Saturday 9th July 2017 ko 12.00
NANTYGLO (7 60)
WHITEHEADS RHISGA 5 (16 25 36 72og 78)
Att c10 at Ebbw Vale Sports Centre
The delight of this one was how all the pieces fell into place. Firstly I knew I’d be in Bristol, making easy a trip over the Severn Bridge to probably my favourite place to watch non-league football, the South Wales Valleys. Then when Nantyglo left me know that they’d booked Ebbw Vale Sports Centre for midday, it allowed a visit to a ground -not (yet) used, by a club side, and the chance to double it up with a 3pm kickoff too!
Nantyglo and Ebbw Vale have steel in common, to the extent that if you’ve traveled in the UK by train, chances are that the tracks your train rode in probably originated in either Ebbw Vale or Nantyglo. Perhaps it was only right that the two steel towns were to pay each other a visit, even though on this occasion is was because their home at Duffryn Park, Blaina was unavailable.
It meant the game was to be played on the site of the old Richard Thomas & Baldwin Steelworks, now part a museum, part the sports centre, and in part a grassed over area giving a peaceful feel to a site that for many years was anything but! In a similar fashion to the former colliery sites that are marked with the pit wheel half buried as a tomb stone, a set of hydraulic rollers marks the works’ former use.
The football pitch is at the back of most of it, a good 100 yards from the appropriately steel fronted leisure complex. Whilst that’s inconvenient for changing rooms, toilets, or even the drinks machine, it is a fine facility and it was perfect for two clubs wanting to play a friendly. Of course being the valleys, you do tend to get a backdrop, in this case the gothic-style Christ Church, Ebbw Vale, described as “The cathedral of the valleys.”
The game was intriguing, pitching Nantyglo of the 3rd division of the Gwent County league against Whiteheads Rhisga who changed their name from Whiteheads United for this season. They used to be based at Bassaleg, but are now sharing Risca United’s Ty-Isaf Park, which would explain the new name, albeit one translated into Welsh! They still ply their trade in the Newport and District League Division Premier X. And yes, in case you are wondering the league does have a Premier Y division beneath it!
Now that would, nominally at least place Nantyglo one step above Whiteheads in the Welsh footballing pyramid. However this was a preseason friendly, and anyone who’s used to watching football right at grassroots has long learned not to read too much into the nomenclature. And let’s face it Step 7 versus Step 8 in Wales is right at grass roots!
That’s not to say the game wasn’t entertaining or skilful, at times it was both. It pitted a clearly very young Nantyglo side against a much older, wiser Whiteheads side. In a game of rolling subsitutes, the fact that Nantyglo and more bodies should have given them the edge. In the end it didn’t, experience and know-how won out as often is the case. But as I dashed back to the bound for our second game in Bristol I reflected everyone got something out of the afternoon; the two clubs got an excellent workout and I was entertained royally at a highly unusual venue.