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Tuesday, 24 October 2017 07:23

THE REAL ROOTS

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SATURDAY 14th OCTOBER. Barry Athletic Ground, mild, cloudy and dry.
BARRY ATHLETIC 2 AFC ABERCYNON 4 (SWFA Senior Cup)
It's always fun to vary the levels of football watched: each has its differing attractions. So from the pinnacle of the game at international level on Monday, five days later I'm down at district level for the South Wales FA Senior Cup, a competition that brings together clubs from ten different local leagues. My chosen tie pits Vale of Glamorgan league against Aberdare Valley League. This is the grassroots - a much over-used term, and indeed often mis-used. Those accustomed to watching English pro football seem to lump all non-league and domestic football together as "grass roots" - indeed I read one blog only this week using this term to describe visits to games at the second tier of Welsh football! I'm six levels lower here today. THIS is he real grass roots. 

Whilst football in Barry is mostly about the town's Welsh Premier club, there are others, and my host club today is one with a proud history: Barry Athletic, based on Barry Island, have played higher up the pyramid and indeed reached an FAW Trophy final eighteen years ago. After that, they lost their Amateur League status, fell on hard times and almost disappeared from view. I've always been annoyed that I failed to see a game on the island during their Amateur League days (despite a couple of attempts) so today's cup game presents an opportunity to put that right - especially as Barry are issuing a programme. It's not often you see this from a club at this level, but what a great initiative - maybe the SWFA should encourage it - after all, today's colourful 4-pager carries five adverts from local businesses, which must bring in a bit of welcome revenue.

My journey to Barry Island is an easy one, on the train from Cardiff. Today the island is busy, the mild weather drawing a surge of late season business to the funfair, as well as the beach and the nearby headland walks. The Athletic Ground, nestling beneath the causeway to the mainland, is close to the centre of island life, with railway, funfair, shops and beach all close at hand. As a result, it's one of those venues where there's always something happening in the background - trains passing, the lights and rides of the funfair.

For visitors AFC Abercynon, this is a nice awayday. They don't usually get out of the Cynon Valley, so a trip to the seaside must be a welcome change. Accordingly, a posse of fans has accompanied the team, and out-number the home support. They're vocal in the first half, but their side is forced onto the back foot as Barry Athletic create the greater number of chances. After 35 scoreless minutes, the home side finally get one on target, Nathan Williams heading in a corner at the far post.

Early in the second half Athletic double their lead, Casey Thompson finishing off a move following a throw-in, and it looks as if the visitors are heading out. They struggle to find a way back, and Athletic come close to getting a decisive third goal a couple of times. But then Abercynon get a lifeline - a penalty awarded for a foul. It's converted, and as well as sending their boisterous fans into ecstasies, with red flares launched, the goal seems to change the game completely: it sparks Abercynon into life and sends Barry into disarray. For a quarter of an hour they manage to defend deep, clinging on to the lead at times, all the while looking for a breakaway goal that would restore the two goal lead.

The temperature of the game rises. Referee Paul Fisher, until now content to let the game flow, has no choice but to brandish his yellow card a few times. Time slips away, but it feels as if there are more goals in the game. And there are: it's Abercynon who score next, around the 75th minute, a shot from distance in off the crossbar. They quickly get a third to complete the turnaround, and add a fourth in stoppage time. A game of two halves, you might say, although really Abercynon only showed what they could do in the last half an hour - but it was certainly enough to send them into the next round.

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