North Wales sporting icons: Tony Owen

Tony Owen in his current job at AFC Fylde

Heard the one about the football goal machine who went on to keep some of Britain’s finest sporting venues in top condition and still found time to win an international fishing title?

Sit back and read the story of Tony Owen – it’s quite a tale!

Born on January 19, 1969, Tony began his football career at Bangor City in their youth team under the management of Dave McCann and quickly progressed to Kevin Williams’ reserve side.

He then spent two seasons with Y Felinheli, who were successful in the old Welsh Alliance League and represented them in back-to-back NWCFA Challenge Cup Finals.

Tony explained: “I had been playing mainly at full-back and wanted to have a season as a striker, so I moved to the Bangor-based Penrhos United where i spent two and a half seasons, scoring over 100 goals, which alerted teams in the higher leagues, so I signed for Colin Hawkins at Cemaes Bay.

“Colin assembled a great team and we were about to take off.

“After winning the Welsh Alliance (1992-93), we were second bottom of the Cymru Alliance in the January but finished seventh in the league by May. We were sweeping teams aside.

Tony Owen (front row, second from left) in a vintage Cemaes Bay team shot

“The following season (1994-95) we won the Cymru Alliance but I left in the January to go travelling around Australia.”

On his return, Tony signed for Bangor City again with the reserves and played a couple of games for the first team under Nigel Adkins.

Tony celebrates a goal for Cemaes Bay. Picture: Gareth Jones

Then in 1995-96 Colin Hawkins signed him for Porthmadog in the League of Wales, where he played mainly at full back.

Tony recalled: “We beat Bangor 4-1 at the Traeth which cost Adkins his job. It was a memorable game, especially as five of us were from the Bangor area and had all played for City, so it was extra special as they were a very good side at the time.

“The five were: myself, Paul Whelan, Mike Davies, Nigel Barry and Dave Evans. I then spent two fairly successful seasons as player-manager at Beaumaris Town.

“I then went back to Cemaes Bay playing for Paul Whelan. Again we had a really strong side and it was a really enjoyable time until I broke my leg in the second season there and that was the end of that.”

Sporting background and emergence as a top level groundsman

Tony revealed: “I am from a sporting family. My father John Owen started the Maes-Y-Bryn junior football teams and was a scout for Manchester City for nine seasons and Manchester United for 21 seasons.

“He is currently scouting for the FAW. Both my sisters have represented Wales, Melanie Short in bowls and Jacqueline Leggatt in darts.

“I always loved sport and was a good athlete at school, especially at long jump and triple jump. I also represented Gwynedd schools at rugby where I played full back. I played a couple of times for the 2nds at Clitheroe RUFC, playing my final game aged 44.

“So being sporty it was fantastic having a job with Bangor University at Treborth tending their pitches. I also looked after Bethesda Cricket and Bowls Club as well, so I then decided to go and study full-time at Myerscough College in Preston studying Turf Science and Sports Ground Management.

“The second year there was a work placement and I was lucky enough to work at Gleneagles and we held the Scottish PGA European Tour event. My first job after leaving college was again in Scotland at Loch Lomond GC, which was and still is a great championship course.

Tony outside the world’s most famous tennis venue, where he once worked

“I then moved to London and spent a summer at the all England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, which as you can imagine was an amazing experience.

“At the end of the summer I managed to get a job in football at Crystal Palace. They had just bought a sports ground and were looking for a groundsperson so I joined them looking after the training ground initially.

Tony once landed a page feature in the Crystal Palace match programme

“It was an important time for the club as they were looking to gain academy status and the facilities and pitches were assessed by Howard Wilkinson of the FA. “Thankfully the Academy status was granted and I was offered the post of head groundsman soon afterwards, so then began looking after Selhurst Park.

“The pitch was in terrible condition when I arrived as Wimbledon FC were ground-sharing at the time.

“At the end of the season we renovated the pitch and it was in really good condition all season so everybody was happy, including Simon Jordan the chairman, who is now a Talk Sport pundit.

“It seemed that my hard work had not gone unnoticed and I was asked by the legendary Arsenal head groundsman Steve Braddock to join them at their London Colney Training Ground.

Tony (dead centre, small No 4 on his chest) was part of the Arsenal groundstaff in the club’s 2003-04 invincible season

“I spent two seasons there and the pitches and facilities were world class. During this time the invincible team (2003-04) went unbeaten all season and all us ground staff received a bonus of £1000 each, which was a class act from the club.

“I then moved up north for family reasons and joined Bolton Wanderers who were doing well under Big Sam in the Premiership. After a short stint I joined Oldham Athletic looking after Boundary Park and the training ground at Chapel Road.

“After four happy seasons at Oldham I trained as a teacher and taught at Burnley College for 9 years. I still kept my hand in the industry as I worked the 2012 test match at The Oval for my old college mate Lee Fortis, the head groundsman.

“I also did casual work for Manchester City, firstly for the U20 Rugby World Cup at their academy stadium and also as part of the match day ground staff at the Etihad Stadium.

“I am now back in football, working at AFC Fylde, which is a non-league club, however the facilities at Mill Farm are better than a lot of league clubs.

“The chairman is highly ambitious and wants to gain promotion to the Football League.

“The manager is Jim Bentley, who left Morecambe for AFC Fylde and his assistant Nick Chadwick, was previously Wigan Athletics U23 coach.”

Fishing successes

Tony (third from left with flag and hand on cup) and former Holyhead Town player Gary Wood (third from right) celebrate Home International gold

Tony has also reeled in some great achievements with a rod and line.

“I have always enjoyed sea fishing and I still travel back home to fish as often as I can, especially around the Pwllheli area and the Anglesey shoreline.

“I have managed to qualify for the Welsh national team four times, three Home Internationals and one World Championship.

Tony landed this whopper during a practice session at the 2019 World Championships in South Africa

“We won the gold medal in England in 2016 and I won my zone on day two, which contributed greatly to winning the gold. Also in that team is my good friend Gary Wood who was a very good midfielder for Holyhead Town. Another amazing experience was fishing the world championships in South Africa in 2019.”

QUICKFIRE QUESTIONS FOR TONY OWEN…..

Your Best Game in football

“Probably the 4-1 Bangor game for Porthmadog, however another memorable one was away at Prestatyn in the Welsh Cup for Cemaes Bay.
“We had been hammered there 6-1 in a pre-season friendly and they really fancied their chances against us, however we beat them 4-1, had two players sent off (Paul Whelan and Richie Jones – Llanfairfechan). They also had one sent off and i managed to score a hat-trick, it was a game that had everything.

Best Goal

“A 35 yard screamer, right in the top corner for Cemaes at Llandrindod Wells.”

Most Goals in a game

“I scored 9 in a U16 game against a touring German team in a 11-1 win for Tan-y-Bryn Dragons.”

Most Goals in a Season

“45 goals for Penrhos United, we won the league and reached the NWCFA Junior Cup Final.”

Best Manager Played For

Colin Hawkins

“Between Colin Hawkins, Cemaes Bay/Porthmadog and Paul Whelan, Cemaes Bay – it’s too difficult to choose between the two.”

Hardest Opponent Faced

“The best player by far was Peter Reid, in a pre-season friendly for Cemaes Bay. We could not get near him. He was on another level.”

Most Talented Team Mate

I was privileged to play alongside some very talented players such as Paul Whelan, Mike Davies, Richie Bach, Mark Gray, Phil Lunn etc but I am going to opt for MALCOLM VAUGHAN, a left winger for Penrhos United.
He created a lot of my goals, he was lightning quick, had a great work rate and a sweet left foot. He also went on to play in the League of Wales for Carmarthen Town.

Best Ground Worked On

“Has to be the Etihad, although Highbury was special.”

Thoughts on 3G Pitches

“They have their place and are great during bad weather, however the pros do not like training on them for long periods as they are very hard. Top end training grounds normally have grass pitches with an indoor 3G pitch.”

Modern Pitches – why are they so much better than they once were these days?

“They are much better now than they used to be, there are a few reasons:

  • Groundsmen must now be educated and FA rules mean that they have to be qualified to at least L3 in able to be a head groundsman.
  • The ability to rip out your own pitch with a machine called a Field Top Maker. This gets rid of any weed grasses which have poor rooting and kick out easily, leaving strong deep rooted rye grasses in the pitch.
  • Sand constructed pitches, which drain incredibly well, which means no postponement of games.
  • Irrigation systems, a must-have on a sand-based pitch, which also speeds up the surface by watering up to kick off and at halftime
  • Stability such as fibre sand, which has added nylon fibres in the root zone or Desso/SIS pitches which have nylon artificial grass stitched into the natural grass pitch in a U shape. These pitches are stable with little to no divoting.”

Best Ground in North Wales

“I loved playing on the old Farrar Road however, I remember playing at Pilkingtons, which always had a nice pitch.”

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