Boxing Day afternoon, 2018

Porthmadog 0
Bangor City 2

I’ve been to only two football games in my life: Manchester City v Queen’s Park Rangers sometime in the 1970s, and the final of the Inter-Quarries Cup in Blaenau Ffestiniog in the early 2000s. The former I was taken to by a friend’s family, along with all their kids; the latter I attended because I fancied one of the players in the – as it turned out – winning team.

On Boxing Day 2018 the team of my adopted home town were playing at home against the team from the mini-city where I did a lot of my growing up. Boxing Day being part of that midwinter/solstice/Saturnalia period when the world is a bit upside down, I decided to go on a whim. Loyalties on both sides, shall we say.

I was pleased to see there were quite a lot of women among the crowd, and even some quite small children. One little lad had a great time throughout the game, running up and down the concrete path behind supporters crowded next to the railing surrounding the pitch, pushing a toy pram with a baby doll in it while being chased by about four or five siblings, cousins or playmates of a similar age, all laughing wildly.

Knowing that some Bangor City supporters are boycotting home games because of the revelations of financial mismanagement by Bangor’s owners, when I bumped into a Bangor supporter I know slightly I asked him for his take on the boycott. Two reasons not to boycott, he said: one was that attending Bangor matches is one of the things three generations of his family do together – it’s part of their family glue. His other reason is that a true supporter supports their team through the bad times as well as the good. Pondering on this, I found myself a vantage point, within a miasma of vinegar coming from the refreshments hatch and next to a friend who is a long-time Porthmadog supporter. The game started.

It took me a few minutes to make a mental model in my head of what I was looking at. The goal nearest me was being defended by Porthmadog, which was why most of the Bangor supporters – once they’d filed out of the club’s bar into the foggy dampness – were crowded round that end. OK, got that. Still, for someone whose full knowledge of the rules of football is ‘the team that scores the most goals wins’, it was quite a mental challenge trying to follow what was going on up and down the field. Play appeared to be suspended suddenly and randomly.

Not long after starting to study all this, in a series of movements that seemed to have been choreographed, Bangor scored. I was watching something tenuous but possible if there are no false moves. It was like seeing a child climbing a tree, and praying that a thin branch doesn’t give way, and it doesn’t, and the next one doesn’t, and the child doesn’t lose their balance, or their grip, and you hold your breath, and the goal is attained.

I clapped, realised I was making no sound, removed my gloves, and clapped again. It had truly been a thing of beauty. Play went on: up and down, up and back and across. A player near us, Bangor’s number 10, seemed to always be in the right place at the right time and just a touch faster and smarter on the turn than the Porthmadog players in his vicinity. My Porthmadog-supporting friend chatted off and on to me and to the chap at his other elbow. I knew my boyfriend had played for Porthmadog in the 1970s, but my friend told me what sort of a player he’d been: like Bangor’s 10, he’d been ‘fast and tricky’. That figures, I thought: now that his legs are too old for the game, he has the same way with words.

Back on the field, the poor Bangor goalkeeper was injured and taken off before half time. When there is no injury involved, how does the referee know that a team wants to make a substitution? Telepathy?

Half time: time for a cup of something warming. Porthmadog’s club refreshments provided us with good-quality hot chocolate and nice tea; you can decide its strength and the amount of milk yourself. No putting-a-standard-amount-of-milk-straight-in-on-top-of-the-teabag here – oh, no! And milk from the local creamery to boot. Top brownie points on the hot beverages front, Port!

Right, now my brain has to do a complete 180˚ mental flip. We’re watching the Bangor goal, and the keen supporters have changed ends too. Every time the Bangor goalkeeper goes in to kick the ball from a stationary position to re-start play, the Porthmadog supporters behind him give a sort of oral drum roll, with a perfectly-timed crash on a real drum, or a shout,  right as the kick is taken. Very jolly and theatrical; I wonder if it’s just a Porthmadog thing, or whether other groups of supporters do the same.

As the cliffs of Creigiau Dre fade into foggy darkness, and the players start to have multiple shadows in the floodlights, Bangor score again. There’s not much time left for Porthmadog, and their players start to look weary. Another Bangor substitute starts to come on, then turns back, tugging at his wedding ring. Having handed it to someone in the little, low hut from which he’d just emerged, he runs on. It’s almost over. People turn to leave before the end: it’s too late for Porthmadog to draw now, they think. Before they started to trickle into the dusk, there were as many spectators at the game as there are words in this post: nine hundred and something.

©Susan Walton 2018

If you’d like to read proper blog posts about being a Bangor City supporter – a ‘Comrade’ – go to John Dexter Jones’ blog

 

 

Walking on water (almost)

I’d almost done it; now was no time to slip! I’d walked both shores of the Menai Strait except for …

Walking on water (almost)

I’d almost done it; now was no time to slip! I’d walked both shores of the Menai Strait except for the stretch on the mainland side between the two bridges. This was the last piece of the jigsaw and, even though I’d waited for the lowest tide of the year, I still had to paddle through shallow water. There wasn’t any sort of beach for me to walk on there: the tide didn’t go out far enough. Shoreward a tangle of huge rocks with a thick coating of slippery, strappy seaweed loomed over me. Close by on my other side a green, deep and dangerous channel of sea moved like a lazy snake, even now at slack water.

I’d started this journey almost two years before, as a result of many sunny evenings spent gazing across the water from the Anglesey Arms in Caernarfon.  There’s a a group of Scots pines on a little headland on the opposite, Anglesey shore which always drew my gaze. Bit by bit I’d walked as much of the Strait shores below high water as possible. I went from Abermenai Point to Trwyn Du on the Anglesey side, and Fort Belan to Llanfairfechan on the mainland. Where I couldn’t walk on the shore itself I’d walked as close as I could on public paths and roads. I thought I knew the Strait shorelines: I’d been for many walks down to the water, and gazed on it from buses, trains and cars. But this walk took me to places I’d never imagined.

Some of the most unexpected things I saw were on the Anglesey side: derelict lime kilns, huge stepping-stone cubes in the Afon Braint that look like modern art, and a hidden, high sea wall nearby. I saw the familiar from new perspectives: in new lights and new colours, and from different angles. A shift in sunlight, and the water could change from petrol blue to jade green to slabby grey in a few seconds. One November dusk, in a freezing wind, I watched as the western side of the Britannia Bridge turned from mustard-yellow to pale mauve-grey. In the dying light I counted thirteen cormorants perched on the vertical face of the bridge, on the shaded, eastward side, in the teeth of the wind. Why were they on the cold side? A solitary, fluffed up grey wagtail had a better idea: it was on the western side, catching the last of the sun.

I saw four great egrets at Aber Braint, and saw the sea at Trwyn Du roiling with shoals of herring and whitebait. I saw eighty or ninety swans feeding, and a similar number of grey lag geese, while wading across the river at Aber Ogwen. On a muggy May evening, in the shoreline woods between Plas Newydd and Pwll Fanogl, a sparrowhawk sliced silently past me. I came across a fuddled guillemot in dazzling noonday sun on the endless sandy beach at Abermenai, and found an oystercatcher’s skull at dusk on the stony beach by Waterloo Port. The bone was perfect, cleaned by salt water. But none of these was my most breathtaking encounter with wildlife.

The moment, or rather the ten minutes, came at Porth Penmon. I was sitting at the top of the beach, looking out idly across the water. My eye caught movement among the seaweed-covered rocks further down the beach, newly revealed by the ebbing tide. Nothing in my wildlife-watching experience had prepared me for what I saw when I raised my binoculars: a stoat on a beach. It was quartering the rocks horizontally, in exactly the same way stoats normally hunt in a vertical dry-stone wall. Up and over, in and out, seaweed pushed through and flipped aside. It moved behind some larger rocks, and I stood up cautiously to follow it with the binoculars. Out it popped, taking no notice of me. As I walked away along the beach it was still hunting, either oblivious or unafraid.

©Susan Walton 2010

Drinking beer outside the Anglesey Arms in Caernarfon inspired me to walk the foreshores of the Menai Strait. I wanted to get up close to those picturesque Scots pines on the opposite shore.