Saturday, 8 December 2018

YNYSDDU WELFARE (Pontllanfraith 3G)


When the draw for the third round of the Welsh Cup was made there were a few tasty looking ties to choose from but the lure of the lowest ranked team left in the competition against Premier League opposition was, in the words of the late Robert Palmer, simply irresistible.

Ynysddu Welfare play in the Gwent County League (which sits at step 5 in the south of Wales) and today they were hosting one of Wales oldest clubs, Cefn Druids.

Indeed this was the first time a (step 5) Gwent County League club had ever reached the third round of the Welsh Cup.

The first football club founded in the village, Ynysddu Albion, were formed in 1905, 33 years after The Ancients of Cefn Druids. The club changed its name to Ynysddu Crusaders in 1915 before being disbanded in 1939 at the outbreak of the second world war.

After the war Ynysddu Welfare were created after the merger of two ‘wartime’ clubs, Ynysddu Celtic and Cwmfelinfach Rangers and the club joined the South Wales Amateur Football League.

The club was a member of the South Wales Amateur League for 65 years before switching to the Gwent County League in 2012. The club were now back as Ynysddu Crusaders after another merger in 2008 but in 2013, after winning the Gwent County League division three at the first attempt, the club reverted back to the name Ynysddu Welfare. This year the club won the division two title and were promoted to the top division of the Gwent County League.

The day began with a train from North Wales to South Wales courtesy of the new Transport for Wales franchise. I thought Arriva were rubbish but all my experiences of this new company have so far been poor but today everything went smoothly and my mate and I were in Newport at the stated arrival time. Breakfast was taken at one of the local 'spoons (Queens Hotel) before calling into the simply wonderful Tiny Rebel tap for a couple of scoops.

The 151 bus went from the centre of town to the Pontllanfraith leisure centre where Ynysddu play their home games. There were plenty of other groundhoppers present in the ground, clearly they had the same thoughts as us!

Pontllanfraith is a couple of miles north of Ynysddu Village and is actually part of Blackwood (famously the home of the legendary Manic Street Preachers). The club set up base here in 2016 after a somewhat nomadic existence playing on various local grounds and pitches.

However recent events could see the club on move once again in the next 18 months. Caerphilly council have announced plans to close the Pontllanfraith leisure centre and bulldoze the site. There are objections to the plans and there is a campaign to try and save the facility. Whether this is successful remains to be seen. By all accounts Ynysddu will be based here until at least the end of 2019/20 season.

Save our leisure centres!

Ynysddu had beaten higher ranked opposition in the form of Croesyceilog, Taffs Well and Monmouth Town to reach the third round but today was just a step too far.

After a dominant start, The Ancients took the lead after 10 minutes when Dean Rittenberg headed home a Naim Arsan cross. An Arsan cross-shot doubled Cefn Druids advantage after 32 minutes as the visitors were in complete and utter control of the game.

Despite being two goals behind though, Ynysddu were still in the tie and when Jamie Russell bundled home after 53 minutes to half the deficit, it was game on. Druids were still the more potent attackers but at least Ynysddu were now getting out of their own half.

Unfortunately for the hosts a red card for Lewis Barnett after 83 minutes extinguished any hopes of a comeback and, as the game entered its final stages, Jordan Evans smashed an effort against the crossbar before he finally scored the Druids third with a heavily deflected free-kick in the final moments.

It was not to be for Ynysddu this afternoon but they certainly did themselves and the Gwent County League proud. Uppaddu's!!

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

ELBASAN ARENA (Albania vs Wales)

ATTENDANCE: 3,000 (est)

Mr Grimsdale! Mr Grimsdale!

For my final oversees trip of 2018 I found myself bound for The Balkans, Albania being my destination.

The only well  known fact about Albania, that I was aware of, is that Norman Wisdom was a comedy god there. Sir Norman's were the only Western films that were allowed to be shown during the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha who considered proletarian Norman's ultimately victorious struggles against capitalism, personified by Mr Grimsdale, as a Communist parable on the class war. He was made an honorary citizen of Tirana in 1995.

I am happy to report that despite my reputation for falling over when under the influence, just for once I did no inept Norman Wisdom impression by tripping over flat on my face, though the same couldn't be said for a few fans seen drinking in the town!

Joking aside, there is more than Sir Norman to Albania and I would certainly recommend a visit. Although my visit was brief I thought Tirana was brilliant. It is a very cheap country to visit. I will return. It was Christmas fair time in the main square with the stalls offering local beer around 80p and a very good food for a couple of quid. What more could you ask for?

The journeys both there and back were eventful to say the least. The flights from Manchester to Tirana and vice versa were both via Milan. The times were altered on both trips resulting in a tight connection going to Tirana, which was made with just minutes to spare, and a missed connection in Milan due to our flight time from Tirana being changed from 0600 to 1645. This led to a reluctant overnight stay in Italy and extra expense to a trip which up until that point had been very reasonable. The pizza in the restaurant near to the hotel was fantastic though! However I digress...

Tonight was all all about watching Wales play Albania. The game was being played in Elbasan, which is about 25 miles from Tirana and is the fourth largest city in Albania. The city is famous for it boulevard and castle ruins. The city is located where the ancient city of Skampini once stood and is built on the ruins of the Roman and Byzantine fortifications by the sovereign Ottoman Mehmet II, which gave the city the name of Eli-Bashan which translates as “I put the hand”.

Coaches were organised to transport fans for the hour trip from Tirana to Elbasan. The journey involved going up some mountainous roads. Safe to say I wouldn't have fancied driving it as parts of the route were at bit tight to say the least.

The Elbasan Arena, a short walk up the boulevard from the castle, was opened in 1967 and is the home Albanian first division side KF Elbasani. The ground was originally named after famous the player Ruzhdi Bizhuta.

The ground is currently one of two UEFA standard stadiums in the country (the other being in Shkodër) and was extensively refurbished in 2014 to meet UEFA criteria. Elbasan was selected for the venue of national stadium whilst the Qemal Stafa stadium in Tirana is undergoing major redevelopment. There was no cover at the ground, apart from one stand, and luckily after a day of heavy the rain it stopped for the duration of the game. Nonetheless a local entrepreneur did make a few quid selling plastic ponchos to the Welsh supporters! 

The stadium has a capacity of 12,800 but it was by no means full tonight. About 1,900 had travelled from the Principality and there were certainly more away fans than home fans. The home fans apparently disapprove of manager Christian Panucci and they were boycotting the game in protest. They want his predecessor, the coach who led them to Euro 2016, Gianni De Biasi back. There were even rumours that Panucci had been sacked earlier in the day.

Wales fans (pictured above) and the
Albanian ultra's (pictured below).

The game was poor from a Welsh point of view as it was a struggle against a stubborn home side that had lost 4-0 to Scotland 72 hours previously.

I know these days there a very few whipping boys, as most teams are well drilled, but a 1-0 defeat to Albania was a tad embarrassing. Most neutrals agree though that Wales were robbed through a penalty that was given and one which wasn't. Derby County loanee Harry Wilson was adjudged, harshly in my opinion, to have fouled Taulant Xhaka, who went down very easily, to concede a 58th minute penalty, which was converted by Bekim Balaj. Wilson himself was later fouled in the box but the referee from Macedonia waved away the appeals.  

Wales should have been out of sight in the first half but, despite dominating the game, a combination of poor finishing and poor decision making in the final third proved Wales downfall as the chances went begging. Not even the second half introduction of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey could lift the team and, listening to some comments of some supporters on the bus back to Tirana, Ryan Giggs' honeymoon period is probably over.

To end on a happier note, Welsh football history was made in this game as Chris Gunter made his 93rd appearance for his country to overtake the legendary Neville Southall as Wales most capped player. Congratulations Gunts!

It was back to the bar to sink a few more beers and
reflect on another enjoyable trip abroad,
despite the result...
...and at least the beer was very cheap!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

ROYSTON TOWN (Garden Walk)


As I was on my way south to that there London for a Sunday trip to The Bridge, I was looking for something suitable en-route for my Saturday football fix.

I will be absolutely honest and say my first choice was the Isthmian League game between Corinthian- Casuals and Tonbridge Angels but this game was postponed as the former were knocked out of FA Trophy, whilst the latter went through.

FA Trophy? My attention was now drawn to this competition and the all Southern League tie between Royston Town and Thame United caught my eye, so it was to Hertfordshire I headed.

The journey down took longer than expected so there was just about time for a brief walk up the High Street and a quick drink in the local 'spoons before making the short walk to the ground.

Royston Town are the second oldest club in the county (after Hitchin Town) having been founded in 1875. The club have played their home games at Garden Walk since 1932. The ground is hemmed in with houses surrounding the ground on three sides and a cemetery on the other.

The club have made good use of the available space and the ground has rural feel to it. There is a large seated stand alongside one side of the pitch and a wooden 'decking' covered stand in one corner of the ground. There are two of the ubiquitous arena stands, one in the other corner and one behind the goal. There is also an overhang from the clubhouse, where the majority of home fans stood during the game.

Royston Town are currently members of the Southern League Premier Division Central, which is the highest level the club has played at in its history. The club gained promotion to the Southern League (as Champions) in 2012 after nearly 20 years in the Spartan South Midlands League. They won the first division title in 2017 to gain promotion to step 3 of the pyramid. The club are currently in third place in the table and their forthcoming clash against league leaders Kettering Town was the talk of the terrace.

It was cool and overcast as I arrived at the ground but by the time the game kicked off the weather was appalling. It absolutely bucketed down but the conditions made the pitch slick and wet, which always makes for an entertaining game in my humble opinion. Thame opened the scoring after 12 minutes when a fine move and cross was finished off by Lynton Goss.

Thame had a glorious chance to double their lead after 15 minutes when Liam Tack broke clear with only the keeper to beat but his attempted chip was easily gathered by Joe Welch in the Royston goal. Almost straight away The Crows went up the other end and former Leyton Orient striker David Mooney fired home to level things up.

Royston were now moving the ball around well and before half time some good passing football created the openings for Mooney to complete his hat-trick (35 & 41).

Thame started the second half brightly but were soon 4-1 down after 55 minutes when Jamie Essex deflected the ball into his own net.

Royston squandered chances to further extend their lead but did eventually score a fifth, and arguably the goal of the game, when Spyros Mentis (79) turned and volleyed the ball into the top corner from the corner of the box. Game over?

Well not quite. In the last 10 minutes, seemingly with nothing to lose, Thame went for it and got a goal back through Tack after 81 minutes. They also hit the post and missed two great chances as the ball pinged around the box. The Royston defenders were throwing their bodies on the line to block the shots.

In the end though it was Royston who deservedly went through to the third round and they will now have another home tie, this time against Needham Market.