Tuesday 8th September
Pontypridd Town 2-1 Taffs Well.
The FAW Word Cup.
Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd.
Attendance: Circa 100.
There is one thing in life that I simply cannot handle or do and it’s the act of touching my own eyeballs.
It seems a weird way to start a footballing blog entry doesn’t it?
It’s a silly thing I know. I can handle everything else, dentists don’t scare me (..that much), I’ve had pretty much every back tooth in my mouth filled at some point and drilled to within an inch of it’s life. I’ve had nails pulled out of my foot, broken glass taken out of my kneecap, I’ve spent at the last estimate about 150 hours under a tattoo needle and it was all pretty simple if I’m honest.
Touching my own eye ball though? I probably wouldn’t do it if you offered me £10,000 in cash right now. I talk to people who wear contact lenses or have had laser surgery and I stand in amazement.
So I wasn’t best pleased to find myself sitting in the waiting room of the Radiography department at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital at 10am awaiting an ultrasound scan on my eyes and a CT scan of my head.
I’ve touched on my recent health issues in a recent blog so I won’t go over that too much other than what is absolutely necessary for the story to work.
The CT scan was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever done in my life, spending twenty five minutes being moved in and out of a giant Polo mint at all manner of angles and speeds whilst having 3D images of my internal workings constructed.
The ultrasound was a completely different matter, however I was chuffed to find out that they did the ultrasound against a closed eye (Google it seriously, in some countries they do ultrasounds against an open eye – the horror!). I did ask whether I could have an ultrasound photo of my eye, in the way expectant mothers have photos taken of their bump, much to the laughter of the ultrasound sonographer. I paid my £1, I’m expecting photos.
Apparently I’ll get the ultrasound pictures at my next appointment.
I pulled all of the trademark ‘funny lines’ out while he ran the ultrasound wand over my eyes for ten minutes. “Is it a boy or a girl?”, “Is he healthy?” I crack myself up sometimes. Do you ever have one of those moments where you say something like that off the cuff and you genuinely think for about a minute that you are one of the funniest people ever?
Anyway, enough about me.
The FAW Word Cup is a relatively new tournament, billed as a half-way replacement for the old FAW Premier Cup. It essentially acts as a semi-rebranding of the Welsh Premier League Cup, with elements of the tournament taken straight from what used to be called the FAW Premier Cup, kind of like a meshing of the two even though the Welsh Premier League Cup and the FAW Premier Cup co-existed.
The Premier Cup was a tournament founded in 1997 which became the only way for English pyramid teams like Cardiff City, Swansea City and Wrexham to play in Welsh pyramid tournaments following their removal from the old Welsh Cup competition.
The format of the tournament changed greatly over its 11 year lifespan, the most memorable of which being the period the tournament invited 16 teams to compete. The 16 teams typically composed of the Top 10 placed clubs in the Welsh Premier League (Note: The WPL had 16 teams at this time), the current Welsh Cup holders, Cardiff City, Swansea City and the two highest placed teams from Newport County, Wrexham and Colwyn Bay. I don’t seem to recall what happened if the Welsh Cup holders finished in the Top 10 of the Welsh Premier League and I can’t seem to recall whether an 11th Welsh Premier League was invited or not.
The two big sides Cardiff City and Swansea City didn’t actually enjoy as much success in the tournament as many would have guessed. In the tournament’s 11 year lifespan, Cardiff City won the tournament one time whilst their Swansea rivals enjoyed only two Premier Cup wins. For much of the tournament’s lifespan Cardiff City were both a Division One side and a lower Championship whilst Swansea City flirted with the old Vauxhall Conference at times but even so, one would still have expected both sides to take more silverware in that period.
The most successful team in the tournament’s history were North Wales English pyramid side Wrexham who amassed an impressive five victories and three runners-up medals in 11 years.
The only sides to win the tournament from the Welsh pyramid were Barry Town (1999) and The New Saints (2007)
Part of the perceived lack of interest from English pyramid clubs originated from the fact that the tournament only offered a relatively small financial prize (in the scale of these clubs of course) and never offered a berth in the UEFA Europa League as it’s English equivalent did, this lead to both sides opting to field weakened sides in the competition which did little to encourage their large fan bases to get excited about.
Such was the general apathy for the tournament among the English pyramid clubs that the 2001-02 Premier Cup final contested between rivals Cardiff City and Swansea City at Ninian Park attracted a mere 6,629 fans.
Obviously both clubs held nowhere near their current status as English footballing giants but the very idea that only six thousand or so fans were interested enough to get down to Ninian Park for a mid-week cup final against their most fierce rivals just shows how little interest the competition held for supporters.
There were Cardiff v. Swansea fixtures in the late 2000’s that probably had more than 6,629 police officers in attendance!
Sponsors BBC eventually pulled the plug on the funding in 2008 and the tournament was immediately dropped by the FAW.
English pyramid clubs had always played in the Welsh Cup and with their absence noted and felt over the preceding years the FAW reached out to the English pyramid clubs and invited them to re-take their places in the Welsh Cup in the 2011-12 season.
Merthyr Town, Newport County and Wrexham all accepted the invitation whilst Cardiff City, Swansea City and Colwyn Bay declined the invitation.
The clubs who accepted the invitation all declined to enter the competition after UEFA confirmed that these clubs would not be allowed to take their places in the Europa League should they have gone on to win the Welsh Cup.
Since the reorganization of the Welsh Premier League as a 12 team league the tournament has had a little bit of an overhaul. The tournament is now played out between all of the current Welsh Premier League clubs as well as the top half of last season’s Welsh League Division One table in the South and the top half of last season’s Cymru Alliance (ground criteria permitting)
What has made this tournament slightly more interesting has been the introduction of four ‘wildcard’ positions in the tournament, open to any club playing in the Welsh pyramid regardless of which level they play at.
These wildcard sides were required to apply to the FAW for inclusion in the tournament. Their entries were judged against a number of criteria, ground requirements and whether the club had done anything in it’s recent history that earned the club a place in the tournament (The application form refers to interesting reasons why the club should be considered)
This year’s selected wildcards were Denbigh Town, Holywell Town, Penrhyncoch and Pontypridd Town. Denbigh being drawn away at Rhyl, Holywell being drawn at home against Buckley Town, Penrhyncoch faced the uneviable task of meeting Welsh Premier League leaders Newtown at home whilst Pontypridd Town faced the difficult task of meeting high flying Welsh League Division One outfit Taff’s Well who made the 5 mile journey up the A470 for tonight’s encounter.
Taff’s Well made a fine start to their Division One campaign on the opening day of the season with a convincing win against Monmouth Town. This was followed by an even more impressive 6-0 victory over strugglers Afan Lido. The only blot on their season coming by way of a 4-0 defeat to newly-promoted Aberbargoed Buds in their least league outing.
Pontypridd Town have had a superb start to their season, winning their first three Welsh League games and winning cup ties against Canton Liberals and Division One side Garden Village in the cups.
The Pontypridd club have been turning heads all over the Welsh League in recent weeks with their fine form, coupled with their recent Summer Spanish excursion it has been clear to see why the club have been garnering such attention.
This interest is likely to go into overdrive in the coming weeks with the recent announcement that manager Damien Broad will be leaving the club in November to take up a youth coaching role at Manchester City.
This tie brought a decent crowd to Ynysangharad Park for what I hoped would be an entertaining match under the Pontypridd floodlights. Taffs Well brought a decent following with them for what was a bit of a local derby, although due to both sides playing their football at different ends of the Welsh League there have been precious few opportunities for these sides to play each other in recent years.
Tonight’s match started in furious fashion with good chances falling to both sides in the opening ten minutes. The best chance falling to Ponty Town’s top goal scorer Luke Gullick who latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the box and hit an effort towards goal only to see his effort deflected away off the arm of a Taffs Well defender. Unfortunately for Gullick and his Pontypridd colleagues the referee instantly waved away their appeals.
Taffs Well showed their class during the first half and played some very attractive passing football through the middle of the park and as someone who has taken in every Pontypridd Town home match this season it was clear to see that The Wellmen were certainly the best side to visit Ynysangharad Park so far this season.
The Wellmen were unlucky not to take the lead midway through the first half when Joe Evans picked up the ball twenty five yards from goal and hit a dangerous placed shot that looked as if it would put Pontypridd Town goalkeeper Ryan Griffiths in an awkward situation only for the ball to take a deflection off a trailing Ponty Town leg.
Despite the dominance of the Wellmen in the first half, Pontypridd Town had several chances to take the lead in the first half. The first of which falling again to Luke Gullick who raced into the penalty area at pace after rounding Wellmen defender Adrian Harris, Harris though quickly recovered and was able to shepherd the ball out into touch for a goal kick.
Richard French went close for Taffs Well on the half hour mark but found his headed effort comfortable saved by Griffiths in the Dragons goal.
Luke Gullick was again on hand to test out Steven Hall in the Wellmen’s goal, his powerful effort from the edge of the box was enough to force Hall to scramble to the floor to palm his effort out for a Ponty Town corner kick.
Sensing that they were being perhaps overpowered in midfield, Taffs Well emerged for the second half in what looked like a 4-5-1 formation and the first quarter of an hour of the second half they really took the game to their Pontypridd rivals, coming close first by way of a Shane Davies free kick which caused worry in the penalty area but ultimately didn’t trouble keeper Ryan Griffiths.
After weathering the storm for a good fifteen minute period, Pontypridd Town started to emerge from their shell and started playing some impressive attacking football and were immediately rewarded when Danny Hooper showed us more of his amazing left foot and laid a perfect ball on for striker Luke Gullick who broke free of his marker and unleashed a furious shot at goal. Goalkeeper Steven Hall saved his effort but such was the ferocity of the shot he was unable to hold onto the ball which was poked home by defender Ilias Doumas.
Doumas found himself rightly mobbed by his team mates amid scenes of delirium at Ponty Park. With the lead in their hands, could the unthinkable happen? Could little old Pontypridd Town actually be going through to the next round to potentially face the likes of Aberystwyth Town, Carmarthen Town or Port Talbot Town in the next round?
It would take Taffs Well a little over 5 minutes to respond after going behind in this tie. A free kick was awarded to The Wellmen all of thirty yards out from goal a little to the left of the goals. Up stepped free kick specialist Shane Davies, who after two close attempts earlier in the game unleashed a quite phenomenal effort towards goal which took a last minute dip that goalkeeper Ryan Griffiths wasn’t quite able to get to.
Davies’ goal was bettered by his gymnastic standing somersault which would have left even the great Robert Earnshaw blushing, putting his side level on the night and hoping to go forward and win the game as expected prior to the game.
It is often said that as a side you are at your weakest in the three minutes after scoring a goal and this indeed proved to be the case for The Wellmen. Luke Gullick turned provider and laid a testing ball across the box to the midfielder with a lethal left foot, Danny Hooper, who broke deeper into the box at a wide angle and fired a powerful shot towards Steven Hall which proved to be too hot to handle, putting Pontypridd Town back in the lead.
Cue further scenes at Ynysangharad Park, could the unthinkable really happen?
The Dragons almost put the game beyond doubt two minutes later when Luke Gullick found himself hooking on to a loose ball after a defensive mix up. Gullick hit a placed effort towards goal which went a yard or so wide to the goalkeeper’s left.
Taffs Well, sensing defeat was now on the cards, really started to pile pressure on the Pontypridd goal in the closing quarter of an hour and at times the Ponty side certainly needed to ride their luck if they were going to make their passage into the second round of the tournament.
I was at this point standing directly behind the goal being kept by Taffs Well goalkeeper Steven Hall, so it was hard to completely make sense of what has happening in the Pontypridd Town penalty area in a period of about a minute where the ball took on the form of a pinball around the area, bouncing from player to player before being poked towards goal by a Taffs Well striker to be saved off the line by a Pontypridd Town player, unfortunately in the blur of what was happening 130 yards down the field from me I completely missed who took part in what part of the movement.
As the clock ticked closer to full time, tension grew on the pitch. A Taffs Well defender asked the linesman how much time was left, the linesman replied “4 minutes plus whatever stoppages” A Pontypridd player shouted to the referee and he replied “5 minutes plus injury time”
At times the game became almost too hard to watch, as Taffs Well edged closer and closer to getting the equaliser that would take the game in 30 minutes of extra time. I chose instead to concentrate on taking photos of the action that unfolded in front of me.
Taffs Well came closest to scoring a second goal in the 89th minute when only a spot of quite frankly ridiculous goalkeeping from Ryan Griffiths kept his side in the lead. Jason Bertorelli hit a furious effort at goal from 12 yards only to see his effort dramatically saved by Ponty stopper Griffiths with one hand.
The Wellmen pushed forward in stoppage time making numerous threats to score the crucial equalizing goal they had been searching for for the last twenty minutes. Pressure was only alleviated for Pontypridd Town when midfielder Danny Hooper made a brave and intelligent decision to go into a 50/50 challenge putting his body on the line and booting the ball high above the main stand at Ynysangharad Park so far out of the ground that I’m convinced the ball must have landed on the cricket pitch that sits 200 yards away from the ground.
Pontypridd Town held on despite the odds and a minute later the referee brought this contest to an end, securing Pontypridd’s journey into the second round of the tournament.
The joy on Pontypridd Town players’ faces was clear for all to see and there was a general look among Ponty supporters faces of amazement.
True, the win wasn’t the biggest case of giant killing we’ll ever see but the gulf between Taffs Well, who have for the last five seasons been regulars at the helm of Welsh League Division One and Pontypridd Town, who only remained in the Welsh League a couple of seasons ago on goal difference alone is more than enough for tonight’s result to be a shock.
Pontypridd Town’s title of ‘Giant Killers of the Round’ lasted a mere thirty minutes whilst Spar Mid-Wales League outfit Penrhyncoch took Welsh Premier League leaders Newtown through extra-time and into penalties before emerging triumphant in the lottery of the penalty shoot out.
I’ve been waiting until the draw was done to write this blog with the news that Pontypridd Town will travel to Richmond Park to face Mark Aizlewood’s Welsh Premier League side Carmarthen Town at the end of the month.
Taffs Well will hurt after this defeat. They’re a very good side who I predicted will be among the top three or four of Division One this season. Getting up to the Welsh Premier League is so hard, especially with the one single promotion spot available for teams in the South and the fact that sides like Cardiff Metropolitan University and Caerau Ely all looking extremely threatening this year. This is before even considering the likes of Penybont, who have looked like a side with potential for the last couple of years as well as the re-emergence of Ton Pentre after a couple of years in mid-table.
Nothing I have seen today or in previous weeks changes my view on Taffs Well. They will do well this season, that is for certain. They faced a very determined Pontypridd Town side this evening and were so fired up that I’m convinced on this form, Pontypridd Town would have probably beaten half of the Welsh Premier League as well.
Pontypridd Town dug in for this victory. They rode their luck a little at times. Superb defensive performances from Ilias Doumas and Scott Hillman in particular minimized the amount of saves needed to be made by Ryan Griffiths who had a phenomenal game himself.
The difference between the two sides on the night? Pontypridd Town were just simply a little more clinical in front of goal. It is a fair reflection on the sides performances this evening that Pontypridd’s two goals came from ‘striker’s nature’ sort of goals (albeit, their goals were scored by a Centre Half and a midfielder) whereas Taffs Well’s goal came from an absolutely phenomenal set piece by Shane Davies, which certainly will not be the last time you hear ‘Shane Davies’ and ’30 yard screamer’ mentioned in the same sentence.
I’d like to wish the very best of luck to both Pontypridd Town and Taffs Well for the rest of the season and an extra good luck to Ponty Town in their second round encounter against Welsh Premier League outfit Carmarthen Town.
As I walked away from Ponty Park to collect my car which I’d left parked in the town centre, after tripping over a small fence (All the lights had been turned off and I was busy trying to find tonight’s other results on my phone) I walked past the Maltsters Arms pub.
Inside the Maltsters Arms I found another scene that reminded me and further backed up exactly why I started this blog. Whilst looking through the window in a completely non menacing fashion I stumbled upon two men watching a meaningless England match against Switzerland(meaningless of course because England have already qualified for Euro 2016) , the game was played on mute with subtitles poorly dubbing the commentary.
I pitied these two guys, who were completely oblivious that a mere 300 yards from the pub their home team club had just played out one of the most entertaining and nail-biting games I’ve ever witnessed in my 33 years on this planet whilst they remained glued to the 32″ inch screen to find out whether Wayne Rooney did go on to break Bobby Charlton’s England goal scoring record (Spoiler: he did).
My Man of the Match: There were so many excellent performances on the park this evening, for both sides. Special mentions have to go to Luke Gullick, Scott Hillman, Ryan Griffiths, Shane Davies and Joe Evans who all lit up the game at times. An assured midfield performance from Danny Hooper just about takes it for me though. Hooper epitomized calmness when everyone around him had license to panic. His goal was a well worked piece of play that showed why his left foot is so revered at this level of the Welsh game.