On Friday 13th January 25 guys from Merthyr Tydfil will descend on Glasgow to celebrate the great Mark “Wolvesy” Evans’s 50th birthday and to support Queen’s at Brechin on the Saturday.
But how did this special relationship between “Merthyr Boys and QP” start ?
Mr Evans himself takes up the story….
So how do we get from the Redskins to Hampden Park? It’s all about spotting a magazine with Chris Dean and the band on the front, one of those short-lived music and fashion publications that lasted about three issues, something about the “ghost of strummer walks through walls”, and so journey begins.
A great interview with the band but another article further into the magazine is what really caught the imagination. The new phenomenon of the football fanzine covered in details from the generic issues from When Saturday Comes and Hit the Bar to established club fanzines The Pie, Orientear, City Gent and one called The Web.
Supporters writing their own stories. Let’s take a look at that. Pretty soon I’m sending stamped addressed envelopes everywhere with bits of card with coins sellotaped inside. And the fanzines start dropping through my letterbox in Trefechan.
Those early fanzines coupled with the rise of the Football Supporters Association ignited something in Merthyr and those early issues were passed around the terraces of Penydarren Park. There were plenty of examples of writing that echoed with our experience of watching a small club where everyone knows each other. One of those fanzines was the aforementioned The Web which covered the fortunes of Queen’s Park.
The sign of a good fanzine then and now must be that fans of other clubs will continue to read it and empathise with that club’s fans’ adventures and misfortunes. The Web was certainly one of those. It was also evident at the time that these new publications were helping to bring fans together where previously that had been no contact and in some cases just hostility. The starting point was the exchange of ideas as fanzines were swapped, the realisation that every fan pretty much experienced the same shit facilities so we had more in common than we had first realised.
One of the best ideas that came out of this exchange of contacts was the rise of the supporter football team. Queen’s Park Supporters Team was covered in The Web and was evidently at the forefront of this new idea with games against other teams in Scotland but more interesting to me was that they were already hosting teams from further away such as Orientear FC.
Now at the time we had a supporters team at Merthyr Tydfil FC. It was called Express FC and we played in the Rhymney Valley Sunday League as we couldn’t play locally as we of course were otherwise occupied on a Saturday afternoon.
So why not expand our horizons? I’m pretty impetuous so off goes a letter to a certain Mr. I. Campbell at Prospecthill Circus to see if they fancy playing a game against a bunch of Welsh non-league fans. Now I will sound very old now but of course this was still the age of correspondence by mail so I sat back, probably had a few sessions in the Station Hotel, and waited.
Well what do you know? Mr. Campbell, first name Iain by the way, writes back and says no problem pick a weekend and get it sorted. As simple as that. Not to worry about hotels either as they’ll look after us. So far so good. Now I just have to organise it and persuade the lads to go.
Margaret Thatcher had meanwhile turned her attention to the issue of local councils running bus transport in towns and cities across the UK. The campaign to stop the “piratisation” of the buses in Merthyr was a very public one but one that was doomed to fail. The new private company to run the local franchise was Merthyr Tydfil Transport or MTT if you wish. So around this time they were advertising the latest luxury hire coach; the Tiger 2000. I rock up at their depot in Georgetown with my Dad, roll into the office and ask to book one for a return trip to Glasgow over a weekend. I have no clue what I’m doing. Cost? £600.00 plus look after the driver. I book the bus, it’s pay on the day back in those more relaxed times.
I pitch the trip at £30.00 each. I’ll need 20 people to take up the offer. And to my amazement we got 21 on the coach on that fateful Good Friday. Paul Purnell was persuaded to go with us dressed in his paint & decorating overalls in Corals.
The journeys to Glasgow over the years have become legendary. A rite of passage that any young Merthyr fan had to endure to truly belong at Penydarren Park. I remember that first trip as being quiet to be honest, everyone was a bit nervous, we’d shared telephone calls with the mysterious Mr Campbell but of course we’d not met yet.
As was to become traditional we arrived late in Mount Florida. No mobile phones then to provide a running commentary of our advance into Scotland. Get off the bus, find a phone box, ring a number and out of the darkness came friendly faces to guide you off to a spare bedroom, sofa or floor to grab some sleep. The biggest surprise for me on that trip was a Scottish breakfast; square pancakes and white sausage.
Upon reflection now it’s funny to note that a lot of the friendships were shaped by those early days, you always returned to the families you had spent the previous year. Guardy for example always stayed with Tam Moon. The Wolvesy and Campbell dynamic duo was always hard to beat. Bryan James and Higgy of course. Martin Harvey happy to cater for the younger crowd of Typey, Jon Owen and maybe even Fliddy (and his green £10 notes, yes sorry about that it was us after all).
That first weekend was a real eye-opener for us. The welcome was great. The bus trip to Stenhousemuir was longer than expected but probably not helped by 21 hangovers and then having to match the ferocious drinking of the QP lads. The match on Hampden on the Sunday (am I OK to mention this now?) was bloody brilliant and the tour of that famous stadium was unforgettable.
The memories of those trips and of course the reciprocal visit to Merthyr Tydfil in September shaped our outlook as supporters and although we are only a non-league club tucked away in the South Wales valleys I think our friendship with Queen’s Park was the catalyst for many other crazy trips, ideas and projects.
We’ll see you all at Brechin (or Brecon as Hulby calls it).
Wolvesy is the Head of International Affairs at the Welsh FA and it's fair to say that he enjoyed the Euros during the summer !
5 photos from Merthyr's first visit to Glasgow are in the Photo Gallery (click here)