Thursday 30th July 2015.
Llanwern 3-1 Ynysddu Welfare
Ystrad Mynach Centre for Sporting Excellence, Ystrad Mynach.
Attendance: Circa 30.
In the week following Christmas last year, my wife and I spent the week in New Quay, West Wales, relaxing for a few days after a busy year.
I must admit, we’d both arrived in New Quay in a pretty bad mood. We’d travelled to The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic, on Boxing Day to watch what would be my last Cardiff City away game to date.
My Sat Nav took me right through the centre of London to The Valley for some reason, we passed Big Ben, the London Eye, the South Bank and Tower Bridge. I know I shouldn’t have been passing all of these things, but being the best part of 200 miles from home I wasn’t going to question the Sat Nav any more than I needed to.
As it happened, Cardiff put in a typical Russell Slade performance. We went ahead early through a headed Tom Adeyemi goal. We then sat deep and parked the bus and tried to hold on for all three points, this despite the fact that Charlton had a man sent off before half time.
I’ve seen some crap Cardiff performances in my time, but parking the bus and hit long ball after long ball against a terribly average 10 man Charlton side for the best part of an hour, when we’d defeated the mighty Manchester City only a season ago was too much to handle.
In typical Cardiff fashion, Charlton equalised in the 88th minute. Only a truly phenomenal save by David Marshall in injury time stopped us from losing the game!
We walked back to the car in the nearby Sainsbury’s car park to find that we had a flat tyre, resulting in an hour long tyre change (I know that a tyre change usually takes 15 minutes or so, but bare in mind that we’d planned to head down to New Quay straight from the Charlton game, so we had our whole holiday packed in the boot and this all needed to be neatly placed on the Sainsbury’s car park whilst I tried to find the spare wheel!)
Again, the Sat Nav took me through Central London for some reason unknown to me. We passed Downing Street, Big Ben, Tower Bridge and joined the M4 at Chiswick!
All of these contributing factors caused a seismic shift in my brain activity somewhere near Junction 19 of the M4 and I cracked. “Something’s got to change” I thought to myself.
New Quay was lovely, it snowed, we drank our fair share, ate our fair share and I googled ‘Pontypridd Town’, ‘Treforest FC’ and ‘AFC Porth’ repeatedly. I knew something was going on in my mind that I couldn’t quite control.
I found out that the nearby Aberystwyth Town were playing (relatively) local rivals Carmarthen Town on New Year’s Day, so I arranged to attend the match. This was a start.
During my furious googling of various Welsh League teams, I found a quite entertaining blog along the way. The blog in question was ‘Lost Boyos’. It was refreshing and different to other Groundhopping blogs. Instead of simply listing games, goalscorers and attendances, this was something a bit more interesting. The Lost Boyos (a kind of collective revolving around the entertaining Matt Harrison) wrote about pubs they visited on their way to the ground, odd characters they’d meet at these games, incidents that left them frightened for their own personal security and it seemed like the actual football match was kind of secondary sometimes to the adventures and scrapes they’d find themselves in.
In the space of two days or so, I’d read pretty much every single blog entry Matt had written and I was addicted. I read about visits he’d paid to clubs near my house that I’d never ever been to (shamefully). He’d been to Ynysangharad Park to watch Pontypridd Town, something I’d never done at the time despite living a 5 minute walk from the ground. He’d been to Radyr to watch Cardiff Corries, something that I’d never done despite my Grandfather having once played for the club in some form in the 1950’s. The list goes on and on, essentially he’d done a bunch of things that I should have been doing, but I was too busy supplying endless amounts of cash to Vincent Tan.
I guess you could say that without Lost Boyos, My Year in the Welsh League just wouldn’t have happened.
I’d already made the decision to start attending Welsh League games on my arrival home, but without Lost Boyos, I’m unsure whether there would have been an accompanying blog to once or twice a week jot down some ramblings about random records I buy, pints I drink in random pubs near grounds and I probably wouldn’t have made as many friends and met as many great people as I have done this year.
So it’s fair to say, that I owe a fair bit to Matt for kind of inspiring me to start this adventure in Welsh football.
Matt has always been threatening to come back down to South Wales again to take in some football (Matt currently lives up North on the other side of the border – so it’s a bit of a trek) and I’d promised that if he made the massive effort to come down and take in some games that I would definitely have the decency to travel the short distance to come meet him.
With other games scheduled on the Friday and Saturday, I arranged to attend a pre-season friendly between Llanwern (Welsh League Division Two) and Ynysddu Welfare (Gwent County Division Two) at the relatively new Centre for Sporting Excellence 3G pitch in Ystrad Mynach.
Matt brought along another Groundhopping celebrity, Joe Gibbons (a.k.a Gibbo), another blogger who played a key role in inspiring me to go cold turkey with Cardiff City and start this whole adventure in that snowy week in New Quay.
They’d planned a pre-match pub crawl in Ystrad Mynach which unfortunately I couldn’t attend due to work commitments, so I’d have to make do with travelling straight to the match and meeting them there.
You can always tell who the groundhopper is at a football match. They’re the guys with impressive looking cameras and they’re always taking photos of corner flags and bins. As I looked up from my seat in the single stand at the ground, I could see two young men walking into the ground, taking photos of corner flags and bins and I knew that Matt and Gibbo had arrived.
They told me about their adventurous pub crawl, which involved escaped mental hospital patients and other characters on day release in The Coopers, which I’m sure they’ll cover in much greater details on their own blogs.
We took our place in the stand, got our notepads and impressive cameras out and prepared ourselves for an evening of entertainment from two of Gwent’s finest teams.
The Centre of Sporting Excellence is an impressive venue. Hosting both a rugby pitch and a football pitch next to each other, it is used by the FAW for Under 19’s and Women’s matches as well as being a delivery point for coaching courses. In fact, the C Licence course I’m hoping to attend in November is being delivered at this venue.
The ground has a single stand, which could probably house 1,000 spectators (I’m always terrible at guessing these things) and enough standing room around the sides for probably the same number.
Most impressively, it has a red surface surrounding the pitch!
Llanwern are a team I’m relatively familiar with. I haven’t watched them, but spending so long on the periphery of the Welsh League I’ve come to learn a fair bit about them. They’ve undergone a few changes in managerial personnel over the Summer and they will be looking to challenge for promotion to Division One again this season.
Llanwern finished fifth in Division Two last season, top of a handful of teams separated by only a few points. They finished ten points behind Caldicot Town, who fell short of promotion on the last day of the season. Four additional wins last season would have put them in Division One, which shows how close they actually were to promotion.
Ynysddu Welfare were a bit of an unknown quantity to me. I admit that I haven’t spent as much time in Gwent as I should have, having only taking in the one game within the Gwent borders so far this year. I know (from googling) that Ynysddu finished last years campaign in the Gwent County Division Two mid-table in that awkward position where they were in no risk of being relegated but too far from the promotion places to make a serious assault on moving up a tier.
Some people are not the biggest fans of 3G pitches, I can understand sometimes why people feel this way, especially traditionalists but you have to admit that it does have its benefits.
I’ve just taken in a load of games at a facility similar to this one in Clydach Vale, in the Rhondda (Cambrian & Clydach BGC’s home ground). I think I’ve watched something like 10 games there in the last three weeks, and I know there have been at least 6 other games at that ground as well that I haven’t attended. Even in the Summer months, playing that amount of football on an amateur-level grass pitch would leave it in a terrible state.
So watching these players pass the ball around comfortably on this decent surface, watching it run true time and time again is quite a joy to watch.
The game starts at a furious pace, with both sides making promising attacking moves in the opening stages and both sides would have considered themselves unlucky not to take an early lead.
Matt, watching on intently points out one of the Llanwern players, their No.10 (we later find out this guy is named Gareth Delve), he comments “This is what I love about the Welsh League. You find guys like this one, he’s a bit older than the rest of the team but he’s phenomenal”
Delve has a touch of class to him, he looks so comfortable with the ball at his feet and he seems to mix the right amount of ‘showing off’ with ‘getting the simple stuff right’.
I comment that he has “the best left foot since Lee Sharpe” which goes down well amongst my football anarok friends.
Delve, gets us off our seats at several points in the opening stages, drawing chants of “Ole, Ole” from three guys in the crowd, all with impressive cameras and notepads. He’s rewarded for his skill after 24 minutes when he skillfully beats a couple of defenders on the edge of the box and fires home a superb effort just inside the box to give his side a 1-0 lead.
At this point, being imaginative losers somewhat, knowing nothing about Gareth Delve, we create a back story up about him. A player this good can’t have just played at Welsh League level for his whole career. Between the three of us, we fantasise (scrub that), I mean we come to the conclusion(!) that Delve was obviously on the books at Cardiff City as a youngster, acting as boot cleaner to Joe Ledley who inspired him to become a skillful player. Delve was then cruelly told to leave the club by Dave Jones after a cruel knee ligament injury which kept him out of the game for three years. Delve then resurrected his career at Merthyr Town, before moving to Barry Town for a couple of seasons and then finishing his career at his local boyhood club Llanwern.
I realise how sad this can sound, but having no information about this player, we had to make our own back story up!
Ynysddu showed some promise and were unlucky not to level affairs ten minutes later after their No.17 hit a powerful effort from twenty yards out that was well saved by the Llanwern goalkeeper.
Gareth Delve entertained us further in the first half, after a handful of nutmegs and skillful runs he went on a mazey run into the Ynysddu penalty area, taking on a handful of players but lost his balance at the last second and was unable to get a decent shot on goal.
Two minutes later, cue scenes in the stand among us three when Delve picked up the ball mid-way in the Ynysddu half and picked out a pass that could only be described as “Like Beckham, but a lot better” when he spotted his No.17 in a good position on the edge of the box. The No.17 beat the offside trap and rounded the Ynysddu goalkeeper to fire home into an empty net to double his side’s advantage.
At this point, we all decided that Gareth Delve was in fact the greatest player any of us have ever watched in person. To give you an idea of the scale of this, Matt confidently stated that Gareth Delve is already the favourite to win his annual “Player of the Year (he’s watched that year)” award.
To give you some idea the scale of this accolade, Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Argentina won his award last season!
The half doesn’t finish without our new favourite player in the world performing a piece of immaculate skill in taking on five players in the Ynysddu Welfare penalty area before being taken down at the last second, unfortunately the referee doesn’t point to the spot and shouts at Delve accusing him of diving!
During the half time break we took our opportunity to have a walk around the ground and meet up with Matt’s friend Huw who had a bit of history in the Welsh League having played for both Pontypridd Town and Croesyceiliog during his playing days. He is an invaluable resource as he seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every single player who has ever been involved with the Welsh League, having either played against them, with them or seen them play in some match somewhere.
Unfortunately, despite claiming to know him at first, Huw cannot identify the life-changingly brilliant No.10 so we carry on with the game without knowing anything about our new found cult hero.
Matt points to the linesman and asks me “Let me test something on you. That guy over there, with the flag. What do you you call him? What did you call him when you played?”
I’m a bit flummoxed by the question, but eventually I pull myself together and say “Lino!”, which is of course, the only endearing term that can be bestowed upon a linesman. Yes, I know that they’ve been called ‘Assistant Referees’ for a decade or so now, but who actually calls them that? No-one does.
“Tell them what you call them Gibbo?” Matt asks.
“What? The Linesman?” Gibbo replies.
“A Liner” Gibbo says.
Therein ladies and gentlemen is the main difference between people from the North and people from the South!
Forget the differences in accent, the differences in lifestyle, the differences in jobs, education, quality of life, quality of healthcare and pollution. This is the main difference between Northerners and Southerners.
In the South: “Come on Lino! That was never offside!”
In the North: “Come on Liner! That was never offside!”
I quip that surely a Liner is the guy who comes out before the game kicks off and paints the lines on the field of play.
I’m honoured and privileged then to finally be asked to do my first ‘Double Thumbs Up’, a Lost Boyo tradition harking back to the start of Matt’s blog. I must admit this is something I had practiced beforehand. Should I hold my hands close together? (a narrow thumbs up) Or should I go for the more relaxed wide thumbs up? (an alternate formation) I went with my gut instinct and opted for the wide thumbs up, which I still question myself over.
We watch the start of the second half while making our way back over to the stand, where hopefully Lionel Delve will entertain us for another 45 minutes.
Five minutes into the second half, after an impressive start, Ynysddu pull a goal back through Rob Aldridge, who broke free into the Llanwern penalty area and fired a powerful effort just under the cross bar and leaving the Llanwern goalkeeper with no chance of stopping his effort.
This goal injected a bit of friction back into the game, which by now was in danger of become The Gareth Delve Show.
We’re treated a moment of comedy when Llanwern’s No.17 picks up the ball on the far left. His team mate shouts “No cross! No cross! No cross!” at him before the aforementioned No.17 goes his own way and hits a poor cross into the box for the Ynysddu goalkeeper to pick the ball up unchallenged.
On the hour mark, the World’s greatest footballer Gareth Delve is cruelly denied a second when he hits what I can only describe as a “beautiful effort” from about 25 yards out. Unfortunately for Delve and everyone else here tonight, the ball hits an Ynysddu defender right in the centre of the face but I’m convinced that the trajectory of the ball would have lead to one of football’s greatest ever goals as I try and convince Matt and Gibbo that the ball as destined to go in off the underside of the bar.
In one of his final moments of genius, Gareth Delve goes on a mazey run down the touchline beating three men (watch Gareth Bales amazing goal for Wales against Iceland) and I’m convinced that if the ball hadn’t have gone out of touch off the last man we’d be looking at a goal very similar to Mr. Bale’s.
Unfortunately, covering so much ground and taking on so many players takes it out of you and the moment all three of us dreaded but knew was inevitable came on 70 minutes when our beloved Llanwern No.10 was substituted and given a breather.
Gareth Delve deservedly received a standing ovation from all three of us and a more reserved applause from the rest of the ground. Little did we all know when we planned to attend this fairly low key pre-season friendly between two Gwent sides that we’d walk away with a new cult hero.
Three minutes later, the final moment of note in the game came via Llanwern’s third and final goal, scored by their No.12 from close range. The Ynysddu goalkeeper failed to deal with a powerful shot from Llanwern’s No.9 and the rebound fell to the feet of Llanwern’s No.12 who slotted the ball home from close range to effectively wrap up the friendly for his side.
As the match drew to a close we made our way over to the other side of the pitch to get some more photos of the stand and try and get a closer look at the new cult hero.
I volunteered to give Matt and Gibbo a lift back to Nelson where they were staying tonight, passing among other things Nelson Handball Court which Matt reliably informs me is one of Wales’ oldest sporting venues and was renovated several years ago.
We mutter some mildly amusing remarks about “Nelson away” being a hell of an old ground and Handball players shouting “Football! Football!” repeatedly in sarcastic tones when decisions go against their opposite teams before I drop them off at their local pub to drink the night away and spread the good word of our new found cult hero “Number Ten”
All in all, one of the best nights of football I’ve had in a long time. All made the more entertaining being joined by two good mates with an equally insatiable appetite for football.
I do hope it isn’t too long before I’m able to take in another match with Matt and Gibbo and would like to take this opportunity to thank the both of you for a cracking evening in Ystrad Mynach.
I’d like to also wish the very best of luck to both Llanwern and Ynysddu Welfare, two good sides who I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this season.
Arise, our new cult hero – Gareth Delve!
My Man of the Match: I feel bad at this point, because there were some really good performances from players on both sides. Unfortunately for those players, what we witnessed this evening from Gareth Delve is something that will go down in Groundhopping folklore for years to come. With this in mind, I can only truly award such a dubious accolade to Llanwern’s Gareth Delve himself. What a player!