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Sunday 24th August 2014 ko 15.30

Welsh Alliance Division One


GWALCHMAI 1 (Roberts 48)

Att 394 (Welsh Groundhop record)

Entry £4

Programme £1

Badge £3

With both Blaenau Ffestiniog and Penrhyndeudraeth both on the Ffestiniog railway we really did have to travel between the two grounds on the famous narrow-gauge line didn’t we? It took a little organising, and Penrhyndeudraeth were great help, including pointing out that you can’t get two coaches to Penrhyn station, that’s why we alighted a Minffordd, but once we got the coach party on our 2 and a half chartered carriages the enjoyment was obvious.

There was something slightly unworldly about ordering and consuming a cup of tea and piece of carrot cake whilst being gently moved by a Fairlie Patent Double-Bogied locomotive through the only spiral track in passenger use in the UK. I felt a tinge of regret as I spotted Maes Y Parc down the hill and realised the train trip was coming to and end.

Sat in the courier seat on Coach 2, I saw the steward directing us where to park up and felt confident in the club’s ability to host a big crowd. There was an air of unconscious competency, always a good sign, even down to what we’d seen the afternoon before as we’d passed the ground on the way to Barmouth. That gave the hoppers an insight into exactly what it takes to stage a hop game this well.

I walked around to make sure everything was working. Chris asked whether the line-up board was up, I smiled and pointed out the gaggle of hoppers obscuring the board. The club was ticking every box, so I grabbed a pie and chips, noting that the veggie pies had just sold out, veggie food does sell well, and watched the first few minutes of the action, and planned just how I was going to count the crowd!

The club had been clever in how they marketed the game locally. Posters had gone up challenging the locals to try and beat the Welsh hop record, set at would you believe Gwalchmai last year. They did, just, and gave the club’s funds a huge boost in the process.

The funds, I suspect will come in handy, and the ground does need an upgrade. Welsh Alliance ground-grading dictates that pitches must be railed off, and the club has a one-year grace period to perform the work. The lack of facilities made me smile, I am no stranger to the game played on a playing field, sometimes I like to strip back the fripperies, and just watch 22 blokes play football. I may well be in minority, many seem to like a stand, or will comment, “I’m not interested in fields….” Mind you, at least one of that group was at the game so maybe that opinion is a movable feast!

There’s also a strand of the hobby that eschews the hop game preferring to see a ground, “In its natural state.” That’s a view I have a certain sympathy for, despite my involvement in organising hops. I do think however some grounds are best seen dolled up for a hop game, and perhaps Maes y Parc fits into that category.

The scenery certainly made up for any perceived lack of facilities, and swathes of cameras looked up and left as another train tooted as it reached Penrhyn station above. The rain just about held off, and it seemed positively quiet as the two teams slugged it out.

The match wasn’t a classic, the teams cancelled each other out for long periods, so perhaps a draw was a fair result. Or to look at it another way, 394 vs 389, that’s close enough to call a draw, I think!