Old rivalries were renewed in the first round of the Welsh Cup as Merthyr Town met Barry Town, a fixture which has not graced any competition these two teams have competed in for a number of years. Merthyr have not competed in this competition for some time due to the FAW excluding teams that play in the English pyramid system. For 2011/12 though, the FAW extended an invitation to those clubs, but only Newport County, Wrexham and Merthyr Town accepted.A single train journey separates these two towns, the line that the train careers down was once a symbol of how both Merthyr and Barry thrived during the industrial revolution. Akin to the ultimate demise of the coal and iron industries though, both of these clubs have suffered hardships in recent years. Merthyr Tydfil FC was liquidated at the end of the 2009/10 season due to mounting debts; the club had attempted to meet its bills by hosting friendly matches against Cardiff City and Swansea City during the season. These fixtures did little to stave off their financial difficulties and saw them issued with a winding-up order from HMRC. The club reformed as Merthyr Town FC and found themselves three divisions below the Southern Football League Premier Division, where they had finished the 2009/10 season. As Penydarren Park was an asset of the club, they had to find a new home. This came in the shape of Rhiw Dda’r Stadium, located roughly twenty miles south of Merthyr in Taff’s Well. The season ahead saw them secure promotion to the Western League Premier Division and secure a return to Penydarren Park, where this cup tie is being held.
Transportation links between north and south Wales had been a hindrance to Welsh clubs in the early part of the twentieth century, hence why numerous clubs competed in the English pyramid system, it being far simpler to travel over the border to England than tackle the unwieldy roads of mid-Wales. Where as Merthyr have chosen to remain in the English pyramid system, Barry Town chose to compete in the Welsh pyramid system in the early nineties, with the hope of joining the League of Wales. Barry became the most successful club in Welsh Premier League history, winning the title on seven occasions and becoming regulars in European competition. This success came to a dramatic end though after a spell with John Fashanu as chairman. Fashanu brought with him promises of prosperity and success, but this promise was never met as the club delved further into financial despair. Fashanu left the club in a perilous state which ultimately landed the club in administration. To this day, the name of John Fashanu is not uttered in Barry without an air of contempt.
As the fans take their seats, the announcer reads the names of the respective teams about to take the field. The Merthyr team are met with no response from the home crowd, who are put to shame by the small contingent of Barry fans who cheer every name as it is called. The kids playing football around the pitch are ushered to the stands as the teams come out to take their positions. Merthyr are without a number of first team players today as they field an experimental and perhaps inexperienced team. This is evident in the first few moments of the game as Barry mount an attack on the Merthyr defence. Mike Parkins is able to find space down the right side of the field and crosses into the box for Michael Hartley to put head to ball. Hartley doesn’t quite get enough on it as it soars upwards. The balls descent to ground causes a problem for Merthyr keeper Mike Ley, as it seems to veer towards goal. Scrambling back to goal, Ley avoids embarrassment as the ball lands just beyond the crossbar.
It is an unusually warm October day in Merthyr Tydfil, perhaps the players from the coastal town of Barry are more accustomed to this weather? It certainly seems so as they find reward for their early dominance. A ball drifted in from a corner finds the fist of Mike Ley, only for the ball to drop to the feet of Barry’s Lewis Cosslett. Cosslett hits the ball over the keeper to find the net and Barry take the lead. The home crowd are displeased, to say the least, and make their irritation known with shouts of “too many changes” amongst other expletive remarks.
It’s at this point in the game that Barry’s Tom Ramasut comes to my attention, when in possession he seems to have a calm demeanour, taking the ball effortlessly past opposition players. A quick succession of passes between him and Michael Hartley sees Ramasut in a position to shoot. The build up play deserved a goal but it was not to be on this occasion. Cardiff born Ramasut has previously been on the books at Merthyr and has only recently rejoined Barry. He was involved with Barry’s championship winning team of 2000/01 and rejoins the club after a spell with Haverfordwest County.
Michael Hartley is making a nuisance of himself in the Merthyr 18-yard box and earns his team a second goal after a superbly timed cross was played by Josh Bell. Hartley had no qualms with slotting this past the keeper to give Barry a two goal advantage. The Merthyr support are livid as they see their team once again make an inadequate effort in defence. The Barry faithful are savouring this dominance over their old rivals whilst the fans sitting in the home stands are letting Merthyr know exactly how they feel.
The Merthyr team are first to take to the field for the second half and are left waiting for some time before their opponents join them. Perhaps they’d rather stand on the pitch taking the derision of the crowd as opposed to the scorn of their manager? Merthyr start this half the way they should’ve started the game as they manage to piece together a succession of successful passes and begin to test Barry keeper, Daniel Bradley. This display is short lived as Barry begin to exhibit exactly why they’re two goals ahead in this game. Merthyr fail to clear the ball on numerous occasions as the ball is repeatedly put back into dangerous territory. Michael Hartley collects the ball after one of these failed clearances and claims his second goal of the match from close range. Barry are now three – nil up in what must be an unassailable lead.
The Barry fans are singing as the Merthyr fans are griping. The home team will feel they’ve let their fans down so far and are now making a considerable effort to make it up to them. In one of the attacks mounted by Merthyr, Steve Williams is brought down just outside the box. Ryan Prosser and Marcus Griffiths stand over the ball while they await the wall to be formed, upon the referee’s whistle, Griffiths runs towards the ball. It’s a good strike as the ball clears the Barry defence and dips towards goal, unfortunately for the home support though, it marginally goes over the crossbar. At the other end of the pitch, Tom Ramasut is accused of time wasting by the Merthyr fans after he goes down clutching his left leg. One female spectator screams at him “you lying little toe rag” as he makes his way off the pitch. Ramasut’s game ends earlier than he anticipated, and although one female Merthyr fan may disagree, his effort today has been outstanding.
The dying moments of the game see Merthyr try to claim a consolation goal, for there is no denying that the result will go in Barry’s favour now. Marcus Griffiths finds himself at an acute angle from which to shoot but still manages to get a shot on target. This forces Daniel Bradley into a save which presents Merthyr with a corner. As the ball is drifted in, Steve Williams shakes the defender as he charges into the box. Williams jumps highest to meet the ball and had it been only a few inches lower, it would’ve given Merthyr the consolation goal they were chasing. However, the ball went over the crossbar and into the stand behind. Barry manage to keep the clean sheet until the final whistle and walk off the pitch with a well deserved three – nil victory. Special mention goes to Tom Ramasut and Michael Hartley of Barry, both played a pivotal part in today’s victory. Merthyr underestimated Barry today by fielding a team made up of mostly fringe players, as a result, Barry progress in this cup competition and are one fixture away from a potential tie against Welsh Premier League opposition.