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Monday, 03 September 2018 09:37

Cradle to Grave Featured

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SATURDAY 1st SEPTEMBER. Pant Brickworks, sunny and warm.
RHOSLLANERCHRUGOG 0 RHOS AELWYD 4 (JD Welsh Cup, 1st Qualifying Round)

There are so many ties in the opening rounds of our national cup competitions that a short-list of interesting ties forms in my mind. This year it's different, one Welsh Cup Qualifying tie always stood out - the 'Rhos derby'. And that's why, early on this late summer morning, I'm setting out on the train up through the borders towards Ruabon in north-east Wales.

The villages of Ruabon, Rhosllanerchrugog (or Rhos) and Cefn Mawr always evoke thoughts of the earliest days of football in Wales. This is the home of FAW founding father Llewellyn Kenrick, and also of the first great Welsh club, Druids of Ruabon, and it's pleasing to be visiting the area for the opening round in the oldest Welsh competition, the Welsh Cup. As a nod to history, I take lunch and a pint in the Wynnstay Arms, Ruabon - the venue where the FAW's second meeting took place in August 1876, to create its constitution, and where the first ever Welsh Cup draw was made a year later.

From Ruabon, it's a leisurely stroll west towards Penycae and Rhosllanerchrugog, passing Wynn Hall, Kenrick's home. If this area was the cradle of Welsh football nearly 150 years ago, it's still a hotbed of grassroots football today: I pass Penycae's ground (they're at home in the cup too) on my way up to Rhos, a village that has seen many clubs over the years, including the all-conquering Llanerch Celts between the wars. These days Rhos Aelwyd are the village's main club, but recently a new local challenge has emerged from today's home club, Rhosllanerchrugog, a.k.a the Wasps, who won promotion to the Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) last season. Meeting their local rivals competitively for the first time, the two clubs are now ranked just one division apart.

The Pant Brickworks ground, located off Stryt Issa, up a lane leading to the rugby club, and then on a bit further, sits on high ground with a distant view of the rooftops of Rhos. On arrival, it's clear I'm not the only neutral to have spotted the attraction of this fixture: there are groundhoppers here from the north-west, Midlands and even Edinburgh, plus a delegation from S4C's Sgorio team, presenter Nicky John here to get some 'grassroots' footage and interviews. There's no shortage of football enthusiasts to chat to today, and that always adds an extra dimension to a day-trip like this. A rough headcount suggests there are around 100 spectators enjoying the fine weather - no doubt all a bit different from a normal match-day up here, but the home officials are coping well. They've even produced a photocopied programme, to comply with cup regulations.

Aelwyd, keen to avoid embarrassment against the new club, begin purposefully. And after a few early corners and attacks, they take the lead when a loose ball is well struck by Jamie Rogers. The same player doubles the lead with a header soon after, and the task is already looking rather an uphill one for the Wasps.

To their credit, the home side settle more into the game after the early setbacks, and come agonisingly close to pulling a goal back when Andrew Rutter's free-kick hits the crossbar and rebounds into play. But the two goal lead survives, and after the break Aelwyd get the third goal that virtually seals the win, James Haynes rounding keeper John Bostock to score. Jake Simms adds a fourth with a fine strike, but the score-line is very harsh on the Wasps.

A nice lunch in a historic inn, a stroll in the sun and a satisfying visit to a new ground and an enjoyable cup-tie with local interest. What more can a day out offer? Well, as it happens, one of my fellow spectators has not only offered a lift to the station, but a detour to see Llewellyn Kenrick's grave in Ruabon cemetery. It's too good an offer to turn down, the afternoon that spent in the cradle of Welsh football rounded off at the graveside of its founding father.

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