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Saturday 24th April 2010 ko 14.30

Welsh League Division Three

GARW SENIORS BOYS & GIRLS CLUB 2 (Williams 11 S Misbah 64)

CORUS STEEL 3 (Piper 20 Johnson 31 Hislop 50)

Att 31

Entry £3

Prog £1

Badge £3

Tea in a mug 50p

There are grounds that the discerning football enthusiast should visit, the real theatres of the sport, the likes of Wembley, and Old Trafford, and then there are the places with real history such as Hallam and Sheffield FC. Then you start to find the tucked away places that don’t get much publicity, but have a life all of their own. These are the grounds you hear about when groundhoppers congregate over a beer (or two), and you hear names such as Benburb and Beesands, but believe me Blandy Park, Pontycymmer is high on the list of anyone who’s visited.

The train used to terminate here, as you arrive at the very last of the villages in the Bridgend Valleys. Just the track bed remains, although there are plans afoot to reinstate the railway as a heritage project.

The ground isn’t easy to find, tucked as it is behind the main road. The trick is to aim for 205 Oxford Street, in Pontycymmer, then when you see the little car park on your right, park up, then head back the way you came before turning right in about 50 yards.

The club’s name is Garw, pronounced Gar-Roo, and is named after the river valley in which it sits. If the trains no longer reach here, when I visited 5 years ago the club’s stint in the Welsh league was close the end of the line too. They were relegated to the South Wales Senior League, were promptly relegated again and now find themselves in SWSL Division 2.

Blandy Park sits by that track bed, making use of a thin layer of level ground that’s just wide enough for a pitch.  The stand sits a good 40 feet up, cut out of the rock face, with the clubhouse perched on top of it all.  The changing rooms are to the side, coming from a copper roofed house, refitted by the Community Payback scheme.

The ground is breaktaking, but there was a moment whilst I was there that stopped me in my tracks. I was chatting with club chairman Kevin Day (his son Rhys played for Manchester City, Oxford United and Mansfield Town) when he showed me a photograph. The picture was of, for me, the greatest Welsh footballer ever John Charles being introduced to the fans at the Millennium Stadium just before he died in 2004. Behind Charles was Ray Smiles, the Garw secretary and FAW councillor, and once chairman of the powerful International committee. Charles clearly wasn’t well, and Smiles’ face was a mixture of pride and concern for the great man. It was a wonderful, if haunting photo, and I’ve not seen it again, and yes I have searched!

In his seventies Smiles acted as club linesmen as Garw lost again, this time to Corus, now re-named Tata Steel, although they fought hard and were by no means disgraced. As things are now, the club sit 8th from 14 in Division 2. At first glance that looks secure enough, but for next season the league will merge with South Wales Amateur League to form the South Wales Alliance. That at some point will see the current 4 divisions distilled down to 3, so some clubs will be cast adrift. How that selection process will be achieved isn’t clear, presumably Blandy Park would pass ground grading, but there’s certainly all to play for.

But let’s face it, if you love football grounds, then Blandy Park should be high on your list, whatever league Garw are in.