter final with Wrexham. All three matches involved bigger crowds than the usual  and it was great to see so many people come to Farrar Road. The Welsh Cup match felt like a proper match because it was end-to end stuff and there were loads of away fans, in fact there were so many away fans that the St.Paul’s end was filled by Wrexham fans.

The European matches were also great in their own ways. They were both played in warm sunshine and this always helps. The first one against Akranes was in the balance for a long time when Frank Motttram reduced the Icelandic sides’ lead. By the end of the match on that lovely warm evening it felt like Bangor had a chance to progress. We didn’t progress though. 

The next match against Widzew Lodz was marked by a large number of drunken Polish fans. One of them latched on to me and pestered me for the French shirt I happened to be wearing. In between the pulls of my shirts he entertained us by reading through my programme. When he reached the section that detailed Widzew’s European history he dismissed all their opponents (Liverpool, Man United, Juventus) with a swish of his foot and a swoosh from his mouth, as if he were actually dropkicking their meaningless hides. Widzew scored some fantastic goal that evening as I stood there in my reproduction Widzew shirt, (yes I swapped my shirt with the persistent Pole.)

These matches made me realise that Bangor City were a proper football club with proper fans, just like Phil found on his visit to the Widzew match. The three matches also showed that my Roy of the Rovers view of Farrar Road was correct. I could see that it was still a club with a fantastic history.

Since the Widzew match I have so many memories that it would be tedious to list them all, I’ll just give you the edited highlights instead;  Jiws scoring from the halfway line with a volley, nearly beating Wrexham in the the Premier Cup semi final a decade after the Welsh Cup match, the four year run of Welsh cup finals, the last gasp draw versus Llangefni that highlighted the team spirit Nev had instilled, a friendly victory over Aris in 1998 that gave me hope of European success, getting abused as a reserve match linesman.

I found more than highlights at Farrar Road, I don’t want to get too sentimental but I found love at Farrar Road. I don’t mean that soppy kind of valentine card love, it’s the love of the fabric of society, a love for my fellow man, a love of being a part of social history. When I think of Farrar Road I don’t think of the decrepid fabric of the structures. I think of the conversations, the emotions, the singing, the goals but most of all I think of the happiness I felt when I was there.

Unfortunately there are some people that won’t allow sentiment to get in the way of making a big fat profit.

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