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Sunday, 20 September 2015 19:32

Goals Galore at the Aqueduct

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SATURDAY 19th SEPTEMBER: The Bont, sunny and warm.
A second week of cup football, and another trip to north-east Wales. This time it's the venue that draws me rather than anything about the fixture itself: people watch football for all sorts of reasons - some follow one team exclusively, others seek out top quality football or promising fixtures, while the pure groundhoppers seek out new grounds and eschew re-visits. I don't fit neatly into any one of these groups, but today the groundhopper in me prevails. The Bont at Pontcysyllte is one of Wales's iconic settings for football, one I've long planned to visit. For some years I have planned to catch an Acrefair home game in a national cup, but they often get knocked out early, or are drawn away, or the weather is risky. Now, at last I set out to visit the Bont, and in the historic FAW Trophy, formerly the Welsh Amateur Cup.

It's a good day to get out of Cardiff, with rugby crowds likely to cause congestion. The journey north is straightforward and familiar, and from Ruabon station I strike out westwards towards Llangollen. Half an hour later I'm in Trevor, and after a lunch stop, I continue towards Pontcysyllte, turning down the hill towards the cluster of buildings around the canal basin. From here, the Llangollen canal heads off over Thomas Telford's aqueduct, but I'm continuing down the steep road, down to the river Dee at the very bottom; over the single track stone bridge, round a corner, and here it is - The Bont, a football ground sited on the river plain and dominated by the huge 37-metre tall structure of the aqueduct. It being a warm, sunny late summer's day, there's plenty of activity on the canal, a stream of canal barges and walkers crossing high above us.

At pitch level though, the two Wrexham Area Division One sides are warming up for this FAW Trophy game. Acrefair, winless so far this season, against New Brighton, who have lost all but one as well - but do have a win over Argoed to their name. Goals are almost guaranteed with defensive records like these, and Villa start favourites, but I'm hoping the sides might be reasonably well-matched.

Having waited 120 minutes last week for a goal, this week there's one inside the first minute: a Villa striker waltzes through the home defence and crosses for a colleague to score from close range. Initially, Acrefair's response is promising, as they hit a post from the restart, but after 8 minutes they're 2-0 down. Again though, they respond, and this time their number 6 gets clear and rolls the ball past the visiting keeper and into the net.

Any hopes of a fight-back are dashed as the first half unfolds: New Brighton add four more goals to lead 1-6, the pick of them a free-kick for their fifth. The Villa keeper asks me if I'm keeping score, and I am, though my attention is often distracted by the procession of colourful canal boats at the far end. From time to time, knots of towpath walkers with heads for heights stop to gaze down at the football being played on the valley floor far below them, but they can't really count in the attendance, which I reckon is about twelve - including WAGs.

The second half seems likely to take Villa to double figures, but Acrefair show plenty of resilience. For 23 minutes they match the visitors, and could have had the next goal. I catch an exchange between defender and keeper, noting that they are starting to look the better side. But then Villa add a seventh goal in the 68th minute after a couple of corners, and after this the game drifts towards its conclusion. Further goals seem unlikely, but in stoppage time Villa's number 11 pounces twice to score with low shots, taking the score to 1-9, and taking the gloss off a much-improved second half from the home side.

A predictable outcome maybe, but for me today was about watching football in a great setting and I've not been disappointed. And the teams ? Well, this is pure, "recreational" football, and while all players care about results, I think at this level much of the pleasure is simply derived from taking part. I certainly hope so.

Having descended so steeply into the Dee valley on the way, inevitably the return journey up to Trevor is more strenuous, but all goes smoothly as I head home on foot, bus and train - until, that is, we reach south Wales and are caught up in total chaos approaching Cardiff. Even three hours after the end of today's rugby world cup match, the rail companies are in disarray and the ensuing delays make for an unsatisfactory and frustrating end to what was, in all other respects, a fine day out.

112 clubs were involved in the Second Round of the Trophy, in every county of Wales. Participants ranged from potential winners, via past winners, to minnows like those in our featured match who aren't expected to get to the later stages. And the outcomes to the Round 2 matches ranged from the very close to the one-sided. In the latter category, the 9-1 win by New Brighton Villa proved not to be the biggest, as less than a mile away Cefn Albion were thrashing Ewloe Spartans 13-0! By contrast, Ewloe's fellow NE Wales side Offa Athletic restricted former Cymru Alliance club Ruthin Town to a narrow 0-2 win.

Other notable results in the northern section of the draw involved an unexpected home defeat for FC Nomads, who went down at home to Greenfield, and a welcome but equally unexpected big 2-5 win for Gaerwen in an Anglesey derby at Llanfairpwll - a first win of the season for Gaerwen, who barely had a team a month ago.

In the south, three-time Trophy winners Ragged School crashed out - coincidentally also by a score-line of 2-5 - to Swansea rivals North End, who play four divisions lower after reforming this summer. Two of the South Wales Alliance's in form clubs met at the ICI Rifle Fields, with Merthyr Saints being held to a high-scoring draw by Canton Liberal of Cardiff, who went on to win a sudden death penalty-shoot out.

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