Tuesday 31st March 2015.
Tonyrefail Welfare 1-1 Gelli Hibs (Hibernia).
Rhondda & District Football League, Premier Division.
Trebanog Playing Fields, Trebanog.
Attendance: Circa 40.
Attending 100 Welsh football matches in one calendar year as some kind of weird excuse for fun is a silly thing to do. Especially when you’re like me and you get some kind of destructive pleasure from mathematics.
Assuming that no football is played in Wales during the months of May, June and July. I will have to attend 11 games per month during the nine football filled months of the year and hopefully attend just one match during that three month football hibernation period in order to meet this target I’ve so sadly set myself.
I went into the last day of March with 33 live games under my belt this year. To most normal people with regular lives and (splutter) social lives of a sort, that’s a hell of a number. Even some of my friends in work who consider themselves football die-hards and own season tickets at clubs in both the English and Welsh pyramid have only amassed about 6 or 7 live games this year so far.
Using my makeshift calculation I mentioned a few paragraphs back, I’m on target. I needed to attend 33 games by the end of March. I’d started the month a little further back than I wanted to be, but the Ceredigion GroundHop weekend a few weeks back helped me out massively.
I couldn’t resist it. I just couldn’t.
The 31st of March, I caught wind of three games happening this evening within a quarter of an hour’s drive from my front door.
Ton Pentre were playing at home to potential Welsh League Division One champions Caerau (Ely). In the same division Taffs Well were entertaining strugglers Pontardawe Town at Rhiw Dda’r.
But I’d been to both of those grounds in recent weeks, in the case of Ton Pentre, multiple times.
I’d earmarked another match in my phone’s calendar. An intriguing looking Tonyrefail Welfare vs. Gelli Hibs match taking place in the Rhondda & District Premier Division in Trebanog with an earlier kick off time than both of the Welsh League matches. Thus giving me a chance to not only visit a new ground, visit two new teams to me (in the case of Tonyrefail Welfare, at least this year) but also scoot off to Tonypandy straight afterwards for a carvery at the infamously-and-now-possibly regrettably named Lord Tonypandy Pub.
Watching games in the Rhondda always has a nostalgic affect on me. No more so than this evening’s match between Tonyrefail Welfare and Gelli Hibs being played at Trebanog Playing Fields in the Rhondda Valleys.
Unlike previous games I’ve attended this year in the greater Rhondda and surrounding areas, like those of AFC Porth, Ton Pentre and Pontypridd Town, this match was actually played less than a mile from the house I grew up in.
I grew up on Edmondstown Road in Edmondstown in a terraced house in the next village over from Trebanog. A small village with a population of about 600 people. A town with a football pitch, a pub, a postbox, a phone box and little else.
When we were growing up in Edmondstown, not having a proper team in the village (except for a short-lived team aligned with the local chapel that stopped when the local vicar passed away) we’d often play makeshift friendlies every Sunday against other makeshift teams from nearby Penrhiwfer, Williamstown, Tonyrefail and Trebanog.
Those matches would usually be a complete mess. 11-a-side matches with teams made up of two 18 year olds, three sixteen year olds, two fourteen year olds, three twelve year olds and someone’s eight year old cousin – all playing on the same team!
The games would always end 23-12, or some other score that would look on paper at least, to be quite an entertaining rugby score. There would be no referees, no linesmen, no kits and the second halves would usually last an hour, or until it became too dark to continue.
Some Sundays we’d meet up at Penrhiwfer’s pitch, other times we’d meet at Williamstown’s brand new pitch on the Ely Tip, other times we’d play on the Black Diamond pitch in Edmondstown. We couldn’t ever play in Trebanog, simply because there wasn’t a field in the village.
This was rectified about twelve years ago (possibly longer, my memory fails me here) when I’d drive past on my trips back to the Rhondda and noticed a pitch taking shape by the water tanks near the Trebanog/Tonyrefail border. Sadly, far too late for me to ever consider getting the boys back together for one last tournament to finally settle who was Upper Rhondda Champions.
The water tanks are a prominent feature of the Trebanog skyline, a tourist attraction in their own right. I’ve always thought they were water tanks, but never found out for certain. My best friend growing up was a boy named Craig. His dad used to work for Welsh Water around the time we met and he told me he used to have to go in there every few months and swim to the bottom and do maintenance while holding his breath for half an hour at a time.
I’m never sure how much of the story was true, but I haven’t heard anything else about the buildings so I’ll have to assume that story is 100% correct and factual in all of its parts!
Going back to football gor a minute, nowadays, teams of a more organised nature have started using the ground.
The ground is home to village side Trebanog FC, who have made the place their home by installing signage and flags and have done a pretty decent job of making the place a welcoming ground.
Trebanog Playing Fields is a nice little ground for this level of the Welsh pyramid. The pitch certainly benefits from being under lock and key when games aren’t being played. This means that the ground hasn’t suffered any of the vandalism and damage that some grounds at this level can attract.
The facilities are fairly basic, but unlike a lot of grounds at this level, permanent dug outs and a refreshments hut/canteen are present. Being a relatively new ground, the changing room building seemed to be in a pretty good state as well.
Trebanog Playing Field doesn’t have the luxury of floodlights but with the clocks going forward on Sunday, tonight’s match is able to conclude under reasonable natural daylight with a 6pm kick off time.
Admission for tonight’s match was free of charge and being so, it attracted a fair number for the Rhondda & District League. A rough head count was taken and I reckon there were about 40 or so people here taking in tonight’s match.
Tonyrefail Welfare were tonight’s designated home team and not being overly familiar with the Rhondda & District League these days, I’m unsure whether Trebanog Playing Fields is their usual home ground or whether they are using this pitch due to Tyn-y-Bryn Park being unavailable. I stand to be corrected here.
I do recall Tonyrefail Welfare playing at the Welfare Pitch in Coed-Ely in the past, the ground where the side played whilst they were a Welsh League mainstay (their time in the Welsh League came to an end via relegation near the turn of the Millennium), but I also recall a story about a retaining wall falling down at their old home which lead to the eventual abandoment of the ground. Again, I happily stand corrected on all of these points.
Tonyrefail Welfare went into tonight’s match occupying 8th position (in a league of 17 teams). Welfare find themselves in that awkward stage at this point of this season. They sit probably a good thirty points above the bottom of the table (no relegation zone exists as this is the lowest level of the pyamid – Tier 7, for this region) and they are probably a little too far off the pace at the top to be considered title hopefuls.
Gelli Hibs on the other hand find themselves still very much in the mix for the title. They hold a number of games in hand over first and second placed Penygraig United and Trebanog FC respectively. If they manage to win two of their four games in hand going into tonight’s match they should go top of the league. Interestingly, Gelli Hibs go up against Trebanog FC themselves in two days time on the same ground in what could be an absolutely crucial match in determining where the Rhondda & District Premier Division title ends up going this season.
If Gelli Hibs were the favourites going into the match, Tonyrefail Welfare certainly looked like a side determined to undermine the bookmakers among us. Welfare came out of the blocks quickly and take a lead within 60 seconds of the kick off.
Striker Kris Saunders, a player who offered the most threat up front for Welfare showed his poaching instinct when he quickly capitalised on a misplaced defensive back pass meant for the Hibs goalkeeper. Saunders made no mistake with the ball at his feet and with a sense of calm slotted the ball around the ensuing Hibs keeper from the edge of the box to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Although Tonyrefail Welfare started the better of the two sides, Gelli Hibs weren’t without their chances and were unlucky not to equalise a few minutes later through their No.4 who hit the post from around the penalty spot.
Kris Saunders, who by this point was proving himself to be quite the thorn in Hibs side was presented with a good opportunity to re-take the lead for his side on 17 minutes in a one-on-one situation. Unfortunately for Saunders, he was only able to put his shot well wide of the post.
Trebanog Playing Field’s surface, although in quite good condition considering the amount of heavy rain that has fallen in the Valleys over the last 48 hours or so, admittedly was cutting up as the match progressed, with large amounts of bobbles and bumps down the centre of the park making it difficult for creative midfielders to command the game..
After about twenty minutes Gelli Hibs started to play some nice passing football, taking advantage of the vast space they were being afforded down the right wing. One such piece of play involved several good passes before an excellent cross was sent into the box. Gelli’s No.9 got his head on the end of the cross but could only watch on in anger and frustration as he saw his header beat the goalkeeper but go out for a corner after striking the cross bar.
Things looked a little painful for Gelli’s No.4 halfway through the first half as he seemed to collapse in a tackle and fall to the ground awkwardly. The player looked to be in visible distress for a couple of minutes. The referee maintained he saw nothing wrong with the challenge so the player’s complaints were met with strong resistance.
Fortunately after a few minutes of treatment and a few cursory jogs up and down the touchline, Gelli’s No.4 was able to continue, although he did run around gingerly for the next ten minutes or so.
Gelli’s No.9, who hit the bar only ten minutes earlier, was unlucky not to level for Hibs as he found himself looking down on the goalkeeper alone. His shot beat the goalkeeper, but frustratingly for Hibs, it also beat the post by a yard or so.
The Hibs must have been wondering at this point what more they could do to level the scores in this match. With five minutes to go before half time, Jason Davies picked up a cross fired into the box and dispatched a lovely shot that went mere inches over the bar.
At half time I took a walk around the ground, I debated grabbing a coffee as is the tradition at these games but a throbbing headache that had been present all day (despite massive doses of both Paracetamol and Ibuprofen) stopped me from doing so.
I watched the second half from the other side of the pitch, near to the area adopted by a fairly large and vocal cohort of Tonyrefail Welfare fans.
Within three minutes of the action restarting these fans were to find their hearts in their mouths as Gelli Hibs were awarded a penalty for a handball in the box.
Jason Davies bravely stepped up to the spot. The wind, which by now was starting to make the game a little difficult for both sides, played havoc whilst he tried to place the ball on the penalty spot, which in turn increased the pressure on the Hibs striker.
Facing up the Tonyrefail fans behind the goal post. Davies clinically dispatched the ball into the bottom left corner of the goal. The Hibs goalkeeper guessed the right way, but such was the accuracy of the penalty it would have been quite the save if he had managed to get to it.
Davies wheeled away from the box, mobbed by his team mates and delivering a “shush” celebration to the Welfare fans behind the goal who had urged him to send his penalty into the farmer’s field behind the pitch.
If the Tonyrefail fans were frustrated at the awarding of the first penalty, they found themselves further incensed two minutes later when Tudor Jones, refereeing tonight’s game, pointed to the spot for the second time. Jones, awarding a second penalty to Gelli for what looked like a foul just inside the box.
Davies bravely stepped up again. The Welfare fans behind the goal making even more an effort to put the striker off his step. Davies chose the other side of the goal this time around. Unfortunately for Davies, his shot lacked the same pace his previous one did and the Welfare keeper was able to get enough contact with the ball to stop the penalty.
A minute later, as if some of the Tonyrefail Welfare fans weren’t already close to suffering heart attacks, Welfare found themselves reduced to ten men as Tonyrefail’s No.8 was sent off for a second bookable offence.
In what rounded off a crazy couple of minutes for Tonyrefail Welfare, manager Jamie Hallett was sent to the stands for foul language. With no stands to speak of at Trebanog Playing Fields, Hallett was asked to vacate the ground altogether and had to make do with a restricted view through the surrounding fences.
Was the referee justified in sending Hallett off? It’s up for debate. I can’t be sure of what Hallett said exactly, but to me it sounded like “That’s not fucking offside”. Some people will say that could be described as swearing at a referee, some will say it doesn’t constitute anything like that. Likewise, I’ve heard many players in matches shout “That was a fucking foul ref” or “Fucking book him Ref” with no knock on action. So I’m not sure, it’s a discussion point for sure.
Tonyrefail Welfare, with a man less on the pitch and a man less in the dugout, found themselves coming under increasing pressure in the closing twenty minutes from a Gelli Hibs side who perhaps picked up the scene of blood.
Gelli’s best chance to take the lead came with nineteen minutes of the match left to play. Hibs No.7 connected with a well taken corner and forced the Welfare goalkeeper to pull off a phenomenal save and just about tip the ball over the bar.
Minutes later, the Tonyrefail Welfare crowd found themselves frustrated and angry as the Gelli Hibs goalkeeper looked to handle the ball just outside the box. Tudor Jones, rightly booked the keeper and awarded an indirect free kick which nothing came of.
Going into stoppage time, Gelli Hibs surely though they had won all three points with the last kick of the game as their No.8 beat two men before dispatching a strong pass across the face of goal. Gelli’s No.10 stretched as far as he could but could only come agonisingly close to connecting with the ball as it went out for a goal kick.
Seconds later Tudor Jones blew the full time whistle to bring what was a very entertaining match to a close as both sides had to settle for a point in what was an intriguing and keenly fought out battle.
My Man of the Match: Gelli’s Jason Davies. Davies will feel disappointed he couldn’t convert his second penalty and give his side all three points. This penalty miss however was only a small blot on what was a quite commanding and convincing performance.