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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.

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.

Sunday, 06 November 2016 14:06

The Fifty-four Steps

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SATURDAY 5th NOVEMBER. Bush Park, sunny but cold.
TREOWEN STARS 1 TON PENTRE 2 (JD Welsh Cup, Round 2)

Spoiled for choice again with Welsh Cup Round 2 option today, and I'll admit my decision was based partly on travel options. Today is the first of the autumn rugby internationals in Cardiff, and regular readers of this site will know how much I dislike getting caught up in the city centre on these afternoons - the crowds, the road closures, the delays, the stewarding, not to mention the boorish drunks and all the silly pantomime Welshness of daffodil hats and the like.

So I'll do a lot to avoid travelling through the city, including the slightly convoluted bus trip required to reach Newbridge for this afternoon's game (I can go east, or north into the valleys, avoiding Cardiff, but I can't go west, which was a pity as that ruled out my other main option today. Still, it's many years since I've been to Bush Park, Treowen (more than five, certainly, maybe nearer ten?) and there's a chance of a cup upset here. Two divisions separate the Stars from the Bulldogs, but recent form and home advantage give them a chance. Last night, at Taff's Well, I saw a Welsh League Division 2 side knock out one from Division 1. What chance another Division 1 casualty today?

Sunday, 30 October 2016 09:04

The Trundle Effect

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SATURDAY 29th OCTOBER - University Playing Fields, drizzle.
STM SPORTS 1 LLANELLI TOWN 4 (Nathaniel Cars welsh League Cup)
After weeks of long-distance outings, time for a change: the cheap train fares are over and the weather's deteriorating. Besides, this weekend provides two very attractive options without having to leave the city of Cardiff. First up is a Welsh League Cup tie that brings Llanelli Town to Llanrumney. I've been waiting for an opportunity to watch Town, and their inspired signing Lee Trundle, and now a couple come along in a week (The Reds are at Taff's Well in the Welsh Cup on Friday too).

The two-bus journey across to the east of the city takes its time and I find myself running later than planned and arriving ten minutes before kick-off. This turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as it turns out I've arrived ahead of the visitors, who are stuck in traffic on the M4. The planned 2.30 kick-off is put back, and the STM team, in green, carry on with a much-extended warm-up. The rest of us wait in the light drizzle for something to happen. The red-shirted visitors start to appear on the 3G pitch at about a quarter to three, followed a few minutes later by the three officials. At 2.55, we finally have a game.

Sunday, 23 October 2016 14:34

Visiting Hinterland

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SATURDAY 22nd OCTOBER: Uppingham Playing Fields - sunny but a chilly breeze from the east.
BORTH UNITED 4 BUILTH WELLS 0 (Spar Mid Wales Division 2)
The last weekend of Arriva's cheap autumn fares. A fine weather forecast. Just has to be a day for a long-distance trip, and the fixture lists have yielded just the answer, a visit to one of the dwindling number of towns in Wales that I've actually never visited.

However, I feel as if I know Borth. The acclaimed bi-lingual Welsh noir detective series 'Hinterland' or 'Y Gwyll' featured the town and its station in one memorable episode. Alighting at the station, after my five hour journey (bus and two trains) everything is instantly recognisable - especially the eerie, atmospheric marshland across the line, Cors Fochno, the largest lowland bog in Britain. It's actually part of the Dyfi Biosphere, the only UNESCO Biosphere reserve in Wales, and on a fine, sunny day like today it's not that scary. But I can imagine what it's like at other darker, mistier and stormier times. The railway station building - transformed by 'Hinterland' into the territory of a creepy station attendant with hobbies of model train layouts and serial killing, is now a community-run railway museum, not at all creepy in fact.

The town is remarkably linear - the High Street sandwiched between the sea and pebble beach on one side, and the railway and bog a mere hundred yards or so inland. About half a mile south of the station, in this strip of land, sits the football ground. Surrounded by drainage ditches, it's clearly a venue at constant risk of flooding - as one official says, the sea, the Dyfi estuary and the bog see to that. Thankfully, the dry spell recently means the pitch is in good order today.

It's an attractive little ground, with a blue-painted brick stand backing onto the community centre and a tea bar caravan alongside. Hard-standing along just the stand side, the rest grass. Neatly railed on both sides and the southern end. No programme, but a collection taken for admission.

Today's game has significance at the top of the Mid Wales Second division: Borth lie second, level on points and goal difference with leaders Kerry, but having scored and conceded fewer goals. If they win today - and do better than Kerry - they'll go top for the first time in their three seasons in the league. Builth Wells, who have been top already this season, are third in the table. I'm expecting goals - both sides scored four last week. Before the game, Borth officials rue their record against Builth - they've never beaten them, and last year surrended a 3-0 lead to lose 3-4! Confidence not exactly running high, despite Ian Lewis receiving the Spar Div 2 Player of the month for Aug/Sept on behalf of absent Gwion Pugh-Jones before kick-off.

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