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Wednesday, 15 February 2017 19:27

Clash of Cultures

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SATURDAY 11th FEBRUARY. The Island, wintry.
USK TOWN 4 CWMFFRWDOER SPORTS RES 1 (Gwent Central Open Cup)
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.

The home officials have assessed the visiting team and note some first teamers - changes from the side that they've met in the league (apparently the Pontypool club's Gwent County League game is off). So despite Usk's dominance of Gwent Central circles, today may be a tougher challenge than usual.

We don't have to wait long for some action. From their very first attack, Usk win a penalty thanks to a rash challenge by the visiting keeper. Harry Wade converts it for a second-minute lead, but in the play that follows, that lead looks likely to be short-lived. Cwmffrwdoer, showing some quality in attack, enjoy more possession and come close to equalising on several occasions, but the Usk defence holds firm. Cwmffrwdoer's frustration starts to show and the lone referee is quickly on their case.

After half an hour, a turning point: Usk have a corner on the right, the keeper claims it at the near post - and then spills it. Luke Harris is on hand to prod the loose ball into the net and the lead is no longer so slender. Usk manage to hold out until half time, when the visitors troop over to their side of the pitch for some choice words of 'encouragement'. Within three minutes they're lining up for the second half, soon followed by Usk - setting some sort of record for the shortest interval of the season.

Cwmffwdoer make a couple of substitutions soon after the break, and get a goal back - a beautifully struck drive just inside the post from Dwain Hunt. But rather than kick-start their come-back, the goal is swiftly cancelled out by one at the other end. A free-kick from the right, Luke Harris gets there before the hapless keeper and heads it into the corner. 3-1, 35 minutes left.

It soon becomes clear that Cwmffrwdoer have had enough of this. Tempers are fraying, made worse by Usk's refusal to get drawn into any sort of attritional battle. There are cards - yellow at first. There's anger on the sidelines - though it's hard to see why, unless it's frustration at Usk's fourth goal, stabbed home in a goalmouth melee following another free-kick. One visitor - said to be a player not in today's squad, does a circuit of the pitch, insulting first the home bench, then the referee, and then pausing where I'm chatting to the Usk chairman and a subbed player to call us f****** w******. Classy.

The result is a foregone conclusion even before another incident that sees a red card brandished at the visiting bench. This seems to be the cue for most of the visiting support to give up on the game and drift back towards the car park. As they do, one of their team also departs early after receiving a second yellow.

So, nice rural riverside setting, sleepy small town, a friendly and civilised host club - and yet despite these ingredients for a pleasant afternoon out, the match has ended with a sour atmosphere hanging over it. As I stroll back to catch the bus back from the square, I can't help feeling that's a bit of a shame.

Read 1891 times Last modified on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 19:32

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