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Thursday, 16 March 2017 22:00

A Dr Jekyll Night for Barry

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TUESDAY 14th MARCH: Jenner Park - mild and misty
BARRY TOWN UNITED 2 HAVERFORDWEST COUNTY 0 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Div 1)
A misty, murky spring evening in Barry, but potentially a night of season-defining proportions for the Jenner Park club. On arrival at the ground, there's a sort of nervous tension pervading all pre-match conversations - "can't afford to lose", "must win", "six-pointer" etc.

And of course the tension is magnified by Barry's inconsistent, Jekyll and Hyde form in the league. You really wouldn't want have a significant wager riding on them - and it's this that differentiates the Welsh League title race from the other top leagues - TNS running away with the Welsh Premier, Prestatyn likewise in the Cymru Alliance, and both already crowned. Those are the sort of bets you'd have wanted to be on - short priced favourites, preferably selected under a Free Bet offer to maximise the return. Given such an opportunity now, I'd go for TNS to complete the treble, and steer clear of the trappy, unpredictable Welsh League.

Actually, ahead of this game it is Haverfordwest who have been talked up as the form team, with the momentum since the turn of the year, and maybe poised to sweep past Barry. To add to the intrigue and interest, there's the matter of revenge for that 7-1 battering the Bluebirds received here in the WPL Cup a few months back, plus the 'will they, won't they' saga of their attitude to promotion to the Welsh Premier.

Thursday, 16 March 2017 21:50

In Praise of Diversity

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Three days, six games in four different competitions - it can only be another Groundhop....

Thursday, 16 March 2017 21:45

Yin and Yang in the WPL

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SATURDAY 4th MARCH: Cyncoed Campus. Cold.
CARDIFF MET 2 CARMARTHEN TOWN 2 (Dafabet Welsh Premier League)
After watching so many Met home games in 2016, the gap of a couple of months since my last visit somehow feels longer. On that occasion Carmarthen Town won, at the end of phase 1 - and whereas the Old Gold have made a good start in phase 2, Met haven't won in two months. So an away win seems more likely than it did back at New Year.

With the rather disappointing return to Saturday afternoons, ditching the very successful Sunday experiment, there's a noticeably quieter pre-match atmosphere in the stadium, and fewer familiar neutral faces. A chance then, to read the programme: whilst the university club's issues aren't going to win any awards, there's always interest in Professor Robyn Jones's programme notes. Today, his column includes phrases like "binary, two-dimensional analysis", name-checks the ancient Chinese concepts of yin and yang, and references the structuration theory of sociologist Anthony Giddens. Anywhere else, you'd assume they'd all been included to win a bet.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017 19:27

Clash of Cultures

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SATURDAY 11th FEBRUARY. The Island, wintry.
It's a dreaded Six Nations day in Cardiff, so my priority for today's outing was to avoid travelling to or through the city centre. An easy way to achieve this is to head east by bus to Newport, and then into Gwent, and that is how I come to be travelling to Usk Town, who have attracted my attention by being on the verge of winning the Gwent Central League.

Now Usk isn't really all that far from Newport, or Cwmbran, or Pontypool. But it's extraordinarily poorly served by public transport, and I'm fortunate that the two-hourly bus from Newport Bus Station gets me there about 45 minutes before their 1.30 kick off; and that there's a return service at half past three. I have a chilly wait at Newport Bus Station, stress levels raised by a fellow traveller - and Usk resident - who tells me of the occasions she's had to wait an extra two hours for this service. But not today - it appears just a few minutes late and sets off through the lanes to Usk.

There's not a lot of activity in Usk on a Saturday lunchtime. The pubs are open, and will fill up later as the rugby kick off approaches, but otherwise there are just a few walkers by the river. After a riverside stroll of my own, I cross the town bridge and make for the Island recreation ground, not an island in fact, but a strip of land between the river and the road to Pontypool. The pitch is in good condition, although some other areas of the rec. are seriously boggy. Elsewhere today in south Wales a few matches have fallen foul of waterlogging and frost, but no such worries here. The teams emerge along the path from the changing rooms, Usk in green and Cwmffrwdoer in claret and blue and set up their respective 'bases' on opposite sides of the pitch.

Sunday, 22 January 2017 09:58

Saints Go Marching In (eventually)

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SATURDAY 21st JANUARY. Cyncoed Campus, dry but very cold.
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.

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