Game day, Tuesday 18th February, and another Community 5-a-side fixture for Cardiff Dragons Football Club. Players sorted, kit sorted, transport sorted, match details sorted, post-match food sorted and away we go. It’s an away fixture this time. We normally play our Community fixtures at Fairwater astroturf on a Thursday night but the team we’re playing tonight can’t travel to away games. Why is that? Because we’re off to HMP Parc, also known as Bridgend Prison. Cue the theme tune from Crimewatch.
This would be our second visit to the prison within the space of a couple of years to play 5-a-side, and the original contact was thanks to one of our Dragons, John B. It was such a success last time that Phil Forder from the prison got in touch with us again to arrange another fixture within LGBT History month. By coincidence, Phil also represents HMP Parc on Sport Wales’ LGBT forum which we’re also involved with – this is a great opportunity for networking with local sporting partners.
Dragons squad: Jay, Dave A, Liam, Ryan Mc, Adam, John W, Jason
(it’s a men-only squad as we’d be playing against male prisoners who cannot have any contact with women)
Dragons supporters: Amy, Ali
Dave and Ryan played in the previous 5-a-side match and spoke really highly about what a great experience it was. For the rest of us there was a mixture of thoughts and feelings before we entered the prison grounds; excitement, anxiety, trepidation, fear of the unknown? Getting into the prison is the first hurdle we had to conquer – it took about half an hour for the security checks, body searches and putting everything away in lockers. Not to mention losing Dave A and Amy for a short while. All we had on our person were the clothes we were stood up in and our security ID. We weren’t even allowed to take in any water (this may have been a secret ploy to dehydrate us during the game).
HMP Parc has amazing sports facilities; a 5-a-side 3G floodlit astro, a full size sports hall, a massive gym with free weights and CV machines and an additional smaller gym. We were escorted onto the 3G astro by Prison Officer Ruth, and met the prisoners and some of the Prison Officers who work in the PE department. Barriers were immediately broken with some friendly handshakes and a bit of banter about the match. We immediately felt at ease. We had an hour of football ahead of us which was to be split into four games:
1. Dragons v Prisoners 1
2. Dragons v PE Prison Officers
3. Dragons v Prisoners 2
4. Dragons v PE Prison Officers
Game 1 went brilliantly for us with Liam and Adam working very well together up front which led to Adam scoring two amazing goals. Won 2-1.
Game 2 was a bit tougher. Those Prison Officers were pretty good. The Dragons had to do a lot of battling in defence and Dave A was outstanding in goal. Liam scored a great goal but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. Lost 2-1.
Game 3 was against another group of prisoners and Adam was still on fire with another two goals. Won 2-0.
Game 4 and the Dragons were starting to feel the pain against a very fit group of guys. Despite our best efforts the Prison Officers took advantage. Lost 4-0.
Each game was played in great spirits and all of the Dragons gave 100%. Everyone was pleased with the results and there was immediate talk about when we could come in again for some more fixtures. After the match we were escorted into the PE block where we had food together with the prisoners. This was a great opportunity for a chat about who we are as a club and what we do for the LGBT community. We talked a little about stereotypes and discrimination and how both us (LGBT) and them (prisoners) are faced with these issues in society. Not your regular everyday football fixture. What made this experience even more extraordinary was the impromptu musical rendition of a Tom Jones song and a UB40 song from one of the prisoner footballers who had auditioned for XFactor before being locked up. Amazing talent.
We’re going back to prison in March to play against a team of Female Prison Officers who have recently set up a regular Friday football session. There is already talk about going back in again for some weekend 5-a-side later on in the year. This match was an enlightening experience and goes to show yet again, that we’re more than just a football club. We’re breaking down barriers (not literally else we’d be in big trouble) with local community groups and it feels great to be a Dragon.
A big thankyou to all of the Dragons who gave up their evening to travel to Bridgend and also to Phil, Matt, Ruth and the prisoners at HMP Parc for a fantastic experience.