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Sunday, 21 August 2016 08:44

The Road to Europe

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SATURDAY 20th AUGUST. Canal Park, blustery showers.
TIGER BAY 2 BLAENAVON BLUES 1 (JD Welsh Cup 1st Qualifying Round)
There seems to be some sort of jinx on the opening round of the Welsh Cup: scheduled for August, it would be reasonable to expect the long list of ties to unfold in pleasant summer conditions, but it rarely turns out that way. Although I'm well used to watching football in all types of weather without (much) complaint, a couple of Welsh Cup qualifying round games played in awful conditions have lodged themselves in my memory - Risca a few years back (cold and wet) and then Penygraig (very, very wet).

And continuing the theme, the weathermen have promised us "an early taste of autumn" today, with high winds and heavy rain. Enough to make me briefly reconsider my chosen tie, at Canal Park, Butetown. Only briefly, though - I decide to don waterproofs and stick with the plan. And, as I walk down towards Butetown from the centre of Cardiff, the weather is every bit as bad as promised.

Tiger Bay, the community club who share this ground with AFC Butetown, are the only Cardiff & District League side to enter the Welsh Cup this year. They enjoyed a good run a couple of seasons back and may have a chance of progress today, with home advantage against Gwent County side Blaenavon. They're the underdogs though, and the fact that their league season has yet to start may be a handicap too.

Canal Park is windswept when I arrive, but the rain has turned showery. Copious amounts of rubbish are blowing around this narrow urban park, sandwiched between the Loudon Square estate and Dumballs Road, whose character seems to be gradually changing from tatty light industry to shiny office blocks. In another few years, the change may have reached this far down towards the Bay.

The lone match official heads up from the changing room to the pitch ahead of the teams to check the nets. Then he has to face the long trek back, when he discovers he's left his whistle behind, and by the time he returns the teams are out, Tiger Bay in blue and Blaenavon in yellow. No more than 40 spectators look on, and like the home team, they're mostly locals from the Somali community here. This may be the Welsh Cup, the beginning of the road to glory and the Europa League, but here in inner-city Cardiff, with a tiny attendance, no programme and no refreshments, we're a very long way from all that.

After an opening spell which sees a flare up and four bookings, Blaenavon enjoy a good first half, Tiger Bay looking rusty and sluggish as expected. Their best attack brings a confident penalty appeal for a trip on the goal-line, but it's refused, somewhat to my surprise. Soon after this, the north Gwent visitors take the lead with a goal from nowhere, a shot from distance that seems to deceive the home keeper and drop behind him into the net. The Blues are good value for their half-time lead and probably just need another goal.

Half-time brings another sharp shower and sends spectators scurrying under the trees for cover, but it's a relief not to have suffered a soaking yet. When the match resumes, it's dry again, but the gale force westerly wind is increasing to the point where it really affects play, blowing high balls off course. The other noticeable change is an improvement in Tiger Bay's play: as the second half proceeds, they start to look more determined, more co-ordinated and more adventurous. Half-chances begin to come, and for the first time they look as if they believe they can salvage the tie. And they can, for with 17 minutes left, a diagonal through ball beats the outstretched leg of a Blues defender, and finds Hakim Arish, who cuts inside to score. Nine minutes later, Jack Bourne exploits space on the right to advance on goal and score a second for Tiger Bay to complete the turnaround.

In the remaining eight minutes (plus almost ten for stoppages), Blaenavon try to get back on terms to force extra time, but Tiger Bay do a fair job of keeping the ball. Several of the remaining minutes are taken up by another brawl and its aftermath, but when the final whistle goes it's smiles and handshakes all round, the inflamed tempers and their causes quickly forgotten.


Although it's wrong to talk of giant-killings at this stage of the competition - there are no giants - Tiger Bay's win is probably the biggest achievement by one of the real minnows in this first qualifying round, which has sadly been depleted by a couple of withdrawals and a handful of postponements.

As the only Cardiff parks side to enter, every game for Tiger Bay is likely to bring them up against clubs higher in the pyramid system, so every win is to be celebrated. The same can be said of Hirwaun Sports, of the Aberdare & District League, whose 2-5 win at Penrhiwfer is another surprise in the southern ties.

Maybe the biggest surprise in the northern section of the draw is Rhostyllen's defeat at Stansty Park against Lex Glyndwr. A year ago Rhostyllen began an impressive cup run as a North-East Wales League side, defeating several higher-ranked sides, and after winning promotion this year, they'd have expected to defeat a fellow Welsh National Wrexham Area Division One outfit.

For excitement, the place to be was the Monmouthshire derby between Abergavenny and Chepstow, which ended 4-4 after 90 minutes, the home side getting two more in extra time to win 6-4. Ten goals also at Llanllyfni in the north, but a slightly more one-sided affair, as Neil Thomas scored a double hat-trick in the home side's 7-3 win over Llanystumdwy. And there were eleven goals at Y Felinheli, where the home side came from behind to pip Llandyrnog United 6-5 - Dyrny's Mark Roberts scoring four goals away from home and still ending on the losing side.

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