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Monday, 14 August 2017 07:47

Exemplary

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SATURDAY 12th AUGUST. Underhill Park, sunny.
MUMBLES RANGERS 1 PENCOED ATHLETIC 6 (FAW TROPHY, Round 1)
Seven matches into my season, and finally one within 100 miles of home in Cardiff. Just the 80-odd mile round-trip to Swansea Bay for this one. True, today there were plenty of competitive games much closer to home, but the first round of the FAW Trophy is one of those special days of the season - a long list of interesting matches, many at grounds I haven't visited, so the difficulty is always in the choosing. But the decision is made - Mumbles Rangers is a famous Swansea club I've read plenty about over the years, and a visit to Underhill Park is overdue.

From Swansea station to Mumbles is five miles - a nice walk if time allows, but it doesn't today, so I take the crowded number 2 bus, crawling its way round the bay in heavy traffic - on a sunny August afternoon, there are plenty of other people heading out to Mumbles, Langland Bay and Gower.

Underhill Park lies at the far end of Oystermouth's attractive, up-market High Street. The football pitch - or at least the one in use today - is in the corner of the park nearest the town, although Mumbles Rangers usual pitch is at the furthest end, in front of their clubhouse. Today, cricket has use of that area. Despite this enforced change, the home club have done an exemplary job of staging the game, complying with Trophy rules by issuing a programme and roping off the pitch. Not just any old token bit of rope either, the neat yellow posts and cord running all round the four sides are the swishest temporary barrier I've come across. Added to this, over in the clubhouse there's a refreshment window open for business. And there's even another bonus: This pitch can be added to my list "Football Grounds with a view of a Welsh Castle".

When a club has made such an effort to host a game properly, with appropriate (and sadly rare) respect for a national competition, you tend to want things to go well for them. But the tie is quickly put beyond them by the South Wales Alliance visitors, Keegan Rees given time on the ball to open the scoring after 7 minutes, then Marc Turner with two goals before the tie is 20 minutes old. Turner completes his hat-trick with a shot steered inside keeper Josh Park's left-hand post and Pencoed lead 0-4 at the break.

Which means the second half is pretty much academic. Pencoed relax, and Mumbles enjoy more time on the ball. Eventually, 13 minutes into the half, they're rewarded with a penalty converted by number 8 Owen Williams. Pencoed struggle to regain their first half rhythm, but find it in time to score a couple of late goals, sub Nathan Bryn tapping in the fifth and Richie Lewis converting a penalty as they ease into Round 2.

Despite the wide margin of victory, a very enjoyable afternoon in an attractive setting. I'm glad I've visited Mumbles now, because the local sports clubs are about to take over the running of the park and have ambitious plans to redevelop it, with a 4G pitch and new pavilion building. Today wasn't Rangers' day on the field (players missing on holiday probably meant this was inevitable) but they've impressed in other ways: not just a club with a proud history, but one with a future too.

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