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Friday 7th March 2014 ko 19.45

Welsh League Division Three

LLANELLI TOWN 3 (J Evans 22 Samuel 37 John 73p)

CWMAMAN INSTITUTE 1 (Jenkins 52)

Att 257

Entry £3

Programme £2

GroundhopUK special hospitality ticket (entry, programme, buffet, presentation) £10

Badge £3

From an overnight stop in Bridgend it didn’t take long to reach our base for the Welsh Spring Hop, the Ivy Bush Hotel in Carmarthen. We’d organised the five clubs’ programmes to be delivered to journalist Chris Harte who lives locally, and it was a pleasure to catch up with him in the Rupert Sebastian Cavendish library before returning to the hotel to make up 116 programme packs before heading off to Caerphilly and Castell Coaches to meet the coach and our new driver Carl. We had a pick-up near Cardiff station before heading west to the end of the M4 and then off to Llanelli at Stebonheath Park.

Of course Stebo isn’t your typical Welsh League division 3 ground. Welsh Premier outfit Llanelli AFC went bankrupt last season, the ground reverted to the local council’s control, and the club were expecting to compete this season in the Carmarthenshire League. They weren’t unhappy with that outcome, but when Barry Town United won their court case against the FAW they found themselves placed, along with Barry and inexplicably Bettws (who’d finished bottom!) in an augmented Welsh League division 3. Barry had managed to retain all their players, but Llanelli had recruited for a season in the lower league, so the adjustments had to be rapidly made!

We had a buffet meal and presentation in the Jock Stein suite, Stein having started his full-time professional playing career at Llanelli in 1950 earning £12 a week. He returned to Scotland in 1951 to sign for Celtic principally to be with his wife, who had been distressed after their council house had been burgled a few weeks after he’d headed south.

I wonder how many hoppers saw the little red saucepan on the centre spot before the game? Its a Llanelli tradition based around the town’s former industry of tin-plating, including steel saucepans and other kitchen utensils. The Welsh folk song Sosban Fach, or Little Saucepan chronicals the travails of a harassed housewife and was adopted by Llanelli RUFC’s fans. In fact, their former home Stradey Park used to have little red saucepans atop the posts, and the football team seem to have adopted the tradition!

It did seem odd watching a bottom tier Welsh League game at a UEFA compliant ground, and with a bumper crowd too, although I’m bound to say the last time I watched Valleys-based Institute there was a large crowd too! That was on the 2005 Welsh Hop where 292 watched a quite amazing South Wales Amateur League fixture Institute contriving to lose 4-5 to Cardiff Draconians. It is worth noting that Cwmaman is the home town of all three original members of the rock band Stereophonics.

And just like 9 years go Cwmaman found themselves on the wrong side of a defeat, except this time their opposition were worthy winners. The deadlock was broken by a typical centre forward’s goal from a set-play; Jamie Evans powering home an inswinging corner. Institute had chances to equalise but Llanelli doubled their lead with a superb strike from Liam Samuel, taking full advantage of a poor clearance.

It proved to be a vital goal as another great strike pulled Institute back into the game. Mathew Jenkins gained possession on the edge of the area before smashing his shot across and beyond Gwyn Walters in the home goal.

That hope though proved to be fleeting as Llanelli soon restored the two-goal cushion, and the winner came from a penalty. Llanelli’s Steve Berry was tripped by Rhys Howe, and captain Declan John made no mistake from the spot. It was deserved, and the hoppers present, many like me revisiting Stebonheath, were quietly pleased to see this friendly, gallant club once again on the way back to where they belong. I wish them well. Or as their motto says “Ymlaen,” or Forward!