Diwrnod mawr y tu allan (A Grand Day Out)

On Friday night I made my long-awaited return to a football pitch as I turned out for the Lewes FC Elite team in a post-season friendly.  As I crawled off the field with 75 minutes on the clock I made a vow never to criticise a non league player again.  Most have full-time jobs (like me), a family (like me) and have to travel to get their fix of football (delayed, like me, on the ever unreliable trains).  Yet they still manage to keep themselves fit enough to effortlessly manage 90 minutes.  Whilst I have my age as my defence, I was on my knees.

8706968606_e138ee798b_bYes, I could blame the dust-bowl of a pitch, the lack of match fitness (or fitness in its entirety) or confusing tactics (I have to blame someone, so sorry Kev as I missed the pre-match briefing due to said train issues) but the simple matter is my days of playing the game are well and truly over.  So never again will I criticise these fine players, who play not for money, but for love.

Forty eight hours later I am sitting at a desk at the most famous stadium in the world, waiting for twenty-two Non League players to take the field in the biggest game in their lives.  For one of these teams, they can look forward to hosting Portsmouth and Scunthorpe United next season, for the other it would be Welling United, Hyde and Braintree Town.  For one afternoon this would be a battle between North and South Wales as to who would be joining Mansfield Town in the nPower League Two next season. Continue reading

Rich return for Welsh youngsters at Richmond Park

Mark Pitman makes a welcome return to The Ball is Round with news of the UEFA Under 17’s latest campaign and a rare international success for Wales.

Wales U17 4-0 Liechtenstein U17 – Wednesday 19th September 2012 – Friendly

The official buzzword from the Football Association of Wales for the World Cup qualifying campaign is ‘believe’, but in recent months the only printable feeling from fans of the national team has been ‘disappointment’. With Chris Coleman’s side reeling from their recent inept performance in Serbia, an opportunity to enjoy a more successful 90-minutes watching the red of Wales presented itself in Carmarthen as the Under-17 side welcomed their Liechtenstein counterparts to Richmond Park. The bright early-evening sun compensated for the winter chill of West Wales as Geraint Williams’ young side cruised to a commanding 4-0 victory, in front of a decent crowd that the hosts would welcome for any of their Welsh Premier League fixtures. Continue reading

Gone and forgotten – Aberdare Athletic FC

High up in the Rhondda valley in South Wales is the small town of Aberdare. It was here in the 1920’s that Aberdare Athletic added to the strength of professional football in South Wales, along with their local rivals Merthyr Town. Their Football League life wasn’t spectacular, nor did it leave any lasting legacy, but it demonstrates the thoughts of the administrators of the game at the time to try and build following for the game in the region.

After enjoying success in the Welsh Cup a few years after they were formed in 1893, they joined the newly created Southern League, Welsh Division in 1920. With so many clubs in the region vying for a spot in the Football League, the new division was viewed as a feeder league to the national set up. In their first season they finished runners-up to Barry in the league of eleven teams and applied for election to the Football League at the end of the season. A total of eight teams applied for election and Aberdare, along with Charlton Athletic were accepted for the start of the 1921/22 season.

Aberdare was a boom town post World War One. The local landscape was dotted with mines, both in terms of coal and iron ore and employment was high. The football club played at the Aberdare Athletic Ground (also known as the Ynys Stadium) which had a capacity in its prime of around 23,000. However, with Rugby Union (and League) very strong in the area, the football club always had a challenge to attract the crowds, apart from the local derbies against Merthyr Town and Swansea Town. In their first season they finished in 8th place, which was the highest league position they ever reached. The following season they finished second from bottom and faced re-election, but survived although it was only a stay of execution. Continue reading

Football’s coming home – well nearly anyway

Four weeks ago the Football Associations of Scotland, Ireland and Wales surprised the football world by expressing an interest in hosting Euro2020 in a three-way love in.  Whilst not formally stating their intention to bid for the tournament, their dipping of the toe into the murky waters of International football was received in favourable terms by many people.  Faced with competition from Turkey and Georgia at the moment, the Celtic bid looks very appealling.

Michel Platini, however, may think otherwise.  He wasn’t very keen on inheriting the joint bid from Poland and Ukraine and has expressed his Gallic frustration on a number of occasions with the progress of the infrastructure which still isn’t quite finished despite the tournament kicking off in a week’s time.  He also feels a bit guilty about France winning the bid for 2016 7-6 over Turkey where essentially he had the casting vote, so Turkey will be firm favourites.  That is unless they win a bid for the 2020 Olympic Games.But do they really fit with UEFA’s vision for the Championships?  We can glean quite a lot of information from the bid document for bids for 2016 on what UEFA expects from tournaments in the future.

The first thing to remind you is that from 2016 the tournament is being farcically expanded to a 24 nation competition, which based on the potential Celtic bid, will mean that 50 UEFA nations will be competing for 21 spots – hardly a taxing qualifying tournament.  In terms of the tournament, UEFA set their infrastructure criteria for 2016 as:-

  • 2 x stadiums with at least 50,000 net seating capacity (net meaning seats free from any obstructions) of which one should preferably have up to 60,000.
  • 3 x stadiums with at least a 40,000 seating capacity
  • 4 x stadiums with at least a 30,000 seating capacity

In addition there should be a maximum of three stadiums to be used as backup that fall within these parameters.  All stadiums need to be at UEFA Category 1 level prior to the commencement of the tournament which has very little to do with design, facilities or even a fancy roof but more to do with the size of the Referee’s dressing room, the TV compound and the number of corporate boxes (40 for 30,000, 80 for 50,000+).

It also states that stadium must be well connected to public transport hubs (well that must rule out Turkey for a start – have you tried to get to the Ataturk stadium by public transport?) and be within a two hour drive of an airport.  At least three roads from different directions should lead to the stadium (to avoid “crossover” between fans, media and VIPs), and there should be specific number of parking spaces for the different catagories of VIPs.  In the past, UEFA (and FIFA) have not liked a concentration of stadiums in a small number of host cities.  Portugal was ideal for spectators who were able to travel between 7 of the 8 venues by car within a couple of hours, but UEFA felt that the teams training camps and accommodation were too close together.  So, despite its size and facilities, the day will not be anytime soon when we see a London European Championships, despite the fact the city  currently meets the stadium criteria (Wembley, Olympic Stadium, Twickenham, Emirates, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, Upton Park and The Valley – almost). Continue reading

Swans safe for another season despite meeting a pack of Wolves

Who would have expected Wolves to suddenly find their teeth on Saturday at The Liberty?  Certainly not most of the sensible football betters that is for sure as well as our resident Swansea expert, Abi Davies.

Brendan Rodgers made two changes to the Swans side for Saturday’s fixture against Wolves, to that which had picked up 4 points from their previous 2 matches. Andrea Orlandi and Gary Monk were handed rare starts in an experimental 3-6-1 formation, meaning both full backs Taylor and Rangel were omitted.

Despite the formation’s potential, Swansea were too often left exposed at the back as a result of playing three centre-backs. With Gary Monk playing central and Williams and Caulker seemingly unsure of their roles as both played out in wider positions. Continue reading