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Monday, 10 March 2014 20:41


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SATURDAY 8TH MARCH: The Welsh Spring Hop - dry and sunny with a cold wind.

ABERPORTH 3 CRANNOG 2 (Costcutter Ceredigion League Division One)

Saturday dawns dry - important this, because the main concern in recent weeks has been the state of pitches in Ceredigion. Few games have been played since the turn of the year, and even after a relatively dry fortnight, grounds are susceptible to fresh rainfall. With Thursday having been wet, fingers are well and truly crossed.

Our first venue on the Hop, the Civil Service ground at Aberporth, illustrates the situation well. We arrive at the MOD base up on the cliffs, with its football pitch opposite the social club, all dominated by the base itself on higher ground - they test aerial weaponry here, apparently. At first sight the pitch looks perfectly playable, until you discover the state of the top corner, where there's a natural spring underground; soft is an under-statement - this part of the pitch is best avoided. This being a groundhop game, postponement really hasn't been mentioned.

Apart from the pitch, the main feature here is the wind: by repute, it's always windy up here and a fierce south-westerly is blowing end-to-end. The crowd of 166 generally adopt positions around the touchlines that don't face into the teeth of the gale, and are kept warm by the home club's innovative catering - hot bacon rolls brought out from the social club kitchen to pitch-side.

In the first half, navy-clad visitors Crannog have the wind at their backs, and the slope in their favour, and take a 0-2 lead. They look on course for a comfortable win. But games here apparently often fit the 'two halves' cliché: most goals are scored "with the wind" at the bottom end, and Aberporth are now attacking that goal. Initially, they don't threaten to stage a recovery, but a 67th minute goal gives them a glimmer of hope. Then, in the last ten minutes, we witness unexpected drama: first, a goalmouth mix-up leads to Crannog conceding an own goal - no home player getting a touch at any point - and then Aberporth get a late penalty which Matthew Smith converts for an unlikely 3-2 home win.

Five goals, a bit of drama and another remote venue 'ticked off': the hop is well and truly underway.

CARDIGAN TOWN 6 NEW QUAY 0 (Costcutter Ceredigion League Division One).

Back along the coast to the relative metropolis of Cardigan and King George V Playing Fields in the centre of town. It's a venue overlooked by residential houses on three sides (with the rugby ground at one end). Normally just a railed pitch, today a marquee has been erected (picture on home page) for refreshments etc. and a larger crowd of 224 has turned out for what promises to be the top game of the weekend, for these are the two biggest names amongst this year's clubs. Visitors New Quay are often among the top sides in Cardiganshire, and we remember their memorable, if controversial, win at St. Dogmael's a year ago.

The cold wind is still blowing, though not quite as fierce as up at Aberporth. Still, Cardigan have it at their backs and here we go again, they take a 2-0 first half lead... will New Quay rally when they've changed ends ? It turns out they won't, with Jack Thomas scoring from distance seven minutes after the break to put the game beyond them. Just as the action seems to be petering out, there's a flurry of goals, the pick of them Cardigan's fifth, a long range free-kick by impressive Kevin Morgan that flies into the New Quay net before anyone moves. Cardigan have racked up six without reply by the end... that's eleven goals from two games so far. We head inland for our final venue of the day.

CILGERRAN ROVERS 1 LLANON 0 (Costcutter Ceredigion League Division Two)


The coach pulls into the little village of Cilgerran for our late afternoon match and promptly causes a traffic jam: while trying to drop off near the ground, we delay a cavalcade of cars going to a local wedding, but soon enough we've turned round and the travellers disembark into the village playing field. Once again, on a 'normal' day this would be nothing more than that, a village playing field, but today it's a hive of activity, with stalls, trestle tables, backs of lorries all pressed into service as retail points. It is immediately apparent that Cilgerran Rovers have embraced their day in the limelight and got the whole village involved - the attendance of 226 being pretty outstanding for a little place like this. The array of merchandise, memorabilia, food and drink is very impressive indeed and the whole atmosphere is exactly what you hope for in a Hop game.

The game itself ? Well, not quite as memorable maybe, with Cligerran, in their very attractive mauve kit making hard work of beating bottom club Llanon, whose points total is well into minus figures after some unfulfilled fixtures. As the second half progresses, this is starting to look like a dreaded 0-0. After 60 minutes, the ball crosses the Llanon line - an own goal, except the lone official doesn't award it. Still 0-0. Then, three minutes later, another defensive slip-up results in handball, and a penalty, which Kyle Phillips converts for the mauves, or Coracleman as they are known. This proves to be the only goal, but this and Cilgerran's inspired hosting is enough to round off an enjoyable day.


BARGOD RANGERS 3 MAESGLAS 3 (Costcutter Ceredigion League Division One)

Sunday - and still dry ! The wind has dropped too and by the time we arrive at the twin villages of Drefach-Velindre near Newcastle Emlyn it's a mild morning. The village club, Bargod Rangers, weren't due to host a Hop game this year, but when Llanybydder FC withdrew from the league three weeks ago they were handed the challenge of stepping in. As we step off the coach, it is clear they have indeed risen to the occasion: a huge Welsh flag with the club name is strung from a tree to welcome us as we head across to the changing room and marquee area. Once again, plenty of refreshments available for those not sated by breakfast, and a crowd of 238 including lots of locals.

And this time the game matches the rest of the occasion, for it's unaccountably feisty. Maesglas commit a series of fouls early on and this sets the tone, with both sides giving as good as they get. There's football too, Bargod taking the lead but defensive errors costing them a couple of goals, before a fine curling shot by Sam Skinner restores parity; only for another defensive lapse to allow Maesglas to regain the lead before half-time. It looks for a long time as if the visitors will hold onto this advantage, as the second half brings more scuffles than goalmouth action, but a late volley from Daniel Evans enables Bargod to earn a share of the points - deservedly by common agreement.

FFOSTRASOL WANDERERS 2 DEWI STARS 2 (Costcutter Ceredigion League Division Two)

And so to our final venue of the weekend: by the time we arrive at Troedyrhiw Park, the extraordinary rural home of Ffostrasol Wanderers, it's a sunny warm spring afternoon. We enter this superb venue through the wrought-iron gates, with the ancient stand down the slope to our right and the marquee, changing rooms, and 'extension' stand straight ahead. Only 166 here, but then we are in the middle of nowhere.

Once again, Second Division football proves less accomplished than the earlier First Division fare, and for a while it appears neither side will overcome the bumpy surface and slope to score. But we needn't have worried, as Dewi Stars score at the top end just before the interval and Ffostrasol do the same. Twice, in the second half. Their 86th minute goal looks like a winner until a scrambled equaliser at the bottom end rescues a point for the Stars.

And so, it's all over for another year. The Ceredigion League and its clubs have done themselves proud once again. I know some people don't quite 'get' the appeal of travelling hundreds of miles to watch football at this level, but it's their loss. Playing standards aren't everything - we have had great hospitality, wonderful Welsh countryside, and visitors from far and wide have come to places in Wales they'd never otherwise have ended up at. As for the host clubs - they've staged games in front of far higher attendances than they're used to, and they've catered magnificently for the influx of visitors; but let's not forget the other main objective - they've all made a very tidy profit indeed from admission, programmes, badges, raffles, merchandise etc. - enough to fund running costs or facilities for some time to come. The coach rolls off for the various drop-off points, the fleet of accompanying cars disperses, and the visiting football enthusiasts leave with fond memories of the Airmen, Coraclemen, Magpies, Rangers and Wanderers of Ceredigion.


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