Thursday 27th July 2006 ko 19.30
UEFA Cup 1st Qualifying Road 2nd Leg
LLANELLI AFC 0
GEFLE IF 0 Hedlund sent off 27 (DOGSO)
Llanelli won 2-1 on aggregate
Att 2,500 at Stradey Park, Llanelli (Llanelli RUFC)
Just occasionally as a groundhopper you get an opportunity so good, virtually everyone drops everything just to be there. This was one of those occasions, as back in 2006 Llanelli’s home at Stebonheath Park wasn’t yet up to UEFA ground-grading regulations, so the club decided to play their UEFA Cup fixture at Stradey Park, the home of Llanelli Rugby Union Club.
The ground had been opened in 1879 and had seen just one match on its turf that wasn’t rugby union, a rugby league match between Wales and Lebanon in 2000 that the hosts won 22-20 in the Rugby League World Cup. But this place was a temple to the 15-a-side game with the ground bearing witness to Wales ‘ first Triple Crown in 1893 and being the cradle of Welsh legends such as Phil Bennett, Gareth Jenkins, and Ray Gravell. It oozed history and tradition even down to the “Sosban Fach” on top of each of the posts.
So for the football fan, the chance to see Association Rules played there for the first time in 127 years was not to be missed, and one very well-known hopper phoned in sick to his work, but realising his office had a Swansea office, and the match was being televised, turned up in disguise! He was rather put out when a stream of hoppers recognised him and came over for a chat…
The game was nicely poised, with the Welshmen having won in Sweden 2-1. That game had been moved from Strömvallen in Gefle some 165 km south to the Råsunda Stadium, in Solna, in the northern suburbs of Stockholm. Like Stradey, that stadium no longer exists having been demolished in 2013.
At this point I should point out that groundhopping does attract those with a dose of O.C.D. It takes a few forms, the need to get a programme is one, jotting down arcane statistics is another, but perhaps the oddest is the loathing by some of the goal-less draw. Arguably the most severe form of that loathing is found in the hopper known to many as “Tram.” Hailing from Garstang, his dislike of the nil-nil draw is such that if he doesn’t see a goal, he doesn’t count the ground as being visited, and has to revisit for the club’s next home game. That has led to multiple long distance trips to the likes of Inverurie and Fakenham, and he was present for this game.
Now some goal-less draws are boring, but this wasn’t one of them. There was far too much riding on it for that to be the case. Welsh teams don’t tend to do well in Europe, so the chance to progress produced real tension. Gefle’s chances took a real turn for the worse with the early dismissal of Thomas Hedlund for dragging back Jacob Mingorance when clear on goal, but both sides had chances to score, but as happens on occasion neither side did.
Poor Tram wasn’t happy, and was driven home up north in a state of high dudgeon. He was only slightly mollified by Llanelli’s aggregate win, meaning he could watch the next round back at Stradey couldn’t he? Well no, because Llanelli drew Danish club Odense in the second, and with the rugby season having then started, switched the game to Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium, with the Welsh side losing 6-1 over the 2 legs.
Worse still for Tram, Llanelli RUFC, and later the Scarlets, moved off Stradey in October 2008 and moved to the purpose-built Parc-Y-Scarlets. The ground lay derelict until 2012 when finally houses were built on it, leaving this 0-0 draw as the only Association Rules game ever to be played there.
Some say that on a quiet Saturday where Stradey Park once stood you can still hear the ghosts of rugby players past, still scrimmaging, and kicking for touch. But if you are a groundhopper and you walk near that hallowed ground you can still hear Tram screaming….