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Monday, 14 August 2017 08:43

Controversial

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SUNDAY 13th AUGUST. Jenner Park, warm and dry.
BARRY TOWN UNITED 1 ABERYSTWYTH TOWN 1 (JD WELSH PREMIER LEAGUE)

A lot has happened since Jenner Park last hosted a Welsh Premier game, especially for the home club: nearly a decade of decline and despair, then crisis and finally a four year phoenix-like rise. Today is the culmination of that rise and the efforts that have made it possible. Fittingly, the S4C team are here to broadcast Barry's big day on live TV, but 902 spectators are here too [later confirmed as Barry's 5th largest ever attendance in the national league]. An impressive number, bearing in mind it's holiday season'; the match is being televised; the odd Sunday tea-time kick-off time deterring long-distance travellers; and the competing attractions of Man United and World athletics on television.

Monday, 14 August 2017 07:47

Exemplary

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SATURDAY 12th AUGUST. Underhill Park, sunny.
MUMBLES RANGERS 1 PENCOED ATHLETIC 6 (FAW TROPHY, Round 1)
Seven matches into my season, and finally one within 100 miles of home in Cardiff. Just the 80-odd mile round-trip to Swansea Bay for this one. True, today there were plenty of competitive games much closer to home, but the first round of the FAW Trophy is one of those special days of the season - a long list of interesting matches, many at grounds I haven't visited, so the difficulty is always in the choosing. But the decision is made - Mumbles Rangers is a famous Swansea club I've read plenty about over the years, and a visit to Underhill Park is overdue.

From Swansea station to Mumbles is five miles - a nice walk if time allows, but it doesn't today, so I take the crowded number 2 bus, crawling its way round the bay in heavy traffic - on a sunny August afternoon, there are plenty of other people heading out to Mumbles, Langland Bay and Gower.

Underhill Park lies at the far end of Oystermouth's attractive, up-market High Street. The football pitch - or at least the one in use today - is in the corner of the park nearest the town, although Mumbles Rangers usual pitch is at the furthest end, in front of their clubhouse. Today, cricket has use of that area. Despite this enforced change, the home club have done an exemplary job of staging the game, complying with Trophy rules by issuing a programme and roping off the pitch. Not just any old token bit of rope either, the neat yellow posts and cord running all round the four sides are the swishest temporary barrier I've come across. Added to this, over in the clubhouse there's a refreshment window open for business. And there's even another bonus: This pitch can be added to my list "Football Grounds with a view of a Welsh Castle".

Sunday, 06 August 2017 19:55

Exotic?

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SATURDAY 5th AUGUST - Estadio de Mark Lopez - cool and showery
NEW BRIGHTON VILLA 4 BRADLEY PARK 0 (N.E. Wales FA Challenge Cup Round 1)
Heading north again in search of proper, competitive football, and it's the North East Wales FA's second match-day in their main cup competition. If Maesgwyn on Tuesday was a relatively easy venue to reach, today's is the opposite. To get to New Brighton (the one in Flintshire, not the Wirral), I have to go all the way up to Chester and then an hour back into Wales on a Mold-bound bus. All the way, watching the showers and hoping they won't ruin the afternoon. 

Friday, 04 August 2017 08:37

Competitive?

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TUESDAY 1st AUGUST - The Gwyn, Lilac Way - sunny and mild
MAESGWYN 19 MARCHWIEL VILLA 1 (N.E. Wales Challenge Cup, Preliminary Round)
After the all-too-brief flurry of European games in June and July, I don't usually watch much football until mid-August. I just don't do friendlies, and in any case it's nice to have a break until the real stuff starts.

However, the North East Wales FA have come up with some unusually early competitive games in their main Challenge Cup competition, scheduling two rounds in the first week of August, and this is too good an opportunity to miss. With a choice of games at clubs I haven't previously visited (and some I have), there's one obvious one for me: Maesgwyn, who struggled badly last year in the Wrexham Area League, entertaining newly re-formed Marchwiel Villa. The added bonus is that Maesgwyn seem to have moved onto a different ground this season, back in their own community - and it's only five minutes walk from Wrexham General station - conveniently saving me the need to worry about missing the train home (unless there's extra time and penalties, of course....)

Monday, 01 May 2017 11:10

Bala end TNS monopoly

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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.

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