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Friday, 05 September 2014 18:54

Half a Hop is better than...

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Sunday 24th / Saturday 25th August - NORTH WALES GROUNDHOP

For several days I didn't expect to be making the trip north this weekend, expecting to be needed as nurse, cook, shopper etc at home. But I've been persuaded to travel up on Saturday night - with cover in place at home - and I'll get to join the Welsh Groundhop for days 3 and 4 after all. Half a hop is better than no hop, even though my record of attending every single Welsh Groundhop game ever staged is now gone. I catch the train to Chester, rendezvous with two coaches of very weary hoppers at 10.45 (they look as tired as I feel), and look forward to Sunday morning.

Friday, 05 September 2014 18:52

Clouds and Silver Linings

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SATURDAY 23rd AUGUST: Cantonian High School, warm, sunshine and showers

I had my Bank Holiday weekend mapped out months ago, but not all plans become reality, even the best laid. Instead of groundhopping in North Wales at Pwllheli, Nefyn and Barmouth today, I'm still in Cardiff. A domestic emergency meant travelling to the groundhop on Friday was impossible, but all is not lost – I can take in a local FAW Trophy game. An easy choice too, a new ground and club for me, only a few miles across Cardiff.

Sunday, 17 August 2014 07:45


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SATURDAY 16th AUGUST: Penypound Stadium, dry, cloud, sunny spells and a cool breeze.
MONMOUTH TOWN 1 CARDIFF MET. UNIVERSITY 1 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Div 1)

Domestic football returns, on a pleasant mid-August day - somewhat drier and warmer than some of the opening days I can remember. Welsh League Division 1 champions Monmouth have been scheduled to face the Division 2 champions, the students of Cardiff Met, an interesting fixture in itself, but made even more so by Monmouth's controversial move to Penypound Stadium, Abergavenny over the summer.

While the relocation of any football club is bound to be controversial, and we all have misgivings about the 'franchising effect', I do find it hard to oppose this one. The Kingfishers were unable to upgrade their facilities in their home town and any thoughts of continuing this club's rise would have to be abandoned if they'd stayed there. Welsh League clubs have come in for some heavy criticism for lack of ambition recently... so here's one showing real ambition and taking a gamble: sixteen miles down the road, Penypound, one of our iconic old grounds, had lacked a senior tenant for well over a decade and its future was uncertain.

Friday, 25 July 2014 06:44


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TUESDAY 22nd JULY : The Corbett Sports Stadium, Rhyl - hot and sunny.
THE NEW SAINTS 0 SLOVAN BRATISLAVA 2 (UEFA Champions League 2nd Qua. Round, 2nd Leg)

Getting to The New Saints European games is usually easier than this: their home base in Oswestry, and even their usual alternative big game venue of Wrexham, are both very accessible from the south and from England. But tonight, their Champions League game requires another journey west, to Rhyl, because the Park Hall 3G pitch requires replacement to obtain a UEFA licence, and The Racecourse is unavailable. So I have had to arrange another overnight stop in Crewe: as for the Bangor trip recently, I drop my bags off there before catching the train along the north Wales coast, excitement mounting, for tonight's game has taken on extra significance after the Europa League disappointments, and TNS's strong performance in last week's first leg. If they can pull off a win tonight, 2014 can go down in Welsh Premier history as a turning point. If not.... well, let's not think about that unless we have to.

Saturday, 12 July 2014 06:58


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THURSDAY 10th JULY: Park Avenue. Warm and sunny.
ABERYSTWYTH TOWN 0 DERRY CITY 5 (Europa League, 1st Qualifying Round, 2nd Leg)
Just like last week, the quest to watch a Welsh team representing their country means a long journey west, to a distant edge of the country from my midweek base in Birmingham. Actually, getting to Aberystwyth from Birmingham is a little bit easier than getting there from within Wales, certainly from home in Cardiff: I'm able to catch a lunchtime train that is heading all the way to the Cambrian coast, although for Aber there's a change of trains in Machynlleth.

And, also like last week, the train journey is one of the most scenic in Wales, through the gentle countryside of Mid Wales, then along the Dovey estuary and the coast to Aber. I don't think I'll ever be able to pass through the final stop, Borth, without thinking of the atmospheric Welsh police drama 'Hinterland' - its magnificent old railway station starred in one memorable episode of the recent series.

Arriving in Aberystwyth by late afternoon, there's time to drop my bags and go for a stroll around the town. The seafront and castle ruins are at their best in this glorious weather, and locals and visitors are enjoying the sun, the beach and ice-creams. Already around town it's easy to spot small knots of Derry fans, resplendent in their distinctive red and white candy-striped shirts. The more sedate of them are exploring Aberystwyth, but the noisiest have turned The Old Station Wetherspoons into an Irish bar for the afternoon; their singing causes a few worried glances from the mostly elderly locals and holidaymakers near the station. I doubt if many even realise there's a match tonight - when I checked into my hotel the owner had no idea.

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