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Sunday 12th March 2017 ko 11.00

Bridgend & District Sunday League Premier Division

GARTH VADER 2 (N Whelan 65 Garfield 86)

ST PATRICK’S ROVERS 7 (Emmanuel 13 Llewellyn 22 41 Thomas 29 Kyle 42 Evans 53 86)

Att 79

Entry FREE

Programme £1

Without question the club that really lost out on the Carmarthenshire Hop was Pontlliw. They were scheduled to play Pwll on the Sunday morning, but when the West Wales FA refused to let Pwll reschedule their West Wales Cup tie, and the only possible opponents Gorseinon refused to take their place it left Pontlliw disappointed, the Carmarthenshire league annoyed, and we at GroundhopUK forced to run the hop a game short. 

Now, an easy solution would have been to give everyone a lie-in, and simply leave our hotel in Carmarthen later, but there was an overiding feeling that if something could be found, and if that could help someone out then so much the better. Even if it wouldn’t be a hop game a match somewhere, anywhere would be better than nothing wouldn’t it? The trouble was that Gorseinon’s refusal to play came only 4 days before the event. Or put it another way-  it was time to get creative!

You can imagine Chris Berezai flicking through the various Sunday League fixures between Carmarthen and Cardiff, when the name Garth Vader leapt from the page. He phoned me, and we agreed to head there as something to do on our way back to Cardiff. The Star Wars themed name appealed, if nothing else we hoped it might put a smile on people’s faces, but in the end it proved to be so much more than that.

The name does make sense, Garth is a village just outside of Maesteg, and if you were from there wouldn’t you pick Vader as the suffix? Further investigation turned up that they play at the former Caerau Link ground, in Metcalfe Street, opposite Caerau FC’s Athletic Ground. Boy does it seem an age since the Welsh Hop paid there a visit! The ground is fully railed off, and in terms of keeping groundhoppers mores satisfied hasn’t been used by a 1st XI since Caerau Link folded in 2015, with Caerau’s reserves occasionally using the ground when both they and their firsts have a home game.

Caerau Link played in the South Wales Amateur League so we knew that this wasn’t going to be pitch on a public park. It’s railed off, with its own changing block. The hard standing on the far side came courtesy of the route of the old railway line shut in 1988.

But the real bonus was when Chris spoke to Rich at Vader, and gently asked whether they’d be able to do a programme for us.

“No problem” he replied “I’m a graphic designer!” – talk about a slice of luck!

We collected the programmes on the way from Ystrad Mynach to Carmarthen on the Friday, in time to include them in the advance ticket holders’ programme packs and what had started being a means of filling a blank few hours had suddenly become more interesting.

Garth Vader badges were ordered from Andy at Black Dragon, sadly it was too late to have those available on the day, and while we knew that the thought of “Sunday Football” would be perjorative to some we took the view that the club would find any income a benefit, and those attending would hopefully enjoy the game for what it was. Those proved to be massive understatements!!

The first surprise was the view. On a cool, misty, drizzly morning the view high up over the valleys was spectacular, for me one of many reasons I love football in this part of the world.

The second was just how good the programme was! The club had been given very little notice, yet produced an interesting newsy issue, but the feel good factor was to be found within its pages.

The programme made it clear that that Garth were struggling. They were and are the bottom of the league and the money had run out. They were considering folding, so Chris’ phone call came at precisely the right time for them. It was clear that whatever your views on the fixture, this was a case of both sides helping each other out at an opportune time.

The programme money helped the club and Chris put up a bottle of whisky to raffle which raised £78 (yes I do know the one person who didn’t buy a ticket!) and GroundhopUK donated a further sum to help Garth Vader further. Hopefully they’ll be able to complete the season at the very least. Perhaps now the force will be with them!

Yes, they lost, to fellow Maesteg residents St Patricks, and the game served to reinforce the views of both those who love and hate Sunday football. But above all else it was fun, and ultimately if watching football isn’t that, then I’d question why you’re watching it.