Monday 9th November.
Coleg y Cymoedd 7-2 Merthyr College.
Association of British Colleges Premier Cup, First Round.
Cambrian Lakeside Sports Academy, Clydach Vale
Attendance: Circa 10.
It’s hard growing up in south Wales as a footballer and a football fan.
Being someone of my age (33) I suppose I was one of the last lot of kids growing up in south Wales to experience the old ‘Rugby Master’ in school.
The ‘Rugby Master’ is something that doesn’t really exist nowadays in the modern education system and whenever I speak to younger cousins or family members still in the education system they don’t seem to recognise the description I give them.
Every Welsh school pre-1996 had one of them. If you went to a secondary school in south Wales before that time, I’ll wager you had one too?
The P.E teacher that didn’t even acknowledge football as a real sport.
He’d happily have you out on the pitch in the soaking November rain, running the length of a muddy rugby field passing the ball back and forth or lecturing the fine art of the maul and ruck as he grabs you by the scruff of your collar and questions why you don’t have the skills of Ieuan Evans or Rupert Moon as you pass yet another ball forward not really understanding why you can’t pass the ball forward when it is such an intrinsic part of the game of football.
Whichever school or college you went to, that egg-shaped ball obsessed character always came in the same form. He was a different person, of course, but the ‘Rugby Master’ shared a few things in common with each other.
The ‘Rugby Master’ was always around 50 to 60 years old. He always had wavey short hair. ‘Rugby Masters’ didn’t have the time to worry about their appearance. He always had a moustache. He believed in the beautiful tactic of kick and run. He believed your ability to push on in a scrum dictated what kind of person you were and whether you would be successful in life. He always wore a 1970’s Adidas tracksuit that by now was struggling to contain the beer belly he’d accumulated from too many weekends down the Rugby Club. He hated every single sport that wasn’t Rugby Union. He hated Rugby League because it was a ‘girly sport’.
I’d later find out from speaking to friends at university that lots of schools in England also had one of these, amazingly despite teaching in England – he’d have a Welsh accent too. Behind coal, the ‘Rugby Master’ must have been the second biggest export of the Welsh economy in the 1970s and 1980s.
Welsh teaching colleges in the 1970’s must have been dishing out ill fitting Adidas tracksuits and moustaches on graduation days such was the number of them filling up PE teacher roles across the country.
What set the ‘Rugby Master’ aside from other characters was the sheer disdain they held for the sport of Association Football. To the ‘Rugby Master’ if you were a ‘footballer’ you were the worst kind of person known to man. Rugby epitomised manliness and strength to these characters, whereas Football represented diving, cheating and everything that was wrong with the modern world.
Our ‘Rugby Master’ hated the sport so much he called it ‘Soccer’ just to annoy those of us with a penchant for the spherical ball. We’d do six months of Rugby every year, six weeks of Cricket, six weeks of Swimming, six weeks of Tennis, six weeks of Javelin and Shot Putt and a mere two weeks of football at the end of term – as long as exams didn’t get in the way!
With the ‘Rugby Master’ at the helm of the school’s P.E department ‘Soccer’ was limited to a couple of sessions in the Summer, on the concrete tennis courts, played with a netball.
There were no coaching sessions, no training, no fitness work, no small sided games. ‘Soccer’ in school consisted of separating 45 boys into two roughly equal sides of shirts and skins and playing a game that would always end 23-14 to the victors. If you ‘got stuck in’ and did ‘sliding tackles’ on the concrete surface the ‘Rugby Master’ would think you were brilliant. If you even considered attempting to use any form of skill, he’d single you out as some kind of ‘Diego Maradona-wannabe’ and made to do laps of the courts.
As a ‘football kid’, I suppose this is why I held such a disdain for P.E at school. I’d come from a primary school which had a very good football team. We trained once a week, we played football every break time and lunch time. We won regional tournaments. A couple of us, myself included, went on to represent Rhondda Schoolboys as we travelled up to play sides representing Brecon Schoolboys and Wrexham Schoolboys.
So it was weird for me moving on to the ‘big school’ only to find that Football, my beloved sport, was an afterthought.
The football boys in our secondary school grew tired of being treated as second class citizens. The rugby team would train twice a week, play games every Wednesday afternoon all over the country whilst the football boys were left without a team for the first two years and when the ‘Rugby Master’ was finally convinced by the Headteacher to run a football team, he filled it with the quicker and smaller lads from the rugby team, regardless of the fact they weren’t footballers. He had his favourites and that was how he run things.
It alienated the football boys, who by now completely gave up on ever representing their school and concentrated instead on their club teams outside of school.
The ‘Rugby Master’ however didn’t end it there. This was back in a time where to be able to play for a domestic club outside of school you had to have your Headteacher and your Head of P.E sign a form allowing you to play for your ‘out of school team’. That rule may still exist, it’s been fifteen years since I last set foot in a sixth form classroom.
I remember one September, when the forms needed to be signed again for another season. Daryl, one of my friends from primary school, and I went to visit the ‘Rugby Master’ one lunch time to get our forms signed to allow us to continue playing our football outside of school, for Penygraig Boys’ Club and AFC Porth respectively.
“Sir, can you sign our football forms?” Daryl asked.
“Soccer forms? Why would I do such a thing?” The grump would reply.
“Sir, it’s so we can play for our club teams outside of school” I replied.
“Now why would I do that when you don’t even bother turning up for training for the school side?”
This sort of epitomised the old moaner really. It was funny because at the time my friend Daryl was on the books at Cardiff City (his family later migrated to Australia where he ended up having a pretty decent semi-pro football career), had people sniffing around him from Premier League clubs and I had only just started training with the Stoke City youth system a couple of times a months after having spent a year on the books at Cardiff City. (Stoke City at this time were a fairly poor side muddling their way through the Football League. They were probably only marginally better than Cardiff City who were so poor back then – so don’t take that paragraph as any kind of dazzling endorsement of how good I was back then! Both sides are completely different outfits nowadays to what they were in the Mid 1990’s!)
Yet we were being kept out of our school football team by a team of front row giants!
Eventually as our school careers progressed the old guard of 1970’s P.E teachers were gradually replaced with newer models. These new teachers were young, enthusiastic, energetic, fresh P.E teachers who were themselves fit individuals who could actually run faster and play football better than you.
These teachers would actually go out on cross country runs with us, they’d get involved in our football games, they’d teach us how to throw a javelin without going through the motions, they’d even go as far as to try and find a suitable position on the rugby field for us footballers rather than dismiss us as some kind of subhuman freak.
As soon as this new model of P.E teacher arrived at our school funny things started to happen. The better footballers were suddenly invited back to training, we’d find we actually had football matches scheduled for us and low and behold the school actually started entering teams into cup tournaments!
Sadly by the time has had happened, a lot of the strong footballers had already left school at 16 to get a job or move on to college. My injured knee which required a bit of surgery during my teens stripped me of my usual attacking midfield/No.10 position and I was holding down the role as captain of the school side in a defensive midfield/Roy Keane sort of role.
You may wonder why I’ve just gone on a 1000 word diatribe that seemed to be pretty much completely about an old P.E teacher I despised?
I guess it’s to give some kind of perspective of how much things have changed.
I just logged on to my old school’s website and found that they now run two football teams for every academic year and the first team of each year is involved in multiple cup competitions, tournaments, a league competition and they train on a 3G pitch!
Which makes a massive difference from our 6 friendlies a year!
All this leads me on to why it is so refreshing and great to see the likes of Coleg y Cymoedd and Merthyr College going through an intensive warm up 45 minutes before kick off at Clydach & Cambrian’s 3G surface.
I’d heard a lot about the set up at Coleg y Cymoedd from one of their players Owain Morgan, whom I watch a lot of at Pontypridd Town and it made me 1) Amazed at the progress of sport in the education system and 2) Very very jealous of the progress of sport in the education system.
In fact as I watched the players being put through their paces by coach Al Lewis I realised I’d already watched a lot of the Coleg y Cymoedd side already this year.
Coleg y Cymoedd (and I stand to be corrected here) is the new amalgamation of a number of colleges in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area. Back in the heady days of my teenage years, the place was known as Pontypridd College. A number of mergers with local colleges have lead to the institution being rebranded ‘Coleg y Cymoedd’.
The likes of Josh Maksimovic, Connor Wescombe, Callum Evans, Jamie Crisp and Joe Evans I’ve watched in the Cambrian & Clydach Academy, most notably when they absolutely tore a full strength Treforest adult side to shreds in a pre-season tournament at the very same venue.
Looking at the teamsheet provided to me kindly by the Cymoedd coaches I also realised that I’d very much probably seen AFC Porth player Lewis Chapman previously as well.
I was also more than aware of midfielder Owain Morgan who plays his football at my club of choice Pontypridd Town. Owain has kicked on greatly this season after a back injury kept him out of action for large parts of the last year and has already found himself breaking into the starting eleven at the club at the age of 17. I’ve seen him nutmeg Welsh Premier League players, so I was very interested to see what he’d be like on a field of players his own age and his own size.
The weather was terrible to be fair and had this game not been played on a 3G surface I’m confident in saying there would have been absolutely no chance of the game going ahead.
The Association of British Colleges Premier Cup is a knockout tournament that starts at a regional level for several rounds before, I presume, becoming a national tournament. It’s hard to say, the website is a little difficult to navigate around.
So when I take up my position under cover from the rain in the main stand at the ground, watching Cymoedd put the finishing touches to their warm-up routine under the watchful eye of a video camera, recording the match to be analysed later in the classroom I think about my old ‘Rugby Master’ and how he’d be rolling in his retirement home watching this, screaming at us to ‘get stuck in’, ‘leave a mark on him’ and chastising us for not stretching our hamstrings enough.
This afternoon’s game pits together Coleg y Cymoedd and Merthyr College. Both colleges enjoy a close working relationship with the University of South Wales and are indeed being watched closely from the stand by Steve Savage, Head of Football at the University. I say a brief hello to Steve, who comments that he’s here on official business scouting out some of the players that could be involved in his first team come next September.
Coleg y Cymoedd and Merthyr College both belong to the Category 2 league of the ECFA Wales set up and both sides have had mixed fortunes so far this season.
Cymoedd have proved to be early pacesetters in the league, sitting in second place with three wins and two draws and a game in hand over leaders Bridgend College with whom they drew 2-2 last week.
Merthyr College have found things a little more difficult this season, they currently sit bottom of the table with four losses from their four games so far. However it’s often said that with cup competitions league positions often go straight out of the window.
The game started at a furious pace with Cymoedd pinning Merthyr back on their eighteen yard line for the majority of the first ten minutes. The Cymoedd midfield, in particular the likes of Andre Maia, Owain Morgan and Declan Hansen-Spure played the ball quickly to feet and moved the ball at pace.
Early chances fell to Lewis Chapman and Owain Morgan that were well saved by Merthyr’s goalkeeper who would later go on to produce some excellent saves throughout the game.
After enjoying the lion’s share of the early stages of the game Cymoedd took the lead midway through the first half after a corner kick caused mayhem in the Merthyr penalty area. After a bit of a goalmouth scramble AFC Porth player Lewis Chapman was on hand to head home from six yards out to give his side a 1-0 lead.
Three minutes later Chapman was unlucky not to add to his initial goal when he beat two defenders and ran into the box at pace but his shot was tame and was fired straight at the goalkeeper. Cambrian & Clydach product Connor Wescombe was on hand to fire the rebound straight into the top left corner of the goal to double his side’s advantage.
Merthyr’s goalkeeper pulled off another great save in the 34th minute when Lewis Chapman latched onto a loose ball from a corner kick and looked to have added to his side’s earlier goals.
In the 35th minute Cymoedd took a 3-0 lead when a lovely defence splitting pass was despatched to Owain Morgan, who showed why he is thought of so highly at Pontypridd Town when he calmly placed the ball around the oncoming Merthyr College goalkeeper from the edge of the box to send his side into a commanding lead.
Jamie Crisp was unlucky not to get himself on the score sheet with a lovely free kick taken from 25 yards out which looked to have beaten the Merthyr College goalkeeper only to go inches wide of the far post.
With a 3-0 scoreline going into the interval both sides took temporary cover from the heavy rain that was by now coming down heavily on the 3G surface.
Merthyr College made their way back into the game in the 53rd minute when their No.7 produced a moment of class in rounding Cymoedd goalkeeper Flyn Woodward before unselfishly passing the ball across goal to his colleage, No.17 who was in a position where he’d find it harder not to score.
With the score now at 3-1 would Merthyr College find a way of fighting their way back into the game?
Three minutes later, unfortunately for Merthyr College, Cymoedd went on to restore their three goal advantage when a free kick from deep in his own half was placed perfectly by Scott Peacock into the path of Joe Evans who controlled the ball superbly before clinically slotting past the flailing Merthyr goalkeeper.
Joe Evans would go on to score another goal five minutes later when a corner kick fell to him and he made no mistake from six yards out to give Cymoedd a 5-1 lead going into the last half hour of the match.
The commanding lead allowed the Cymoedd the luxury of mixing the lineup around and we saw the introduction of players like Conor Waters, Owain Sparkling-Jones, Iefan Ball and the aforementioned and highly rated Josh Maksimovic.
The Cymoedd defence were caught napping in the 65th minute and the team were still trying to find their positions on the pitch following the substitutions. Woodward, perhaps caught out by the rain that was now lashing onto the pitch let the ball slip from his hands at a corner kick only for Merthyr’s No.7 to fire home from six yards out.
Joe Evans completed an unlikely hat-trick given his starting role in the defence in the 70th minute when another corner kick evaded everyone in the box and fell straight to his feet and he made no mistake in poking the ball home to give his side a four goal cushion and a 6-2 lead.
The final goal for Cymoedd came in the 80th minute when substitute Josh Maksimovic picked up the ball on the edge of the box and hit a lovely shot along the floor which caught the Merthyr goalkeeper out and went straight in the far left corner to give his side a 7-2 lead.
The final chance of note in the game fell to Dylan Hansen-Spure who went on a superb run, beating several men that deserved a goal for the run alone. Unfortunately Hansen-Spure was only able to look on in frustration as his shot cannoned back off the crossbar.
The referee brought the game to a close minutes later and Cymoedd sealed their passage into the second round of the tournament.
Coleg y Cymoedd certainly have a team full of talented players and although this is the first game I’ve ever watched at this level, I’ll be very surprised if they don’t finish the season with some form of silverware.
Merthyr College were unlucky today in that they went up against a very talented side in very difficult conditions. They put up a very spirited performance when other sides would have rolled over and given up.
If Merthyr College can play in the same manner against other sides, I’m convinced they give a fair few teams in this league a game.
I’d like to thank Coleg y Cymoedd for their hospitality, all at Cambrian Lakeside Sports Academy for hosting the game and I’d like to wish the very best of luck to all at Coleg y Cymoedd and Merthyr College for the rest of both of your seasons.
I’m convinced that in five years or so, some of the names I’ve mentioned above will find themselves in the professional game.