Welsh Football

Switch to desktop

Monday, 13 November 2017 14:56

O when the Saints...

SUNDAY 12th NOVEMBER Park Hall, cold and sunny.
THE NEW SAINTS 0 QUEEN OF THE SOUTH 0 (after extra time, TNS won 4-3 on penalties)
IRN-BRU CUP QUARTER FINAL

Usually these blogs kick off with an account of the trials/delights of public transport in Wales. Not so today, as my journey to the Irn -Bru Cup quarter final is by road, courtesy of two members of the S4C commentary team. Not just a lot easier than travelling on Sunday trains out of Cardiff the day after a rugby international, but much more sociable too.

Despite a hold-up while the main north-south artery, the A470, is closed for Rhayader's remembrance parade, we arrive at Park Hall a couple of hours before kick off - but we're by no means the first. Large numbers of Scottish fans are already installed in the Park Hall bar. The atmosphere builds, helped immeasurably by TNS's master-stroke in providing a live band. The fans sing along merrily and the bar does a roaring trade. Numbers build as the match approaches, the most common question being "where can we get a programme?" You can't - they've sold out an hour before kick off.

After the conviviality of the warm clubhouse, we turn our attention to the football match out in the cold. The novelty of the SPFL's cup format under its IrnBru sponsorship continues to divide opinion, but you'll hear no criticism from anyone here today. It's an important game, and both sides are taking it seriously - Queens have named a full-strength side, including former Scottish international James McFadden and ex-Swansea City man Stephen Dobbie. This seems to make the visitors favourites, although past games between Welsh Premier and Scottish Championship clubs have been extremely close. Hard to find cause for optimism in my own 2017 record in this competition: two games, two Welsh defeats.

Published in Football
Monday, 01 May 2017 11:10

Bala end TNS monopoly

SUNDAY 30th APRIL. Bangor University Stadium, Nantporth, dry and mild.
BALA TOWN 2 THE NEW SAINTS 1 (JD Welsh Cup final)
After the hors-d'oevre of the Huws Gray Cup yesterday, I move on to the main course: the Welsh Cup final. Enough has been said already about the hugely inconvenient venue for the final - although everyone I speak to pre-match has more to say about it.

For me, it's meant an overnight stay and a journey west on the first train available. Many other neutrals won't have been able to go to such lengths. And, based on the expected storyline, you could ask why they should - for who can really envisage anything other than TNS swatting the Lakesiders' challenge to record their third consecutive Welsh treble? Even the Bala faithful are not oozing confidence - "if it was anyone else..." Indeed, having failed to beat the Saints in 29 previous encounters, the omens aren't good. They can only hope that today the jinx will be broken. They aren't short of support, the travelling contingent swelled by locals and neutrals keen to see someone (anyone) other than TNS lift some silverware.

The preliminaries are quite a show for the live TV audience (as well as those of us here in person). Flags, the cup on its plinth, child mascots, ceremonial arch, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (sung live), VIP presentations (Chris Coleman among them), handshakes, team photos... but this show is soon over and the players are probably relieved to get on with the real business.

Published in Football
Sunday, 22 January 2017 09:58

Saints Go Marching In (eventually)

SATURDAY 21st JANUARY. Cyncoed Campus, dry but very cold.
BARRY TOWN UNITED 0 THE NEW SAINTS 4 (Nathaniel MG Cup final)
A very cold January day, many local games postponed with pitches frozen, but I'm spared the difficulty of finding a game on - I was never going anywhere today other than the Welsh Premier's Nathaniel MG Cup final.

Although it's my eleventh visit of this season to the Cyncoed Campus ground, the occasion and the size of the crowd should make this a bit special - or at least that is what I've been hoping. There has been plenty of pre-match build up online and in social and local media and what's been encouraging has been the signs that the FAW and the sponsors - Nathaniel Cars - are treating this as a 'big match' with all the trimmings appropriate to a national cup final - tickets on sale, press accreditation, pre-match hospitality etc. And indeed, on arrival at Cyncoed mid-afternoon, the promise is already being fulfilled. A couple of hours before kick off and the Students' Union bar is buzzing with early-arriving fans and VIPs (the college caterers laying on an excellent meal for the latter, whom I am fortunate to have been invited to join).

An hour before kick off, darkness starting to fall and temperature dipping further, but the ground is filling up, with the blue and yellow of Barry not surprisingly outnumbering the green and white of TNS. The choice of Cardiff Met University as the final venue might have been seen by some as controversial, but I think it's inspired: close enough to Barry to double or treble the number who will turn out to support them in their first cup final in a decade - plenty of them clearly not regulars at games. The small ground will give the game an atmosphere that it couldn't have had elsewhere - showpiece finals in big stadia (like recent Welsh Cup finals at Wrexham) may have superior facilities but lack atmosphere for those present and look empty on live TV.

Even so, I hear moans from the 'glass half empty' supporters of both sides about the Campus ground. It's always possible to find fault. But for Barry folk especially, gripes about a neutral venue eleven miles from home that guarantees them the majority of the crowd seem perverse. Would they have preferred the 'easy option' of, say, Newtown or Aberystwyth?

By 5.15, the crowd - officially 1,116 vindicating the FAW's choice - is lining the touchlines, filling the seats. A privileged few can avoid the plummeting temperature and watch from the elevated, indoor balcony, but for me there's nowhere to be but pitch-side. It could get uncomfortably cold, especially if the match is over, as a contest, within half an hour - a possible scenario, if the first goal or two go to the Saints.

Published in Football
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 15:17

ROLE REVERSAL

TUESDAY 12th JULY - Park Hall, mild and dry
THE NEW SAINTS 0 APOEL NICOSIA 0 (UEFA Champions League, 2nd Qualifying Round, 1st leg)
A return to Oswestry after the Saints' first round win, but a very different match in prospect. Thankfully, it's a very different kind of day too, no approaching rainstorms. Just an approaching giant of European football, serial Cypriot champions Apoel, with a team stuffed with international players. It's clear TNS will face a very real role reversal compared with their games against Tre Penne.

And, of course, Craig Harrison's game plan is very different for this tie. TNS are cautious, well-organised and wary of the opposition, who demonstrate that they have plenty of skill, co-ordination and pace. TNS reach half time at 0-0, just a couple of half chances to show for the 45 minutes, and some dangerous situations successfully defended.

The second half is the same: solid defending, frustrating the visitors, but little threat, the forward players Quigley and Brobbel mostly battling unsuccessfully for scraps. Unable to hold the ball up in their opponents' half, TNS face a never-ending succession of attacking waves. But the clock ticks down and the score remains 0-0.

A goal-less draw is a huge achievement for the Welsh champions, considering how much more experienced and powerful Apoel clearly are. The game plan is intact - for no away goal has been conceded, and TNS can go to Cyprus with all to play for. It's a slim chance, but one goal out there would be very interesting indeed.

Published in Football
Sunday, 10 July 2016 07:01

Cold Welcome in a Hot Country

TUESDAY 5th JULY. San Marino Stadium, dry and humid.
S.P. TRE PENNE 0 THE NEW SAINTS 3 (UEFA Champions League, 1st Qualifying Round, 2nd Leg)

San Marino isn't the easiest place to get to from Cardiff. My journey for Tuesday evening's return fixture in the Champions League starts at 5.30 a.m. on Monday, and involves a taxi, flight to Milan, airport express transfer, a three hour train journey to Milan, and a bus to San Marino. With an overnight stop in the handsome seaside city of Rimini, we finally arrive in San Marino on Tuesday morning.

San Marino city perches on top of a mountain, overlooking the rest of this tiny landlocked republic spread out in the foothills. It's a lovely place to while away most of Tuesday, and whilst sightseeing we keep bumping into the TNS official party. When we stop for lunch, the very friendly multi-lingual waiter guesses we're here for the game - he turns out to be a Tre Penne fan. I ponder the contrast - nobody in Oswestry town centre last week even seemed to know there was a game on. The home fan is sure his team will "lose heavily" tonight....  

Published in Football
Wednesday, 29 June 2016 13:29

The Underdog Bites Again

TUESDAY 28th JUNE - Park Hall Stadium, heavy rain.
THE NEW SAINTS 2 S.P. TRE PENNE 1 (UEFA Champions League, 1st Qualifying Round, 1st Leg)

It's not yet July, the Euro 2016 tournament is only just past the half-way stage. Wales are still in it, and almost everyone's focus is on matters in France. But the UEFA Champions League 2016-17 tournament starts today - the first largely overlooked steps on a road leading to the final in Cardiff next summer.

Welsh champions The New Saints came through the first qualifying round last year - quite comfortably in the end, after a tricky first leg away in the Faroe Islands. This year their opponents are from sunnier climes - S.P. Tre Penne of San Marino. This season, TNS have the home leg first, so an opportunity maybe to ensure the away game next week is pressure-free. At least, that's how I'm thinking as I head up the English border towards Oswestry. (If rest of article not visible, click READ MORE below)

Published in Football
Wednesday, 04 May 2016 10:08

The Double Treble

MONDAY 2nd MAY. The Glyndwr Racecourse Stadium - hail, rain & sunny intervals.
AIRBUS UK BROUGHTON 0 THE NEW SAINTS 2 (JD Welsh Cup Final)
Back on the northbound train, for the second time in three days, and heading for Wrexham, the chosen venue for this year's Welsh Cup final. I'm ambivalent about the choice, as neither finalist has a huge supporter base, and the locals in Wrexham are indifferent to Welsh football - this means only one side of the Racecourse will be open (the antiquated main stand). The FAW have done everything possible to promote the game via social media, but once again huge sections of mainstream media ignore the occasion - and the potentially historic achievement if the Saints can secure the domestic treble for the second year running.

Before the game, there's plenty of activity in what's left of the Racecourse car park, with a merchandise stall doing reasonably brisk business in a range including friendship scarves, until increasingly heavy showers start to send everyone dashing for cover. We hope the showers will pass...

Inside, as kick off approaches, the atmosphere on the stand side is good, with the lower tiers full - the green TNS supporters to the town end, the blue Airbus fans towards the scoreboard end, and neutrals scattered around. The pre-match formalities (anthem, presentations etc) take place in drier conditions, and the game starts with TNS kicking towards the empty stand at the scoreboard end, although in fact most of the early action takes place in front of the decaying terrace at the other end. Airbus are taking the game to the holders, and are creating - but not taking - chances. [article continues, if not visible click on Read More below]

Published in Football

WEDNESDAY 22nd JULY: Sóstói Stadium, Székesfehérvár. Sweltering heat, no breeze.
FC VIDEOTON 1 THE NEW SAINTS 1 (after extra time) (UEFA Champions League, 2nd Q. Rd, 2nd leg)

I'd booked my travel to Hungary before the exact match details were fixed, so I had made provision for being in Székesfehérvár on either Tuesday or Wednesday evenings. That means travelling out on Monday, and in the absence of anything more convenient, I'm flying from Gatwick - a long journey from Cardiff via Reading, Gatwick, Budapest Airport, Budapest city and finally arriving in the city of Székesfehérvár via train, roughly an hour's travel south-west of Budapest. But it all goes more or less to plan and I'm installed in my hotel in the evening, pondering how deserted it seems, when a big coach pulls up and the TNS team and management pile out. Apparently their supporters are not with them - their trip being based in Budapest, where there's undoubtedly more to do for the visitor (I opted for convenience, staying in Videoton's home city, reckoning I can easily get to Budapest for sight-seeing anyway, which I do on the Tuesday).

The big problem with this trip is the heat: temperatures in high thirties, scorching sun, no air. Just walking around, even in the shade, is an effort, and it slows down my sightseeing, both in lovely Budapest on Tuesday and in pleasant Székesfehérvár on Wednesday, match-day. If it's bad for me, what must it be like for the players preparing for a big game ? Mercifully, the match itself has been scheduled for 8.30 p.m., so at least the shadows are starting to lengthen as I set of for the Sóstói Stadium, on the other side of the town centre, under the railway and down the final approach road with a cemetery on either side. Even so, what would otherwise have been a 25 minute walk is a cautious 50 minute amble, with frequent water stops.

Once at the ground, the challenge is to establish the whereabouts of my press accreditation: an odyssey the length of the ground, escorted inside, then out again, finally leads to a tiny hut hidden by trees in a field behind the far end of the stadium. All is fine from then on, and once inside, there is respite from the heat, and a chance to soak up the pre-match atmosphere from the press area high in the large stand, looking out over the vast uncovered bowl. Way up behind the left hand goal, a small group of TNS fans unfurls a huge Welsh flag and set up their base high in the open seats.

Published in Football
Thursday, 09 July 2015 07:00

TNS sweep aside Faroese champions

TUESDAY 7th JULY - The Venue, Park Hall - dry, breezy.
THE NEW SAINTS 4 B36 TORSHAVN 1 (UEFA Champions League 1st Qualifying Round, 2nd Leg)

Back in Wales, and more normal temperatures, this week brings a chance to see The New Saints and Bala Town in their home legs, and tonight it's the Saints, defending a 2-1 win from their match in the Faroes. Hopes are very high of another Welsh win and progress to the next qualifying round, an unusual sensation to savour.
It's good to see TNS able to play these European games at Park Hall again (the ageing artificial pitch had not become unsuitable for UEFA games, but has now been replaced with a brand new one). The Venue is already busy as I arrive after the walk from Gobowen station a couple of hours before kick-off, and hospitality etc. is already underway - TNS have the facilities to exploit these occasions well. Those who've purchased gold or silver tickets can relax inside the centre before the game - but those with just match tickets are stuck with pretty limited facilities inside the ground - burger bar, portable toilets etc. Still, on a fairly pleasant, dry summer evening, that's not the hardship it might have been in more extreme conditions.

Published in Football

Two weeks after the final act of the 2014-15 Welsh season - the promotion play off in south Wales - the curtain went up on the 2015-16 season with the much-awaited UEFA Champions League and Europa League qualifying round draws. In between, in the absence of a proper close season, the summer solstice seemed to mark the changing of the football seasons too: as the days begin to shorten, thoughts turn to autumn and winter, but long before that we have some summer action in Europe coming up.

It's an unfortunate feature of the UEFA calendar that the smallest nations in its "family", those who contest these earliest rounds of the two cups, are given barely a week to plan the biggest games of their year, and arrange tricky overseas travel for parties of players and officials. UEFA can of course point to the six-figure distributions to all competing clubs as justification for the demands, but surely it's not unreasonable to ask for just another week or two between draw and action?

Fans too face the challenges of arranging trips into Europe at short-notice, so the days following the draws are typically involve a day or so of uncertainty about dates, venues and kick off times, followed by frantic searching for and booking the best travel options. It's only when all that is in place that we can start to assess our hopes and expectations for the four clubs representing us in Europe's premier club competitions.

Published in Football
Page 1 of 2

© Copyright 2013 Welsh Football

Top Desktop version