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Wednesday, 25 May 2016 19:16

Graveyard of Dreams?

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TUESDAY 24th MAY - Parc Newydd, a warm, sunny evening
GIANTS GRAVE 2 YNYSYGERWN 2 (Neath League, Premier Division)
Sometimes a fixture just jumps off the page because of its significance. The climax to the Neath League title race - and its implications for promotion from West Wales to the Welsh League - have drawn attention from far and wide, and tonight's the night when it all comes to a head.

Here, then, is the proposition: the two championship rivals, Giants Grave (reigning champions) and Ynysygerwn, can each clinch the title if they win tonight. If they draw, Giants Grave have one more match after this, and the title will remain undecided. If Ynysygerwn finish top, they may automatically secure the West Wales FA's nomination to the Welsh League (although even that's a debatable point, as conflicting pyramid rules seem to exist). But if they finish second, they definitely face a play-off for promotion with the Swansea League runners-up, Team Swansea. Intriguing, no ?

Giants Grave is an area on the west side of Briton Ferry, the name not deriving from some ancient Welsh folklore, but from post-war times - for it was to Briton Ferry's dock that huge World War 2 warships - giants - came to be scrapped. It's not an area I've actually visited before, though I've made many visits to the east side of the Ferry, and sped through on countless rail journeys just yards from the (hidden) Parc Newydd football field. It's tucked away at the end of the estate, the pitch separated from the changing rooms by a briedge across the Neath canal, and a wooded lane, which then opens out to playing fields. Rounding the corner of the lane, we're amazed to find a refreshment hut powered by generator, and a pitch-side overhang and seated 'terrace'. In bad weather this might provide a modicum of shelter for a few spectators - thankfully not needed tonight, as rather more than a few are arriving -we estimate the crowd to be over 250, such is the local interest in this clash.

The teams are out and ready fully five minutes before the 6pm kick off time, Giants Grave wearing red and black, Ynysygerwn yellow and green. Just in time, three match officials appear, preliminaries are completed, the teams change ends and Giants Grave are attacking the open, western end, into the setting sun. They have a few early attacks but neither side gets in an early blow, the game developing into a very tight battle.

The breakthrough comes after 28 minutes, and it's Ynysygerwn who get it - a half-cleared attack, a shot from the edge of the box, the keeper unsighted as it creeps inside his post. For the rest of the half, the precious lead is stoutly defended, so advantage Ynysygerwn at the break.

The second half starts with a flurry of incidents: firstly, there's a red card for Giants Grave's number 6, for his part in a flare-up after a team-mate conceded as free-kick. Losing a man is theoretically a disadvantage, but Giants Grave seem to be galvanised by it. Within three minutes, they win a penalty, coolly converted. Another twelve minutes and the turnaround is complete, a high free-kick lost in the sun by the visiting keeper and nodded in at the far post. Now Giants Grave have the one hand on the title - and just under half an hour to keep it that way.

As the sun sets, and we edge ever closer to the final whistle, Ynysygerwn lay siege to the home goal. They take risks - and breakaways threaten several times to put the result beyond doubt. One in particular is halted by a very dubious offside call, the flag seemingly against a player running back, when his team-mate has timed his run perfectly. At least that's how I saw it.

Into stoppage time, still 2-1. Ynysygerwn win a series of corners, and in the 94th minute keeper Nick Maggs goes up to join the attack - not unfamiliar territory, I learn, as he's actually a striker deputising as the visitors have no fit goalkeepers tonight! From the corner, the ball comes out to Maggs, he hits it, and scores. Still a couple of minutes stoppage time (and another red card, for dissent by a visitor). Another corner, Maggs is told by his manager not to go upfield - but why, when they need the win and a draw puts everything out of their hands?

The match ends 2-2, the title isn't yet decided. Giants Grave (who have a cup final on Thursday) must get a win at Glynneath Town on Saturday.  Ynysygerwn (and Team Swansea) can only await the outcome, the agony prolonged. 

If we thought beforehand this was a script-writer's dream, then the actual events have exceeded even that. A fine evening, high drama, fluctuating fortunes, and ultimately a cliff-hanger, all combine to make one of the most memorable 90 minutes of my travels this season. Now to look up bus times to Glynneath....

Read 3900 times Last modified on Wednesday, 25 May 2016 19:22

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