GAS GIRLS DIARIES: The Merthyr Restoration

On a rainy Sunday in Mid Glamorgan, a group of women were about to play under the name Bristol Rovers WFC for the first time in 19 years.

The club formally known by that name became Bristol Academy in 2015, as their parent club found themselves unable to continue to finance a women’s team on a fourth division income. Bristol Academy of Sport presided over a reasonably successful 10 years at the club, participating in the inaugural season of the Women’s Super League, reaching two FA Cup finals and qualifying for two Champions League tournaments making it to the quarter finals in 2014-15 overcoming Barcelona Femení in the process. During this time many Rovers fans continued to watch Academy, a few I know personally even following them to Europe. Sadly this purple patch ended with relegation from the top flight in 2015 which was around the same time Steve Lansdown enveloped the club into the Bristol Sport juggernaut and renamed it Bristol City WFC.

In the initial excitement of the al-Qadi takeover of Bristol Rovers a new woman’s team was one of the items on Wael’s wish list but as life swiftly became more complicated than expected for the new regime, that responsibility fell to our excellent Community Trust who have kindly let me join the team as club photographer for Gas Girls 2.0.

Our first ever opponents were Merthyr Town, preferred club of Gas Girls club secretary Matt “Mavis” Davies. The Martyrs have a long and complicated history which I won’t go into here for fear of doubling this article’s length and making the editor cry. For our purposes Merthyr Town Women were formed for the 201718 season and play in the aptly named Welsh Women’s League which is the Welsh second tier.

Arriving at the Twertonesque Penydarren Park, fashionably 10 minutes late due to roadworks, there was no sense of occasion as I groped around the perimeter of the ground searching for an open turnstile like a Roomba circumnavigating a particularly disobliging coffee table. Eventually I found my way in and immediately began taking pictures. When Harley agreed to let me blog on the Women’s team it was on the understanding that 1) it’s hard for me to really analyse the game while looking through a lens and 2) I don’t understand football anyway, as readers of my old blog will attest. Add to that I didn’t know who any of the players were at this point and it’s not a recipe for great sports journalism.

Well actually I was aware of Rossana Rocha, hotly tipped by Mavis due to her previous experience in the Portuguese Women’s Premier League. Although she’s been out of the game for some time, she certainly has skill to spare and a cracking left foot. Also known to me was Jamie-Leigh Worlock, a fellow Bristol Manor Farm part-timer and former Almondsbury LFC midfielder. Although not the most physically imposing player, she more than made up for it with a slew of intelligent tackles and an unfaltering work-rate. She’s also a very unselfish player, especially considering I know she can score goals from the Almondsbury Twitter. In fact there were tons of great individual performances but unfortunately I just haven’t put any more names to faces at this point. Hopefully this will act as motivation for the squad to keep up the good work because what higher accolade can a Bristol Rovers player hope to receive than a glowing review on GasCast?

Rhod Gilbert had a piece of audience patter in his early shows where he would identify a Welsh crowd member in the audience and ask them what age they were when they first realised they could take off a cagoule. This well-worn Welsh trope came to the fore around 20 minutes into the first half as heavy rain forced me under the covered terrace. Not a problem for the synthetic Merthyr pitch and apparently not a problem for Jess Salter who opened the home team’s account from a free-kick in the centre of the pitch a good 35 yards out. A truly terrifying hit that left Shawna Hannam stunned. Rovers replied in the second half through substitute Georgia Vandries, who shot low into the net from an angle after just six minutes. An entertaining if low scoring match petered out with neither team grabbing the winner, although a scramble in the Merthyr box which saw the Martyrs keeper make a near point-blank save towards the end nearly nicked it for the away side.

A hugely encouraging first run out against a more established side for the girls in blue and white. The next pre-season match will be at home at Lockleaze Sports Centre on Sunday the 1st of September. It’s a double header with the development team taking on Salisbury at 1 o’clock followed by the first team against Gloucester City at 3. It’s free entry so why not come on down and show your support. Bye for now!