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SATURDAY 9th APRIL. The Bridge Meadow - chilly, but dry and sunny
GOODWICK UNITED 2 HAKIN UNITED 1 (Pembrokeshire Senior Cup final)

Hop on a train going east from Cardiff and it will take a couple of hours to get to London: you're in another world, faster, busier, more connected. Travel west instead, and it will take longer than that two hours to get to Pembrokeshire. But we sometimes underestimate how far, and how different again, the far west of Wales actually is, in culture, outlook, and - crucially - connectedness, or rather lack of it.

Pembrokeshire's geography isolates it, which can be both good and bad in many walks of life. As this is a football blog, that's the only area to discuss here, and geography (physical and social) shapes Pembrokeshire football more than any other county, though south Ceredigion shares more than a few similarities. Most notably, Pembrokeshire football almost a self-contained world: few clubs ever dip their toes in national competitions, few players can stomach the travelling and sacrifices required to play further up the Welsh or English pyramid systems, so as a result there's a thriving county league with competitions that are not overshadowed in any way. There's a sense of recognition and support for local clubs in the wider community that you don't get in the cities, the valleys or even much of mid and north Wales; and the local press - print and online - gives coverage that clubs in more populous areas can only dream of. For the season's showpiece, the Senior Cup final, they go to town - multi page spreads, previews, predictions and pen-pictures.  [article continues, click on 'Read More' if not visible]

Sunday, 03 April 2016 13:31

Going to the Dogs

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SATURDAY 2nd APRIL: Fairfield Lane, sunny and mild
CARDIFF AIRPORT 4 HIRWAUN SPORTS 0 (South Wales FA Intermediate Cup semi-final)
Another Saturday morning of anxiously peering out at the rain and monitoring Twitter feeds for news of postponements. Mid-morning brings bad news from numerous south Wales grounds, twelve hours of steady rain rendering them unplayable again, though the afternoon forecast remains positive. During this flurry of postponements I've been pessimistic about my chosen game, but the reliable South Wales FA don't announce any problems with their two semi-finals, so it seems I'm in luck. Even so, I set off early, with plans B and C ready in case things go wrong.

I've chosen the Cardiff Airport v Hirwaun Sports semi-final for the principal reason that it's taking place on a ground I haven't visited before. I only found out a month or two ago that Rhydyfelin AFC had moved away from their Upper Boat venue to a re-furbished ground half a mile along the road. The project might have been mentioned in the local press in RCT, but no wider than that, and the change doesn't seem to have registered with other sources (e.g. new season directories and the groundhopper grapevine). In fact it was only passing the ground by chance in February that brought it to my notice. A visit to a Rhydyfelin home game might have been an option - but I've noticed there are none of those scheduled in the Alliance League.  [article continues - click Read More if necessary]

Sunday, 27 March 2016 20:16

Honours Even

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SATURDAY 26th MARCH: Jenner Park, wet & windy
BARRY TOWN UNITED 2 CARDIFF MET UNIVERSITY 2 (Nathaniel Cars Welsh League Div 1)
For a capital city, with a decent transport infrastructure, Cardiff is often a hard place to travel through on a Saturday: after weeks of disruption because of Six Nations rugby, our city is rugby-free at last. But it has managed to find an even more disruptive event to blight another Saturday - a "world" half-marathon that involves closing many city streets, disrupting public transport and predicted to bring gridlock.

It's tempting once again to avoid the centre of town, but Jenner Park is clearly the place to be this week, with a top of the table Welsh League fixture, so the cross-city journey must be made. I forsake the buses and travel by train leaving hours to get to Barry in time for kick off, but it's almost impossible to board my local train service - just room to squeeze onto the two carriages already crammed with a mixture of runners and spectators. It gets worse as we progress to Cardiff, particularly when a number of family groups decide to launch themselves and their buggies into the few inches of space at each door. The match had better be worth it after this.   (article continues - click on 'Read More')

Sunday, 20 March 2016 09:26

A Day of Contrasts

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SATURDAY 19th MARCH - Mathern Athletic Ground, dry & cold.
MATHERN FC 2 RTB EBBW VALE 0 (Autocentres Gwent County League Division 2)
A week without rain means I can choose from a full football programme this week, but it has to be somewhere that doesn't involve travelling through the horrors of Cardiff on a Six Nations matchday. The solution is to go east via Newport and the Gwent County League game at Mathern appeals - visitors RTB are way out in front in Division Two and Mathern is a ground I haven't visited before.

Mathern lies a mile or two west of Chepstow, just off the old A48 Newport to Chepstow road, so a straightforward bus journey from Newport to Pwllmeyric, then a leisurely stroll south from the main road. Bus times mean I'm in the village an hour before kick off, so I while away some time with a pint in the pleasant Millers Arms - all is going well, a lively, warm pub with Butcombe bitter and Bath Ales on tap - but as 2.30 approaches a big screen goes up, chairs, tables and customers are required to move, and the pub readies itself to watch the rugby that I've spent two hours travelling to get away from. Time to move on.

The Athletic Ground sits just round the corner, at the edge of the village. It's a delightful rural setting, even though the proximity of the M48 motorway is given away by the big blue sign poking up above the hedge on the far side. The railed, level playing surface is overlooked from the east end by a clubhouse / pavilion, elevated on a bank with a small flight of steps down to pitch level. On the hill behind it, the whole scene is in turn overlooked by the listed, neo-classical mansion Wyelands House. It occurs to me what a varied county Gwent is - today's visitors, whose name carries the initials of the old Ebbw Vale steelworks, have travelled down from scarred, post-industrial Blaenau Gwent to this peaceful rural Monmouthshire setting. [Follow "Read More" below for full article]

Thursday, 10 March 2016 16:15

Wales Under 19s Complete 3-day Double

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THURSDAY 10th MARCH - Cyncoed Campus, sunny.
WALES UNDER 19 1 CZECH REPUBLIC UNDER 19 0 (Friendly international)
After only five days, I'm back at Cyncoed. This week the university are hosting two friendly fixtures at under 19 level between Wales and the Czech Republic, the first having been on Tuesday afternoon. I had thought of seeing that one, and when Wales won 3-2 I sort of wished I had. But the weather had been dreadful, and Saturday's uncomfortable two hours up here in the bitter wind was still too vivid in the memory. But this Thursday morning is a different proposition: dry, sunny, slightly less cold and with a lighter wind. The 11.00 kick off lends an unusual air to the game, but the crowd is exactly what you get at these midweek representative games: mostly officials, parents and scouts, with a few curious others.

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