Monday, July 19, 2021

A footballing visit to the Valleys

Back-to-back weekend football action for me after so many months away. I had planned to watch Grange Albion play Grange Allstars in the FAW Trophy. I'd already planned my blog title for this - El Grangeico! However, the Allstars couldn't muster a team so my footballing compadre, Tom, and I had to choose somewhere else. 

I floated the idea of another Barry Town friendly, but Tom said he would prefer a competitive match. So we looked at the other Trophy games on offer and settled on Aberdare Town versus The Butcher's Arms.

Just a few seasons ago Aberdare were competing at the top end of the Welsh League, but they have sunk a few levels recently and now play in the same league as Grange Albion, the South Wales Alliance Premier Division. Their opponents, The Butcher's Arms, were from Mountain Ash, 2 miles down the Cynon Valley, and recently were winners of the Aberdare League Division One. 

The ground is neatly kept, with turnstiles on the road leading down to the back of the stand along the side of the clubhouse. They produce a programme, which had a lot of content and was only £1.

In the clubhouse is a photo of Alf Sherwood, who came from Aberdare and played for Aberaman Athletic, one of the forerunner clubs of the present-day Aberdare Town before signing for Cardiff City. There was also one of the 41 caps he earned for Wales. I love history like this on the walls of clubhouses. 

The main stand (seen here from across the pitch) is a decent size and offers a great view due to its height above the playing area.

We settled into our seats ready for kick off. Tom humoured me with a selfie. 

From the stand you can also see the back of the dug outs. I was struck by how much the visitor's dug out seemed to have been kicked to bits. 

Aberdare had most of the early running, forcing chances and hitting the bar.

It was blazing hot and soon the players were taking a much-needed rehydration break.

Then, The Butcher's Arms caught a break, with the ball falling to one of their strikers as he drove into the penalty area and he blasted home to give the visitors a shock lead. The team in the eyecatching pink kits then had a little purple patch with two more good chances before Aberdare steadied themselves. However, Town still trailed 0-1 at the half time break.

(Half time was when I went down pitchside to get a photo back of the main stand. It was painfully hot down there. I also got a chance to talk to one of the Aberdare coaches, Daley, who is a Barry fan I've got to know in the last couple of years. He had been running the line on the far side of the pitch in the full heat of the sun and he looked like he was about to melt.)

The second half kicked off and Aberdare forced an equaliser, another shot lashed in from almost the same place where The Butcher's Arms had scored. Aberdare continued to push and were denied a winner for a debateable offside call after the ball took a deflection and ended up squirming past the goalkeeper.

It might have been because of the heat, but the game dragged a bit as the half wore on. Tom and I were kept amused by the lads behind us discussing the relative merits of Greggs and Tesco suasage rolls. (Greggs were "too crispy" apparently.) We also laughed about one of the silliest yellow cards I've ever seen when one of the Aberdare subs was ordered off the pitch because his socks were infringing the rules. 

Speaking of subs, it was only when I was reading the programme before the game that I realised I knew one of the squad. I've known Sam for a long time and I was delighted when he got onto the pitch towards the end of the second half. Here he is surrounded by defenders. This picture really showcases the opponents bright shirts. 

However, Aberdare were unable to get a winner. At 90 minutes the game went stright to a penalty shoot-out, which was taken at the end where both goals were scored. The keepers trudged down to that end.

Meanwhile their team-mates waited nervously on the halfway line. 

Aberdare had crashed out of the Welsh Cup First Qualifying Round on penalties the week before. Surely, history wouldn't repeat itself? Well, their first taker missed. Their second taker missed as well, but got a reprieve because the goalie moved before making the save, so he got to retake it and scored.

Meanwhile The Butcher's Arms takers were putting them away with aplomb. Sam scored his, which I was pleased about. Then the visitors missed their fourth penalty. This would tie everything up. 

The fourth Aberdare taker stepped up and blazed the ball over the bar. The next kicker made no such mistake, ripping it into the net and winning the shoot-out for The Butcher's Arms 4-2.

I don't know if this is the biggest scalp in The Butcher's Arms history, although I suspect it was. Certainly it was a bitter one to take for the home side. At least they have the league to look forward to and having seen a few South Wales Alliance games recently I suspect they have a very good chance of success this year. 

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