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Wednesday, 12 April 2017 09:01

Reds & Greens

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WEDNESDAY 5th APRIL. Cardiff Arms Park - sunny.
THE WELSH VARSITY GAMES:
Women: Cardiff University 1 Swansea University 1
Men: Cardiff University 0 Swansea University 1

I had seen a reference to the Welsh Varsity football games a couple of weeks ago, and stored the information away at the back of my mind, without any definite plans to attend. I'd also mentioned it to a few people and noted their reactions - best described as 'extreme interest'. Opportunities to watch football on the Arms Park - a bastion of rugby union - don't come along too often, and the fixtures have piqued the interest of groundhoppers.

As it happens I'd seen both of Ton Pentre's InterToto Cup games on the old grass surface here, but that was twenty years ago and the ground has changed, with the building of the Millennium Stadium along the south side, attached to the Arms Park stand, and the more recent laying of a 3G pitch. So I'm easily persuaded to revisit.

I had never really registered how big an event the Welsh Varsity is. I can only assume I've never happened to be in Cardiff city centre on match-day, because you can't really miss the abundance of students. Throughout our approach through Sophia Gardens, the red of Cardiff and green of Swansea are everywhere, the noise from inside the various sporting venues indicating there are huge crowds out of sight too.

Inside the Westgate Street entrance to the Arms Park, press accreditation successfully confirmed, we head towards the stands. We're a bit early for the football, and there's a freshers' rugby game underway, giving us a chance to explore both sides. Oddly, Swansea have been allocated the larger stand, but it's in the shade and distinctly chillier than the sun-drenched North Stand occupied by the home fans.

The rugby ends, the stands empty, and the women's football gets underway with the crowd reduced to mere hundreds. There's less intensity now, the play recreational and the atmosphere in the stadium relaxed. In the sun, and in the sparsely-filled seats, it's a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. The pitch isn't quite right though - notably the elongated penalty area, surely well over 20 yards instead of eighteen. The 3G surface too is not one designed for football, and this clearly doesn't help the girls. However, Cardiff take the lead and look like holding it, until a late Swansea equaliser.

The crowd builds again ahead of the men's game: strange, really, that even today's students express this preference for male sport. Noise levels increase as the game finally gets underway (ten minutes late, for no obvious reason), the stands filling up all the time with red tee-shirts on one side, green on the other. It's a very different demographic from the usual football crowd - much younger of course, and a far higher female element. Even so, there's a lot of beer being consumed, and a lot of rubbish piling up. There's chanting too, but it's depressingly uninventive. Mostly just insults directed at the other uni, rather than any support for the teams.

The game is much faster than the women's one, and clearly there are accomplished players in action here. Swansea University have a strong team in Saturday and BUCS football and when they take a third minute lead it seems we might have a mis-match here, but it doesn't turn out that way. Cardiff have plenty of play, and chances to equalise, but the score stays at 1-0 right to the end.

The crowds will decamp next door for the rugby games this evening, but we're out of the gates at the final whistle - we're making it a three-game day, and have an evening game out of town.

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