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Monday, 03 September 2018 09:37

Cradle to Grave

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SATURDAY 1st SEPTEMBER. Pant Brickworks, sunny and warm.
RHOSLLANERCHRUGOG 0 RHOS AELWYD 4 (JD Welsh Cup, 1st Qualifying Round)

There are so many ties in the opening rounds of our national cup competitions that a short-list of interesting ties forms in my mind. This year it's different, one Welsh Cup Qualifying tie always stood out - the 'Rhos derby'. And that's why, early on this late summer morning, I'm setting out on the train up through the borders towards Ruabon in north-east Wales.

The villages of Ruabon, Rhosllanerchrugog (or Rhos) and Cefn Mawr always evoke thoughts of the earliest days of football in Wales. This is the home of FAW founding father Llewellyn Kenrick, and also of the first great Welsh club, Druids of Ruabon, and it's pleasing to be visiting the area for the opening round in the oldest Welsh competition, the Welsh Cup. As a nod to history, I take lunch and a pint in the Wynnstay Arms, Ruabon - the venue where the FAW's second meeting took place in August 1876, to create its constitution, and where the first ever Welsh Cup draw was made a year later.

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If you enjoy reading this blog, and looking at photos of football grounds and matches from Welsh football, we've got a treat for you:  a complete blog of the editor's travels in 2017-18, in 40,000 words and over 400 pictures, posted to you for just £5.50 (or £5.00 to subscribers), 

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MONDAY 4th JUNE Cyncoed Campus and Jenner Park, warm and sunny
EVIA REGION 1 AMATEURS OF MACEDONIA 0
SOUTH WALES 5 REGION OF GOTHENBURG 0
(UEFA Regions Cup, Qualifying Group A)

Wales was chosen as a host country in one of the qualifying groups in this year's Regions Cup, which is probably UEFA's least-understood competition. It's an oddity among European tournaments, not quite a club competition, nor an international representative one, and has its own set of entry criteria and rules. Even seasoned and respected observers of world, European and amateur football confess to having a less than complete grasp of the Regions Cup, so it's not surprising that the general public are in the dark. Some of the reporting this week has been pretty misleading too - one online source referring to the Welsh players involved as receiving "Wales call-ups". So before we get to the games, let's try and give them some accurate context:

Firstly, it's a competition strictly for "amateur" footballers. No player who has ever played in a national top-level league (so including the Welsh Premier) would be eligible, nor any who has been on a professional or semi-pro contract.

How countries arrive at their one nominated entrant is up to them: most, like Wales, organise some form of inter-regional contest between selections drawn from one or more local leagues - the South Wales FA squad consists mainly of players from the South Wales Alliance and lowest rung of the Welsh League, and qualified by winning a competition involving the other five Welsh regions. There's a common belief that it's possible for countries to enter an amateur club rather than a selection, but that's expressly forbidden in the rules - squads have to be drawn from at least three different clubs. The smallest countries can enter a selection drawn from their whole territory - San Marino for instance is so small it doesn't have regions.

The other factor which causes some of the confusion is that UEFA requires the national Football Associations to take responsibility for group organisation, finances and logistics, so it's the FAW who are leading the 'hosting' this week, not the South Wales FA. (to continue reading click 'Read More')

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 14:37

Sweltering

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SUNDAY 6th MAY: Latham Park, heatwave. 

ABERYSTWYTH TOWN 1 CONNAH'S QUAY NOMADS 4 (JD Welsh Cup final)

 

Although many - okay, probably most - football fans in Wales regard Cardiff City's lunchtime promotion decider as the big game today, for those of us who prefer our football Welsh, the place to be is Latham Park rather than Ninian Park. The JD Welsh Cup final is one of the biggest days in our domestic football calendar and if this year's can deliver half the drama of the 2017 final, it will be well worth the journey.

 

Yes, the journey: getting to and from mid Wales on a Sunday is a challenge - as difficult in its own way as Bangor was last year, given the limited transport options. I'm fortunate to have successfully begged a lift up to Newtown with one of the broadcasters, and I'm sure I'll get home somehow. That's something to sort out later. The journey by road isn't plain sailing - an accident sends us on a 30-minute diversion east of Brecon - and it's just as well we left Cardiff early. On arrival at Latham Park, the car parks are filling up and there's a festival vibe in the bank holiday heat. Inside the ground, children's football is being staged on the 3G, but as the spectators for the main event begin to arrive this gives way to a music stage over in the far corner. If this passes unnoticed and unappreciated by most people in the 1,455 crowd, the same certainly can't be said of the RAF Falcons' parachute display which delivers half a dozen paras and the match-ball onto the pitch.

 

After all this, it's time for some football, although it's hardly the weather for it. Blazing sunshine, heat in the mid-twenties, glorious, for sure, but a timely reminder why I abhor the idea of summer football (a conviction that had been wavering during the endless winter and spring months of postponements). But I can't help pondering the contrast from my visit here just a month ago- something in between these extremes would be more comfortable.  Aberystwyth Town and Connah's Quay Nomads enter the stage, with a place in the First Round of the Europa League for the winners.

 

Logic says Nomads are hot favourites, but Aber manager Nev Powell's Welsh Cup record (with Bangor) is enough to allow a scintilla of doubt. There are conspiracy theorists too, believing it will be in Nomads best interests to lose today and get an easier Preliminary Round opportunity in Europe, but the idea of Andy Morrison not wanting to get a trophy win is preposterous. In pre-match discussions with fellow neutrals, the idea of an early Aber goal is popular. We fear that if Nomads go 1-0 up they'll shut up shop and leave us - and the live TV audience - with less of a spectacle.

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 14:33

Seventy Years of Hurt

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SATURDAY 5th MAY : Ty Isaf Park, warm and sunny.
ABERTILLERY EXCELSIORS 0 YNYSDDU WELFARE 2 (Gwent FA Amateur Cup final)

The beginning of a bank holiday heatwave banish all worries about postponements. Normal football apparel of thermal layers and woolly hats are discarded, instead I dig out sunblock and shades ahead of a short trip to Risca United's old ground, now used for the Gwent FA's finals. Of the two main finals (Senior and Amateur, open to clubs from different levels of the county's leagues) it's the Amateur one which appeals, involving two clubs I've had particularly friendly contact with over the years.

The finalists are both Gwent County Division 2 clubs, but Ynysddu come here as favourites after winning the division recently. The other big advantage they have is former WPL man Lee Kendall in goal. However, the club's cup pedigree isn't great: six losing cup finals in recent times, and seventy years since they last lifted the county's Amateur Cup. Seventh time lucky?

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