I’M not a betting man. I’m possibly the only living adult in Britain who has never bought a National Lottery ticket. Forecasting is not my forte, so I prefer to keep my money in my pocket.
Only twice can I recall having any major success with sporting predictions. One was pure luck: I won £20 by pulling out Monty’s Pass in an office Grand National sweepstake in 2003. The other was more astute: Tipping Sunderland for relegation from the First Division at the start of the 1990/91 season.
That’s my main memory of the only match I have ever seen at Bangor City’s homely Farrar Road ground, which has also witnessed the football talents of Napoli, Atletico Madrid and Chris Moyles – and which will soon disappear beneath a supermarket.
I’d made my forecast on returning from a family caravan holiday in Anglesey in the summer of 1990. During a week of trips to beaches, castles, child-friendly pubs and that railway station with the adjoining pullover shop in the town with the unfeasibly long name, I got very excited on learning that Sunderland were to play a couple of pre-season friendlies in the area.
On the Thursday night, they were to play an Anglesey XI on the plastic pitch at Holyhead Stadium (a stand along one side with a hill behind each goal), before crossing on to the mainland to face Bangor City, of the Northern Premier League, at Farrar Road on the Saturday. My dad offered to take me along to both games.
It seems absurd now, the idea that an English top-flight side would spend a significant chunk of their pre-season programme in North Wales. These days, you would be more likely to find a Premier League team limbering up for the new campaign in the United States, the Far East, the Algarve.
The Anglesey programme notes by Sunderland manager Denis Smith evoke another era.
“We have had a very hard but enjoyable few days here working at RAF Valley with their super facilities, plus long hard slogs up and down the dunes,” he wrote. “We have also had time to relax at the health club at the Beach Hotel, plus a super afternoon shooting with the Anglesey Shooting School, for which I thank them.”
Sunderland had gained promotion despite losing the previous season’s Second Division play-off final to Swindon, who were relegated over financial irregularities. On the evidence of that night in Holyhead, Smith’s men looked nowhere near ready for the top flight. A full-strength Sunderland side went behind to a very messy goal and were fortunate to win 3-2.
The highlight of the game for me was Sunderland’s third goal. Not because of its quality – I remember it was a scuffed effort, but not who scored it – but because I was so close behind the net that I was able to pick myself out when the goal was shown on HTV’s local news bulletin the next night.
Sunderland, having only just scraped past a team of part-timers, had plenty of room for improvement against Bangor.
My dad and I had ventured past Farrar Road, which is right in the city centre, a number of times during previous family holidays in North Wales. I remember passing the gates one summer around 1988 and seeing posters advertising Bangor’s European Cup Winners’ Cup tie against Atletico Madrid, still clinging to the walls even though the match had been played three years earlier.
The Sunderland game was the first time I had been to a match there, though. My dad and I stood on an open terrace in blazing sunshine, a few Sunderland fans and locals dotted around us.
I remember the ground being incredibly hemmed in by the surrounding houses and shops, to the point where one building actually backed directly on to the terracing, without even a dividing wall. The pitch sloped from one side to the other, and must have been very dry and bumpy, because both goalkeepers wore tracksuit bottoms.
The match programme, one folded sheet of blue card, contained a feature on Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup win, pen pictures of the squad (John Kay, Reuben Agboola, Colin Pascoe, Thomas Hauser) and a lengthy round up of Northern Premier League news, in which the anonymous writer expressed disdain for the owner of Colne Dynamoes, who had folded earlier that week.
“Graham White is said to have become totally disillusioned by hate mail and phone calls and has folded the club,” wrote Anon. “Many will not mourn their passing for White catapulted transfer fees and wages beyond the reach of a few Conference sides. But I do have some sympathy for the fans who followed the club.”
Sunderland, again, weren’t very good. They had to come from a goal behind to win 4-2, were gifted at least one of those four by some dodgy keeping. Bangor missed a penalty too. I was convinced that no team who struggled against such lowly opposition, even in pre-season, could survive in the top division. Nine months later, thanks to a friend who had got tickets, I saw Sunderland’s relegation confirmed by a 3-2 defeat at Manchester City, and thought they were a little unlucky.
I’m reminded of all this now after discovering via the excellent Ffwtbol blog that Bangor City’s Farrar Road home will soon be no more.
The ground was sold to developers some time ago. Deiniol Developments had struggled to find takers for the site during the economic downturn, but last week exchanged contracts with Asda. Subject to planning permission being granted, Bangor will leave Farrar Road for a new home in Nantporth, on the outskirts of the city, sometime next season. Their old ground will be turned into a supermarket.
Ffwtbol’s blog rightly raises concerns as to how this development will affect the centre of Bangor. The developers boast of creating 250 new jobs, but what will happen to the shops already in the Farrar Road area? Will they be forced out of business by the new neighbour?
Bangor City, who have long since left the English non-league pyramid for the Welsh Premier, have to make the move, as they do not have the resources to make the necessary improvements to Farrar Road. All the same, I will be sad to see it go.
It’s a ground which saw Bangor’s 2-0 European Cup Winners’ Cup victory over the mighty Napoli in 1962. And it’s a ground which saw Chris Moyles miss a penalty during a half-time shoot-out when Radio One’s annual One Big Weekend festival visited Bangor back in May. Some moments are more cherishable than others, but they all go to make up the history of a place.
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. I’ll probably wait until the weather has warmed up a bit, though.