Tuesday 14th July 2015 (6.15pm).
Penrhiwfer 2-2 Maerdy Social
Sporting Marvels Pre-Season Invitational. Group B.
Cambrian Lakeside Sports Academy, Clydach Vale.
Attendance: Circa 40.
Pre-season tournaments are a more commonly occurring oddity in themselves these days. Gone are the days of the Umbro Cup (look it up) and Le Tournoi (infamous for Roberto Carlos’s physics-warping goal rather than the tournament itself) and in their place all manner of unremarkable Premier League teams play each other in fairly meaningless friendlies in front of 70,000 Asian fans, hoping and praying not to injure themselves before the season’s opening matches.
A quick look at the official Premier League pre-season fixtures list reveals some absolute howlers: AFC Bournemouth of all teams, yes the same AFC Bournemouth who 15 months ago were still in Division One of the English pyramid, are travelling to Pennsylvania for a single friendly with Philadelphia Union! Arsenal play in both the Barclays Asia Trophy and the Emirates Cup. Chelsea are a much classier side, so they busy themselves this Summer with the mystery and intrigue of the “International Champions Cup” in America, coming up against the likes of Paris SG, New York Red Bulls and Barcelona (convenient that all of these clubs are rich as hell! I wonder if Bayern Munich were offended they weren’t asked – what with being domestic champions of the current World Cup holders nation?!)
I could go on, but it would be tedious. All you need to know is that Liverpool’s opening fixture of their pre-season is against the hilariously named “True Thai Premier League All Stars”.
It used to be (back when football was a multi-million pound industry rather than a multi-billion pound industry and before Sky had really sunk their teeth into football) that teams like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal would prepare for their upcoming league campaigns by sending a mixture of first team experience and youth players on a 52 seater bus to footballing outposts like Cwmbran Town, Barry Town United and Forest Green Rovers to give the minnows their relatively easy day out in the Summer sun and to offer local fans their only chance to see Ryan Giggs play in person for the price of £6.50 a ticket (admittedly I did attend Manchester United’s 3-1 pre-season victory over the mighty Cwmbran Town at Cwmbran Stadium in the Summer of 1994)
Nowadays sadly this doesn’t happen as much. Premier League teams face the alluring temptation of money from the Far East and the lure of pre-season tournaments in Dubai and Asia, playing with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Paris SG and all of the rest of world’s footballing elite is often too irresistible to turn down.
On an almost completely different planet to all of this a quite interesting pre-season tournament has been put together by Rhondda side Sporting Marvels (The Marvels are a football team born out of a Christian charity based in the Rhondda, their website kind of explains their story better than I can here).
Anyway, the Marvels (currently playing in the newly formed South Wales Alliance Division One – Tier 6 of the Welsh pyramid) have put together a pretty interesting pre-season tournament consisting of ten strong teams based in and around the Rhondda Valley split over two groups of five.
The tournament brings together experienced South Wales Alliance sides such as The Marvels themselves, Treforest, Ton & Gelli, Penrhiwfer and Ynyshir Albions and puts them directly against Rhondda & District Football League Premier Division (Tier 8) sides such as Blaenrhondda, Maerdy Social and last season’s Rhondda League winners, Rhondda Cup and League Cup winners Gelli Hibs, also including Red Valley of Gilfach Goch from the nearby Bridgend and District League.
Another fascinating inclusion in the tournament are the Cambrian & Clydach Academy side, currently playing their football in the Welsh Premier Development League. The Clydach academy has become something of a footballing hotbed in the Rhondda area, scooping up a large chuck of the young footballing talent in the area and with the recent developments at the Cambrian Lake Sports Academy over recent years, it appears that the club is going very much in the right direction.
Such is the strength of the Cambrian academy side that when I speak to tournament co-organiser (and Marvels player) Ian Smith, it appears Cambrian have already won their opening two games with impressive scorelines, amassing a goal difference of +13 already.
There’s also a bit of fire added to these fixtures by the relative closeness of the teams involved. Every fixture it seems, is a local derby of some form, especially in the case of fixtures like Gelli Hibs vs. Ton & Gelli and Ynyshir Albions vs. Maerdy Social where these sides wouldn’t have met in league competition for years, if not longer.
There’s pride at stake in tournaments like this, sides want to set out a stall for their season’s intentions and no-one wants to lose to a side just down the road.
I’d missed the opening matches of the tournament due to still being on holiday in West Wales, so I was pretty eager to get in on some of the action, which started for me with an intriguing match between South Wales Alliance Division Two side Penrhiwfer AFC (Tier 7) and Rhondda Premier League side Maerdy Social (Tier 8).
Maerdy Social finished last season in fine form, finishing fourth in their league, pushing the previous season’s champions Penygraig United into fifth position with a series of strong wins towards the end of their campaign.
Penrhiwfer are a strong side who have made the South Wales Alliance (or more correctly the South Wales Senior League) their home for years and despite finishing perilously close to the relegation places in their league last season, never really looked like being relegated.
The match started at breakneck pace with both sides showing signs of attacking prowess. Penrhiwfer were offered a chance to take the lead on 8 minutes when a controversial penalty was awarded by referee Steve Lloyd-Brennan after a foul that looked to be a yard or two outside of the penalty area.
James Trembath stepped up to the spot but took a poor spot kick and could only watch on in horror as his effort went well over the bar, despite sending the Maerdy goalkeeper the wrong way.
Both sides played some nice football, attacking the wings heavily, little could separate the two sides in what was a fairly entertaining first half of football.
Penrhiwfer would be the side to break the deadlock, midway through the first half when their No.4 latched on to an unselfish pass from his No.7 team mate after a bit of pinball and confusion in the Maerdy penalty area. Penrhiwfer’s No.4 fired home powerfully from just inside the box, giving the Maerdy goalkeeper little chance of stopping his effort.
Maerdy Social pushed forward and scored a deserved equaliser just before half time, Maerdy’s No.11 scored what I would describe as being a “cross/shot” which looped over the helpless Penrhiwfer keeper who could do little to stop the Maerdy side levelling affairs in this match.
Just as Maerdy wheeled away in celebration I finally met, and spoke with, Carol Hosking, the secretary of the Rhondda & District Football League. A lovely woman who seemed very passionate about the sport and took a great interest in the blog and told me that she had hunted me out having heard I was present. She seemed to be enjoying the match but told me that she would be heading home before the later kick off that evening.
I wasn’t party to what was said in the team talks but Maerdy Social came out for the second half as a side with definite renewed vigour, their passing looked impressive, their tackling on key and they certainly started to look like the side most likely to score in the second half.
An hour into the match the Maerdy goalkeeper came off worse in an innocuous challenge and seemed to go down in a heap which required several minutes of treatment. What followed in the next few minutes were a series of calamitous events that belong in a Tom & Jerry cartoon rather than a football match.
Several minutes later when the Maerdy goalkeeper finally rose to his feet clinching his ribs, he took a smash from an opposing striker while defending the resulting corner which lead to him falling to the ground again clinching his ribs.
In a cruel ironic twist, almost immediately after he returned to his feet, when the next cross was hit into the Maerdy box, the goalkeeper again took another hit to his ribs. To his credit despite his bench preparing for his eventual replacement, the Maerdy goalkeeper composed himself and continued to play despite the pain.
Maerdy Social deservedly took the lead midway through the second half after a quick taken corner was crossed into the box well and Maerdy’s No.6 rose above his marker to head a looping effort over the helpless Penrhiwfer goalkeeper and into the net to give his side an impressive 2-1 lead.
Penrhiwfer, now sensing a second defeat in the competition was potentially on the cards, started to push forward in numbers and putting their opponents under a great deal of pressure. They were especially unlucky not to equalise five minutes after Maerdy’s goal when a volleyed effort from their No.11 looked to have beat the Maerdy goalkeeper but took a cruel deflection off a Maerdy defender’s trailing leg to inch past the far post.
Maerdy sat back in the closing minutes, putting men behind the ball and inviting pressure and were punished in the last minute of normal time when a testing cross was sent into the box and Penrhiwfer’s No.11 dispatched a beautiful header from about 12 yards out which left the Maerdy goalkeeper helpless.
Minutes later, Steve Lloyd-Brennan brought this intriguing affair to a close. Both sides will continue in the competition, still able to progress to the semi-finals in a weeks time but aware that they probably both wanted to win this game.
On the balance of things a draw was probably a fair result, with Penrhiwfer having the better of the opening and closing of the game and Maerdy being the better side for everything in between.
I won’t wish both sides the best of luck for the rest of the season yet as it’s very likely I’ll probably be taking in more of their games in this competition before it ends. However I will wish both sides the very best in their remaining fixtures in the competition.
My Man of the Match: Maerdy Social’s No.6 put in an old-fashioned “no nonsense” performance, controlling affairs in the centre of the park. He was unlucky not to score the winner in this intriguing fixture.