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Saturday, 05 September 2015 18:53

Cakes and Ale - and lots of Football

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Friday 28th August
August Bank Holiday weekend is synonymous with the Welsh Groundhop and, for me and many other lovers of football in Wales, there's only one place to be this weekend: north Wales. The pilgrimage starts on Friday with a train trip to Chester, whose university accommodation is the base for the weekend's excursions co-ordinated by Groundhop UK. It's damp as I leave Cardiff but the forecast for the north-west is hopeful - the weather really does matter when you've got eleven games coming up.....

There's not long to wait for the first action, as Friday evening brings a short trip west into Wales for
MOCHDRE SPORTS 1 PRESTATYN SPORTS 0 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 2). It's a warm, sunny evening as the coaches pull into Mochdre Sports Ground, a cricket and football venue just outside Colwyn Bay. It's an attractive setting and a neat ground, with pavilion buildings looking out onto the cricket outfield, beyond which is the railed football pitch and then hills to the south. The expected range of refreshments and merchandise is available around the pavilion, and as the crowd congregates from far and wide, acquaintances are renewed ahead of kick-off.

Mochdre web

The pitch itself is in absolutely splendid condition - a credit to the groundsman here. As for the match, there's a feeling that newcomers to the league, Prestatyn Sports, could be too strong for the green-and-white clad home team, but that proves to be wide of the mark. Mochdre quickly demonstrate that they are not going to roll over obligingly for the new boys, and a close, exciting game ensues. It could easily have gone either way, but in the end a delightfully placed 67th minute free-kick by Mochdre's Niall Owen is all that separates the teams. Not an avalanche of goals certainly, but one's enough, and if all the playing surfaces and matches are going to be of this standard, we'll be very happy come Monday.

Saturday 29th August: it's an early start this morning as the coaches and cars set off for a day on Anglesey - a long day too, as fitting in four matches so far west means we won't return until nearly midnight. Rain on the A55 as we head west causes slight consternation but the weather improves after a breakfast stop midway - executed with military precision by the Split Willow in Llanfairfechan - and by the time we arrive on Anglesey's north coast it's much more promising.

AMLWCH TOWN 1 NANTLLE VALE 2 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 2)

Amlwch web
Lon Bach, Amlwch is an attractive village ground, with its facilities at one end, including a brand new little stand in one corner - The John Thomas Stand, which is being formally opened today. An attendance of 318 packs into the little venue and lines the pitch-side rail as promotion favourites take an early lead. It doesn't turn into a rout, though. Vale double the lead but then Amlwch halve it just before half time. Unfortunately their efforts to draw level come to nought in the second half which unfolds quite tamely without a great deal of incident. Back onto the coaches for a short trip inland to Llanerch-y-medd...

LLANERCH-Y-MEDD 3 BLAENAU FFESTINIOG 2 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 2)

Llanerch web
There's some debate before we arrive over the correct spelling of the next home club, but we settle on the version with two hyphens; however the first sign we see on arrival at Cae Tan Parc shows the village name as all one word, no hyphens at all. No matter, wherever we are, it's a very neat and well-appointed village venue, with a seated stand on the half-way line, a quirky little 2-seater stand in one corner (a ball-boy shelter!) and fine distant views of Snowdonia in the clear afternoon light. As it's now lunchtime, there's added demand for refreshments, which the hosts again service admirably. A range of tables and gazebos display enough to keep the crowd of 317 occupied until the 1.30 kick off, and a lively match ensues, with four goals before half-time - green-clad Llanerch-y-medd racing into a 2-0 lead before the visitors drag themselves back into the game with two goals in the last ten minutes of the half. Just after half-time the home side's Matthew Jones restores the lead with his second goal from a breakaway, and try as they might Blaenau can't get back on level terms.

TREARDDUR BAY UNITED 4 ST. ASAPH CITY 3 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 1)

Trearddur web
Another short journey brings us to the west-facing coast of Anglesey, and the little resort town of Trearddur Bay, with its windy prom and lifeboat station a stone's throw from the pitch. The fierce wind from the Atlantic - a constant here, we're told - takes the edge off an otherwise mild, sunny afternoon, but the setting is again a delightful one for our third game of the day, and our first dip into the First Division of the Alliance. The Lon Issalt ground is bordered on one side by the coast road - the stone wall providing the only vantage point along that side, while on the other side a high mound dominates - and this provides a fine point for panoramic photos for those venturing through the unlocked gate.

If the wind is battering our faces, it's playing havoc with the ball, driving end to end and in favour of the white-shirted home side in the first half. They use it to good advantage, feeding through balls to local hot-shot Asa Thomas, wh the visitors seem unable to cope with. He bags a couple of first half goals and could have had more - but even so the 3-0 lead looks unassailable at half-time. A fourth early in the second half seems to herald a big win but St Asaph are having none of it. They seem to have shackled Thomas, and with the wind helping, rather improbably start to claw their way back into the game. 4-1, 4-2, 4-3.... chances to make it 4-4 - but in the end Trearddur Bay hang on for a win that's far less emphatic than seemed possible an hour ago. With the afternoon sun losing its heat, and the wind still 'bracing', it's a chilly finish to our afternoon at the seaside as we board the coaches for a trip back inland to Llangefni in the centre of the island...

LLANGEFNI TOWN 4 LLANFAIRPWLL 0 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 1)

LLangefni web
Lon Talwrn is very different from all the other venues this weekend: a well-developed town football ground, with different sorts of cover on all four sides, and double-storey portakabins dominating one corner of the ground and containing bar, offices etc. It's also, of course, not quite as dominated by its setting as the less-developed village and rural grounds. Barbecue, team bar and real ale outlets do a roaring trade among hungry hoppers and locals, as a crowd of 409 assembles- Llangefni had promised a Welsh Groundhop attendance record and duly deliver it. They can also easily claim to have the noisiest crowd, the singing and chanting of the 'Ultras' in one stand being an unusual feature at Welsh groundhop venues, and causing us to cast our minds back to a Saturday night at Llandrindod Wells five years ago.

Llangefni, former Welsh Premier members a few years back, who have now reached the Alliance's First Division (tier 3) on the long journey back to the higher strata of the pyramid, are among possible promotion contenders, and my initial expectation is that they'll sweep Llanfairpwll aside. Although they do dominate the first half, they struggle to turn that into a lead, and the half-time score remains 0-0. Under the lights (some of which worringly went off earlier), 'Cefni dominate the second period, and this time they do make it count, scoring four goals at regular intervals and seeming to add a fifth, though it's disallowed. The large home crowd leave happy, and we leave tired but satisfied with a good day's entertainment and a day of very kind weather for these parts. Onward to Sunday...

Westward again in the coaches, this time heading for scenic Snowdonia: our first appointment at the very foot of Snowdon, at the Ffordd Padarn home of CPD Llanberis. It's Sunday morning, but the little town is buzzing with holidaymakers, especially walkers and mountaineers, it's outdoor shops, souvenir outlets and coffee houses all busy already. It's another fine sunny morning, the mountains clearly visible all around, with the smoke from the steam railway rising at one end of the high street.

CPD LLANBERIS 1 PWLLHELI 1 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 1)

Llanberis web
Ffordd Padarn, sandwiched between the main street on one side and the by-pass and lake on the other, is looking smart, with various trestle tables and gazebos trading ahead of the game, which draws a good crowd for a Sunday morning of 333. The ground's most recent permanent addition is a small seated stand, but it's of the modern prefabricated variety and slightly out of keeping with the charm of everything else here. The match - again in the first division of the Aliance - brings together two well-established and successful sides, who proceed to contest a close and low-scoring game. 0-0 at half time again, but we do see a goal apiece in the second half, Pwllheli needing an equaliser nine minutes from time after a free-kick is not properly cleared, cancelling out a nice solo goal by Rhys Parry for the home side. We must reluctantly leave delightful Llanberis and head a few miles north-west towards Caernarfon for:

LLANRUG UNITED 2 LLANRWST UNITED 1 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 1)

Llanrug web
Division One action on the menu again at Eithin Duon, the home of successful Llanrug United. The natural slope of the land here is obvious, but over the years the pitch here has been levelled to an extent, and the changing rooms are down a flight of steps from pitch level. A couple of small stands sit near the top corners of the pitch, while on one side a tea bar is doing a brisk trade in fish-finger sandwiches among other things! The setting is open and scenic, though the intrusive pylons - the wires crossing high above the pitch - do spoil the vista slightly. 324 are in attendance here, some of us in that number recalling seeing these two teams at Llanrwst a couple of years ago, in a disappointing 0-0 draw. This game seems to be heading the same way, 0-0 deservedly at half time and indeed well into the second half. But a 65th minute goal gives Llanrug the lead. Each side gets a late goal, the Llanrug winner coming four minutes from time, so unlike that past meeting, our attention remains firmly on the action until the end.

After Llanrug, the cars and coaches head off for our most remote destination - Mynydd Llandegai, a mountain settlement so small it doesn't figure on many maps. The roads in are so narrow, they've instituted a one-way system to cope with the crowd, and the police are here to manage it. The larger of the two coaches succeeds, remarkably, in negotiating its way to the Cae Peldroed home of CPD Mynydd Llandegai, behind the community hall and from the moment we arrive, we're enchanted.

MYNYDD LLANDEGAI 3 MELIDEN 2 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 2)

Mynydd web 2
With a registered population of 187, Mynydd Llandegai is an unlikely place to have a team at level 4 of the pyramid, and an even unlikelier place to find a crowd of 305. Set high above Bethesda in wild mountain scenery, it's a wonderful venue and the experience is all the more memorable because of the efforts of the locals to cater for the visiting groundhoppers. The refreshments are laid out along the front of the village hall, on a long line of trestle tables manned (or rather womanned) by helpers. As it's tea/dinner time, this is all very welcome indeed.

The match starts in pleasant evening sunshine, and for a change we get an early goal, the home side scoring from a fifth minute corner. Meliden equalise soon after and a hard-fought game ensues as both sides seek a win. The second half finally brings a breakthrough with a penalty to the home side, who then go 3-1 up, before Meliden promptly pull one back. The final stages are played out in the warm, golden evening light, with shadows playing on the mountains to the east. Meliden don't get another goal, but the final minutes are enlivened by a rabbit, startled by the unusual crowd of humans, streaking along the touchline to take cover in the undergrowth. 3-2 to Mynydd Llandegai at the whistle, and so concludes a day - and especially an evening - I know I'll always fondly remember as a highlight of watching football in the many corners of Wales.

MONDAY 31st AUGUST dawns damp and miserable in Chester, and much of the UK apparently. But we head westward again, for another brief foray onto Anglesey, and by the time we cross the Britannia Bridge and head for Bryniau Field, Pentraeth, it's a fine day again.

PENTRAETH 10 GAERWEN 2 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 2)

Pentraeth web
Another village ground full of character, its pitch sloping steeply way from the clubhouse and changing rooms, and each side of the ground with its own character - smart houses one side, a hillside of bracken on the other, and the far end dominated by trees and a church. Pentraeth have made a decent start in the league, whereas Gaerwen have had a difficult month - the league gave them a month's grace as they lacked a manager and team. This is their first league game, though they did field a team at Aberffraw in the cup last week - and lost. There is a feeling that this game could be one-sided, a view underlined when Corrig McGonigle nets for Pentraeth in the first minute. Second and third goals follow soon, but in the 23rd and 27th minutes Gaerwen rally and pull two goals back. At half time it's only 4-2, so not a rout.

But the second half is a half too far for Gaerwen. When Corrig McGonigle scores his fifth goal before the hour is up, it's 7-2 to Pentraeth, who mercifully withdraw the scorer before he can inflict further pain on the visitors. Pentraeth's remaining players manage to add three more without him to reach double figures. Gaerwen keep working to the end, and while the score is a thrashing whichever way you look at it, it's early days and hopefully they'll come through this difficult time. Grateful for their efforts in fulfilling g the fixture, we pile back onto the coaches for the next game - which has a very different story to it.

We're off the Llanllyfni, as planned, but in the past week or two there have been three different clubs planned as their visitors! First Bethesda, who like Gaerwen couldn't start the season, and are still not ready; the Alliance decreed their place was to be taken by Halkyn, but that club has caused consternation during the weekend by refusing to play the game (they'd requested, and been given, a free Saturday, but are now saying they meant free weekend...). To avoid a blank afternoon and to save Llanllyfni - who have been planning their big day while all this uncertainty reigned - the league has brought forward a Mawddach Cup tie with Trearddur Bay. The latter, much to their credit, have agreed at short notice to this, and a collection has been taken among the groundhoppers to show appreciation of this.

Heavy traffic around the Britannia Bridge delays our journey onto the mainland to Llanllyfni, and more importantly it delays Trearddur Bay's players. The kick off is delayed with the visitors writing their starting line up whilst on the phone to players en route. But in the meantimne we can enjoy the hospitality of another great village club, who have laid on some fine catering, including real ale, and well-stocked merchandise stalls. Llanllyfni web

After the game starts, about ten minutes late at 3.55, five more players turn up, and by agreement a rolling substitute approach is taken. In these bizarre circumstances it's hard to know what to expect next, especially as this seems a very different Bay line-up from Saturday's league game. Llanllyfni take the lead after five minutes, but Bay equalise just before the break, prompting a new worry - what if this goes to extra time? We have a 6pm kick off at Penmaenmawr to make. Llanllyfni rescue our schedule by scoring three goals without reply after the interval.

Relieved, we set off for Penmaenmawr, hoping to avoid the worst of the traffic. Seeking a back route, the coaches head up a mountain at Rhosgadfan, and get stuck, having to return to the main road. Desperate calls ahead secure a delay to kick-off at Penmaenmawr, and we do eventually arrive at Cae Sling just after 6pm.

PENMAENMAWR PHOENIX 3 GREENFIELD 4 (Lock Stock Welsh Alliance Div 2)

Penmaen portrait web
As we disembark quickly from the coaches, there's a lot to take in: firstly, a stunning ground with the dramatic backdrop of Penmaenmawr Mountain; but also, a large crowd, swelled by many locals, busy with a wide range of activities - refreshments, raffle, merchandise, a junior dance troupe... it turns out that the attendance is another new Welsh Groundhop record of 431, which hadn't been anticipated, and is a great result for Penmaenmawr.

The game - our last of the weekend - is underway at 6.15. The action is fast and furious, but somehow the setting keeps drawing attention away. Some brave souls scale the mountainside to get a good view or photo, but it proves treacherous. Down at pitch level, twice in the first half Phoenix take the lead, but the second half belongs to visitors Greenfield who storm back from 2-1 down to lead 2-4, and despite a late third goal for the hosts in rapidly fading light, the Hop ends with an away win.

The crowds disperse. We've seen eleven games, enjoyed some great action and great hospitality. The organisers, the league and its clubs have excelled themselves and we're all grateful.

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