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Saturday, 15 March 2014 21:43

THE SIEGE OF SEBASTOPOL ?

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SATURDAY 15TH MARCH
King George's Field: mild, sunny.
NEUADD WEN 0 SEBASTOPOL 1 (The Autocentres Gwent County League Div 3)
The final day of the Six Nations rugby, Wales at home in Cardiff and all that entails: all week I've been considering my options for a game this Saturday that doesn't involve travelling to or through the city centre. Predictably, all the obvious choices, especially those near the top of the pyramid, have to be ruled out for that reason. A late decision then, to dip into the Gwent League and visit a new ground - heading away from Cardiff. What clinches it is the fact that the visiting team at my chosen game is Sebastopol FC - worth making the effort to see them not only because they are top of the Gwent Third Division, but also because we're currently hearing an awful lot about Sebastopol (or rather Sevastopol, as we're now supposed to call the capital of Crimea).

OK, the visitors aren't a touring team from the disputed peninsula - more prosaically, they're from Pontypool - but with the added topicality this just feels like the right game to see today.

The game is at Markham, the home of a club called Neuadd Wen - of whom more in a moment. First, the journey: simple train journey to Bargoed, then a bit of mountaineering, in the form of the walk up from the Rhymney river valley to the ridge to the east. Up the incredibly steep hill to Aberbargoed, past the Buds' ground on Bedwellty Road, and on up even further. Having not been further up this road before, I hadn't realised that Markham is considerably higher up again - literally atop the ridge between Rhymney and Sirhowy valleys. You've reached the top when you're level with the wind turbines (and it is quite breezy up here). The King George V Field is easy to find, tucked in behind the village school and community centre. It's a fairly typical public park ground, railed on two sides, but it's a dual-purpose pitch, with the football posts and nets just in front of permanent rugby posts, and a confusion of pitch markings for the two codes. A small changing room block lies at the far end of the community centre building and from here I obtain a simple eight-page match programme.

Neuadd Wen FC is less than five years old and has risen rapidly through the North Gwent League to this level. Their name means 'White Hall' in Welsh, coming from the name of a farm on the Aberbargoed road. Whether the Neuadd Wen inn is actually the old farmhouse I'm not sure, but as it's the club HQ it's clear this is why they are so called. The club crest adorns the programme, a fairly unremarkable assembly of a red dragon, a football and some daffodils (no white hall, which would have been a bit different) but the banner around these carries the words "Neuadd Wen Aberbargoed AFC". Note Aberbargoed, not Markham. The other interesting thing about Neuadd Wen (well to me, at least) is that they play in an all-mauve kit. Having seen Cilgerran in mauve a week ago, the odds against a repeat would have been quite long, for mauve is pretty rare at all levels of football. Visitors Sebastopol are in a much more popular combo of yellow shirts, blue shorts.

At 3pm we're underway (Gwent County being the only area in Wales that uses this 'English' kick-off time) and you wouldn't have guessed that the team in yellow and blue is top of the league, for the first 15 minutes are played mostly in their half. Neuadd Wen create a few chances and the Sebastopol keeper is quite busy, but his defence holds firm under the siege (sorry, couldn't resist that). It's an undistinguished half of football, with 0-0 written all over it - until the 43rd minute, when a breakaway by Sebastpol results in a mix-up between home defenders, and a visiting forward is able to lob the loose ball into an unguarded net. Neuadd Wen almost equalise, their next attack being hacked off the line, but the score stands 0-1 at the break.

The second half starts in a freshening wind: until now, it's been a mild spring day, but I start to regret not bringing a hat (or should that be balaclava ? - sorry again). The wind begins to play a part in the game - not helping Neuadd Wen, who continue to look at least the equals of the league leaders, without actually scoring. Sebastopol do look dangerous when running onto through balls, or at least they would if they didn't get called offside every single time. The lone official, without linesmen to give offsides, is making judgements as best he can, but some of these look marginal. But this all results in a second-half stalemate, with neither side able to score, and the result stays at 0-1.

The outcome seems pretty harsh on Neuadd Wen: I may being overstating it - for obvious reasons - in asserting that Sebastopol were "under siege", but Neuadd Wen enjoyed at least as much possession and came close on numerous occasions. We know that, famously, the outcome of the most famous battle for Sebastopol - the Charge of the Light Brigade - was completely misreported, so let's avoid any such misunderstandings today - Sebastopol won 1-0....

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