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Tuesday, 03 April 2018 10:04

South Wales into Europe again

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EASTER MONDAY 2nd APRIL. Latham Park, heavy rain.
SOUTH WALES F.A. 2 NORTH WALES COAST F.A. 0 (FAW Regions Cup final)

Of all the FAW's national competitions, the Regions Cup seems to get the least attention. This is odd, as it carries the prize of a place in a UEFA competition. Run over two seasons, select teams of grassroots players from the six Welsh regions contest two groups (north and south) with the two group winners meeting in the final.

The current competition has been running since autumn 2016. Of the twelve scheduled fixtures, only eleven have been played - thankfully the postponed Gwent v West Wales game has no significance, as South Wales had already topped the group table. Will it ever be played now?

In the build-up to the Easter Monday final, publicity and coverage has been scarce: a nice piece on the North Wales Coast squad in the Daily Post is the sum total really. Search on the web and the fixture is virtually impossible to find (even on the FAW site!) though it's had a few mentions on Twitter. Even if Easter Monday had been looking like a fine spring day, the chances of a good turnout at Latham Park are slim to non-existent. As it is, dire warnings of snow, fog, heavy rain are enough to put off all but the most intrepid traveller....

Tuesday, 03 April 2018 09:54

Watching Crows - from a Distance

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SATURDAY 31st MARCH. Cwmbran Stadium, cold.
CWMBRAN TOWN 3 AC PONTYMISTER 2 (Autocentres Gwent County League Division 1)
24 hours of solid rain from Good Friday to the early hours of Easter Saturday mean binning all carefully-researched plans to attend first, second and third choice games and choosing instead from a small number of remaining fixtures. With games on grass being called off all morning, I go for a safe 3G option.

It's years since I last saw a game at Cwmbran Stadium, though I've been next door to Cwmbran Celtic relatively regularly. 25 years ago Cwmbran Town were the biggest club in town, heading for the first League of Wales title and the European Champions' Cup, the stadium one of the more impressive venues in the fledgling national league. The loss of backing brought an end to the good times for the Crows, who began a slide down the leagues. Town rivals Cwmbran Celtic and Croesyceiliog overtook them and today, at tier 5, they're still only the third highest-ranked club in Cwmbran.

The one thing the Stadium used to have in its favour was the elevated view from the huge seated stand, helping to overcome the distance between action and spectators. Nowadays, with the seating all blocked off and disused, it lacks even that compensation. There's the 3G surface, of course, and the leisure facilities under the stand are up to date, but to watch a football match here you can only stand on the flat area in front of the stand and peer past dugouts, training goals and other obstacles at the action on the other side of the running track. Today's Gwent County Division One match proves to be quite entertaining, the sort of game that could easily hold the attention if we could get close up. As it is, attention tends to wander.

Sunday, 04 February 2018 17:19

Cup Football in the Mud - again

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SATURDAY 3rd FEBRUARY. Ynystawe Park, light showers.
YNYSTAWE ATHLETIC 0 BWLCH RANGERS 1 (WWFA Intermediate Cup)
Another of those Saturday mornings, watching the news of postponements and mulling over the options. I note a couple of postponements to the west and more or less give up on the idea of a day trip in that direction for a WWFA Cup tie in Swansea - until, that is, Ynystawe tweet that their game is actually on. Hasty preparations and a dash for the bus.

Getting through and out of Cardiff is challenging - it's a dreaded Six Nations match-day. Town is full of the rugby crowd - more cartoon-Welsh than a football crowd, all daffodil hats, Max Boyce buskers and Prince of Wales feathers. The train to Swansea is inevitably late, the knock-on effect of the surge in traffic through Central Station: not enough of a delay to constitute a disaster, but irritating nonetheless.

Saturday, 27 January 2018 20:59

A "Fairytale" of Dragons and Miners

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SATURDAY 27th JANUARY: USW Sports Campus, wet and mild.
PONTYPRIDD TOWN 1 PENYDARREN BGC 2 (JD Welsh Cup Round 4)
The last sixteen of the Welsh Cup, always a day to savour, and ever since the draw was made back in December I have had just one destination today. Two south Wales valleys clubs, one from tier 3, one from tier 5, and one of them will qualify for the quarter-finals of the Welsh Cup.

Whilst I've been anticipating today, the weather has been a bit of a worry. Heavy rain this morning on top of already saturated ground brings a rash of postponements through the morning. I set off for Treforest early - half-expecting to arrive to news that the match referee has deemed the pitch unplayable and so leaving enough time to high-tail it down to Cyncoed for a later kick off. But on arrival, those fears are unfounded: the pitch is looking heavy but OK, although spectator areas are holding vast amounts of water. The game, it seems, is very much on.

Penydarren BGC's extraordinary winning run has drawn an increasing amount of attention and coverage. The FAW website ran a video feature on the Merthyr club this week and social media has been awash with messages of encouragement.

The most commonly-used description for Penydarren's exploits is "fairy-tale". A cliché, although we all understand the meaning. But today is no day for fairies: their little gossamer wings would soon get waterlogged in the persistent rain and the abundant mud at the USW Sport Park is not the best surface for tiny bare feet. No, today is a day for good old-fashioned cup football, football in the raw, and over 400 spectators have assembled expecting a real battle in the mud. Today's teams are the distinctly un-fairylike Dragons of Pontypridd and Miners of Penydarren.

Sunday, 14 January 2018 20:24

Long Distance

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SATURDAY 13th JANUARY: Abertillery Leisure Centre, cold and gloomy.
ABERTILLERY BLUEBIRDS 1 RHOS AELWYD 3 (FAW Trophy, Round 5)


When I saw the draw for the Fifth Round of the FAW Trophy (my favourite domestic competition), I was delighted to see that it was national, rather than regionalised. In recent years, the competition had been regional until the last possible point, but that deprived clubs of one-off away-days in other parts of Wales, and deprived spectators of the inter-region ties that capture the imagination.

The only disappointing feature of the last sixteen draw was the shortage of games in south Wales. Most of our local clubs were drawn away, with just Abertillery in reasonable, January-travel range. Hence a journey up the Ebbw valley - not the easiest, as I'm wary of Gwent buses. Quite often it seems only locals actually know where they stop - and I remember waiting in the wrong place, in what looked like a bus station, on my last trip to Abertillery. Signage and visitor information is non-existent in these parts - I suppose they don't expect tourists.

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