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Saturday 15th March 2014 ko 14.30

Welsh League Division Three

CWMAMMAN UNITED 5 (M Hughes 16 Spring 39 Bonomi 58 66 L Hughes 69)

CWMAMAN INSTITUTE 0

Att 23

Entry FREE

Programme Comp

As a child growing up in Oxford, my parents had a liking for holidays in West Wales so I got well used to getting to the end of the M4 at Pont Abraham and the 10-year-old me always felt that this was where my holiday began. And decades later, when I reached that road’s end, almost in a random place- why wasn’t it built all the way to Carmarthen, I felt exactly the same way.

The football club play in the former pit village of Glanamman but is named after the valley, Cwmamman, or the valley of the river Amamman if you’d prefer the English translation. It is the quintessential West Wales village, with its Calvinist Chapel, the main street running parallel to both the bubbling river and the branch line that runs to Pontardulais, and then on to Swansea and Llanelli.  The passenger trains stopped in 1958 save for the odd special, which does explain why not a single train trundled by during my game. For more information on the railway click here.

Whilst this might look like a local derby it was anything but, perhaps the extra “M” gave the game away! Cwmaman is near Merthyr Tydfil, around 30 miles, and an hours drive away. What did surprise me though was the ground, Grenig Park.

It isn’t the most straightforward to find, probably the best way to approach it is to use the directions on the their official website, and park at their clubhouse on the main Cwmamman Road, cross over, and head down Penpound Lane, crossing both river and railway, for around 200 yards. It was wonderfully quiet. I stood just beyond the railway and river and listened to the water burbling, a goat scratching at the grass in its field and the shouts of the footballers warming up. It was, and is the antidote to the noise, and corporatism of the professional game that each time I encounter it, turns me off slightly more.

The ground is fantastically well appointed for its level, the fourth tier in Wales. Ground grading in the Welsh League states that there must be cover for 100, and many grounds higher up the pecking order pay lip-service to that requirement. Not here, and there are training lights on one side too, that could easily be upgraded to full lighting should the need arise. For the here and now the only problem with the ground is the stream that disgorges behind the far goal. With the wet weather this was the only the second home fixture United have played this year.

The other problem the club has is actually getting people to watch. A club official commented,

” I made up 21 copies of today’s programme. You have one, the ref got another, and I kept one and I’ve still got the other 18. Everyone here is either an official or a club member.”

You do have to question the need for mandatory programme production at this level, when it is clearly a drain on a club’s straitened resources. Still at least there’s just the referee to pay, club linesmen operate in the bottom division and Mike Jones arrived by bus from his home of Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, known locally as GCG!

Mr Jones had a fine game even if, quite honestly the game was too one-sided to be difficult to referee. I’d watched Institute just over a week ago at Llanelli and they’d struggled, albeit against a side that should find it within themselves to lift themselves out of this level of football.

They didn’t have that fig-leaf this time, United are enjoying their first season back in the Welsh League after a 3 year stint back in the Neath League, and United swept them away in a comprehensive victory. It was tactically straightforward, a central midfielder Craig Spring forming the apex of a triangle with forwards Andrew Bonomi and Mathew Hughes. The forwards worked the channels with Spring feeding them and with the Institute defence forming a high line, every mistake the defence made left them exposed.

Time after time a mistake led to a shot, and often the brilliance of Lloyd Waghorn in the Institute goal kept the score down, and to make things worse for the visitors they were unable to retain possession for long enough to test the United defence. Their only period of sustained possession was in the last few minutes when the match had long been lost.

The defeat leaves Institute second from bottom, but the difficult question is how many and who will be relegated. With Barry’s legal battle placing them, Llanelli and Bettws unexpectedly (for the league anyway) in division 3, the numbers should be evened out at the end of the season. That would imply at least 4 down, league rules state a maximum of 3 but will the feeder leagues supply enough candidates? Treforest could well come up from the South Wales Amateur League, but they’re chasing only a play-off for the one spot shared with the South Wales Senior League.

At least that conundrum will end with the merger of the Senior and Amateur Leagues for next season, ending a situation where two officials in Rhondda Cynon Taff had an argument many years ago and one flounced off to form the Senior League. As the friendly United official put it in a, “Left Twix and Right Twix moment.” For those at the bottom of the Welsh League these are nervous times.