From the south Welsh Valleys they came; Merthyr Tydfil *were* old hands of the Southern League. But what’s that all got to do with us – and why? After all, Boro’ have never set foot in that particular competition. Well, this week’s dose of nostalgia shows that the footballing relationship between Stevenage and Merthyr Tydfil is a lot closer than you might think. Do you want to know more? We’re guessing “yes” otherwise you wouldn’t be still reading this.
Then again, it’s not as if you got anything better to do.
Who are Merthyr Tydfil?
Out of the mess that was the Second World War came the formation of Merthyr Tydfil FC. We are, of course, linking the war ending and the Martyrs forming as if there was a sense of cause and effect between the two events in 1945. But there must’ve been something in it. Surely? Better people than us know more about that. All we do know for sure is that the club started the 1945-6 campaign in the Welsh League, came second and decided to join the Southern League for their second-ever season.
It started a long-running and – to start with – successful spell as members of the Southern League. It took just two seasons for the Martyrs to rise to the top of the pile. And they’d go onto stay there for some time; claiming championships in 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1954. The most amazing fact is that the first title win in 1947-8 was the only season in seven in which they failed to score at least 100 goals. In lifting the 1950-1 title, they’d racked up 156 goals from 44 games. One hundred and fifty six. Hells bells.
The Martyrs’ fall from grace was a bit rapid, however; relegated in 1958 after shipping 137 goals themselves. And so they’d end up spending most of the next 30 years in the second tier of the Southern League. In 1987, however, the force was once again strong over in the Valleys. A Welsh Cup win put ’em in the 1987-8 European Cup Winners’ Cup, where they were narrowly seen off over two legs by Italian side Atalanta. Back on the home front, the season would end on a high.
Why do we know Merthyr Tydfil?
After winning the 1987-8 Southern League Midland Division title, the Martyrs followed it up with a second straight promotion thanks to yet another Southern League title. It slung ’em up into the Conference for the first time. After a promising start to life as one the best in non-league football, the club started to struggle. A two-point deduction in the 1993-4 GM Vauxhall Conference season meant they only survived by two points. But for a stray result that spared Witton instead, we may have been kept waiting longer to cross paths.
But, no. In the Conference they stayed in ’94. And up came us from the Diadora League.
What is our record against Merthyr Tydfil?
The Martyrs had come up against our predecessors Athletic in the 1970s as bedfellows of Southern League Division One North. But we were an entirely different kettle of fish under the leadership of Cloughie and the Boro’ banner. So, how would it all go down?
Well, despite the Martyrs’ ongoing on-pitch struggles, we couldn’t get the better of them in the league. Our first meeting at Penydarren Park finished 2-2 thanks to efforts from Dave Venables and Leo Fortune-West. In the return at Broadhall Way, meanwhile, Boro’ simply couldn’t find the all-important goal to secure the win in a goalless stalemate; the Martyrs battling hard to avoid the drop. It was a battle they wouldn’t end up winning come the end of the 1994-5 GM Vauxhall Conference season.
With the Martyrs returning to the Southern League, the 1997-8 campaign saw them come close to a Conference return. Forest Green won that race, however, and condemned the Welsh side to second place. They’d never again finish as high.
It also meant that we’d have to keep our encounters to the cups and that we did just two years later; the 1999-00 FA Trophy pairing us together in the Second Round. Once again, goals seemed hard to come by as we had to settle for a goalless draw at their gaff. But a barren spell we did not have in the replay; Junior Samuels bagging a hattrick in a 4-0 win to take us through to Round Three – where we’d end up losing anyway to Yeovil Town.
The Martyrs kept plugging away in the Southern League – but once again it would be the FA Trophy that brought us back together in 2006. George Boyd was on inspirational form for Boro’ as we ran riot in our Round One tie; Boydie scoring four of our goals in a 7-0 win that set us on the path to eventual Wembley glory under boss Mark Stimson that season.
Merthyr Tydfil: Boro’s Record
Our head-to-head: P 5 — W 2 — D 3 — L 0 — F 13 — A 2 — Pts 2 — WR 40%
Our last tango: Stevenage Borough 7-0 Merthyr Tydfil, 16 December 2006
What happened to Merthyr Tydfil?
The Martyrs kept searching for that elusive return to the Conference, but found it harder to make a mark at the top end of the table. Off the pitch, meanwhile, debts were mounting. It all came to a head in the 2009-10 campaign. As we were on the road to winning the 2009-10 Blue Square Premier title, Merthyr Tydfil were going into administration.
• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Merthyr Tydfil club profile