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Friday, 04 August 2017 08:37

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TUESDAY 1st AUGUST - The Gwyn, Lilac Way - sunny and mild
MAESGWYN 19 MARCHWIEL VILLA 1 (N.E. Wales Challenge Cup, Preliminary Round)
After the all-too-brief flurry of European games in June and July, I don't usually watch much football until mid-August. I just don't do friendlies, and in any case it's nice to have a break until the real stuff starts.

However, the North East Wales FA have come up with some unusually early competitive games in their main Challenge Cup competition, scheduling two rounds in the first week of August, and this is too good an opportunity to miss. With a choice of games at clubs I haven't previously visited (and some I have), there's one obvious one for me: Maesgwyn, who struggled badly last year in the Wrexham Area League, entertaining newly re-formed Marchwiel Villa. The added bonus is that Maesgwyn seem to have moved onto a different ground this season, back in their own community - and it's only five minutes walk from Wrexham General station - conveniently saving me the need to worry about missing the train home (unless there's extra time and penalties, of course....)

I had never been aware that the area across the Mold Road from the Racecourse Stadium was called Maesgwyn. In fact, there's a clue in the little turning opposite the former club shop, called Maesgwyn Road. The next turning, opposite the Mold Road turnstiles, is Lilac Way, leading down to Maesgwyn Community Centre, which overlooks a very pleasant railed football pitch. It's certainly more enclosed than the "park pitch" I had envisaged (expectations set by 25 years of visiting Wrexham grounds, although to be fair the league has now implemented some basic standards).

It's far from deserted either. I'm not alone among the groundhopping community in spotting this early chance to see a proper game of football - I'm one of a dozen or so neutrals among the crowd. As 6.30 kick off time approaches, orange-clad Maesgwyn are present and correct but Marchwiel are dallying near the changing room door, their manager apparently in discussion with the referee about the team-sheet. The gist seems to be that they are missing some players, but they do take to the pitch with the full eleven in their green kit.

Within two minutes I know I'm not going to be troubled by a late finish and sprint to the station, as Maesgwyn score from their first two attacks. This must be a novelty to a club that averaged less than one per game last season and won only once. Marchwiel must be under-strength or unprepared (it is after all only 1st August) because they are offering little resistance to a tide of orange shirts scoring almost at will. 10-0 within 25 minutes and it's simply a question of how many the quite impressive tangerines will accumulate. By half-time, it's 12-0. The scoring rate slows, a combination of less intensity from the home side and, to their credit, a rearguard action by the Villa - their keeper, in particular, stopping several good scoring chances from turning into goals.

After his goal is breached for the seventeenth time, there's at last something to celebrate: Marchwiel Villa's first competitive goal after their rebirth. It's a lob over the home keeper that just makes it under the bar. In the closing stages, Maesgwyn add a couple more and Marchwiel come close too - one good attack halted by a rather unkind - if probably correct - offside decision.

The whistle goes at five past eight with plenty of daylight left. And plenty of time to stroll back to the station, reflecting on a thoroughly worthwhile trip to kick-start this season's domestic travels. Although there's a certain irony too - I've chosen this as my first competitive game of the season, but some might quibble with that adjective being applied to a 19-1 scoreline.

Some groundhoppers assiduously calculate their goals totals and averages for each season: if I cared about that sort of thing, I could call it a day now, because the average is only going to go down from its present mark of twenty!

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