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Sunday, 22 January 2017 09:58

Saints Go Marching In (eventually)

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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.

Sunday, 15 January 2017 09:34

Carno's Clifftop Catastrophe

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SATURDAY 14th JANUARY: Swanbridge Road, sunshine and showers.
SULLY SPORTS 4 CARNO 1 (FAW Trophy Round 5)
The last sixteen of the FAW Trophy always produces some interesting fixtures - by this stage there are no easy games - and, although it's still regionalised, inter-region ties do crop up. Like today's game, a South Wales v Central Wales encounter - with the visitors lumped into the southern half of the draw. They're the last club standing from their region, but are a form team lying third in the Spar Mid Wales League, unbeaten in fifteen, and with Huws Gray Alliance aspirations. It's only an easy local choice today - I ruled out north Wales with snow and ice up there likely to bring postponements - but the forecast down here is encouraging - a sunny afternoon in prospect.

So I set off for the coast expecting a close game. Re-visits to Sully are always enjoyable, the ground sitting on the cliffs with views across the Bristol Channel. When time and weather allow, I always think a pre-match stroll is in order here, and with an icy morning giving way to a fine sunny afternoon, I leave time for this 'tradition'. It's cold, but there's only the lightest of breezes as I walk out past the Captain's Wife inn and Swanbridge Farm on the coastal path - and then back again, finding time for a quick pint of ale in the pub.

Monday, 02 January 2017 09:47

Out with the Old....

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SATURDAY 31st DECEMBER. Cyncoed Campus, overcast.
CARDIFF MET 1 CARMARTHEN TOWN 3 (Dafabet Welsh Premier League)
It's somehow fitting that the year should end with a game at Cyncoed - the ground most visited on my travels in 2016. It's a significant game too, as the first phase of the Welsh Premier season nears its climax, with both teams in contention for a top six place. Cardiff Met need just a point to guarantee that, and withj a long unbeaten run at home, that should be within their grasp. Carmarthen need to win today and probably in their final game too.

With a remarkable dearth of football in south Wales over the whole festive period, the Mets' crowd is boosted by plenty of fans of other local clubs - and even by some Cardiff City supporters, attracted by the university's reduced admission for anyone who travelled in vain to the Bluebirds' postponed game at Brighton. So, even without the normal quota of students, the official attendance reached 324.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016 08:59

Llandarcy: all change

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SATURDAY 17th DECEMBER - Llandarcy Academy of Sport - dry, overcast, mild
YNYSYGERWN 0 CHEPSTOW TOWN 1 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Div 3)
When Ynysygerwn won the west wales play-off and joined the Welsh League, I resolved to re-visit Llandarcy this season. It's taken longer to fit it in than expected, but that's possibly a good thing, as their form has improved recently.

It's a familiar ground, a fairly familiar journey, but on the other hand I haven't been to Llandarcy for years. It must have been in 2007-08 that I last visited. That was the last season that Neath AFC played here, before they moved to the Gnoll. By 2012 they had folded.

Of course, before Neath AFC's spell at Llandarcy Park (2005-2008), their predecessor clubs had other grounds nearby, notably BP Llandarcy's original ground. It's very hard to place exactly where that ground was these days, because the area has been so totally rebuilt. Even since my last visit eight or nine years ago, the main junction where it stood is barely recognisable - a huge dual carriageway now cuts through. As far as I can tell - and without referring to old maps - the site of the old ground is roughly where a Holiday Inn now sits.

Just down the road, the football ground at Llandarcy Park is not greatly changed, but its surroundings are. Most strikingly, the huge and grandiosely named Academy of Sport building dominates the south-west side of the ground, while behind the pavilion and changing room end a large modern housing development now looms on the hillside, threatening the tranquillity of Llandarcy village conservation area round the next bend.

The ground is still entered on either side of the pavilion. A wrought iron sign over the turnstile still displays the name Neath AFC. The pavilion itself - Neath's clubhouse - is now a proper café bar for the campus, with smart decking overlooking the corner of the pitch. The steps and bushy slope at this end - which add character - are still in place. On the left hand side, the old cricket scoreboard structure sits rotting away, to the side of the stand - which clearly lost its seating some time ago. On the opposite side, which used to be the cricket square, there is now a mesh fence and no spectator access at all. Even with just the three sides, it's still a fine Welsh League ground, and the playing surface must be one of the best grass pitches at this level. So it's an excellent facility for a little village club like Ynysygerwn to be using.

Sunday, 20 November 2016 20:59

It's Raining Goals

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SATURDAY 19th NOVEMBER. Swansea University International Sports Village - torrential rain.
TEAM SWANSEA 9 GRANGE ALBION 1 (FAW Trophy Round 4)

When the draw was made for the fourth round of the FAW Trophy, I immediately thought this tie held particular interest. Cross-region games always have that extra dimension, the chance to compare standards. Of course, Swansea v Cardiff also adds something, although in my experience the rivalry is less intense at grassroots level than between the two cities' pro clubs. In any case, Team Swansea being a university club, it's not quite the same as if Grange were playing Penlan or Ragged.

It's a wet November weekend, wet enough on Friday to prompt an enquiry about the pitch. Positive reply, but being checked in the morning. Despite more rain, by 10.45 the news is good - game on. I set off, through Cardiff, the fans arriving for the afternoon rugby already causing delays and congestion at the station. The rain continues as I eventually travel west, then abates while I walk the mile or two along the Swansea Bay seafront out to Sketty Lane. Just as I approach the sports centre, the skies darken again and even heavier rain arrives, drenching the squads engaged in their warm-ups.

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