Saturday 7th March 2015 10.15am.
Dewi Stars 6-1 St. Davids University College (SDUC)
Costcutter Ceredigion League Division Two.
Llandewi Playing Fields, Llandewi-Brefi.
I’d been looking forward to the Ceredigion Groundhop for weeks. I’d set the alarm nice and early so I could get up to Mid-Wales in good time for the first game, the 67 miles from my home in Pontypridd to Llandewi-Brefi would take me approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, taking in a fair chunk of the A470.
In my laziness I’d planned to take my wife’s car along for the weekend, due mainly down to the fact it has a working cigarette lighter and therefore allows me to use a Sat Nav system. Ironically, my Fiesta which is a mighty ten years newer than my wife’s car comes complete with a cigarette lighter that blows the fuse every time it is used. The fuses for this car aren’t your standard blade fuses, they are Ford specific, so ordering them in is a nightmare to say the least. Due to this, I’ve survived in my Fiesta for the last two years without satellite navigation.
Imagine my horror when I attempted to turn over my wife’s car only to met with the sound of nothing. Eternal silence, Ignition emptiness, so to speak. My wife rarely uses the car and it has sat on the road outside our house motionless since I took it up to AFC Porth six weeks ago, the battery is dead. I haven’t got time to mess around with jumper cables, so I have to ditch the original plan.
So I hop back into my Fiesta and make a shallow attempt to use the basic Sat Nav feature on my works mobile phone (I deliberately tried to keep my personal mobile free, as my Samsung S4 uses about 50% of it’s battery power in 15 minutes when being used for navigation, and I need it to keep in touch with my wife back home and phone the RAC if things ever went wrong!).
The drive up the A470 is quiet and pleasant at this time of morning, I make good time up to Nantddu but trouble lurks just ahead. Close to the A4509 slip just before the reservoir a lone man blocks the road with a lorry and a diversion sign. There’s been a multi-vehicle accident overnight and the road is closed for ongoing police investigations.
This changes things somewhat, at that point I probably had another 40 miles to go with 1 hour and 30 minutes to do them in. My makeshift Sat Nav now suggested driving all of the way back to Cardiff (Best part of 35 miles) and making my way down to Carmarthen on the M4 and working my way up the coastal A487 (Best part of 100 miles). I knew this wasn’t the best way to do things, so I referred back to the Sat Nav in my head, which told me to take the A4059 to the Rhigos roundabout before joining up with the A465 down to Neath and taking the M4 to Carmarthen and then taking the A485 up towards Llandewi-Brefi.
After about fifteen minutes of “Make a U-Turn! Make a U-Turn!” the Sat Nav and I finally stopped the quarreling and decided to work together. The first match of the Groundhop had a very early kick off time of 10.15am, which prior to my two stumbling blocks earlier looked like a leisurely easy journey. At 9am, my phone was telling me I was a mere 1 hour and 45 minutes away! Something had to give and I would need a golden run to ensure getting to the small village of Llandewi-Brefi in time for the 10.15am kick off.
I drove at a very safe 29mph on local roads, 59mph on single carriageways and 69mph on the M4 and all dual carriageways along the whole route* (*Creative license) and arrived in the village of Llandewi-Brefi a mere 66 minutes later at 10.06am.
The village of Llandewi-Brefi has had a bit of high profile in the past decade, due to a character from 2000’s comedy show ‘Little Britain’ featuring a fictional character living in the village. There were reports in the news at the time that ne’er do wells were visiting the area for the sole purpose of stealing road signs as souvenirs, but I’m unsure how much of that is a myth.
After parking in the village and walking my way up towards the ground it was clear to see that the visit of the Groundhoppers to today’s match was a bit of an event in the village, which was lovely to see. There were several cake and delicacy stalls in the village, flanking the streets as you made the short uphill walk towards the ground. Unfortunately, I was a little too concerned with getting into the match on time to have a proper look.
I didn’t purchase a weekend ticket for the games as I wasn’t sure until a couple of days beforehand whether I’d be able to make it or not due to work commitments. So I was going to be attending all matches buying my way into each game at the gate. I handed over my £3 admission fee and a further £1 for a well made match day programme.
The club, and as I would later discover, all clubs, have put in a fair bit of effort with their match day programme offerings for the day. Clubs in this league typically do not produce match day programmes for league matches, it isn’t a requirement of membership in the Ceredigion League, unlike the Welsh League (Rule 16), the clubs on this occasion only producing them due to the increased numbers visiting games this weekend.
The first thing that strikes you about Dewi Star’s ground, Llandewi Playing Fields is the charming but very noticeable slope on the pitch. The ground is situated on a hill and one set of goalposts sits probably about 15ft higher than the other set of goalposts down the other end. It’s a noticeable slant to be fair and as you look around at other groundhoppers on their first visit to the ground it’s clear to see everyone is trying to make some sense of the angles.
The weather is glorious for an early March morning, it’s not sunbathing weather by any means, but it’s always nice to watch a football match without being drowned.
Llandewi Playing Fields is a basic and small ground. A small stand, which could probably hold 50 or so spectactors comfortably lines one touchline. It also hosts a community centre-style building which today houses several refreshment stands, a gentleman selling copies of ‘Welsh Football’ magazine, which I promise myself I’ll buy a copy of, before the weekend ends and houses the toilet facilities.
I come to realise pretty quickly during the opening stages of the match that I am a fairly amateur ground hopper to say the least. Usually when I turn up at Welsh League games with my Nikon D3000 I get curious gazes from onlookers suggesting “Why, who the hell is that chap with that professional camera!?” Today there is an attendance of 174, which means there approximately somewhere in the region of 160 better cameras than mine being used.
I’m usually quite lackadaisical with my note taking. I’ll typically take down noteworthy incidents in a match by just using my mobile phone’s memo application and writing something like “5 – PONTY NO. 7, BEAST SHOT FROM EDGE. GD SAVE”. Many of my colleagues here today have clipboards, log books and even note down the time and details of every single substitution. One of my groundhopping peers tells me in the opening moments “That guy over there [points to a generic elderly Welsh man], he used to be fixtures secretary for the league!”. I am truly in at the deep end here.
The referee starts the match at 10.15 precise and by doing so, he kicks off a weekend filled with football tourism. Dewi Stars, shooting up the slope in the first half start off very brightly, having the better of initial exchanges. They come closest on 10 minutes with a wasted opportunity by Ryan Hurrell who fires the ball over the bar from the edge of the box.
Dewi Stars take the lead after 15 mins after a lovely volley from Steffan Owens from just outside the box. Owens, captaining the side.
The reds are denied what looked a penalty a few minutes later as Robert Jones goes down under the challenge of a SDUC defender. The referee disagrees with me and shouts at Jones, telling him to get up.
Steffan Owens would get his second as he latched on to a cross from Marc Jones and clinically slotted the ball around Reynolds in the SDUC goal.
Being two goals up, Dewi Stars really started to turn the screw on their opponents and went on to all but wrap up the three points in the first half. On the half hour, Owens popped up again to find the back of the net via the goalpost to claim his hat-trick.
I’m heartened to hear phrases from my youth bellowed between members of the Dewi Stars team. Words that I thought had long since vacated my memory. Words such as ‘Pel Sgwarae!’, ‘Allan!’, ‘Gwasgfa’ and ‘Pasio!’, which translate into English as ‘Square Ball!’, ‘Out!’, ‘Squeeze!’ and ‘Pass!’. I went to a sort of rural (as in the school was in the Valleys, far from the bright city lights of Cardiff) English-medium school, but we’d often play teams from less rural areas in the city who would have no grasp at all on the Welsh language, so we’d issue instructions to each other in Welsh, in a semi-quasi attempt at underhand tactics and to conceal our plans for the next phase of play.
Eight minutes before half time, the SDUC defence were caught sleeping on the job when a lovely cross was delivered into the box by Dewi Stars midfielder Robert Jones who found the hat-trick hero Steffan Jones unmarked in the box. Jones made no mistake and put his side 4-0 up with his fourth goal.
SDUC gave themselves a glimmer of hope seconds before the end of the half with a good individual goal from Kennedy, who picked the ball up from 20 yards out and forced a powerful shot through the box giving the goalkeeper little chance.
The sides went in at half time with Dewi Stars holding a commanding 4-1 lead.
Unlike in the Welsh League that I’ve become accustomed to, both teams remain on the pitch during the half time interval, choosing not to retire to the changing rooms during the break. I actually find myself asking whether there are changing rooms, as I haven’t seen any on my walks around the ground and when I arrived the players were already in position on the pitch.
Whilst the players relax for a moment, I make my way over to a makeshift market stall over by the car park where a guy is trading his wares and selling a massive collection of club pin badges. To my delight, he’s got a specific table for Welsh clubs arranged alphabetically. I struggle to contain my excitement at the size of some of the clubs badges he has for sale, Tonyrefail Welfare for one! I find a pin badge for my local and now adopted team Pontypridd Town and pay the man £3 before someone else nabs my newly found prized possession.
Dewi Stars started the second half shooting down the slope, so you would think they would power on in the second half, perhaps racking up some more goals to improve the goal difference situation, should it be needed come the end of the season.
Despite attacking the slope SDUC came out for the second half a renewed team, looking nothing like the side that sleep walked their way to a 4-0 deficit. They offered far more defensive organisation in the second half and were unlucky on occasions not to reduce the Dewi Stars lead.
Dewi Stars made it 5-1 with a quarter of an hour of the match left, after a well worked corner was headed on by William Williams and headed into the back of the net by Robert Jones.
Sometimes you see things this far down the football pyramid that you’d never see at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge for instance, and these are some of the very things that make me love and cherish games at this level. One of these occasions occurs on 82 minutes when a wayward shot from a Dewi Stars striker makes its way into a garden overlooking the ground. A group of mischievous kids playing in the garden initially refused to give the ball back to allow play to continue, only throwing it back when the SDUC goalkeeper Reynolds asks nicely.
Dewi Stars wrapped up the scoring in the match with a lovely goal from Gethin Thomas who fires in low from about 25 yards out to make the score 6-1.
Minutes later the referee blows the final whistle and brings this very entertaining introduction to the Ceredigion League to a finish. Dewi Stars have put on a brilliant event, not only on the pitch but have also made every single person present for this morning’s Groundhop opener feel more than welcome. I walk back down into the village with several others who have parked near me. Everyone relays nothing but praise for this small Mid-Wales club who aside from one sloppy goal, have done everything perfectly this morning.
I get back in my car, set my Sat Nav to look for Felinfach and head on the road for my next stop.
My Man of the Match: Steffan Owen. You simply don’t score 4 goals in a match and not win Man of the Match.