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Saturday, 14 December 2013 21:35

Men of Steel

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SATURDAY 14TH DECEMBER: Coronation Park: overcast with a cold, swirling wind.
NEWPORT CORINTHIANS 3 PANTEG 4 (Gwent County League Division One)

It's one of those weekends dominated by league action, rather than cups, and I scour the fixtures for top of the table games. And the Gwent County League obliges, with a meeting of 2nd v 3rd - the home side Newport Corries, who won the second division last season, a club I've had a mind to revisit this season. Partly because their ground, Coronation Park, sits right next to a gem of south Wales's industrial and social heritage.

Of course, the weather is a worry. It's been intermittently wet for days, and the open spaces of Coronation Park on the Usk estuary are no place to be in a rainstorm. But a careful reading of the forecast tells me that the promised heavy rain for today will arrive last of all in the south-east corner of Wales - probably mid-afternoon. It's a calculated risk, but if they're right, most of the daylight hours should be dry in Newport.

Train to Newport, no problem; getting from the city centre to Coronation Park: not easy. Last time I did it, I walked out through the mean streets of Pill and crossed from the west bank of the Usk to the east via the transporter bridge, but that's closed for the winter, so the ground has to be approached from the east side of the river, and it's a long detour with not much useful public transport to help.

I've plenty of time in hand, so a stroll around the city centre, replete with a gaggle of festive stalls, with chatty, friendly stallholders, mostly independent food producers. Then on to buy lunch supplies in Newport Market (a revelation here, the market hall modernised in a way that Cardiff, Swansea and many others should take note of) and, as I've decided to walk, further on down to the riverside, heading south and over the new(ish) footbridge, one of several initiatives that have helped to make poor, plain Newport rather more appealing. On the eastern side though, the walkway is unfinished and the way out onto Corporation Road a quick return from smart and modern to old and scruffy. And then of course, there's the long drag of Corporation Road itself - and I do mean drag. All cities have drab arterial roads, of course, but Newport's seem particularly so, and Corporation Road is the worst. Only a couple of buildings of interest (school building, 1902, Carnegie Library, 1907) until we get to the WR Lysaght Institute. Having lain derelict for a decade, the former steelworks 'Stute' has been rescued and reopened for community use, another feather in Newport's cap. Opposite, where the Orb steelworks offices were, new housing is springing up. The works have a strong place in Newport's football history, for it is said the core of Newport County's first ever squad were drawn from the steelworks team. Later on, Lysaght's own works team won the Gwent Amateur Cup in 1945-46.

But I'm still not at my destination. Further on down the next section of Corporation Road, a road less travelled as it leads to nothing much apart from factories. Then into Stephenson Street and finally Coronation Park, sitting opposite all that remains of the Orb works (now a Tata plant) and next to the east 'terminus' of the splendid transporter bridge, one of only three such constructions in the UK, and one of only six in the world still operating (though not today). It was built to carry workers across to the steelworks from the city. Newport County use the bridge on the badge, it looms into view from Newport YMCA's ground, but if any club has a right to claim it as part of their identity, it's Newport Corries, playing literally the length of a wayward clearance from river and bridge. Although funnily enough, with steel references all around (and even in the visitors' heritage), I don't think Corries actually have any connection with the area's dominant industry.

Coronation Park is a flat expanse of several football pitches, the railed one nearest the bridge alongside Corries' clubhouse and changing rooms. A cold wind is whipping in from the channel, but it's still dry as the match gets underway at 2pm, Corries in a royal blue strip and visitors Panteg in black and white stripes. These sides are pursuing league leaders Pill, Corries' near neighbours from over the river, and are clearly 'up for it', as initial exchanges are lively and attacking. Panteg strike first, a smart finish after 12 minutes, then a fine low drive on 27 minutes doubles the lead. Corries need a goal back, and get one from a penalty (disputed, but there was contact and it was in the box - just). Immediately after half-time, they scramble an equaliser from a half-saved free-kick, and Panteg sense the tide of the game turning against them. I've moved to the side close to their bench, and they do seem to be into complaining in a big way. Sometimes they're right, of course, one or two challenges are a bit robust and the lone official isn't getting everything right. But as a neutral, I really can't see any reason for the visitors to be so unremittingly aggrieved, and feel for the official. He hasn't even clamped down on their constant encroachment yards onto the field of play.

But Panteg come through their sticky patch, and a lovely hook into the top corner restores their lead; it last five minutes, the Panteg defence paying for another set piece not cleared. 3-3, half an hour left, all to play for in the gathering gloom of this dull mid-December afternoon. Panteg have the upper hand again but a draw still looks likely. Then, seven minutes from time, a rash Corries tackle gifts a penalty to Panteg and they regain the lead, and don't let it slip this time. Seven goals, end to end stuff, two positive teams chasing all three points: good grassroots football. And the forecast rain ? It didn't arrive until after the final whistle.

Read 6003 times Last modified on Saturday, 28 December 2013 20:22

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