“Some mush who got banned from Newport 30 years ago won’t stop talking to me.”

Better late than never (well possibly, I’ll leave you to be the judge of that), due to a combination of work and various unforeseen reasons, I am finally getting round to writing this blog nearly a week on from my visit to Merthyr.

In what could become an annual tradition after last year’s trip around this time of year, and the Southern League’s desire to send us on some long old midweek away days, I arrived at my mate Sam’s house in Worcester ahead of a trip down the M50 to watch us play a midweek game against our league’s only Welsh side.

As with last year, the weather was crap, and the air con in my car was stuck on freezing so we had to endure some limited views from the misted up windscreen as we tried to get down to Merthyr in good time, to try and avoid a repeat of last year’s car park shenanigans.

In another repeat from last year, we made a stop at a service station half way down for food and it again left us wondering if it was just there for money laundering, as it did its best to give off that eerie feeling like some sort of Netflix murder drama in the Australian outback with no one in sight apart from the people serving.

Sam, Dev and Mr Newport tuck into two Americano breakfasts and a Florida Waffle surprise.

We got back on the road and turned to discussing Sam’s unrivalled record supporting Dorch. Now he has no connection to the club, other than me, but had managed to rack up 14 games prior to this one over the years. He was boasting an impressive record of 1 win, 4 draws and 9 losses from those games, with us scoring 9 and conceding 32; a lucky charm he is not. That said, anyone who has watched us in recent seasons would struggle to boast a winning record or anything close to it.

Arriving at Merthyr about 45 mins before kick-off, we were charged £2 to take part in a real life game of Rush Hour. Clearly looking to make the most of the limited space available we were asked, “Will you be staying for an hour after or not?”. The inference was that if you were you could get blocked in by any number of vehicles, but confident of turning Sam’s record around we said we were and took the chance we might get blocked in for a night in the Valleys.

In the ground, we headed to the bar and got a couple of pints of “Atlantic Ale”. I’m not sure what we actually got, but judging by the colour and taste, it wasn’t what we ordered. The lack of Emmerson from the lineup was a disappointment coupled with the news Shaq wasn’t fit enough for the matchday squad, but with this news we headed out to “soak” up the atmosphere, quite literally.

With Dorch shooting towards the open end we headed round to the far side of the ground, standing as close to as we could to the end we were shooting, but staying under cover. As the game kicked off a “local”, wearing a Newport County jacket began chatting to us. Now normally I’d appreciate the conversation, as Dorch games in recent years haven’t been the easiest watch and something to distract from the game would be welcomed, however, it appeared that he was about to talk to me throughout the best 45 minutes of football I have seen Dorch put together in many years, probably since we beat Staines away 6-1, years ago, but even that was more down to the poor level of opposition than it was about us.

We knocked the ball around really well, Merthyr struggling to maintain any possession of note, and having gone ahead after just 4 minutes through Louie Slough, we had doubled that lead by 24 minutes in as Jordi Foot scored his first for the club. We were really good to watch, we looked in control and looked like a side that was well above anything I had seen in years. The 3G surface obviously helped our style, albeit the weather was a nightmare making the surface greasy but it had little effect on us, whilst the hosts struggled to match us across the park.

All that said, the highlights of the half had to be from my new found friend. His stories were the real main event, initially starting by dropping in the fact he’d been banned from County in the past, for an unfortunate sequence of events that led to him being in possession of something (didn’t hear what) that wasn’t his. Can fill in the blank there with something to make the story as interesting as you like.

He quickly turned to telling us how much he liked travelling down with the ‘County to Dorch in large numbers in the early days of their reformed club, regularly beating us convincingly and taking advantage of buying tins from Tesco to save money on the bar prices. He continued that the Southern League is “75% the same teams from when County was in it”. I asked where he remembered going: “Worcester?” “Shithole”, “Gloucester?” “Shithole” – the obvious next step was to discuss Weymouth and his trips there, to which he also replied with “That’s a right shithole”. Seems as if we were one of the few Southern League clubs that weren’t.

With us 2-0 up and seemingly cruising, Merthyr won a free kick 25-30 yards out, to which he quipped, “Ah there will be a goal here, f*ck bend it like Beckham, he’ll bend this in the top corner”. Not sure why, but I had belief in what he was telling me; the dead ball specialist was about to get them the goal back that they didn’t deserve and the comeback would be on, normal Dorch service resumed. However, to my relief he put the ball onto the roof of the stand behind the goal, and the panic was over.

Conversation turned to the FA Cup, with Merthyr still going strong in the first round. Sam mentioned the televised games, with Wrexham being the first to crop up: “Ah Wrexham, I call them Wrexscum”. The theme of the conversation was beginning to come clear as we were one of the few places/clubs he didn’t have a hatred for. Our unlikely partner in this was Millwall, a ground which he loved visiting, both with ‘County, or when Millwall were playing Cardiff or Swansea, on those occasions in the home end.

#GetTheBadgeIn 📷 Phil Stanfield

A variety of other topics including but not limited to female assistant referees (prompted by one being assigned to this match), Steve Claridge, “egg chasing” (his words not mine), and man boobs, saw the remaining time of the first half pass by, and with that he headed to the bar for a pint and to check the Newport score, and we headed to the covered goal for a very different second half.

The end we were now shooting towards was frequented by the local yoof, with some climbing on the inside of the roof, whilst others sang songs about sheep and a certain famous person being in a box.

We continued in the same vein as the first half, playing some really good football, with the ever impressive Olaf causing all sorts of problems for the left hand side of the home defence. Ngalo just seemed to control the midfield with Gunson working tirelessly pressing and chasing down balls. We looked relentless, not giving the home side a break, and there were numerous errors made by them, with misplaced passes, running balls out of play etc.

It seemed a third was just a matter of time. Numerous good chances went begging during the half, probably the most obvious when Gunson went through and instead of squaring to Alfie who had an open goal, he poked an effort wide.

As the game was dying out, the home side finally got a foot in the game. In the past this would have been where we caved, but some resolute defending, throwing bodies on the line and a great couple of reaction saves from new loan keeper Ryan Hall saw us weather the storm, before a break from Sa down the left saw Balmer set up Matty Neale to put the game to bed. A late Lewis Powell goal couldn’t dampen the spirits, albeit taking away a clean sheet that Hall had probably earnt for his efforts.

The game not only doubled the number of wins Sam has seen since his first game around the turn of the century, but a Tuesday night trip to Plymouth back towards his homeland is now on the cards.

The performance was great to watch and a real sign of the improvement the management team have managed to deliver in their year in charge. Almost a year ago we witnessed the draw there, against a poor home side, in a game we should have won, and whilst the Homeside have definitely improved since then, we are a mile away from where we were. It’s encouraging; there is still work and progress needed, as the management say, but I’m more than hopeful we can continue to look up the league rather than down if we carry on like that. This is a bit of a recurring theme in my blogs, but if there is any chance we can retain Olaf in the New Year it would be a great bit of business, as the home supporters also noted how his ability stood out. That said, the whole side were great on the night. It’s really hard to fault any of them, and we really looked and played like a team. UTM. DW.

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