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Tuesday, 05 September 2017 10:50

Rocky

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SATURDAY 2nd SEPTEMBER. The Your Radio 103FM Stadium. Sunny and warm.
DUMBARTON 2 CONNAH'S QUAY NOMADS 1 after extra time (IrnBru Cup, Round 2)
The international break weekend means no domestic football in Wales. I could stay and watch the Wales v Austria game in Cardiff, and normally I do watch Wales home games. But this time it clashed with the entry of the Welsh clubs into the IrnBru Cup... and I do love watching Welsh clubs in cross border competition. A northern odyssey for me then; but probably just an odd choice to many, I'm sure.

Using a combination of cheap flight to get to Glasgow, and train back, I'm able to do the round trip in around 30 hours, spending the night near Glasgow Airport and travelling up to Dumbarton in the morning, with time to explore the Rock of the Clyde, the castle and the town before lunch. Then back to the foot of the Rock - to the hideously-named 'Your Radio 103FM Stadium'. It's literally beneath the towering Rock with its fortified ramparts, but oddly you can't see the Rock as a spectator, because the single stand has been built facing away from it. Even stranger is the fact that this is truly a one-sided ground - no spectator access to the other three sides of the pitch.

I present myself to Reception, clutching the email confirming I'll be on the list for press access. Predictably, the steward tells me I'm not. Why are arrangements for visiting media always so shambolic? (I've had this in San Marino, Liechtenstein and now Scotland in the last year or so). Still, on this occasion it turns out it doesn't matter - stewarding is laid-back and I'm more or less free to go where I choose anyway.

The next surprise is the crowd - or rather lack of it. Where is everybody? Some Dumbarton fans (Sons they call themselves) may have gone to see Scotland in Lithuania, but surely not most of them? The attendance here would be disappointing at a top Welsh Premier fixture.

Sunday, 20 August 2017 12:14

Leonine

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SATURDAY 19th AUGUST Ysgol Penyffordd, sunny intervals
PENYFFORDD LIONS 3 CEFN ALBION 2 (JD Welsh Cup First Qualifying Round)

Back to north-east Wales again for the fourth time already this season, but some of the most interesting Welsh Cup ties were in this area. Several new entrants to the cup to choose from, plus some more established clubs on my 'must visit' list, and in the end the decision came down to who was issuing a programme.

Now I'm not obsessive about programmes. I happily go to plenty of games where they aren't available, but the Welsh Cup is different: it's a competition rule that a programme or team-sheet be available for spectators, and while it may not be aggressively enforced by the FAW, failing to issue does rather disrespect our oldest and most prestigious cup competition and its sponsors. So It was good news when Penyffordd Lions confirmed they'd produce something for their game with Cefn Albion. Especially as the visit of Cefn Albion is exactly the type of cup match I look for - useful lower league side entertaining a club from higher up the pyramid.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017 15:45

Admirable

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TUESDAY 15th AUGUST Bellevue Park, a warm and sunny evening
BELLEVUE 0 BRADLEY PARK 5 (North East Wales League)

Armed with a rail rover ticket for the week, I can't resist another long distance midweek trip. Wrexham has always been the general destination tonight, and tonight's home team have caught my interest enough to persuade me to watch them instead of Brickfield, playing on their temporary ground at New Broughton. The added bonus is the ease of getting to Bellevue Park, a little over five minutes walk from Wrexham General station. As I leave the station around 5pm, there are a few early arrivals for the Wrexham v Gateshead game at the Racecourse, no doubt heading off for a pre-match drink or two.

An hour later, over in Bellevue Park, the scene is a summer evening idyll, residents enjoying their attractive green space in the centre of town. Over in the eastern corner of the park, the teams are already warming up on the single roped off football pitch. It's a nice setting with a huge grass bank on one side, and large trees all around, with distant views of town landmarks.

What attracted me to this game most was the story behind the home club, who are newly founded this year. Aside from being a football club, affiliated to the North East Wales League and the NEWFA, you could call them a 'project'; or an 'initiative; they also refer to themselves as a family. They've grown out of informal kickabouts on this park between locals and the town's large migrant population - workers, students and refugees from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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".

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