Manorbier football club is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, embalmed in myth and steeped in legend.
Those who have never played for the club, will struggle to understand just how deeply the love of football is ingrained into this most ancient of Pembrokeshire sporting institutions.
It is this love, combined with the passion of many unheralded locals that has driven the club’s resurrection, and which will fuel the soon-to-be renaissance and return to the promised land.
When St Clears travelled to Manorbier last Saturday, they were probably expecting a) the game to be off due to the biblical rain over the previous week (the Manorbier ground’s legendary drainage ensured this was not the case) and b) to be travelling back east at around 5pm with 3 points and c) a big smug grin on their faces after a pint in the Castle.
Manorbier’s remodelled team which, in the 2023/24 season under the thoughtful stewardship of manager Mark Lester, balances youth and experience with almost perfect symmetry. And it was this team of middle aged men and spritely young bucks that ensured the 3 points and smug grins were firmly the preserve of those who worship at the altar of Giraldus centre, with a thumping 5-1 home win.
Neil Lane, playing in goal, made the game look easy. In front of him, an experienced back line of Phil “you are messing with the wrong guy” McWeeney, Ross “wheel of” Fortune and Joel “Baresi” Braithwaite were perfectly complemented by the energy of Max Morgan…all making life a misery for the St. Clears forwards.
In midfield, Richard and Sam Atwell showed just how important brotherly love is, interchanging passes as if they had lived together their whole lives (which they pretty much have), with veteran David Blackwell (returning to the game after an 11 year hiatus) frequently thanking the footballing gods that he had dynamo Ollie Broadhurst playing alongside him.
Up front, Michael “Easy” Ryder was terrorising the St Clears defence with his “pace”, and Leo Phillips brought the kind of sweet left foot and arrogant britpop swagger that no football pitch has seen since the retirement of Lee Sharpe.
Manorbier started on top, stroking the ball around, putting in crunching tackles and enjoying the best of the moderate sledging. Then, having won a free kick some 25 yards out, which was definitely perfectly set up for a left-footer, Leo Phillips stepped up and drilled the ball into the bottom corner to make it 1-0. Fist bumps. 15 minutes later, Blackwell rolled back the years to when he just had a receding hairline and wasn’t totally bald, and drilled a shot into the top corner from distance after a sweet layoff from Broadhurst. High fives.
Half time came, Manorbier were now facing into the blinding sun that was drifting towards the horizon and the game settled into a tight pattern, with St. Clears beginning to impose themselves on the game more effectively. Following a true Division 5 punt upfield, their striker managed to breach the hitherto miserly Manorbier defence and slotted the goal past keeper Lane to bring the game back to 2-1.
In truth, the game could have gone either way, with Manorbier’s pass-and-move style of play becoming increasingly challenging to execute as the pitch started to cut up, and St. Clears fancying their chances.
Changes came – with Broadhurst coming off after a lung-busting stint, to be replaced by pocket dynamo Shaun Lewis and Harvey “Oasis” Lester coming on to bring his silken skills into play. Then, in the 78th minute, following a through ball from Blackwell, Ryder brushed off the St Clears defence and finished cooly one-on-one with the keeper, to put Manorbier 3-1 up.
St Clears then collapsed faster than a Crypto investment portfolio, as Leo Phillips nabbed his second before Shaun Lewis dribbled to glory and made it 5-1 with just five minutes to go.
What a game, what a team, what a manager, what a pitch, what a club. Watch this space as the Manorbier United renaissance continues.
(Report by David Blackwell)