Football: Fan's Eye View - Merthyr Tydfil: Welsh `Martyrs' surviving against the odds

I HAVE noticed over the last 20 years or so that our supporters have a tendency not to sing or chant, except for a few enthusiastic young teenagers who find it difficult to achieve much volume.

This may sound surprising, given that we are a Welsh club, but generally the singing gets left to the rugby supporters. Our poor performance in this area serves to increase my irritation with vociferous groups of travelling away fans who come and stand near my usual spot on the half-way line, singing and chanting what at the time sound like taunting and insulting attacks, but which, when I return to the cold light of day, I realise is harmless nonsense. However, during the game my irritation grows gradually until, by half-time, I have developed a healthy hatred for the enemy choir.

Martyrs by name. Martyrs by nature. That is the recent lot of fans of Merthyr Tydfil AFC of the Dr Martens (Southern) League Premier Division. The club's nickname, the Martyrs, is based on the fact that the town is named after Tydfil, a fifth century Christian martyr. But in recent years the club supporters have been martyrs themselves, due to a series of events which have constantly threatened the club's existence.

Merthyr Tydfil is unusual in that it has, for the last 80 years, been a football oasis in south Wales, where rugby union is traditionally king, and is still the premier spectator sport. After the Second World War the defunct Merthyr Town were reformed as Merthyr Tydil AFC. In the following eight years the club won the Southern League five times, a record unsurpassed since the war. Eventually the good times came to an end, with the club alternating between the divisions of the Southern League for the following 30 years, although the club attracted many fine players towards the end of their careers, such as John Charles, Tommy Hutchison, George Wood and Bob Latchford.

Success returned in the 1980s. The Southern League title was captured once again, along with the Welsh Cup. There followed a memorable, narrowly lost, European CupWinners-Cup tie with the Italian side Atalanta. Several years were spent in what is now the Nationwide Conference, where a consistently enjoyable high standard of football was the norm. During this period there was a determined but unsuccessful attempt to force Merthyr to play in the League of Wales, which still collectively pulls in less fans than any one of the top clubs in the Conference.

In recent years things have dramatically declined. We have changed owners more than most clubs change managers. We have had four owners in less than four years, with three managers this season alone. This has been accompanied by relegation back to the Southern League.

At last, however, the club is in the "money." A new consortium has rescued the club. It has the backing of a wealthy businessman, who originates from South Wales, and the new Chairman is Lyn Mittell, a Merthyr Tydfil show-business personality whose stage name is Owen Money.

There is a feeling among Martyrs fans that the new owners will have the appropriate commitment. The early signs are good. The first game after the announcement of the takeover was against the runaway league leaders, Nuneaton Borough. They brought a large band of supporters to Penydarren Park a few weeks ago, outnumbering us. A larger group than usual stood nearby and started the usual arrogant and taunting chants. All we could manage was a half hearted "Come On Merthyr."

However, the unexpected happened and we led 1-0 at half time. Another goal followed, with the Martyrs dominating the second half. As always, the most enjoyable effect for me was the silencing of the Nuneaton choir. We even managed to extend the chant of "Come On Merthyr" to 80 per cent of our supporters, to drown out any remnants of the Nuneaton singing. After recent events this enjoyable result was a reminder that, if you are patient in football the good times will come around again - assuming you still have a club.