John Dexter Jones

Bangor Comrades – What’s in a Name?

The curious casual football fan in Bangor, or even the curious shopper in the city, might have wondered who Bangor Comrades are. The name keeps cropping up in connection to charity fundraisers, eye-catching football shirts; on stickers and social media channels, and even as far afield as Cardiff, New Zealand and the USA. Even some of those wearing the distinctive Comrades attire, when asked, just shrug and say “Bangor football people, aye!”

The first sighting of those Bangor Comrades shirts in the media was when S4C’s Nicky John interviewed two moiderers at a game between Bangor City and Porthmadog. City had just been relegated for financial irregularities, and were beginning their descent into the sad circus that currently lurches from crisis to sinister crisis at Nantporth.

The moiderers explained to the journalist that after World War One, when football in North Wales restarted, the then Bangor Football Club, based at Maes y Dref, renamed themselves Bangor Comrades, in memory of their fallen friends and fellow players. Many clubs did the same. The Comrades won the league as well, with Bangor Railway Institute finishing as runners-up. After that season, the city’s main team became Bangor Athletic (sharing Farrar Road with Bangor Cricket Club) before becoming Bangor City in the early 1930s. What’s in a name… ?

A club is it’s fans. As the moiderers explained, the new Bangor Comrades were celebrating a gesture made by their ancestors a hundred years before. A gesture of respect; a gesture that said “we won’t forget you, you’re part of us – wherever we are, wherever you are, we come from this place and we share a bond.” After their appearance on TV, the two moiderers in question never went to Nantporth again. Disillusioned Bangor City fans were boycotting the club in droves. The faith that had been kept was on the verge of being snuffed out and lost.

Bangor Comrades was a loose collective from the off; no structure, no figurehead, but there was a plan. The plan was to unite disillusioned Bangor fans in support of their own community, simply to keep them together, keep conversations alive, and preserve a spirit that had endured since 1876, when the game was first organised in the City. Whilst a collection of ‘Cheshire businessmen’ with a bag of dubious cash could buy a name, they couldn’t buy what The Comrades had. History can’t be bought and paid for. It doesn’t work like that.

The first Comrades shirt was sold to raise funds for the Abbey Road Centre, a mental health wellbeing centre, a stone’s throw from Farrar Road. The principle was simple. People’s love of football in their community could be harnessed to help support those struggling. A cheque for £200 – the profit from the shirt sales – was presented to the centre, raised within a few days. After that another £120 was donated from the sales of a book about football written by one of the Comrades. The group’s social media presence began to grow; stories and photographs of the City’s football heritage were shared, good causes flagged up and supported. With the vast majority of football fans in Bangor now staying away from events at Nantporth, there appeared to be at least some hope…

And then it happened – the seizing of the day. A group of people took soundings, developed an idea and a proposal, and put it to the fans at a public meeting. And the fans said yes. This was not Bangor Comrades – Bangor Comrades remained in the ether – this was real, this was CPD Bangor 1876 FC. In all but name, this was the flame of faith being rekindled and supported by the broad mass of the City’s football fans, young and old. What’s in a name?

1876’s story is it’s own. If the hopes of Bangor Comrades had now been fulfilled, was there any longer a need for an invisible football club that existed only in the mind? When 1876 won the Gwynedd League in the club’s inaugural season, at every game, Comrades shirts were dotted around the stadium. The idea, it seemed, was alive and well. Bangor 1876 itself demonstrated football’s power to help. Skipper Michael Johnstone suggested a collection for the local food-bank – the response almost filled a room with donations. The stark contrast between a ‘name’ and a ‘club’ could hardly have been more clearly underlined.

And then COVID-19 came. And football stopped again. But this time, the community that had built up around the club did not. The brilliant work of the board and the players and staff kept everyone in touch as we waited for the storm to subside.

This season football resumed. The joy of the game was never felt so acutely, but there was pain too. A lifelong supporter and Comrade passed away less than two years after his wife, leaving three wonderful children in the care of their extended family. The wider community rallied behind them, raising more than £8000 to help. Bangor Comrades produced another shirt, raising £570 for the cause. The shirt manufacturer, Teejac, part of the same community, waived its profit.

At the time of writing, it would be fair to describe Bangor Comrades as the unofficial supporters group of CPD Bangor 1876 FC. The football club offers a sustainable, fan-owned model, which is linked in every way possible to its community. Go to an 1876 game and you will stand or sit alongside people who share decades of experience following Bangor football. From the Cheshire League to the North Prem; from the Alliance to the Welsh Premier League, and here in The North Wales Coast Premier League. These fans have travelled from Madrid to Copenhagen and Chisinau; Mossley to Scarborough and Boston, Rhyl to Camarthen and Barry, and now Llanystumdwy and Penrhyndeudraeth to Trearddur Bay. And they’ve been to Wembley. What’s in a name?

So what’s next? For 1876, there is the challenge of overcoming some very good sides in the North Wales Coast Premier League. The season has started well but there are some formidable sides to face, and the competition at the top is fierce. Bangor Comrades already have their next community project under way. Returning to help the Abbey Road Centre sits at the heart of the plan. The pandemic has placed huge strain in every area of the community, and the Centre is an invaluable haven for many in such difficult times. This time it’s not a shirt, but it is something distinctly ‘Bangor’.

Comradiation, a fourteen-track digital album featuring original material in Welsh and English by artists with connections to Bangor will be available to download from Friday December 3rd.

Buy it on Bandcamp Friday!