The introduction of floodlit football in Barry (by Jeff McInery)Posted: March 7, 2014
Today, floodlights are a common feature at almost all League and non-League venues. This was not always the case. Indeed in the country’s footballing past, such innovations were distinctly frowned upon and even banned at one stage by the English Football League.
A few experiments using lights had sporadically occurred, with Rhyl’s electric lights giving them the honour of the first club in Wales to use the system in the 1890s.
Barry Town though were nothing less than creative, and in the 1949-50 season the Town decided to engage in its own series of experimental floodlit games. This was a full 38 years before the club installed its first permanent banks of lights at the ground in March 1987.
The background to this, true to form, was a lack of money and the fans and club’s directors embarked on a “Save Jenner Park” campaign. The club needed to raise £1,500 to pay for the up-coming five year lease of Jenner Park and us usual were stoney broke, despite large infusions of money from the Supporters’ Club.
This was a sizeable sum to find and with the fund already at the £1,000 mark, Town arranged a series of four friendlies during the course of the season to help swell the coffers.
When I started watching the Town at a dilapidated Jenner Park, I can distinctly remember circular and unused lamps located in the eaves of the stand with one or two even sinking back into the old sleeper backed terraces which flanked the stand. They looked like searchlights from the war, which is pretty much what they were, and from an historical perspective, they were part of the original lights used for the friendlies and soon discarded later.
Alas, they are long gone, but fortunately our local papers of the time still carry the reports of the day from these ground-breaking friendlies.
Newport County were the first team to play at a wet and windy Jenner under lights on Monday November 21st 1949, winning the game 3-1. But what was the experience like ?
Well, firstly the teams needed and were granted permission for the friendly by the Welsh FA. Then there were the lights themselves and the array used was pretty mixed. The running lights around the greyhound track were called into use and were supplemented by the aforementioned wartime spotlights and gas-lights (!) all of which were temporarily erected around the ground.
There were many shadows in the middle of the pitch but these barely handicapped the players of both teams who adapted to the new conditions by adopting a short passing game in favour of their favoured long-ball tactics. Our scribe known as Mac, was indeed pleasantly surprised by this mode of play and the generally high standard of football seen.
The linesmen used white flags to help viewing and a novel white ball was used too (brown being the de rigeur colour of the day), though these were whitewashed and needed cleaning every 10 minutes!
County fielded two of its English League XI (Depear and Shergold), the remaining players being from its Welsh League team and were deserved victors.
Players were occasionally blinded by the lights adding to the fun as the goalkeepers were deceived by the flight of the ball under lights of differing strength and height. Barry’s Gwyn Rayson became the first Town player to score under floodlights, but the Linnets’ lead was short-lived as County ran out 3-1 winners with goals from Orphan(2) and Staples.The final friendly under lights took place with the visit of old rivals Merthyr, considerably stronger than Town in those days, on March 13th. The Martyrs winning one-nil.Most importantly, the crowd of 2500 raised £200 towards the fund and most spectators went home happy with their night-time football entertainment.
The Barry team that night, managed by Major Harry Blondell, was: Howells: Williams, Kelly: Mason, Brown, Rayson; Lewis, Dodds, Jones, McLaren and Cain.
Buoyed by the experiment’s initial success, Barry next hosted a youthful Cardiff City team on February 27th in front of another healthy crowd for a friendly of 3,000.
A fast and entertaining game saw the Bluebirds beaten 4-2 with Barry’s young Scottish Centre Forward Tom Ballantyne scoring a hat-trick. Ballantyne an airman stationed at RAF St Athan, was joined on the score sheet by Trevor Edwards, a regular in the club’s Welsh League team that season.
The lights, it was reported, were of a superior quality to those used for the Newport game but there were still some dark areas near the goal areas.
A week later, on March 6th, Swansea sent a team to Jenner park to experience the novelty of playing under lights.
Interestingly, Town abandoned their usual green shirts for “neat Blue Shirts” while Swansea played in what looked like a deep shade of orange, all of which added to the spectacle.
The lights wrote “Bee” were a revelation in contrast to the two previous games. In addition the goalposts were painted in a luminous colour to aid viewers, better still a new set of ten 1000 watt lights had been installed , and our writer described the lights as “reaching perfection and covering every inch of the pitch.”
Swansea won the game 1-0 through a goal from Andrews, but the fans’ experience, all 2400 of them, was much enhanced by the improvements to the lighting. Better still receipts from the game had helped the club pass its £1500 target.
So ended a hugely successful experiment, with Town using lights long-before its main rivals of the day (Merthyr, Llanelly, Newport, Swansea and Cardiff), but a lack of belief from the chaps running the game in Britain, saw the system fall into disuse. Indeed it was with more than little irony that Barry Town were forced to exit the Southern League due to the club not having full floodlights and joined the Welsh League exclusively. The club that had introduced floodlights into south Wales were forced to leave the league because they no longer had them.