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Thursday, 16 March 2017 21:50

In Praise of Diversity

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THE WELSH SPRING GROUNDHOP

Three days, six games in four different competitions - it can only be another Groundhop....

FRIDAY 10th MARCH - Caerphilly Centre of Sporting Excellence - mild.
RISCA UNITED 1 MONMOUTH TOWN 3 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Division One)
Billed as an "optional extra" ahead of the Groundhop action further west, the traditional Friday night game under lights nevertheless attracts a reasonable attendance because the coach stops there on its way to the overnight accommodation in Carmarthen.

We arrive well ahead of kick off, despite exceptionally bad traffic around Cardiff - which I would always strive to avoid when Friday night Six Nations rugby is inflicted on the capital. Arriving so early at the CCE is not ideal - there are no refreshment facilities open, save for a burger van in the car park, no convivial clubhouse to socialise in. Time passes.

The game - a relegation "six-pointer" proves to be entertaining. Bottom club Risca are pushed deeper into trouble by Monmouth - with some very poor defending the deciding factor. But, with more than an hour on the road ahead of us, we're all glad to get into the warmth of the coach.

SATURDAY 11th MARCH - Parc Stephens, mild, dull.
KIDWELLY TOWN 3 DREFACH 1 (Carmarthenshire League Division 2)
We start the real business of a day's groundhopping in Carmarthenshire in the tranquil setting of Kidwelly. The football club's facilities sit next to the more impressive and photogenic rugby ground, but with a three-figure crowd and excellent catering by the home club, an otherwise open, unrailed pitch takes on extra vitality and atmosphere for a couple of hours. I'd hoped the town's impressive castle would dominate the backdrop like Llandovery last year, but - although visible - it's somewhat distant, sharing the skyline to the north with the parish church.

The Black Cats of Kidwelly - the town's feline emblem apparently based on a tale about the first creature to venture back into the town after the plague - are behind early on, but gradually work their way back into the game. Youngster Kyle Griffith gets a well-taken equaliser, then an own goal puts them ahead. It's only in the closing minutes that the three points are secured with a third KIdwelly goal.  

K Griffiths MoM

Young Kyle Griffith gets a bottle of champagne from Groundhop UK as Man of the Match (pictured - but is he old enough to drink it?)

And so to Llanelli for the rest of the day...

Penygaer Playing Fields: EVANS & WILLIAMS 0 TROSTRE SPORTS 1 (Carmarthenshire League Premier Division)
Not a venue we had planned to visit, and indeed not one you could use to 'sell' a groundhop. This game was supposed to be at Trostre, but they decided a full week ahead of the hop that their pitch would not be playable, and the league had to reverse the fixture to Penygaer, a featureless recreation ground of five pitches. I've been here before - but at least a different pitch is in use today. The late switch means the home club have had little time to prepare to host a groundhop fixture, which maybe partly explains why they have laid on neither catering nor a programme (one has been produced on their behalf by Groundhop UK).

The match - between two of the top sides - is niggly and attritional, with Trostre scrambling a 25th minute goal and defending the lead fiercely for the remaining 65 minutes to defeat the league leaders. The best thing I can say is that this 90 minutes demonstrates that Premier Division football in this league is competitive and committed; not for the faint-hearted, you could say. Some groundhop venues and games enchant the visitor. Not this time.

Crown Park: SEASIDE 2 CARMARTHEN STARS 0 (Carmarthenshire League Premier Division)

Seaside bar

A mile across town, on the sea side of the tracks, is Crown Park, home of serial trophy winners Seaside AFC. Coming after Penygaer, this venue has instant appeal: a nice clubhouse, roped pitch, even a small covered enclosure, and a more interesting setting, with a landscaped mound in one corner, part of the millennium coastal path infrastructure.

With Carmarthen Stars the visitors, this is another top of the table encounter and again, no quarter is given. Seaside do have something more to offer than pure aggression, and start to create a succession of chances, the first half corner count heavily in their favour. After half an hour, Sean Rogers meets a cross from the right with a well-timed run and Seaside are ahead.

As the game progresses tempers become increasingly frayed, especially among the visitors. Neutrals feel the Stars could have been down to ten men in the first half, but are astonished after the break when a dreadful challenge near the corner flag passes with no sign of a red card. Soon after this, Seaside get a second goal - Rogers again, bravely putting his head into danger as a through ball runs loose: he makes contact, the ball bobbles off into the net, but a defender's boot makes contact with his face and he can't savour the moment. Instead, after a long stoppage, he's taken off to hospital.

Four minutes from time, the Stars are finally reduced to ten, but it's irrelevant by now. They've been well beaten, and it's hard to reconcile their physical display today with the flowing attacking football we saw them produce a year ago.

SUNDAY 12th MARCH: Metcalfe Street: drizzle.
GARTH VADER 2 ST PATRICK's ROVERS 7 (Bridgend & District Sunday League)
There's a long story behind this fixture appearing on a groundhop - the first ever Sunday League game to do so. It's a tale of postponed cup fixtures, official intransigence and a resourceful groundhop organiser - the upshot being that the planned Carmarthenshire League game at Pontlliw couldn't proceed, and an alternative entertainment had to be found.

It might have been the funny name - Garth Vader, from the Maesteg community of Garth; it might have been the fact that they play on a proper, railed pitch in Caerau, one not currently used in senior Saturday football. Whatever it was, this was the game that became, at four days' notice, a groundhop fixture. Garth Vader (note, unlike Evans & Williams!) pulled out all the stops and produced a cracking little match programme. The attendance, 79, is probably a league record.

The match confirms many preconceptions regarding Sunday football. A mixture of player types: alongside the more 'recreational' types, there are a few talented and fit players, moonlighting from organised Saturday football. Though one visiting player, clearly in the latter category, admits to having been out on the town on Saturday night, offering it as an excuse for a couple of early misses. But, as he explains to team-mates he doesn't give a ****.

St Patrick's cruise to an easy win. It was a game, albeit not a serious one. But with a certain charm, of course, football played for football's sake.

The Riverside Ground: CARDIFF CORINTHIANS 1 PONTYCLUN 2 (South Wales Alliance Premier Division).
And the Groundhop ends with something a bit more mainstream, as two of the oldest clubs in south Wales meet in Radyr. The Corries' Riverside ground is buzzing, with traders, catering and plenty of hoppers and locals in the 189 crowd. They are rewarded with a collector's item of a match programme celebrating the clubs' histories, and then a match that puts the Alliance League in a very favourable light.

Corries, fighting relegation, give league leaders Pontyclun a very tough game indeed, 0-0 at half time, the visitors go ahead from a penalty but Corries hit back immediately. For a while a draw looks on the cards - even a Corries win - but their hopes are dashed by a late Pontyclun winner. 90 minutes of pulsating football, a fine way to round off the groundhop. The event overall has been enjoyable, after all the planning setbacks and panics: a relaxed schedule, a good social weekend, some fascinating and diverse programmes - and as we're back in Cardiff already, no long journey home for me. Perfect.

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