It is nearly 5am. Sunrise is coming and so is the long journey home from Skopje, the North Macedonian capital. The team bus will be outside the hotel in a few short hours and, for the players and staff of Haverfordwest County, it has been emotional. Occasions like these do not come along too often.
The Welsh minnows have just played the first leg of their Europa Conference League qualifier against KF Shkendija, a team whose opponents in recent seasons have included Milan and Tottenham Hotspur. A narrow 1-0 defeat has kept the two-legged contest alive and, with the pressure off, nobody in the Haverfordwest camp will be getting much sleep. In a conference room at the team hotel, the music blasts out and the beer bottles stack up through the early hours.
“Imagine what it would have been like if we’d won,” says Tony Pennock, the manager who has taken a part-time team, including teachers, students, a roofer and a joiner, into Europe.
And, a week on, we find out for real.
The players are belting out their unofficial team anthem, Jamie Webster’s “Weekend in Paradise”, so loudly it feels like the dressing-rooms floor is vibrating. They are dancing, hugging, spraying drinks, trying to take in a night of exquisite drama and football’s uncommon ability to produce exhilarating highs. The only way to describe it is bedlam.
Haverfordwest have had to play the return leg at Cardiff City’s stadium because UEFA have decreed their own stadium is not up to it.
Final score: Haverfordwest 1, Shkendija 0 after extra time (Haverfordwest win 3-2 on penalties).
It is, without exaggeration, the biggest event in the club’s 124-year history. Grown men are crying tears of joy.
Haverfordwest had not played in Europe since 2004 and The Athletic was invited to go along, home and away, to enjoy the ride. Access-all-areas passes were provided for training sessions and team meetings. We flew with them, travelled on the team bus, stayed at their hotels and watched the drama unfold from pitch-side. The Athletic even carried its branding on the players’ shirts.
And, finally, it became a story with a happy ending, and the party of all parties for a club intent on showing it is not just Wrexham who have all the fun in their country.
ZAC SAVES!!!! WE’VE DONE IT!!!!!!!!!!!
— Haverfordwest County AFC (Q) 🏴 (@HaverfordwestFC) July 20, 2023
If Wrexham has Deadpool — or Ryan Reynolds, at least — Haverfordwest can lay claim to Batman.
It was in the small town where Hollywood star Christian Bale was born and lived until he was two, owing to his father’s stationing at nearby RAF Brawdy. “You had to walk through two potato fields to get to it,” Bale once said of his first rural home.
There is a sharp feeling of isolation for a town that is closer to Dublin than London and home to fewer than 15,000 people. Haverfordwest’s popularity climbs in the summer months, with the seaside retreats of Tenby, Milford Haven and St Davids all within half an hour, but there are villages in England with greater populations.
Few come all this way for football. Those roads typically end at Swansea, over an hour away along the A40.
The county of Pembrokeshire has produced Premier League stars, such as former Wales and Liverpool playmaker Joe Allen and the ex-Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham midfielder Simon Davies, but Haverfordwest has never been considered a heavyweight of Welsh football. A third-placed finish in Cymru Premier in 2003-04 remains as good as it has ever got and as recently as 2020 they were calling Cymru South, the regional league below, their home.
That is what has made the club’s European adventure all the more improbable. A seventh-placed finish last season, out of 12 teams, brought a shot at a four-team play-off and penalty shootout wins away to Cardiff Metropolitan University and Newtown secured this place in the Europa Conference League.
Haverfordwest, like most in Wales’ top-flight, are predominantly a part-time club. The Bridge Meadow Stadium, hidden behind a Morrisons supermarket and the adjoining retail park, can hold 2,100 fans but averages around 400. The standards on show are considered to be on a par with England’s National League North and South and the club’s weekly budget, covering all players, is in the region of £4,000.
Growth is evident but will always have its limits. Haverfordwest quietly broke their transfer record this month to sign Maltese defender Luke Tabone from Gzira United. The cost? €8,000.
Tabone, not recruited in time to play in Europe, is one of only half a dozen players holding contracts that effectively make them professional footballers, joining the handful of staff employed full-time by the club.
Among that number is Pennock, who left his role as first-team coach at Hull City in the summer of 2022, determined to make a name for himself in management.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a while,” he says. “I had opportunities on the table as an assistant manager last summer, some that I didn’t see coming.
“But I’ve wanted to have a go at this. I’ve no regrets at leaving Hull. Even last year when there were times it wasn’t going so well. At no time did I think ‘What have I done here?’ It’s been worthwhile in the end. I want to achieve something here.”
It’s all to play for in Cardiff on Thursday night after a hard-fought battle in Skopje last week! 👊
— Haverfordwest County AFC (Q) 🏴 (@HaverfordwestFC) July 17, 2023
Pennock, a former goalkeeper with a 20-year playing career behind him, has little choice but to be more than a manager at Haverfordwest. He has helped oversee cosmetic changes to the dressing room this summer and, when The Athletic arrives, the 52-year-old has towels to take out of the tumble dryer before leaving the ground.
“It’s the way it has to be at this level,” he says. “We’re doing as much as we can to make it as professional as possible. The beauty of playing at this level is the chance to play in Europe.
“There are Premier League players who never get the opportunity, that’s the reality. I was fortunate enough to play in the old UEFA Cup with Carmarthen Town. I still remember those nights vividly. We beat Longford Town from Ireland over two legs and then got FC Copenhagen, playing in the national stadium in Denmark. We lost 2-0 in both games but we could hold our head high. That’s all we’ll ask of our boys.”
Nothing about Haverfordwest’s final training session on home soil could have prepared them for the conditions that would await them in Skopje. There was diagonal rain and a howling wind sweeping across the 4G pitch at Pembrokeshire College a week out from the opening leg. “You’d only get that here in the middle of July,” says Pennock, whose trip to the evening’s base includes picking up kit for a new signing.
There are drills on shape and set-pieces, with warnings on what to expect from Shkendija. The final friendly leading up to the game, away to Swansea City of the English Championship, has been handpicked to work on defensive shape out of possession. There is an expectation that there will be long nights ahead.
“I’m all for saying you should enjoy yourselves but you’ll not enjoy it if you get a fucking hiding,” he says. “Then you’ll remember it for all the wrong reasons.”
The long trek to Skopje had begun, for most, at 6.30am on the Tuesday before the first leg on Thursday night. That was the departure time from Haverfordwest, out on a West Wales limb, with pick-ups at Swansea on a five-hour journey to Luton airport. Not until almost 2am on Saturday would those on the trip see Pembrokeshire again.
Chartered flights from Cardiff ceased to be a consideration once quotes of £100,000 were returned.
At least there were no hiccups as there had been in 2004 for Haverfordwest’s one and only previous European adventure.
On that trip to face Icelandic side FH, three players had reported to London Stansted airport (“We’re waiting outside WHSmith”) only to discover their flight to Reykjavik was soon to be leaving Luton. Kit man Mickey Ellis, part of the coaching team 19 years earlier, still finds joy in reliving the chaotic 35-mile dash between airports that ended with a car dumped at the entrance to departures.
This year’s travelling party is on that day’s only direct flight between the UK and Skopje and eventually arrive in the North Macedonian capital after 8pm. A police escort, it has been deemed by local authorities, will be necessary to accompany the squad to their city centre base and on every bus journey they make.
Plenty on the trip had spent the previous day working. There are teachers, a roofer and a personal trainer. Three under-18 players have been given paperwork from their parents that approve of them flying off to play in a European competition. One has never boarded a plane before. A late passport application was necessary.
Assistant manager Gary Richards, universally known as Waggy, juggles his coaching duties alongside Pennock with work in a care home. A professional playing career that included time in the English top-flight with Swansea has at least given Richards a tale or two. Like the one he tells involving Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson coming all the way to Torquay in 1987.
Richards, then a defender for Torquay United, was clinging to the hope of bigger things and opened the door of a club-owned house he shared with one apprentice to find Ferguson with Torquay’s manager, Cyril Knowles.
“I honestly thought he’d come for me but he says ‘Do me a favour, Waggy, go and fetch Lee Sharpe and put the kettle on for us all.’ I was gutted.”
The Skopje Marriott hotel, overlooking the enormous statue of Alexander the Great on horseback in the city’s main square, has made special provisions for Haverfordwest’s arrival, setting aside a dining area and meeting room on the second floor. A dropdown projector enables Pennock and Richards to deliver video presentations of their opponents. Hours have been spent on Wyscout, the online analysis programme, scouting their opponents over a dozen games.
“Swansea are better than these, no doubt,” Pennock tells his players, who fought to a narrow defeat against Championship opponents. “You’ve got to take belief from that game. These couldn’t live with Swansea.”
Clip follows clip. “They’ll sit and sit and sit…then jump as soon as you have a bad touch, that’s why you need to take care of the ball. Every pass matters. Take care.”
Just as the coaching team did. Training on the eve of the game brought caution over what might be watched from the stands. The decision is made not to work on shape in case of prying eyes but the evening brings a setback. Kayden Williams, the summer signing and former QPR full-back, loses any hope of featuring when suffering a hamstring injury in the session’s closing minutes.
Haverfordwest’s odds for winning the away fixture, 22-1, were getting no shorter.
Rob Edwards talks as training begins exactly 24 hours out from kick-off, an attempt to replicate the humidity that will await them in a city that swelters during daylight hours.
A small black dog has been spotted skipping unchallenged along the athletics track that surrounds the pitch. It is unclear if it is stray or lost. Possibly both.
The evening has been surreal enough. UEFA directives insist upon a press conference to satisfy media attention. Pennock and Richards attend in front of sponsor boards but the press do not. The interest levels are low locally. Tetovo, the town where Shkendija are based, is an hour away and closer to the Kosovo border.
Edwards had spent his evening being wined and dined by his counterparts from Shkendija at the nearby Park Hotel.
It was there that the size of Haverfordwest’s task perhaps became clear. Shkendija, Edwards was told, have more than 80 full-time staff and expectations to reach the group stages of the Europa Conference League. Their budget, meanwhile, is roughly six times bigger than that of Haverfordwest for the 2023-24 season. Like Haverfordwest, though, their home ground is unable to meet European requirements.
Shkendija are nevertheless accustomed to European football and the riches that can be chased. To Haverfordwest, this is all very new.
The modest prize money handed out by UEFA to every participating club, even if losing both ties, will be the equivalent to about 60 per cent of the club’s total turnover for the 2022-23 season.
“The Europa Conference League has an elimination fee per round so we go in at round one and it’s a €150,000 elimination fee and that goes up to €350,000 and €550,000 as the rounds progress,” explains Edwards.
“You also get €100,000 for each tie, so effectively if we were to lose in the first round we’d get €250,000.
“That’s huge money for us but what not everyone realises is the cost of fulfilling these games. We’ve taken 32 people to North Macedonia for three days and we’re hiring the Welsh national stadium because it’s all that was available last minute.
“We also had to do ECGs and blood tests on the players to comply with the UEFA regulations and that was close to five figures. Then you’ve got staff and player bonuses for getting to this point. We’re probably looking all in at somewhere between £80,000 and £100,000 to fulfil these fixtures, which is a lot of money to us. I’m not going to be able to head off to Barbados.”
Edwards is an amiable, hands-on chairman and, at 38, brings an enthusiasm to the club that has got under his skin. Leyton Orient is his first love and London is still home. The 500-mile trips to Haverfordwest tend to be made once a month, but players and staff enjoy his spirit.
This has been part of Edwards’ life since 2020 when a good bottle of red wine (he should know, he runs a wine wholesalers) led him indirectly to Haverfordwest.
“It’s as cheesy as it sounds,” he says. “I got divorced in December 2019, moved into a new flat and Covid hit. There was concern around general business life and the impacts. I was sitting there on a midweek night, getting through a bottle of red and I had this email come through that included businesses for sale.
“One said ‘Football club for sale’ so I pressed the button. The business below on the list was a waste management company and to be honest I’d have had less shit to deal with there.”
He laughs and asks if that line ought to be included. Why not after the success they have enjoyed? That became clear in June when Edwards and Pennock headed to Geneva and then Nyon, home to UEFA’s headquarters at the House of European Football, for the draw.
“I wasn’t going to miss that one,” he says. “That was a great experience. Walking into the building, right on the lake, it was fantastic. You’re in the same room with Club Brugge, Gothenburg, all these big clubs you know about growing up. Seeing Haverfordwest’s name pop up next to them gave us goosebumps. We all got a bit emotional seeing the club come out.
“I’m not sure there’s a smaller club in the competition. There’s a very low percentage of part-time clubs. Penybont, it’s their first ever time in Europe but I wouldn’t call them a smaller club than us.
“We were 62 of 64 in the UEFA coefficient so we were right down there. A club from San Marino had a lower score than us.”
The Shkendija officials that greeted Edwards made it clear they have aspirations to make this their year in Europe. The 2,000 fans that would travel to Skopje, including 150 shirtless ultras, aspired to trample all over Haverfordwest.
“It would definitely steal the jam out of their donut if we were to win but we’re under no illusions it’s going to be very tough,” said Edwards as training drew to a close. “I just want to leave Macedonia with a sniff.”
Every player has a story behind a journey to this Welsh footballing outpost and then on to the capital of Macedonia. None, though, included a leap of faith as big as the one taken by Zac Jones.
Haverfordwest’s goalkeeper had grown up on the books of A-League club Wellington Phoenix as a youngster and, soon after his 21st birthday, flew 12,000 miles to the UK in the vague hope of finding fresh opportunities. The only people he knew were his father’s cousins, who offered temporary accommodation at their home in Swansea.
“I spent my first week in quarantine,” he laughs. “I’d thought about coming over for a long time but because of Covid it was difficult. That delayed the trip but as soon as the borders opened up I was on the first flight out.
“Through a connection I had through the old manager at Haverfordwest I got invited for a trial down there. A week later I was signed and I’ve been here for a year and a half. I’ve loved every bit of it.”
And with good reason.
Jones was Haverfordwest’s hero in qualifying for Europe at the end of last season, not once but twice. His saves were pivotal in the penalty shoot-out wins over Cardiff Metropolitan University and Newtown, teeing up this trip to Skopje.
“It was pretty surreal,” he says, shortly after the team walk had ended with an impromptu first glimpse inside the Tose Proeski Arena. “It didn’t sink in for a long time what had happened. I can’t really explain what I was feeling but it was cool to play my part in a bit of history.
“My family were all up watching at home (in New Zealand). They were up at 4am for kick-off and then it went to extra-time and penalties. They’d expected to go back to bed after the game but when I called them in the morning they’d not slept one bit. They were buzzing for me.
“They’ve always given me support and I just decided to give this a crack when I was young. If it didn’t work out then I’ve lost nothing. But while I’m young and ambitious I wanted to see how far I could take my football.”
Jones’ aim is for all this to end with a professional contract and, to that end, Haverfordwest is another stop on the line. Pennock has no problem with that. The opposite, in fact. It is part of his sales pitch during recruitment, the promise that bigger moves will come if successful in the Cymru Premier.
That is what lured Martell Taylor-Crossdale to Haverfordwest this summer. He was one of three Londoners, along with Tyrese Owen and Williams, signed up during pre-season, with each offered a place to live in this corner of rural Wales.
Taylor-Crossdale has been put up in Whitland, 16 miles from Haverfordwest. “The boys laughed at me when I said I was there,” he says. “It’s a town but it’s really about five shops.”
It is a long way from home and what Taylor-Crossdale has been used to in every sense.
The 23-year-old was once considered one of English football’s brightest prospects when schooled by Chelsea’s academy. He was a two-time winner of the FA Youth Cup playing alongside Mason Mount, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi, showing promise that brought call-ups to play for England at every level between under-16s and 20s.
Taylor-Crossdale would eventually leave Chelsea in 2019 to join Fulham but, after two years there, he was released after making only one appearance off the bench during an EFL Cup tie against Portsmouth in 2020.
Senior football has since been a grind in non-League with Weymouth, Gloucester City and Hendon before spending last season with Metropolitan Police in the Southern Premier League. Taylor-Crossdale’s life is now far removed from his former team-mates.
“It was a good experience at Chelsea,” he says. “I learned a lot, good and bad. You learn the things that happen on and off the pitch but all in all it was a good time. I was at Fulham for two years as well, that was good spending time with the first team just trying to breakthrough. I didn’t quite get going but it’s all part of the journey.
“The demand was very high at Chelsea. Always pushing. You just have to try and keep up. But I played for England from 16s up to 20s as well. In my team I had players like Reiss Nelson, Reece James, Mason Mount. A few names and all good lads. Mason was a year older at Chelsea but Reece was in my age group with Marc Guehi. We won a fair few trophies. That’s all in the cabinet.
“For whatever reason after that it didn’t quite click. That’s football sometimes. You need opportunities, maybe a bit of luck as well. I just needed to get going.
“One thing I’ve definitely got is that mental toughness now. It’s not just on the pitch but off it as well in terms of staying strong. There’s a lot you can’t control.”
Taylor-Crossdale’s competitive debut for Haverfordwest would come in Europe, leading the attack on a trying night when an emphasis would be placed on defensive shape.
“This is a chance to prove myself again,” he says. “If I do well here, hopefully things will fall in place for me.”
Taylor-Crossdale is typical of those who cling to bigger dreams with Haverfordwest. A young group that knows this could yet be a launchpad in their careers. The romance is still just about alive.
A notable exception to the rule is the defender Jazz Richards, the best-known name in Haverfordwest’s squad.
Richards was part of the Wales squad that reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016, winning 14 international caps. A club career has included spells with Crystal Palace, Fulham and Cardiff City after starting out at his boyhood club Swansea, where he was coached in the academy by Pennock, Roberts and Ashleigh Hopkins, Haverfordwest’s head of coaching.
Football has given Richards a comfortable life but brought challenges and an initial retirement at the age of 29.
“I got to a point in my professional career where I fell out of love with the game,” he says. “Sometimes the politics within the game get to you. Not to say too much but I just saw it going down the wrong kind of road. I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.
“A lot of players would probably put a brave face on but you don’t actually don’t know how they’re feeling. With my mental health at the time I’d rather protect that over any kind of income.
“For a few years before I finished at Cardiff I wasn’t having a great time. I shut myself off and told myself I could deal with it but you have to make the right decisions in life to find happiness again.”
A six-month break from playing only ended when invited down to train with Haverfordwest in March 2021. A short-term deal brought an extended contract and, for these games in Europe, the captaincy.
“I feel like it’s my club now,” says Richards. “We’ve got a great bunch of fans, who we see at the games and in the clubhouse. The group of players we’ve got is also very tight-knit. I like helping the younger boys to get better, try and make them see how good they are.”
Richards has seen bigger, more important games than these. There is a calmness that others aspire to find but do not always project, especially as kick-off creeps closer.
“A draw would be a really good result,” he says. “We’ve come to compete.”
The day of the opening leg brings a noticeable dip in the volume as afternoon becomes evening. To many, this will end as the biggest game of their careers. “Be calm,” says Pennock in the final team meeting. “Don’t force things.”
Players are urged to remember how they go here and who they represent. “Whatever motivates you to do well, you have to find it tonight.” Jack Wilson, due to start on the right of defence, is forced to leave the room feeling unwell. That would later bring his withdrawal after only half an hour.
The Tose Proeski Arena, the national stadium of North Macedonia, lacked the hostility of its biggest nights. The day’s UEFA meeting had detailed that 120 police officers would be in attendance but only an estimated 2,000 supporters in a ground that holds 32,000. Among them were 26 fans following Haverfordwest. Each of those had been given a free seat in the VIP area of the ground, spared the £4 entry fee.
Some had followed the club to Iceland 19 years earlier and the only tangible ambition was for respectability. A narrow defeat, keeping the tie alive ahead of a return to Wales, would be entirely satisfactory.
Pennock keeps his final messages short in the visitors’ dressing room bedecked in the flags of Wales and Pembrokeshire. The primary objective was to frustrate an opponent carrying the weight of expectation. No helping hands.
The message was headed in a stout team display. Shkendija posed the greater threat without hurting Haverfordwest. Half-time arrived with only minimal scares, as well as the disruption of losing Wilson.
“They’ll come at you in the first five minutes (of the second half), you have to start right,” Pennock said.
The prediction was correct.
A right-wing cross was turned in by Adenis Shala and, for a spell, it threatened to bring worse. The goalkeeping of Jones and a string of blocks from defender Lee Jenkins prevented Shkendija from extending their advantage and there was even hope of an equaliser when Owen, impressive in central midfield, sent a glancing header wide with four minutes to play.
Not that there was any disappointment in the Haverfordwest dressing room. “Our lads were fantastic,” said Pennock. “They should be extremely proud. It was always important that we stayed in the game. We will get opportunities in the next leg.”
The reward was an ice bucket of the local North Macedonian beer, Zlaten Dab, and the first chance for players to do as they pleased before the next morning’s flight home.
The group toast their first leg performance (Photo: The Athletic)
In the warm afterglow of a hard night’s work, some are still enjoying themselves when the sun comes up.
And so, on Thursday evening, the team arrived at the Cardiff City stadium — after two hours on the road — because UEFA had ruled that Haverfordwest’s own ground did not have enough seats to stage football at this level.
The players checked into a hotel in the city centre and, on the night before the match, the entire travelling party gathered downstairs to be shown a nine-minute video of tributes and good-luck messages from their families and loved ones, dispatched from as far as away as Jamaica and New Zealand.
Edwards, a chairman forging an emotional attachment to the club, had tears in his eyes. Ryan Evans, the documentary-maker whose fly-on-the-all coverage is encapsulated in the club’s You Can Have It All series, had spent the previous week assembling the tributes. It was all kept secret from the players. Evans, a popular figure in the team’s entourage, admitted he had welled up more than once when he started putting it all together.
Pennock began the day by taking his players for a walk by the River Taff, leading from the front, as well as arranging 12.45pm and 4pm meetings to talk tactics. One was to discuss how he wanted the team to defend, the other focussed on how they should attack. The manager had noticed a number of weaknesses in the opposition. He had worked out they were vulnerable to set-pieces if somebody peeled off at the far post.
Pennock sounded absolutely like a man who believed his team could pull off a shock result.
“Be calm when you have the ball. You will have more possession than you did last week. Enjoy that possession — it gives you a fucking rest, let them run around. Their number nine… he was a decent player last week, he went off after 60 minutes. Get him off the pitch because the 18 who will come on instead of him is nowhere near as good as him. The more we make the number nine work by keeping the ball, the earlier he goes off.”
Perhaps it played into their hands that the player in question, Dashmir Elezi, was unexpectedly left out of Shkendia’s starting line-up.
As the game took shape, however, it quickly became clear that the players wearing The Athletic’s logo wanted the action to be at the other end of the pitch. They were quick to the ball, strong in the tackle. They had the confidence to play out from defence, with wing-backs who wanted to surge forward and penetrative midfielders.
Jazz Richards showed why he had played at a higher level while, on the other side, Rhys Abbruzzese ran his heart out. What a spirit of togetherness. Kai Whitmore displayed some elegant touches in midfield. Lee Jenkins, a tank of a central defender, budged for nobody. Oscar Borg and Ricky Watts shared his thou-shall-not-pass attitude at the back.
The game was goalless at half-time and Pennock, a manager with natural presence, was delighted with what he had seen. Make yourself history-makers, he told his team, do something that Haverfordwest had never done before. Another rousing speech concluded with the line: “Be the only fucking Welsh team to go through. Every other one is out. Be the only Welsh side to go through.”
Tactically, the coaching staff had it spot on.
Pennock wanted the ball played down the side of the opposition defence. He told his players to remain calm, take care of the ball and eventually the goal would come. His will to win was contagious. Patience, he said, was key. “If it takes until the 85th minute to get an equaliser, we’ll do it.”
In the end, it was the 89th minute when Jenkins — gambling, emboldened to leave his defensive position — let fly with a shot that took a deflection to soar into the roof of the net. The celebrations were long and raucous. But it was just a small taster of the nerve-shredding drama that followed the 30 minutes of extra time.
— JD Cymru Leagues (@CymruLeagues) July 20, 2023
They can be cruel, penalty shoot-outs: exhilarating highs or excruciating lows. There will always be at least one player who blames himself for everyone’s trauma.
Daniel Hawkins, a 22-year-old forward, must have feared the worst when he walked up to take Haverfordwest’s first, skimmed his shot against the outside of the post and trudged back to the halfway line looking like a broken man.
At the same time, the presence of Zac Jones always felt reassuring for Haverfordwest given the goalkeeper’s heroics in their previous shoot-outs.
Jones could not keep out the first one, but he did stop the second one. Richards had scored for Haverfordwest and substitute Jack Wilson put a beauty into the top corner. The next penalty for Shkendija rebounded off Jones’ left-hand post and suddenly the shootout had turned upside down. Whitmore made it 3-1 and the volume turned up again. “Bluebirds! Bluebirds!”
As well as a crowd of 1,716, there were more than 7,000 people tuning into the live stream on YouTube to see whether Jones could save the next penalty and put his team in the next round. He couldn’t — but that meant Ben Fawcett had the chance to win it.
It was Haverfordwest’s fifth penalty and some of the players could barely watch. Fawcett, a 22-year-old in a young and inexperienced side, had worried the Shkendija defence all night. He walked forward, measured out his run-up… and put the ball over the crossbar.
It did not matter. Jones made another save a few moments later and, in all the bedlam, it was not long before that Jamie Webster song was pumping out again.
Was it a pointless three-day benderOr a weekend in Paradise, my friend?
Pennock described himself as “exhausted” but he was smiling as he said it. The draw for the second qualifying stage has already taken place and the heroes of Haverfordwest will face B36 Tórshavn on August 10 and 17.
“Boys, we’re going to the Faroe Islands,” the man they know as Waggy shouted across the dressing room. “We leave in the morning.”
(Top design by Sam Richardson)