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Monday, 01 December 2014 07:38


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SATURDAY 29th NOVEMBER: Canal Park, sunny and dry.
Welsh Cup Third Round day - a highlight of the season. When the giants of the Welsh Premier League enter the fray, joining the survivors from the early rounds, always a mixed contingent of clubs from various regional competitions, and usually a couple of real 'minnows'. And they don't come any more minnow than Tiger Bay of the Cardiff Combination, whose extraordinary achievement in battling through the qualifying rounds and two main rounds is a home tie with Caersws.

Five levels of the pyramid separate these two sides - parks football versus a former Welsh Premier League member and UEFA participant. The romance of the cup, you might say.

Except romantic is hardly the word that springs to mind when describing Canal Park, Butetown. Sandwiched between the light industrial sprawl of Dumballs Road and the inner city community of Loudoun Square, Canal Park is a linear strip that bears testimony, in its way, to a forgotten piece of Cardiff history, the route of the Glamorganshire canal's final mile between the city and the sea. Though more people are aware of its role as a Dr. Who location than its historic significance. Today, the housing adjoining the park is an island of inner-city life within sight of the riches of the city centre and modern Cardiff Bay. Ironically, considering the original Tiger Bay docks area was cleared and rebranded Butetown in the 1960s, now the city planners would no doubt love to do away with what little is left of Butetown - but it's home to many, notably Cardiff's Somali community, and the defiantly-named Tiger Bay FC is very much their club. Other clubs have represented Butetown/Cardiff Bay over the years, and AFC Butetown still do, but none has ever had a playing staff 100% drawn from this one ethnic group. Their participation in local league football - the mainstream if you like - is refreshing, evidence of integration and surely truly in keeping with south Cardiff's history of multi-racial harmony.

The contrasts between this host club and their visitors could not be more pronounced: Caersws, a village club from Montgomeryshire, where the demographic is almost exclusively white Anglo Saxon. For a tiny country, we have variety and diversity in spades, in our landscape, places and people, and today's fixture exemplifies it. Really, it speaks far more of contemporary Welshness than the international rugby circus being enacted half a mile away, with all the silly hats, costumes and face-paints that come out for a few days of overblown patriotism a year.

The match has certainly sparked interest, for ahead of kick off a suitably diverse crowd is gathering in Canal Park: Butetown locals, many wearing the traditional macawiis robe, a small group of Mid Walians supporting Caersws, and a clutch of neutrals from far and wide, attracted by the lure of the Welsh Cup, an intriguing fixture, and the promise of an unusual match programme, which turns out to be a fine 12-page issue, all in English without a trace of an Arabic character. All we need to complete the picture of diversity would be a return landing of the tardis and a few daleks trundling in from Loudoun Square.

Can Tiger Bay's remarkable cup run continue? I'm asked to predict the score by a couple of people filming for 'Made in Cardiff TV' and I have to admit head rules heart on this one - I go for a 1-4 win to Caersws, though I hope the underdogs can prove me wrong. Unfortunately, they suffer the worst possible start when Caersws's first corner lands in the goalmouth, and goes in off the far post before Ahmed Adan in the goal can gather it.

The goal doesn't give Caersws quite the confidence boost I expect. For in the minutes that follow, Tiger Bay are far from overrun, and their skill on the ball makes them very tricky opposition indeed for the more conventional visiting side. The first half minutes tick away, and the game remains even, apart from that one goal separating the teams. Just before half-time, a Tiger Bay free kick is not dealt with effectively, and Adam Ali Mohamed forces the ball in at the far post. Sadly, though, referee Adie has blown for an infringement, and it doesn't count.

Still, trailing just 1-0 at the break, Tiger Bay are still in it. We neutrals speculate that a real push in the opening minutes of the second half could still unsettle the Huws Gray Alliance visitors. Tiger Bay need an early goal if they are to stage a comeback, but the chance of that is snuffed out only three minutes into the half by a second Caersws goal. And then a fine, floated third two minutes later.

Clearly there's no way back from 0-3 down, and just to confirm the impossibility of their task, Tiger Bay are next reduced to nine men, Hakeem Arish going off for a second bookable offence and Hamsa Jama following him with a straight red, apparently for dissent. The only question now is how many more goals, and how many more red cards ? Thankfully the answer is just one more goal, in the 73rd minute. Even the final 4-0 scoreline is no disgrace considering the huge gap between the clubs, and in truth Tiger Bay deserved a goal at least for their efforts. The Bluebirds from Mid Wales haven't found their passage to Round 4 quite as easy as that score implies.

The crowd disperses: the locals to the cafes and street corners of Butetown, the visitors to their coach and the journey home to the country, and we neutrals make the dash to Cardiff Bay station to secure connections before the Millennium Stadium spews out its crowd and makes travel through the city an ordeal. But we've all had a very enjoyable afternoon, one I'll look back on as a highlight of the season.


Elsewhere, the Third Road brought various other 'romantic' ties, plenty of drama, but in the end few shocks.  The biggest upset was Cardiff Met University's 4-1 win over Welsh Premier League Prestatyn, but this always looked like a tough assignment for the struggling WPL club.  Holywell's win at Buckley was similar - a victory for a team ranked one division lower, but not exactly a shock, given how well Holywell are playing this season.  Llanrhaeadr's win at Afan Lido does count as a surprise, and emphatic too.  In other places shocks looked possible - Monmouth raced into a lead at Gap Connahs Quay, but in the end a 5-3 home win ended the dream. And Undy led Carmarthen before going down 2-4.

So the lowest ranked sides in the Round 4 draw will be from tier 3 of the pyramid - Llanrhaeadr being joined by Gresford Athletic - 5-0 winners over St Asaph City.  

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