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Saturday, 25 January 2014 20:03


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SATURDAY 25TH JANUARY: Mynydd Newydd Playing Fields - strong winds and squally showers

It was called off shortly before kick-off time last week - so after another fairly wet week travelling to Swansea for Penlan v Garden Village could be regarded as risky. But it hasn't rained since Friday evening, it's a reasonable morning, mild and with sunny intervals; pitch reports from Swansea are encouraging, and as I really wanted to watch this tie, I decide to go for it. How soon to go is a good question: from the FAW and Garden Village websites, anyone unfamiliar with the FAW Trophy would believe it's a 2pm kick off. But on checking, I get confirmation that it's 1.30, as I suspected. I'll never understand why this error keeps happening round after round, season after season ?

So I set off mid-morning, allowing extra time in case of rail problems, though in the event the main line from Cardiff to Swansea is running fine. On leaving the station, one thing is clear: it's windier here than it was in Cardiff. After whiling away a spare hour in the centre, I head up on the bus towards Penlan (where it would be a lot harder to while away an hour). It's an exposed, bleak part of the city, far from the well-appointed streets lining Swansea Bay. Here the bus shelters don't even have timetables, let alone electronic displays, and horses graze on grass verges. Battling the gale blowing up here at the top of the hill, I quickly locate the entrance to Mynydd Newydd Playing Fields between one such patch of land and the council tip (or civic amenity site as I think we're supposed to call them). Mynydd Newydd is a vast expanse of sports pitches with one large pavilion block serving them. A game is in progress on one pitch, and the roped off pitch for the main event is beyond it. The fields are partly waterlogged, but the pitches are playable. Indeed the Penlan manager admits he'd have liked "a bit more rain" to make conditions worse (and more of a leveller). It seems to me the remarkably strong wind will make the afternoon enough of an ordeal for the players (not to mention the rest of us).

This game has the ingredients of a real cup tie. Visitors Garden Village, having a good season in the Welsh League Second Division, will no doubt be given a real test by their city neighbours who lead the Swansea Senior League, a famously tough competition whose strength belies its 'parks' surroundings and whose sides have a fine record in the Trophy. I expect Penlan to make life as uncomfortable as they can for the higher league side, and sure enough within 60 seconds a crunching challenge gives Garden Village the first free-kick. They've got the advantage of the wind in the first half (which is odd as Penlan seem to have won the toss) and they need to make it count. But actually both sides are really struggling to control the ball in the teeth of the strengthening gale, while on the sidelines many of us are struggling to stay upright. The first half remains even, with precious few chances at either end, and it ends 0-0. The play is robust, but never excessively so. It's hard to see where a goal will come from if these two continue to cancel each other out.

But the second half couldn't be more different: Penlan, now playing with the wind, start by pressing Garden Village hard. The first attack of the half sees Penlan almost poke home the opening goal, but then they get it anyway - a back pass to the Village keeper, a gust of wind, and it bobbles over his foot and into the goal. Penlan and their fans celebrate this calamity, and soon they're celebrating again, this time a 25-yard speculative shot, assisted by the wind, flies into the visitors net. I suspect Penlan know how to play in these conditions. Maybe it's often like this up here...

The gods are displeased, for we now get such a violent squall of rain that the referee has to suspend play for a few minutes. Thankfully, the rain stops, but not the wind. Penlan appear to be holding their lead well enough, pushing Garden Village back deep into their half, but the visitors do threaten on the break, and from free-kicks. About fifteen minutes from time, a slender Penlan winger is held back by a spot of shirt-tugging, and as he goes to ground, another visiting player lunges in and catches him on the thigh with a high tackle. The inevitable brawl develops and the referee takes five minutes to restore order, showing two yellow cards to Garden Village players (one being a second yellow, so he's off). In truth, a straight red for the tackle would have been justified.

The advantage doesn't make much difference. Garden Village continue to strive for a foothold in the game, and as we enter stoppage time they get it - a scrambled goal from an uncleared free-kick. During many added minutes, they try to get an equaliser, and Penlan try (quite successfully) to keep them at bay. The whistle finally goes and Penlan celebrate reaching the last eight.

The conditions today were as bad as any I've watched football in. I've been much wetter, much colder indeed, but the strength of the wind here was something else. The surroundings and facilities couldn't be more basic. But none of that detracts in any way from enjoyment of the afternoon's entertainment, a cracking game of football between two committed teams who deserve our appreciation for their efforts. I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

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