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Sunday, 14 January 2018 20:24

Long Distance

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SATURDAY 13th JANUARY: Abertillery Leisure Centre, cold and gloomy.
ABERTILLERY BLUEBIRDS 1 RHOS AELWYD 3 (FAW Trophy, Round 5)


When I saw the draw for the Fifth Round of the FAW Trophy (my favourite domestic competition), I was delighted to see that it was national, rather than regionalised. In recent years, the competition had been regional until the last possible point, but that deprived clubs of one-off away-days in other parts of Wales, and deprived spectators of the inter-region ties that capture the imagination.

The only disappointing feature of the last sixteen draw was the shortage of games in south Wales. Most of our local clubs were drawn away, with just Abertillery in reasonable, January-travel range. Hence a journey up the Ebbw valley - not the easiest, as I'm wary of Gwent buses. Quite often it seems only locals actually know where they stop - and I remember waiting in the wrong place, in what looked like a bus station, on my last trip to Abertillery. Signage and visitor information is non-existent in these parts - I suppose they don't expect tourists.

Sunday, 10 December 2017 20:05

Two for the Price of One

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SATURDAY 9th DECEMBER. Pill Recreation Ground, dry and cold.
PILL 2 RHYMNEY 6 and DOCKS CONS 1 PENTWYNMAWR 1 after extra time (Gwent Amateur Cup)

Saturday morning arrives and I have no firm plan and no idea where I'm going. For various reasons, I haven't been able to give it much thought this week and doubted I'd be up to going far. Or anywhere, really. And then the forecast of snow added another layer of uncertainty, making me wonder if it would be one of those "3G only" days.

But Cardiff is merely a little frosty this morning (though the hills to the north of the city are white). There's a host of early morning tweets announcing matches off in north Wales, mid Wales and the valleys, but the Channel coast seems to have escaped. A few games on grass are on, and I notice a report that the pitch at Pill AFC is "perfect". I'd also noticed that there seems to be another match scheduled for Pill Rec. - another Gwent Amateur Cup game with Docks Cons (of the Newport & District League) the home club against Pentwynmawr of the Gwent County. Interest definitely piqued - I'm going to Newport.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017 10:32

The Lower Mountain

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SATURDAY 18th NOVEMBER. Argoed Sports Ground, sunny and cold.
MYNYDD ISA SPARTANS 4 KNIGHTON TOWN 1 (FAW Trophy Round 4)

The risk of adverse weather generally puts me off long journeys in November, but with a decent forecast for north-east Wales, after a quiet week, I'm fairly confident in sticking to my original, tentative, choice from the Trophy 4th Round draw - a first-ever visit to Mynydd Isa, whose ground I missed out on when the previous club played Cymru Alliance football there, a decade ago.

The 1.30 kick off dictates an early start: in fact, to be safe, a VERY early start. There's enough slack in my schedule today, and enough alternative routings, not to worry about the inevitable disruptions on the trains. I make it to Wrexham in time for a connection to Buckley and a leisurely hour's stroll across town and up Pren Hill to Mynydd Isa. As the names imply, it's not all flat, but they do seem to be a tad modest with their names around here: on the way I passed Little Mountain, and now I'm at Mynydd Isa meaning 'Lower Mountain'.

Monday, 13 November 2017 14:56

O when the Saints...

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SUNDAY 12th NOVEMBER Park Hall, cold and sunny.
THE NEW SAINTS 0 QUEEN OF THE SOUTH 0 (after extra time, TNS won 4-3 on penalties)
IRN-BRU CUP QUARTER FINAL

Usually these blogs kick off with an account of the trials/delights of public transport in Wales. Not so today, as my journey to the Irn -Bru Cup quarter final is by road, courtesy of two members of the S4C commentary team. Not just a lot easier than travelling on Sunday trains out of Cardiff the day after a rugby international, but much more sociable too.

Despite a hold-up while the main north-south artery, the A470, is closed for Rhayader's remembrance parade, we arrive at Park Hall a couple of hours before kick off - but we're by no means the first. Large numbers of Scottish fans are already installed in the Park Hall bar. The atmosphere builds, helped immeasurably by TNS's master-stroke in providing a live band. The fans sing along merrily and the bar does a roaring trade. Numbers build as the match approaches, the most common question being "where can we get a programme?" You can't - they've sold out an hour before kick off.

After the conviviality of the warm clubhouse, we turn our attention to the football match out in the cold. The novelty of the SPFL's cup format under its IrnBru sponsorship continues to divide opinion, but you'll hear no criticism from anyone here today. It's an important game, and both sides are taking it seriously - Queens have named a full-strength side, including former Scottish international James McFadden and ex-Swansea City man Stephen Dobbie. This seems to make the visitors favourites, although past games between Welsh Premier and Scottish Championship clubs have been extremely close. Hard to find cause for optimism in my own 2017 record in this competition: two games, two Welsh defeats.

Monday, 13 November 2017 11:14

Undy downed

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SATURDAY 11th NOVEMBER The Causeway, damp and overcast.
UNDY ATHLETIC 1 LLANELLI TOWN 2 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Division One)

Wet overnight weather casts doubt on this Saturday's fixtures, but a mid-morning assurance from Undy that their pitch isn't (yet) waterlogged is enough for me. I set off for the Gwent levels, not that far but not the easiest journey either, as Undy is served by just one bus an hour from Newport. Train times are more convenient, so I travel to Severn Tunnel Junction, having completely forgotten that it's a two mile walk without footpaths. I pay the price for forgetfulness, constantly having to step onto the sodden grass verge to avoid traffic.

Undy's Causeway ground is a work in progress at present. Six foot mesh fence units block off most of the pitch perimeter rail, and on the car park side there's a building site, where the base of a new seated stand is in place. None of this is a problem to me, as I've come partly to see how (or rather if) work towards Tier 2 criteria is progressing and partly to watch promotion favourites Llanelli Town for the first time this season. With a reasonable turn out of visiting fans, the work does mean that unobscured views of the pitch are in short supply. I just hope the rain holds off.

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