Wednesday 29th April 2015.
Gelli Hibs 4-2 Trebanog FC.
Lucania Cup Final (Rhondda Cup Final)
Dinas Porth, Porth.
Attendance: Circa 400.
Since I last took in a game in the Rhondda & District League a few weeks ago, Gelli Hibs held their nerve and went on to win the league on the final day of their season with a tense and nervy 2-1 victory over Maindy Conservative at King George Running Track in Clydach Vale.
Eventual runners-up Trebanog FC ran their Upper Rhondda rivals all the way, finishing just three points behind them with a slightly higher goal difference after thrashing Tonyrefail on their last day of the season.
The difference between the sides at the end of the season? Probably Gelli Hib’s impressive 3-1 victory over Trebanog in the title run-in that marked the first point in the season where Gelli Hibs started to look like champions elect and you could almost see the trophy being pulled away from Trebanog’s fingers on that night.
So it was fitting that the Rhondda & District League’s finale, The Lucania Cup Final, would be played out between the sides that finished as champions and runners-up in the league and to add further juice to the fixture, Trebanog FC were the reigning Lucania Cup holders themselves.
There could be no two better sides in play out tonight’s Lucania Cup Final than these two, which made for a neutral like me, a potentially brilliant match.
Both sides faced very tricky ties in their respective semi-finals in February. Gelli Hibs played out an ‘entertaining for the neutrals’ 6-4 victory against Penyrenglyn whilst Trebanog disposed of last year’s league champions Penygraig United in a tight 1-0 win at Ely Tip.
The final took place at Dinas Park, home ground of AFC Porth, who have this season just been relegated from Welsh League Division One. Dinas Park is one of the bigger grounds in the Rhondda and meets Welsh League requirements, so is a fine choice of neutral venue for tonight’s match.
It’s clear that tonight’s match had grabbed the attention of a lot of people in the Rhondda. There were no official attendances announced, but I would estimate that there were about 400 people here tonight. There is only one stand at Dinas Park, which was tightly packed with Trebanog supporters. Three sides of the pitch were surrounded with supporters about two or three deep in places such was the excitement surrounding tonight’s match.
The assembled crowd almost self-segregated themselves in the ground, which made for a brilliant atmosphere. Trebanog supporters predominantly located themselves on the grandstand side of the pitch, whilst their rival supporters pitched themselves on the opposite side of the pitch on a series of grass bankings.
Admission for tonight’s cup final was £2, which stumped a few people – not for the price (which was excellent value in the scale of things), simply because most supporters of these teams are used to matches being free of charge and the entrance fee wasn’t really publicized – so I caught sight of many a supporter turning around at the gate, hot footing it to the cashpoint in the nearby village of Penygraig before returning ten minutes later with money at hand.
I arrived at the match just in time to take up my place (in the first half I sat on Gelli Hibs side of the ground) and take in tonight’s game.
I was pleased to find that the match was being officiated by Colin Williams, a referee I’d seen oversee recent matches at Tonyrefail and Blaenrhondda. I realise how sad it is when you start to recognise individual referees and even rate their performances as if they were players or something, but Colin is an excellent referee, one of the best if not the best I’ve seen this year. He’s got a calm head on his shoulders and his aim always seems to be to educate and inform players rather than being a ‘card-happy’ referee.
He was ably assisted by John Clements and Gavin Smart on the touchlines. Gavin is another referee I’d recognised from previous matches, having watched him officiate two previous games at Ynyshir Oval involving AFC Trebanog and Gelli Hibs. He recognised me about ten minutes into the game when he quipped “Here again are you?” in a paused moment in the match. I’m glad he asked first, as I spent the first ten minutes of the game wondering where I’d seen him referee before, or whether I knew him from somewhere else.
The match started out, as most cup finals do, in a very tense manner with both sides spending the first ten minutes trying to gauge an idea of how their opponents would tactically line up. A couple of strong tackles were handed out by both sides, nothing nasty, just a few ‘feelers’ put out there to show the opposition that they have a game on their hands. These naturally liven up the crowd and both sets of supporters start off a bit of a chanting match, trading chants for the majority of the first half.
The first real chance of the game fell to Trebanog, attacking the changing room end of the pitch, after 13 minutes. Trebanog’s No.2 picked up the ball just outside of the box in a good position but was a little too keen to get a shot away and his effort failed to trouble the Gelli keeper, but showed some intent.
Gelli were unlucky to need to make an early change midway through the first half when their No.3 seemed to be struggling with a calf strain. He laboured with the injury for about five minutes before resigning to having to watch the rest of the match from the bench.
Almost immediately after the substitution Trebanog were awarded a free kick in a dangerous area of the pitch, slightly right of the goal about 25 yards out.
After a bit of deliberation, Trebanog’s No.3 stepped forward and dispatched a phenomenal free kick deftly into the top left corner of the goal leaving the Gelli Hibs goalkeeper helpless, despite an acrobatic effort to stop the shot. The joy on the Trebanog players faces was clear to see as they mobbed the goalscorer. The noise being emitted from the stand housing a large portion of the Trebanog support was huge.
This goal also happened to be the 200th goal I’ve seen this year on my Welsh football adventures and what a goal it was to mark such a milestone.
What followed was a ten minute spell in which Trebanog could have sealed their victory. They came agonizingly close to doubling their lead five minutes later when a well worked set piece lead to Trebanog’s No.10 heading just wide from 10 yards.
Trebanog picked up another free kick in almost the exact same area as their earlier free kick that yielded them their first goal. Electing not to repeat his shot, No.3 placed a beautiful cross onto the head of No.10 who headed home from 6 yards to the delight of the Trebanog following.
The joy was cut short as Colin Williams had already blown his whistle before the headed effort was dispatched into the net. A Trebanog player had been doing his laces up in a position that he felt was obstructing a couple of Gelli Hibs players (I believe so, anyway. I’m far from being a referee!) and ordered a re-take of the original free kick.
Sometimes when you watch matches you can pinpoint the exact moment when a game turns around and changes completely. This disallowed goal would be that very moment, as from this point – almost as if it shocked Gelli Hibs into life, they stepped up and took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Almost immediately following the disallowed goal, Gelli Hibs got the ball down the channel to tricky winger Josh Harding, who I’ve raved about in previous blogs as being quite a player. Harding would go on to be a constant thorn in the side for the Trebanog defence.
Harding’s run lead to the ball falling to one of his colleagues just outside the box who saw Gelli’s Jason Davies in a great position about 12 yards from goal. He laid the ball across to his feet and Davies made no mistake and leveled affairs for his side.
The player ran over to celebrate with his manager and substitutes and it was clear to see just how much the goal meant to them. It was clear to see how much it meant to the Gelli supporters as well, who let out an almighty roar when the goal went in and had got hold of some orange flares (the pyro type, not the disco type!), which only added to the cup final atmosphere.
The same player was unlucky not to send his side in at half time with the lead when he got his head on the end of a well taken free kick, his effort troubled the Trebanog goalkeeper but eventually went just wide.
At half time I walked over to the Trebanog supporters side of the pitch, near the refreshments hut, which doing a roaring trade in teas, coffees and hot dogs and the queue at one point must have been about 50 people deep.
Talk amongst some of the assembled Trebanog support around me was that there was a definite need to score an early second half goal to regain the lead or the powerful Gelli side would go on to dominate and possibly win the game by a big margin.
Straight from the kick off, Gelli’s goalkeeper was tested with a powerful volley from the edge of box by Trebanog’s No.9. The effort was well saved.
Gelli Hibs deservedly took the lead on 47 minutes when a well worked piece of play by their midfield resulted in Josh Harding running at his full back marker at pace. He hit what looked like a volleyed cross into the box but the cross actually turned out to be a wicked shot that caught the Trebanog goalkeeper off guard and looped over his head.
Was it meant to be a shot? Only Harding himself would know, but I very much doubt he cared as his team mates mobbed him for giving his side the lead in this cup final.
The Gelli supporters started making even more noise at this point, perhaps aware that now was as good a chance as any for them to seal a prestigious league and cup double and that they were looking by far the more likely of the two sides to win the match. The orange flares were once again well alight.
People debate flares. I suppose they’re one of the marmite factors of modern day football. When you look at some of the Turkish and German games where flares are a regular mainstay of the games, it’s hard not to at least love the visual effect of flares in the crowd.
I understand there is an inherent risk with them. They can smell bad, they can disrupt the game and they can often cause fear amongst some spectators.
I also don’t believe they’re as big a risk as some people make out. I stand to be corrected on whether they cause any fire risk and they don’t present the same pyrotechnic/explosive effect that fireworks offer.
Having said all of this, standing in Dinas Park just a couple of miles from where I lived most of my life, on a field I had played on as a kid hundreds of times watching two brilliant sides play out an entertaining cup final, whilst supporters lit flares and traded chants for most of the game, was a truly amazing thing to experience and something I won’t forget in a hurry.
Gelli made their dominance count and arguably wrapped up the game four minutes later when they counter attacked at pace and Jason Davies skilfully rounded the Trebanog goalkeeper and slotted the ball home into an empty net to give his side a 3-1 lead.
As a final throw of the dice Trebanog made a bold move in taking their No.10 off who up until now had looked quite lively, so I was unsure whether he had picked up a knock. He was replaced by Anthony Hares, who had impressed me on previous showings.
Hares made an almost immediate impact when he found himself in an advanced position and rounded the Gelli goalkeeper but found himself in such a tight angle that he was unable to get his shot on target.
From here on in, Gelli Hibs always looked calm and in control of affairs and played some lovely passing football across the width of the pitch, building up slowly from the back.
If Gelli didn’t make certain of the victory with their third goal, they certainly did when they went on to score a fourth goal with a quarter of an hour of the match left.
The Trebanog goalkeeper found himself on the edge of the box with the ball at his feet, a misskick at the worst possible moment gifted the ball to Garin Hughes, who unselfishly passed the ball to his colleague No.7, who with an open goal in front of him smashed the ball home to give his side a three goal cushion and send the Gelli bench and supporters into delirium.
Trebanog, now facing defeat firmly in the face, pushed men forward in large numbers and were rewarded two minutes later when one of their strikers was taken down just inside the box. Colin Williams pointed directly to the spot and gave Trebanog a brief glimmer of hope of what would have been quite a momentous comeback.
Trebanog’s No.9 bravely stepped forward to take the penalty and held his nerve, firing the ball powerfully down the middle of the goal. The Gelli keeper dived to his right and got close to the shot with his leg, but was unable to stop Trebanog from reducing the deficit.
Trebanog pushed forward in numbers for the rest of the game and Gelli Hibs, to be fair to them, defended resolutely and always looked to their pacey wingers for a quick outlet on a counter attack. Gelli were unfortunate not to add to their four goals through a couple of such attacks.
Trebanog’s final chance came by way of a long range speculative effort from No.12 who hit a powerful shot from about 30 yards towards goal, unfortunately for Trebanog his effort was always curling wide and presented the goalkeeper no threat.
Tempers flared a little and frustration and impatience showed themselves a little in the closing minutes when a coming together between a Trebanog and a Gelli player resulted in a bit of pushing and shoving, nothing sinister though as both teams separated their players in a few seconds.
Colin Williams seemed to give both players a yellow card for the part in the incident.
I missed a key part of the action as I was busy looking at a new flare some of the Gelli Hibs supporters had let off on one of the bankings. My attention was drawn back to the game when I heard a sizable portion of the Trebanog support chanting “Cheerio! Cheerio! Cheerio!”. I again looked up to the Gelli supporters, assuming that some of them were leaving the ground early.
I then looked back on the field to see Gelli Hib’s No.9 walking towards the changing rooms. It appeared in my confusion, the Hibs player had been sent off.
I asked a man stood near me what happened and he seemed to suggest it looked like the Trebanog player was given a yellow card for his reaction and that the Gelli player had been given a straight red card for his challenge. This will show me for taking my eyes off the game for a minute to watch fans exchanging chants!
Colin Williams, a couple of minutes later, brought this entertaining cup final to a close and Gelli Hibs deservedly sealed their cup and league double. A mini pitch invasion involving family and friends ensued and the infamous flare found its way onto the pitch one more time, which gave me ample opportunity to get some dramatic photos.
The Trebanog side looked dejected as they were presented with their runners-up mementos, but were exceptionally sporting in applauding their Gelli rivals whilst they received their winners medal and were presented with the Lucania Cup.
I’m unsure if Gelli Hibs have applied for membership/promotion to the newly formed South Wales Alliance. I really hope they have, as their dominance of the Rhondda League this season has shown that they look like a side who could definitely be competitive at a higher level and it would be great to see the Rhondda represented by more sides at this level of the game.
Trebanog will come again and will no doubt want to rob the title from their rivals next season. Although Gelli Hibs were the better side tonight, over the course of the season the title was essentially won by that defeat to Gelli Hibs a few weeks back.
Having only lost the final by two goals, Trebanog will feel that that the gap between them and Gelli Hibs isn’t a massive gap by any means and being an ambitious club, they too themselves will surely have plans of making an attempt at reaching the South Wales Alliance next season.
As I walked out of the ground I walked past the referees, gave them a “Hello” and a “Well done, good game” and also recognised the same young official who ran the line at the earlier Gelli Hibs vs. Trebanog match I spoke to.
In possibly the second saddest thing to happen to me this evening, all of the referees recognised me from previous games and even mentioned the blog and took a bit of an interest in what I was doing with it, which was lovely and is kind of the reason why I started it in the first place, as a way of uncovering all of these teams, leagues, matches and even referees that play lower league football in Wales.
However when referees start to recognise you, it’s time to accept reality and accept that you are probably attending too many football matches!
Tonight’s match was an entertaining match between two sides that have been the best two sides in the Rhondda League, their league positions show that and the fact that they ended up in this end of season finale is testament to both side’s dominance this season.
Gelli Hibs will move on to another cup final on Wednesday, the South Wales Intermediate Cup Final against Bluebird at Treforest’s White Tips Stadium. A match I hope to attend, not only for the great football on offer, but the fact this stadium is within walking distance of my house.
I’d like to thank not only Trebanog FC and Gelli Hibs, but also the staff of AFC Porth for hosting this excellent game. The very best of luck to Gelli Hibs in their upcoming cup final. Do it for the Rhondda and bring that trophy home!
My Man of the Match: He’s won it before with me and he will again. Josh Harding. Harding offered so much in way of attacking play, especially when Gelli found themselves under pressure at times in the first half. Several Gelli players had excellent games and it’s hard picking one or two for mentions. Jason Davies, Garin Hughes and Gelli’s No.7 also had superb games.