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Displaying items by tag: Cardiff City Stadium

Thursday, 20 August 2020 08:16

The 164th Day

19TH AUGUST 2020 The Cardiff City Stadium.
CONNAH’S QUAY NOMADS 0 FK SARAJEVO 2 (UEFA Champions League, 1st Qualifying Round)

164 days. That is how long it has been since I was last inside a football ground – and as I walked out of the Barton Stadium, Winsford, on 8th March, it didn’t even cross my mind that the normal pattern of life was about to change.

Now, venturing back feels like quite a big deal, a risky undertaking: even to a match behind closed doors, in a huge stadium. For those of us who’ve barely been inside a shop for five months, and have become accustomed to crossing the road to avoid passing others, any re-engagement means suppressing anxieties. It comes down to allowing FOMO to conquer FOGO.

Just getting permission to attend has proved an ordeal, with press accreditation only received 19 hours before kick-off. I’d almost become resigned to the idea of missing out – and thereby “staying safe”. Almost, but not quite.

So, at 6.05 pm, I’m at the entrance to Cardiff City Stadium on Leckwith Road – or I think I am. Actually, this is now only the entrance to the NHS testing centre, and I spend the next five minutes navigating a new maze of temporary fencing as I skirt round it to the only way into the stadium, tucked away around the back, and lacking any signage.

Inside, face mask on, temperature checks and health questionnaires are the new routine. Then up to the press area, with social distancing enforced through a ‘one seat in three’ pattern. I see various fellow followers of Welsh football and, from behind our masks, we nod greetings. None of the usual pre-match fraternising though, somehow it just doesn’t happen in this world of safe protocols and caution. Nobody wants to risk being seen not to take it seriously. It’s as if the gods have granted us our wish of a football match, and we’re on our very best behaviour.

At 6.50, the teams and officials emerge and go through the bare minimum of formalities: line-ups (no handshakes), Champions League music, team photos. It’s all over so quickly that the teams are ready to kick off at 6.57 and have to stand around for three minutes until allowed to start.

So, the match: Nomads’ debut in the Champions League is a tough assignment, as they’re unseeded (unlike TNS in recent years) and face the seeded Bosnian champions FK Sarajevo. The Welsh champions, who haven’t played competitively since March, are clearly underdogs here. The opening minutes confirm that, the game consisting mainly of Sarajevo passing the ball around comfortably in the Nomads’ half.

Andy Morrison’s game plan could well be to allow possession, soak up the pressure and strike on the break. And it so nearly works first time, with the first serious attack after 8 minutes leading to a Mike Wilde header that drifts wide of the far post. Promising.

The plan comes unstuck after 15 minutes. Despite defending deep, Connah’s Quay fall victim to a through ball to the edge of their area. Lewis Brass comes to try and sweep it away, but Benjamin Tatar is too quick, getting there first, evading Brass and rolling the ball into the unguarded net.

After the goal, the game enters a period characterized by the Bosnians hurling themselves to the ground at every opportunity. It’s not unexpected, and I’ve seen worse antics from Baltic clubs, but it does break the game up. The Northern Irish referee is unimpressed, frequently leaving the stricken player to get up in his own time, like a weary parent waiting for a toddler’s tantrum to burn itself out. But the official doesn’t really deal with the problem either, awarding several soft free kicks and allowing the circus to continue. On the sidelines, Andy Morrison – always a demonstrative presence – is becoming dangerously animated. It’s obvious what he’s thinking and hard not to agree.

The rest of the first half passes without either goal being too closely threatened. Getting to half time with just the 0-1 deficit becomes a realistic target for Nomads, and they manage it quite comfortably. They’re still in the game, even though FKS seem to have an edge in technique and match fitness.

After the break, Nomads adopt a faster tempo and begin to trouble the Bosnians. The introduction of Sameron Singh-Dool clearly adds something to their play. Action is mostly in the FKS half in the opening period, but six minutes in disaster strikes again. An FKS break on the right, a ball into space and there’s Tatar again, showing speed, awareness and skill as he collects the ball and cracks it past Brass.

With Nomads visibly tiring, it’s pretty clear now that a comeback is unlikely. Aeron Edwards departs after a bout of cramp. But they keep battling, and several times even threaten to get a goal back and make for an interesting finale. Sadly, the finishing touch eludes them, another sign of not being 100 per cent match-sharp. As the end approaches, Sarajevo have a couple of chances to extend their lead, but anything more than 0-2 would have flattered them. Nomads now have a few weeks to prepare for a second test, in the Europa League.

In many ways, it’s good to be back watching football after such a long gap, and it wasn’t a bad game to watch. Games in big, empty stadiums are never the most memorable occasions – give me a tight grassroots game any day. Maybe some time in the coming months that too will be possible, but I’ll settle for this until then. As long as I don’t have to wait another 164 days.

Published in Football
Sunday, 21 June 2015 20:15

STM into Welsh League after play-off drama

SATURDAY 13th JUNE: Cardiff City Stadium - cool and rainy
PONTLOTTYN 1 STM SPORTS 4 (SWFA Promotion Play-off)
Sixteen hours after leaving the scene of a famous Welsh victory, I'm back at the same venue. But today there won't be 33,000 passionate fans in the stadium, and the players won't be millionaire superstars. For this is a match to decide whether the champions of the South Wales Amateur League (STM Sports of Cardiff) or the Senior League winners (Pontlottyn) will take their place in the Welsh League Third Division next season.

Published in Football

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