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Saturday 13th January 2018 ko 14.15

East Gwent League Division 1

TINTERN ABBEY 4 (Hollow 11 G Reynolds 24 30 Morgan 42)

MATHERN FC “A” 4 (Wright 2 65 Pearce 44 55)

Att c20

Entry FREE

I’d been faintly amused by the reaction of a few “Lower numbers” hoppers after I’d published my article on Altis. I know and understand the groundhopper that has to have a stand, a programme, and the game at a certain level but but had I, and others been “Barrel-scraping?” It is of course a question without an answer, the title of this blog suggests location rather than a place in a pecking order after all! What really made me smile was what I had planned for the weekend!

Tintern Abbey is a former Cistercian monastery that fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th Century. It lies in a bend on the Welsh side of the River Wye, so close to the English Forest of Dean that the tall trees you can see behind the Abbey are in England, and many of the accents I heard sounded more Gloucestershire than South Wales!

The reason why I was there was Darryl Reynolds, who runs the club’s twitter. He let me know in plenty of time that the pitch, whilst soft was playable, and the two sets of players were clearly intrigued that someone from Oxford came “All the way” to watch them. Darryl actually commented,

“Wow! Well thank you so much for showing interest in our little club. Don’t expect much in terms of quality football but we have a go.”

That comment set the tone for the afternoon to the extent that I parked up behind the village hall, and as I selected the photographic equipment I wanted to use from the boot, Darryl found me, shook my hand in welcome, and from then on I spent my time enjoying both club’s company as folks asked “Are you the bloke from Oxford?” and I quickly stopped thinking of the club as being just about the backdrop.

The game took place with the background of an an abandoned cup game between the two sides the previous Saturday when Mathern keeper Josh Carter collapsed. I’m told he’s recovering but is unlikely to ever play again. My best wishes to him for the future.

The East Gwent League is a feeder to the Gwent County League which in turn feeds the Welsh League, which in turn feeds the Welsh Premier League. Or, putting it another way, this is football in the 8th tier of Welsh football. If you’d like a comparison GroundhopUK’s sojourn in the Ceredigion League saw us sampling the game at the 5th and 6th tiers. But despite Darryl’s warning, I loved every moment of it. For time after time if you give it the chance grassroots football shows you that heart is more important than ability.

Yes, I very much doubt I saw the next Gareth Bale or even Kaid Mohamed, but this was committed, yet fair, competitive, but friendly game. Either side could have won, both sides swapped goalkeepers, referee Mark Pring had an excellent game, and at the end of it all, everyone grinned and shook hands.

I warmed up back at the village hotel, the warm fire a salve for cold hands. A while later I drove back towards Chepstow (being able to hold the steering wheel, is I’m told useful!) and the old Severn Bridge. I glanced back at the football ground and barely noticed the abbey!