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Sunday, 13 September 2015 12:19

Echoes of Coal and Steel

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SATURDAY 12th SEPTEMBER. Vicarage Hill, Sunny and mild.
RHOSTYLLEN FC 1 BRYMBO 0 (JD Welsh Cup, 2nd Qualifying Round)
As ever, an early round in a national cup produces plenty of tempting matches near and far. After visiting one of the south Wales clubs from the bottom of the Welsh pyramid in the previous round, I choose a similar tie in north-east Wales in the 2nd Qualifying Round. The similarities go further: like AFC Perthcelyn, Rhostyllen FC are a reformed club which has prudently adopted a slightly different name from its predecessor. They've joined the North East Wales League, the first step back to the WNL Wrexham Area League.

The village of Rhostyllen is only a couple of miles south of Wrexham, its by-pass well served by buses heading for Oswestry and Llangollen. This was the village that served Bersham Colliery, which once supplied coal to Brymbo steelworks among others. The colliery closed in 1987 but there's little to tell its story a quarter of a century on: a bus stop on the main road is named the Colliery Garage, and some pit head equipment remains - it was intended to form the centrepiece of a mining museum, but lack of interest meant the project never came to fruition. Today, there's nothing in the village centre to tell its back story or point out anything of note, not even an information board.

The revived football club has however put the colliery winding gear and a coal truck on its crest, with a pleasing nod to the village's heritage. This crest adorns the cover of Rhostyllen FC's first match programme, together with that of today's visitors Brymbo (no longer Brymbo Steelworks FC, that also having closed a quarter of a century ago).

The Recreation Ground in Vicarage Hill, on the edge of the village, exceeds my expectations: Wrexham area grounds can be rather basic, but here the pitch is railed on both sides, enclosed by roads on one side and one end, and trees on the other two. On the Vicarage Hill side sits a small brick stand with a pitched roof, apparently erected as part of a package to build a nearby housing development. A fine village venue, and strange to think that it hasn't been used for senior Saturday football for over a decade.

Pre-match, the atmosphere is relaxed in gthe late summer sunshine. Early arrivals chat to club officials, players are put through their paces; the match referee warms up alone (no assistants today) and she is Cheryl Foster, a former Wales women's international with over 60 caps. As the local derby with the Steelmen kicks off, there are no more than thirty spectators - including two referee assessors!- but this grows during the first half to around sixty. The latecomers don't miss much, merely opening exchanges in which Brymbo look every bit the higher-ranked side - they play two leagues above the hosts in the WNL Wrexham area Premier. They're sharper, quicker to the ball, and spend plenty of time in the Rhostyllen half. But they don't find a way past Joshua Jones in the home goal - the nearest they come is a swerving shot in the 36th minute that rebounds off the crossbar - and the longer the game remains goal-less, the more comfortable Rhostyllen look.

The second half is much more even: there are chances at both ends - Rhostyllen hit a post from a header, and miss several decent chances, while at the other end Jones again keeps his side in the tie at times, notably with a fine double save late in the game. Referee Foster is kept busy with infringements and has to issue a few cards, but overall the players are well-behaved. As ever with a female official, the language is toned down and the appeals and protests slightly less aggressive than they might have been with a man in black. No breakthrough though, and 0-0 looks increasingly likely, extra time becoming inevitable. Inconvenient for those of us with trains to catch!

The additional 30 minutes do not look likely to bring a goal either and the additional time for a penalty shoot-out is a concern - I'd almost certainly have to get a later train back to south Wales. The old 'stay or leave early' dilemma is becoming more than theoretical, and I make a decision to stay to the end whatever happens. It seems this resolve pleases the football gods, because in the very last minute of the 120, a long throw into the Brymbo box is headed backwards by a defender; it strikes the bar and drops.... Rhostyllen poke it goalwards and it bobbles across to the far post - and out again... where Kevin Roberts throws himself forward to head it into the net! 1-0 and the home players go mad, hurling themselves on top of the scorer - a little too vigorously as it happens, as he remains prone with an injury inflicted in the celebrations. His team-mates have to see out the remaining seconds, which they do, despite a scare when Joshua Jones needs two grabs at a high ball in a desperate Brymbo attack.

I sprint to the bus stop and make my train connection, satisfied with a good afternoon's entertainment and a game settled the right way, however late. Rhostyllen remain unbeaten since reforming, and go into Monday's draw as one of only two sides from the lowest tier of the Welsh pyramid.

For a review of the other 2nd Qualifying Round action, see http://welsh-football.net/other-welsh-football-news/116-welsh-cup-2q-review

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