South East Wales

Merthyr Tydfil's 'remarkable' football game to be a film

Merthyr Tydfil Football Club stand Image copyright BBC news grab

One of football's unlikeliest stories is to be made into a film to mark its 30th anniversary.

In 1987, Merthyr Tydfil AFC's semi-professional players who were "paid in pints" beat Serie A giants Atalanta in the European Cup Winners Cup.

After hearing about the "remarkable" story from her dad, director Joann Randles approached the club about producing it.

It has a working title of "Martyrs 87" and shooting will start in the summer.

Miss Randles, from Tenby, Pembrokeshire, has the same executive producers working with her as those involved in another of her projects about wrestler Adrian Street.

She said: "They were semi-professional, paid in pints not cash.

"But in two weeks, manager Lyn Jones had to build a ground - today it wouldn't get permission.

"They were labourers, dads, basically playing football for a passion but were catapulted into the public eye. You couldn't make it up."

Image copyright James Davis
Image caption Joann Randles is producing and directing a film about Merthyr Tydfil's football heroes

Miss Randles aims to create "a Full Monty-type" low budget, feel-good film, following the lives of four central characters in the run-up to the game.

After researching the story, she found it "completely unique" and one that "may not be ever repeated by a semi-professional team again".

The story unfolded in 1987, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and many south Wales towns like Merthyr Tydfil were struggling following the 1984 miners' strike.

At the time, English clubs were banned from Europe after the Heysel stadium disaster when 39 fans died after a wall collapsed during a game between Liverpool and Juventus.

This meant the Welsh cup winners - with non-league Merthyr triumphing - were the only team from England or Wales in Europe.

When they were drawn against Atalanta, there were calls to move the match to a larger stadium such as Cardiff City's Ninian Park.

'Finest ever'

But their home of Penydarren Park was redeveloped in weeks allowing 10,000 people to attend the 2-1 victory.

They lost the return leg and crashed out of the competition but history had already been made.

BBC Wales football correspondent Rob Phillips called them "a team of footballing strays and misfits" and said the victory ranks as "one of the finest ever by a Welsh club".

He said it touched the hearts of the community, adding: "It was a story of determined people rising to the awesome challenge of staging such a glamorous tie."

Players included tarmac layer Ceri Williams, known as "the Asfaltarino" because of the exploits, prolific goal scorer David Webley, who worked at a valleys foundry, and a car salesman.

Local AM Dawn Bowden said the club was "at the heart of the community" and hopes the film will draw it together once again like the game did 30 years ago.

More on this story