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Saturday, 13 June 2015 11:38

An unforgettable night in Cardiff

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FRIDAY 12th JUNE: Cardiff City Stadium - humid, wet
WALES 1 BELGIUM 0 (UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying)
Mid June and, marooned between the two football seasons, there's a sudden flurry of football activity in Cardiff this weekend. For most people, the big event is this crucial Euro 2016 qualifying match (although the minds of two local clubs are bound to be on another match, less than 24 hours later - but more of that tomorrow).

Expectations ahead of the visit of Belgium have probably been higher than at any time in recent years. Wales, unbeaten at the halfway stage of their group, joint top with Belgium, and radiating belief and togetherness, two qualities not always present in our national set-up. The nation senses something has changed and that something big is about to happen and the build-up to this game has been big, on all broadcast and social media.

So big, perhaps, that people are starting to talk as if Wales are favourites - to beat a team officially ranked second in the world. The Welsh football public is in uncharted territory here - we're used to despair, dejection and embarrassment - we know how to handle those. Hope is trickier: seasoned fans bear the mental scars of having hoped before, and are wary.... and yet, when you think you've put it in its place, hope creeps back in - could this really be different ?

Realistically, what do the 33,000 fans making their way to Cardiff City Stadium expect ? They've heard about the spirit in the Welsh camp, they've heard how important the fans' vocal support is, and they expect the team to give as much as they will themselves. But probably most would settle for a draw, not to lose, to stay level with Belgium at the top of the group.

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Saturday 9th May 2015: Corporation Park, dry but breezy

PENYDARREN BGC 0 PONTLOTTYN 0  after extra time. Pontlottyn win 4-2 on penalties. (CW Bruty Cup final)

Another Saturday, another cup final. This week it's the South Wales Senior League's CW Bruty Cup final, in fact the last ever time this cup will be contested, as the league is superseded by the new South Wales Alliance League from next season. It's quite a fitting end to the competition, with the league's top two sides in the final, and the venue chosen because it's the home of the cup's first ever winners, Grange Albion.

Sunday, 03 May 2015 07:28

Saints complete the Welsh treble

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SATURDAY 2nd MAY: Latham Park, chilly and damp.
NEWTOWN 0 THE NEW SAINTS 2 (Tenovus Welsh Cup final)
There's no mistaking the top game in Wales this weekend, the cup final given added interest this year by Newtown's first appearance since 1897 and the decision to depart with recent tradition and hold the final on the ground of one of the finalists. Although it's perfectly possible to watch the game live on S4C, there is no substitute for being there, so I set off early on the train, into England via Hereford and Shrewsbury and back down into mid Wales. I leave Cardiff in steady rain, with a forecast of more, and first impressions on stepping off the train in Newtown are that the wind is even chillier here, but the rain is little more than the odd spot of drizzle. Either way, not the fine spring day we all hope for.

Sunday, 19 April 2015 19:26

The New Mushrooms ?

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SATURDAY 18th APRIL: Swanbridge Sports Ground - bright and breezy.
SULLY SPORTS 0 PONTLOTTYN 1 (South Wales Senior League Div 1)
There are literally dozens of significant games this weekend as many Welsh competitions approach decision points on championships, promotions and relegations. I'm spoiled for choice, but am keen to see the clash of the two title chasers in the Senior League: Pontlottyn, now favourites after a great run, visiting Sully Sports, who need to win to close the gap and make the Rhymney Valley side's task harder. So, on a day when no trains are running on local Cardiff lines, I make a couple of bus journeys out to the edge of the Bristol Channel, to pleasant seaside Sully. On arriving at Swanbridge Road, I'm surprised to find the space between football pitch and clubhouse occupied by a circus big top, from which tinny music and other sounds will provide an unlikely sound-track to the title showdown.

Sully have experience on their side: four times Senior League winners in the last ten seasons, they know the tension of these situations and have come through them before. Pontlottyn have momentum on their side - not just the recent run of form that has swept them to the top of the league and to the SWFA Senior Cup final, but the upward trend over their short existence. This is a club that has "mushroomed" out of nothing (to use a term applied a century ago to the original mushroom club, Mid Rhondda) and they're full of confidence and belief.

Saturday, 04 April 2015 20:12

Abergavenny clinch Gwent County title

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SATURDAY 4th APRIL: Pontymister Recreation Ground - mild, sunny, chilly breeze.
AC PONTYMISTER 2 ABERGAVENNY TOWN 6 (Gwent County League Division One)
We've reached that point in the season when you look for a game with something on it - cup ties, promotion or relegation deciders, they're all fine. On this Easter Saturday, there's no real shortage of such games, but the one I want to see involves Abergavenny Town, still unbeaten in the league and needing a win to clinch the Gwent County League title mathematically. The bonus is that they're away to AC Pontymister, easy to reach, with the guarantee of a quality programme, and, as it happens, a ground on which I've not previously watched a match.

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