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Sunday, 02 October 2016 19:29

The Other Lakesiders

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SATURDAY 1st OCTOBER - Damp and chilly

The First Round of the Welsh Cup always provides plenty of attractive games - potential upsets, big matches for small clubs, rare programmes etc. We're always spoiled for choice. I had several games in mind but top of the list was the trip to Llanuwchllyn - a visit I'd probably only attempt before the winter sets in. There will never be a better opportunity, with Huws Gray Alliance Ruthin as the visitors, and the added bonus of a match programme. So train and bus times have been researched and a journey down to the 'other' end of Bala Lake is mapped out - to see the 'other' Lakesiders.

Aside from the journey, the main complication is the weather: a seriously wet day forecast for most of Wales and the chance, therefore, of postponements anywhere. This is an excursion that could end up being memorably enjoyable or memorably disastrous, and as it requires a 7a.m. start, I can only wait and see how it unfolds.

It rains more of less constantly as I make the train journey up the borders to Ruabon. Much the same as I transfer to the long-distance bus heading south-west to Llangollen, Corwen and Bala. Whilst at Ruthin, I check for any postponement announcements, and no news is good news. On the bus, I try to monitor the news but my phone fails to pick up an adequate data signal. Although it's still raining up here, it seems lighter - but I resolve not to tempt fate with any optimism.

It's a relief then, on walking round behind the village hall in Llanuwchllyn, to see evidence of the game definitely going ahead. The pitch is fine, players are arriving and programmes have just turned up. I knew in advance that this is one of the most Welsh-speaking parts of Wales, and that is evident when the gateman greets us with a request for "dair punt", quickly changed to "three pounds" when he realises he's dealing with three travellers from the English-speaking world. It has to be said that the welcome here is very friendly, the locals happy to switch into English to chat about the match and the home side's prospects. The consensus is that they've got a tough task ahead - Ruthin are believed to be stronger since a recent change of management and personnel.

The football ground in Llanuwchllyn has rural charm in spades. From the elevated viewpoint of the entrance, there's a distant view of Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake), and there are scenic mountain views on all sides. Adjacent to the village hall, which houses the changing rooms, there's a building with a shallow overhang facing the pitch, topped by a fascia board with the club name. A window is open, selling teas, coffees and cakes. The ground slopes down to the pitch, which is fairly flat overall - but with pronounced undulations towards the corners.

In intermittent drizzle, the match gets underway with Ruthin, in blue, dominating the early play. A few early attacks and a couple of corners come to nothing. After a while, Llanuwchllyn begin to assert themselves more, with some solid tackles and spirited runs. At this stage there's not a great deal of evidence of Ruthin's higher status, but they do get the first breakthrough, a solid header from a corner on the left. And at half-time, that goal separates the teams.

Ruthin press hard at the start of the second half and are rewarded with a second goal - a touch fortunately, as a loose ball is disputed in the six-yard box and flies up past home keeper Dascalu. But after this, with a two-goal cushion, the visitors are noticeably more relaxed and begin to dominate possession more comfortably. Llanuwchllyn battle gamely but without really looking like turning the game around. Any chances of that are snuffed out with a late third goal, the ball cut back from the goal-line, missed by a couple of defenders and rifled in from twelve yards.

Not as close a game as it appeared beforehand, but that doesn't matter. Today was about the competition, the occasion, the day out, the scenery. Real football in a splendid setting. The damp weather hasn't spoiled it - and on the long journey home to Cardiff there's a real sense of satisfaction that Welsh Cup Round 1 day has lived up to expectations.

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