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Monday, 19 November 2018 13:24

The Idyll Featured

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SATURDAY 17th NOVEMBER. Leyton's Field, a sunny, chilly autumn day.

I start most seasons with a short-list of a few grounds I really want to visit; and this year, Tintern Abbey was near the top. For years I had a vague plan to visit some time, but hadn't researched exactly where the football club played. It was only when blogger Laurence Reade posted pictures from a game in January that I truly understood the scenic splendour of this grassroots ground, and that vague plan became a priority. When Tintern got through one round of the county cup, and were drawn at home to Gwent County 'giants' Abertillery Excelsiors, I put the date in my diary and prayed that the weather wouldn't intervene. My prayers seem to have been answered.

The Wye Valley in general, and Tintern in particular, are as beautiful as anywhere in Wales. The Abbey is very much on the tourist trail, and only five miles from motorway and railway, but that doesn't make the village easily accessible by public transport. Rugby match-day rule 1 is get out of town before the crowds gather, and the scarf and hat sellers are just getting into position as I pass through Central Station en route to Chepstow.

It's a short train journey east to Chepstow, but on the train I have time to reflect on last night's Wales game. A disappointing result for sure, but there seem to be differing reactions on social media. There's criticism of tactics, and Ryan Giggs hasn't won over everyone by any means. But on the other hand, the optimists are rightly pointing to the positives, especially the performances of the youngsters David Brooks, Harry Wilson and Ethan Ampadu, which suggest the future could be bright. There's enough doubt that, if you're firmly in the latter camp, now's the ideal time for a wager on Wales for the next Euros. There's bound to be an attractive new customer offer available somewhere.

Time for a coffee in Chepstow, then the 2-hourly 69 bus to Tintern, its final destination Monmouth. The outward journey accomplished, I'm in Tintern before mid-day, but it seems the bus timetable has changed this week: the return bus to Chepstow is much later than I believed.

I repair the Anchor, conveniently located next to the Abbey and the football field, for lunch and real ale, plus a spot of research into alternatives for the homeward journey: bus to Monmouth, then to Newport or Abergavenny? Both possible, but not actually saving much time. I accept I'll just be a bit later than expected, and concentrate on enjoying the afternoon. From the pub window, I have an unbroken view of the pitch, as the Tintern officials set about preparing for the match: raking leaves, marking lines, putting up nets. All the while, a little worryingly, a steady stream of locals walk their dogs across the pitch. At 1pm, refreshed, I make the very short walk into the ground, where a smart, track-suited Abertillery team is going through a training routine. The home side aren't warming up - it's more a question of waiting for players to arrive - but their manager later jokes that it's all mind games - they dispensed with a warm-up to make Abertillery think they weren't serious.

Now I'm a sucker for a scenic location. In fact, the backdrop and setting are just as important to me, if not more so, than the ground facilities or the level or quality of football. So this afternoon, on a basic ground in the East Gwent League, is as much fun for me as last night's top-class match in the UEFA Nations League.  I know not all football fans get this, or think this way, but also I know a fair few share my priorities. And this ground doesn't disappoint: the hillsides are ablaze with autumnal hues in the sunshine, the ruined Abbey rises behind one goal, and the pitch itself has a wooden pavilion, a stone wall, the pub terrace and a few quirky slopes.

As for today's cup tie, I figured pre-match is that it's unlikely to be evenly matched. Tintern know this too, and pointed out to me earlier that the visitors had arrived by minibus, a signifier of their higher status. I overhear a snatch of the team talk: "Let's have a go, eh? Enjoy ourselves". But from the first Abertillery corner, Tintern concede. After 17 minutes, a lack of concentration allows a second goal, then Abertillery score a well-taken third, and a penalty makes it 0-4 after half an hour. Tintern are working hard to contain the visitors, but on the stroke of half time a rare attack brings a deserved goal as a reward for the effort - 1-4.

The second half is a formality really, played in late afternoon sunshine, but with an increasingly chilly breeze. Tintern almost get another goal, but are denied by a fine save, before Abertillery add three more goals. The closing ten minutes see the visitors waste several chances, but no-one is bothered. Tintern haven't been disgraced, a 1-7 score-line a fair reflection of the gap between the 'recreational football' of the East Gwent League and the more organised higher end of the Gwent County League.

Just sometimes, a day out is everything you wished for, and this is one of those days. Tintern Abbey FC represent pure recreational football, friendly, community focused and not overly serious. Their ground, of course, is a gem even in a country blessed with stunning venues, and I'm thankful to have visited on such a glorious autumn day.

Oh, and that tricky, slow bus journey home? My luck really was in today, for a fellow groundhopper from Cardiff chose this game too today, and came by car. I need no second invitation to accept a lift back to the capital.

Read 2679 times Last modified on Thursday, 22 November 2018 17:06

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