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Sunday, 04 February 2018 17:19

Cup Football in the Mud - again Featured

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SATURDAY 3rd FEBRUARY. Ynystawe Park, light showers.
Another of those Saturday mornings, watching the news of postponements and mulling over the options. I note a couple of postponements to the west and more or less give up on the idea of a day trip in that direction for a WWFA Cup tie in Swansea - until, that is, Ynystawe tweet that their game is actually on. Hasty preparations and a dash for the bus.

Getting through and out of Cardiff is challenging - it's a dreaded Six Nations match-day. Town is full of the rugby crowd - more cartoon-Welsh than a football crowd, all daffodil hats, Max Boyce buskers and Prince of Wales feathers. The train to Swansea is inevitably late, the knock-on effect of the surge in traffic through Central Station: not enough of a delay to constitute a disaster, but irritating nonetheless.

By the time I get to Swansea it's started raining and seems several degrees colder. The worst of that heavy shower has passed by the time the X50 bus has taken me up through Landore and Morriston to Ynystawe, lying just north of the M4. A quick stroll suggests it's a quiet, pleasant suburb. Ynystawe Park is south-east of the village, reached via helpfully-named Park Road, which goes over the busy A4067 dual carriageway leading into countryside. The park hugs the western bank of the Tawe, with two football pitches, an overgrown bowling green, skateboard park and children's play area. There's an old changing room block but it's boarded up and presumably condemned - the teams later emerge from the modern cricket club building 100 yards further down Park Road.

The pitch isn't too bad - playable but heavy. The surrounding grass is heavier still and it occurs to me that for the second Saturday running I've chosen to spend my afternoon standing in mud, when easier options were available. Last week was worth it, and I hope today is too.

One of the pleasures of watching a game like this is an almost total lack of knowledge of the two sides. I know Bwlch are top of the Carmarthenshire League, but generally the Swansea League is stronger. A fellow spectator, walking his dogs, marks my card: Bwlch are likely to be physical and aggressive, and Ynystawe need to keep their heads and discipline.

By 2pm the park is busy: Bwlch in scarlet strip, Ynystawe in maroon, one match official and around 50 spectators, segregating themselves as so often happens at this level. The home fans congregate around their bench, the visitors behind the goal at the Park Road end. From the kick off it is clear no tackle will be shirked. Within two seconds Bwlch are penalised.

A very even game of football develops. Ynystawe are passing the ball quite nicely despite the heavy pitch. Bwlch are more direct and certainly won't allow opponents time on the ball. They create the first goal-scoring chance, but minutes later an Ynystawe shot strikes a post. The half finishes goal-less, the teams well-matched.

After a brief five-minute interval, we're underway again. The pitch is cutting up, helped by a few brisk, squally showers, and flowing football becomes ever harder. Ynystawe miss a golden chance early in the half, and are quickly punished when Bwlch stretch their defence on the counter-attack and Matthew Hughes fires into the corner.

That means Bwlch must defend their lead for 39 minutes. They might have doubled it quickly, but gradually Ynystawe pile on the pressure as they search for the equaliser. There are chances, goal-line clearances, free-kicks and corners but still no goal. There's a flare-up in the closing stages when a flying Ynystawe tackle takes out ball and man and brings a red card - hotly disputed, and in fairness no worse than several earlier clatterings.

A free-kick just outside the box brings one last chance, in stoppage time. The wall does its job, and the final whistle goes. Bwlch Rangers go through to the quarter-finals. Ynystawe probably feel hard done by, feeling they should have taken the game into extra-time. They did enough, except get the ball in the net.

The journey home through the messy aftermath of a rugby match-day is predictably, well, messy. But on another day of wrecked fixture lists and widespread inactivity, I'm just glad to have seen my chosen game.

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