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Saturday, 29 March 2014 21:31


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SATURDAY 29th MARCH : The Sportsground. Sunny and mild.
Earlier this week a tourist website published a list of "Ten reasons to visit Monmouth", following a Sunday Times report that placed the town in the top three of places to live in Britain. None of the ten reasons mentioned football (the Welsh tourist agencies still don't seem to get the attraction of our football), but my reason for visiting Monmouth today is all about Monmouth Town FC. The Kingfishers are very much in the running for their first ever Welsh League title and with nine games left, their fate is in their own hands.

I've been meaning to visit Monmouth earlier in the season, but it hasn't worked out. The weather was one reason, but it has to be said there is another problem with visiting this town (and I can't be alone here). It is extraordinarily badly served by public transport. Finally, today, I'm setting out by the only feasible route, an infrequent and meandering bus from Newport. It's not made any easier by Newport's temporary bus arrangements, following the demolition of the bus station and surrounding area, but the number 60 is currently banished to the far side of the dual carriageway, on the riverfront. The tiny, cramped minibus turns up and sets off on its slow, stuffy, hour-long journey north, through Caerleon, Llangybi, Usk and Raglan. Its saving grace is that this must be one of Wales's prettiest rural bus routes. Finally, at just after 1pm, it deposits us in Monmouth bus station.

An hour and a half remains before kick off, but that's no hardship here. There are plenty of things to do, although I still have reservations about that list of ten. Yes, it's the birthplace of Charles Rolls (number 2) and of Henry V (number 5) and it's got a famous public school (number 7). But would any of these inspire a day-trip ? And as for number 8, whoever wrote the list seems to have a rather confused idea of what the Chartists were. Actually, I'll settle for endorsing number 9 (host of rustic pubs). I while away some of the time over a pint in one by the old Monnow bridge.

A couple of minutes stroll takes me into the Sportsground, delightfully situated in the town centre and on the bank of the Monnow as it flows into the Wye. The Kingfishers' excellent programme is on sale, a professional production befitting a club at the top of the second tier of Welsh football. If further proof were needed of how far this little town club has come in recent years, their manager Steve Jenkins was this week enticed away to try to save ailing Hereford United from relegation ! He hasn't severed his link with Monmouth completely, but today he's with the Bulls and his support staff are in charge.

Caerau Ely, today meeting Monmouth Town for the first time ever, lie eighth in the table and have only lost six times in the league, so should be a test for the home side. It occurred to me on the way up that Caerau Ely are actually now the highest-ranked capital city club in Welsh football. There couldn't be more of a contrast between the places these teams represent (the Ely estate won't make it onto that Sunday Times list any time soon) but both these sides do have a reputation for playing attractive football. From the first whistle, Town are pushing forward, and before the Cardiff side can settle they are a goal down. A corner on the right is pushed out by the visiting keeper, and Rob Laurie is first to the loose ball, chesting it over the line.

Monmouth continue to exert pressure, their front runners proving a handful - Corey Jenkins impresses in particular; a few chances come and go, but then a 'route one' ball is chased by Nick Harrhy after 28 minutes and he rounds the keeper to score the second goal. Shortly afterwards a cross from the right is powered home by Dan MacDonald and Monmouth are cruising at 3-0. In all honesty, though, it's not as one-sided as it sounds. Caerau Ely are creating chances of their own, and go close a couple of times before half-time, but the ball isn't quite falling for them this afternoon. The same proves to be true, but even more so, after the re-start, for twice they think they've pulled a goal back only to see the ball scrambled clear. As the second half progresses, without the lead being reduced, so the game dies as a contest - although both sides continue to create, and fail to convert, a host of chances. But there's to be no further scoring, and Town will be perfectly happy with the 3-0 win and three points that edge them closer to the championship.

So, my reason for visiting Monmouth - let's call it number 11 - proves to be as valid as any of the others: a fine afternoon's entertainment in pleasant surroundings. Now there's just the challenge of getting away again, with that slow bus to Newport not due for over an hour. I make my exit on an even more obscure, antiquated minibus heading for Chepstow via the narrowest country lanes it can find. This works out well, saving me a bit of time which would only have been spent checking out reason number 9 all over again. It's only when my train from Chepstow to Cardiff passes through Newport that I realise just how wise a move it was - for Newport station and town centre are awash with police, dogs and vans, apparently still kettling rival fans from the Newport County v Portsmouth game in League Two. Getting off a bus here might have been unpleasant - add it to the list of reasons to avoid Newport....

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