Aberdare 1 Bala 2

20140301_113324St David’s Day, so it had to be the Welsh Cup.

Aberdare. Off the beaten track, somewhere almost no one goes to unless they live nearby or over the other side of the valley.

Jump on the train. Sights include the glories of the Rhondda, the enormous Royal Opera House warehouse, the incongruous home of the the company’s scenery and costumes, and, at Mountain Ash, the circus is in town.

The Peter Andre-inspired ‘Insania’ ride well to the fore and a pan-fried goodies franchise next to it ( ‘Everything under the bun’).

Aberdare in Football League

The forebear of the club played in the Third Division South from 1921 to 1927 before being replaced by Torquay.

Their highest position was eighth in their first season and in the FA Cup they once hosted then-mighty Preston – a game which drew 16,000 fans – and visited West Ham and Newcastle.

Aberdare v Bala
Rasputin’s vodka bar

The current set-up is, treasurer Steve Pearce told me, the old Aberaman Athletic side which is in the Welsh League Division One.

Just to confuse things slightly further, the ground is in neither Aberdare nor Aberaman, but Abercwmboi. All those Abers, it’s confusing.

The connection with the 1920s club seems slightly tenuous, but is considered part of the current club’s proud history.

Given the state of some South Wales valleys’ towns which have declined dramatically since the 80s, Aberdare compares very favourably, with a thriving town centre bustle.

Win this match and they were conceivably two games from Europe, if they got through the semi-final and faced in the final a side that had already qualified for action on the continent.

aberdare v bala
Only in Wales!

 

Evidence of the club’s former status was immediate. One fellow traveller had come from Birmingham to watch the game.

“It’s the last former league club ground I will have been  to,” he said, possibly unaware that the 1920s version played in the centre of Aberdare a couple of miles up the valley. But, still, an impressive trip to watch the match.

Time for Action

Aberdare Town v Bala
Tagline reads: “Where Cymro toils in sunless pits, he employed the earth to warm the world.”

Turnout was OK but as a pal Gary said: “No one’s fucking interested round here – they all go off to watch Cardiff and Swansea.”

As the last southern side left in the competition, Aberdare were looking to reach their first Welsh Cup final since 1923.

The odds looked against it. But Bala were stuffed 4-1 back in 2011 by the students of Uwic in Cardiff in this competition, so had proved vulnerable to supposedly lesser lights.

And Aberdare had put out holders Prestatyn in a previous before beating North Walians Bodedern in the last 16 to earn a rare spot in the quarter-finals.

Aberdare Tom Bradley
Aberdare keeper Tom Bradley tips an early Bala shot round the post

Bala, I was told, earned a £100,000-plus from their Europa League involvement earlier this year and have a wage bill of £6,000 a week.

Former Welsh international Mark Jones is still playing for them and they now field ex-Wales under-21 Ryan Valentine.

They started work early on the ref.

After three minutes, Scouse snark from the midfield piped up: “Every time, ref,” for a home foul. Then, not long after: “Why’ve you booked our player for being pushed over, ref?” (Because he had deliberately stopped a free-kick he had given away being taken, by swiping the ball).Aberdare v Bala

It was pretty much Bala for most of the first half. Dave Morley headed a half-clearance into the box and Mark Connolly was unmarked and able to net from the edge of the box on 27 minutes to give the Lakesiders the lead.

But being just 1-0 down meant Aberdare could hope for a goal and their best player, striker Sam Small, who’d forced an early save from the visitors, swivelled on the hour to make it 1-1.

For a neutral, that was just what was wanted. The gluepot ground made a good game out of the question.

Nippy runners were nullified by mud and the nerves induced by the possibility of a cup calamity at any time gifting the opposition a goal, were the chief source of interest.

But a quickly taken free-kick after 80 minutes set Connolly free and he was able to chip the oncoming keeper to seal the game.

Another southern side succumbs to the Gog enemy!

But the match and the occasion was enough to show that if you can drag yourself from the Swans or the Vincent Tan Ego Extension Eleven, there is decent football to be seen in South Wales.

Pretty much the right result though. The home side presumably were left to reflect on what could have been an unlikely European adventure by joining in with the Kylie Minogue tribute band – the evening’s entertainment at the clubhouse – with ‘I Should Be So Lucky.’

Aberdare v Bala

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