Fan Focus: Craig Mapstone

Following on from our successful article with Ian Campbell at Cardiff Metropolitan University FC, we are delighted in the second of our fan feature articles, to catch up with Port Talbot Town FC’s Media Officer, and Programme Editor, Craig Mapstone. Don’t forget if you would like to feature yourself, or focus on your club please drop ourselves a message via our twitter account.

Y DDRAIG – It is noticeable that more fans in the Welsh football system, are now leaving behind higher profile clubs such as Cardiff City and Swansea City. Instead, these fans are opting to embrace and follow their local Welsh League side or WPL club. I understand Craig, that formerly you were an avid Swans supporter, what was it for you personally that made you want to get embrace the WPL and follow Port Talbot Town?

CRAIG – Yes that’s right. Swansea City will still be my team deep down but as a club, the feelings and passion for the entity have long gone. I managed to catch the Welsh Cup final in Llanelli, where we lost to Bangor City but the intentions from that day were never to follow the club up and down the land.  Looking back it was actually a pre-season game back around 2011 with Port Talbot Town that was the start of it all. We bumped into the 1901 boys behind the goals post-match, it was noticeable that they had a strong vocal following which impressed me. A couple of handshakes, few words exchanged, and we were invited back for the WPL league opener for the season the following Friday and have never looked back since. I even gave my tickets for Liverpool away at Anfield the next weekend to jump on the bus up to Newtown, I think that’s when I knew I was hooked. 

I kept attending Swans games, but my match day experience deteriorated with issues at the stadium involving both stewards and police over trivial issues. I was dragged out of a crowd post-match for being in possession of a flag pole that was ‘above waste height’. To be fair it was all resolved with help from the Swansea City Supporters Trust, but I think I knew at that point I’d had enough, and gave up the Premier League for something a little more local and authentic. Against modern football is a little cliché, but in a way, I felt like I had taken a stand and went on the pursuit for something else.

Y DDRAIG – The club, unfortunately, has made the headlines in recent seasons for all the wrong reasons that have been well documented in the media. What many supporters may not realise is the hard work going at the club to put things right. How important, is the often unseen work being carried out behind the scenes to keep the club alive in the community?

CRAIG – Unfortunately the fall out has continued to hurt those that are left at the club as a result. Two demotions later, and we now sit at the third tier of the Welsh footballing pyramid.

I think as a club, we are a little guilty of not blowing our own trumpet at times. The volunteers at the club including players and coaches alike put so many hours in behind the scenes which I don’t think ever reaches the surface. It’s probably a similar scenario at clubs across the land though and until you get involved at your local club and pitch in you don’t appreciate how much work truly goes into the running.

Unfortunately, it’s financial backing that is critical to help a club survive. In the WPL days, there was plenty of cash going around in comparison to our sustainable model we have adapted in the Welsh Football League but now we are consistently appealing to local businesses that are slowly getting back on board. Nobody wanted to touch the club when the match-fixing allegations first came out, and if it wasn’t for the hard work for volunteers behind the scene I don’t think there would be a Port Talbot Town about today.

Y DDRAIG – Possibly one of the greatest tweets in Welsh football history, happened back in February 2018. Craig covering the game for the club mentioned in a tweet that an earthquake had stopped play at Victoria Road.  The tweet went viral, there were nearly 900 retweets for example, and suddenly interest in the club came from both local and national press. Reflecting back how mad was the aftermath and could you believe how the tweet had gone viral?

CRAIG Yes absolutely that was really quite the weekend! Reflecting back, the truth is that none of the boys in the stand that day knew there had been an earthquake. I continued to take in the game and live tweet the game through the club account when one of our supporters living nearby came into the stand to tell about his house just shaking.

So with a stop in play,  I put a tweet out there that there was a stoppage and albeit poorly worded that it might have been down to an earthquake in the area. People jumped to their own conclusions, and by the end of the weekend, the tweet had gained 250,000 plus ‘impressions’ on social media alone. Interview requests soon followed from the BBC, ITV, Sky and I’m told the incident was featured on an Australian sports report amongst other news outlets probably. Ironically the man in the middle that day was ITV Wales very own political correspondent Owain Phillips so how that wasn’t immediately shut down I’ll never know.

That famous tweet by Craig.

One of the positives to emerge for me personally was that it gave the club superb coverage. It was refreshing to Google the club name for a change, and see something other than all the negative headlines the club had generated in the previous years pop up as your first few results!

The following match after the earthquake, this was the programme cover. Collectors Item!

Y DDRAIG – There is a great fan culture at Port Talbot Town, with murals, and artwork everywhere you look around the stadium. Like many clubs, your fans enjoy good relations with supporters of other clubs. How did the friendship with Barry Town and Belgian team Royale Union Saint-Gilloise come about? And how important is it do you feel to keep chanting and a football culture alive at the club?

CRAIG – Certainly in The Welsh pyramid system it stands out for sure, and it is a unique selling point for the club when trying to draw in people from far and wide.  Down the years we have made friends with many people, from many clubs, forging some great connections, and welcoming groundhoppers, and fans from other clubs who pop over to watch a game.

In relation specifically to Barry Town, they made headlines of their own when the club originally collapsed around 2013, and looking in on the situation from the outside was incredible. A club steeped in history, with league titles and European successes, going to the wall as a result of one man’s doing, was nothing short of a disgrace. The football association, in my opinion, were of little help,  so when Barry decided to take these guys to court (and later win) we felt like as a supporter group, we wanted to shine an even brighter spotlight on them and Llanelli Town who were struggling themselves at the time.

We played Llanelli Town, as part of a televised league game when this was all going on and made up a few banners, to show support for both clubs. It was the Barry Town banner however that caught the attention of our friends up East. The following home game, a large number of Barry supporters turned up to support Port Talbot Town as a thank you for the gesture, and both sets of supporters have been going to each other’s games ever since.

Union SG was another special one. A ticketless trip to Brussels around 2014 to follow the national side had us searching for a game to catch in the area instead. FSF Cymru had advised going to watch White Star Brussels on the same night as Union SG was playing, but after a little research could see there was no fan culture on show at white star games. Union, on the other hand, was a whole different story.

The club and ground itself were absolutely terrific with superb terracing and a superb atmosphere as you would expect for a club steeped in history. The supporters were welcoming to all Welsh supporters that there were including ourselves, and the beer continued to go down a treat. Another club friendship was formed that day, and to this day, supporters continue to make the trip to Belgium, and vice versa when they can to catch PTT games as well as Union SG.

YDDRAIG – You can catch Craig talking in a video that featured on Belgian TV when over watching Union SG by clicking on the link below.

Craig on Belgian TV

Y DDRAIG – You have embraced the club Craig, and have got involved on the clubs media aspect and programme editing. How rewarding has this role been and rather than being just a face in the crowd at the Liberty?  Is this one of the joys of Welsh football in the sense its tangible and fans can get involved at almost any level volunteering with roles to help the club function?

CRAIG – I think for me personally, this goes back to not appreciating what goes on behind the scenes at a club until you jump into the hot seat itself. Honestly, these were roles I almost fell in to rather than actively pursued. The social media role, initially saw myself having a go at back in the WPL days, when the media officer at the time wasn’t around, subsequently then heading into the Welsh League, it was something I became a little more active in. When the previous media officer stepped down, it was then a matter of natural progression and now I find myself compiling match reports as well as making sure the running of the club website runs as smoothly as possible.

The club programme was another case of falling into the role. Over the years the programme has picked up numerous awards through the hard work of Mark Pitman and Marc Tanner amongst others so it’s nice to almost continue that tradition from the view of a supporter of the football club.

When the club was demoted from WPL, I found out we were still paying in the region of £150 for somebody outside of the club to continue to produce the match programme. We couldn’t let that continue, so Benj Dempster and I took on the task and turned it around to a point, where the football club, was going from big losses per game on the production of these programmes, to actually making a profit whilst keeping the quality up at the same time.  That was pretty rewarding although sometimes a little more recognition would be nice and go a long way.  I was delighted to hear this season it finished joint ninth on the list of best programmes in Wales… easily it’s the best in Welsh League I feel.

Y DDRAIG – Finally Craig,  You have no doubt seen plenty of football games at Swansea and Port Talbot. For you personally, what would be the most memorable game that you have witnessed in your time at the club?

CRAIG – The most memorable. Now you’re asking! Unfortunately, the Europa League tie against Finnish side TPS Turku was before my time so I missed out on a trip abroad with PTT.  You’d have to give it to that game for sure looking in from the outside. Otherwise, for a variety of reasons, a victory away at Afan Lido winning 8-2 is right up there, a recent draw against Ammanford at Victoria Road. Beating Goytre FC at home (which at the time we felt secured our league safety), was huge.

The stand out one though must be a 6-0 defeat away to TNS on the opening day of a WPL season in around 2013.  30-40 lads travelling up on the supporter’s bus, drinking, singing, and more drinks, good times. In fact, I’ve still got that game saved on my Tivo box. The support that day in the stands was immense and will live long in the memory. It is a shame that style of support is now a distant memory, but there are still some of us continue to travel home and away. I’ll still argue that to this day the vocal support we had back in that era will pound for pound never be matched in this pyramid.

Y DDRAIG – Thank you, Craig, for taking time to talk to ourselves, and we wish Port Talbot Town all the very best for the forthcoming season. If you enjoyed this fan feature do not forget that you can still catch the last article with Ian Campbell at Cardiff Met here > Fan Focus Ian Campbell Cardiff Met

Article produced: Andrew Evans @therovingsheep

Images: All copyright c/o Andrew Evans