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Sunday, 17 March 2019 15:22

No Stopping the Mountain Featured

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SATURDAY 9th MARCH. Northop Hall Pavilion - chilly wind.
FLINT MOUNTAIN 4 BRYMBO VICTORIA 1 (Mike Beech Memorial Cup semi-final)

A week of wet weather, and a forecast of much worse over the weekend, would normally keep me close to home and looking for fixtures on 3G. But I'm already committed to going north and joining the North West Counties League groundhop in Merseyside on Saturday night, so I've researched travel times for a few options, including the 3G at Airbus. In fact, by Friday morning, with rain pouring in Cardiff, I'm inclined to believe that's where I'll end up.

But my preferred plan was to visit a new ground, and to catch up with a club that is enjoying great success in north-east Wales football this season: Flint Mountain. My enquiries to the club about prospects for the match bring a confident response - the pitch is fine, no problems expected.

Leaving Cardiff early (in the rain), I head to Chester, where I'll have to make a final decision. The news from Flint Mountain's secretary that the pitch is still fine makes the decision for me, so from Chester I connect for Shotton and set off to walk up to Northop Hall, which lies on a ridge overlooking the Dee estuary. The map shows various possible routes, but I decide it might be better (and maybe safer) to walk through Wepre Park rather than what might be country lanes. Not one of my best decisions, I realise, when I am confronted by the park's muddy paths and steep gradients, but I soldier on, getting lost after passing Ewloe Castle and having to double back to find my way onto the main road. In the end I wearily reach Northop Hall Pavilion ten minutes before kick off, the walk having taken just under an hour and a half.

The railed pitch is indeed in good condition, though some surrounding areas are boggy. There's a rather cold wind blowing, but otherwise conditions are fine. Flint Mountain, unbeaten in the North east Wales League and already in a couple of league cup finals, are bidding for another final appearance today, and have yet another still to come. A chat to the home secretary reveals that they'll be relocating to Halkyn United's former ground next season - doubly satisfying news as (a) I've visited Northop Hall just in time and (b) I managed to miss visiting Halkyn.

The match runs to a fairly predictable pattern: the home side have more cohesion and plenty of confidence. Brymbo do their best to hold them, and are never overrun the way some sides have clearly been. But goals do come, the first very early when Lee Messham gets clear and rolls the ball into the net, a more spectacular second after 20 minutes from Marc Gunther, and a third soon after from the penalty spot scored by Sean Williams. Just before half-time there's a glimmer of hope for Brymbo when a free-kick from their own half is caught on the wind and ends up in the net.

The second half brings less incident and the main topic is the temperature and the wind-chill. In fact, we're well into the last quarter of an hour before Flint Mountain add a fourth goal, Marc Gunther firing across the keeper. Then there's a little punch-up in the closing minutes, just for good measure. And that's it, another cup final for Flint Mountain, who may need to think about where to put all the (prospective) trophies.

At the final whistle, I set off on foot again, but this time sticking to the roads, which proves less challenging than the park. Just under an hour later, I'm at Shotton station and heading for Merseyside....

Ruskin Drive Sports Centre: dry and less cold.
Venturing out of Wales and into unknown territory, I make my way to St. Helen's: two trains, a bus to the town centre and a walk out to Ruskin Drive, where I find a ground that's not much more than a 3G cage, but with adequate spectator facilities even so. It's good to catch up with the groundhop regulars as visitors Garstang record a deserved win.

SUNDAY 10th MARCH. Rylands Sports Centre, blustery and showery

Heavy overnight rain adds uncertainty to today's plans, and Rylands' pitch in Warrington is pretty close to waterlogged in places, but the game is on. This is one of those venues that keep me turning up on groundhops in all sorts of places - interesting, a bit of history, and an excellent match to boot. The history is in the form of a gem of a pavilion with spacious bars, and whilst the ground has no such ancient structures, there are a couple of areas of cover, some portakabins and on one side the backs of a classic northern terraced street. The match is superb, visitors Cheadle repeatedly surprising the league leaders and staying in front after an eight-goal thriller. The match ends just as the wind and rain intensify.

Unfortunately that proves to be the end of the action, as the next game at Irlam has been called off. So by mid-afternoon the weekend adventure is over, and I'm back in more familiar surroundings, on a train from Crewe down the borderlands.

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