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Sunday 15th April 2018 ko 14.00

South Wales Alliance Division One

AFC BUTETOWN 1 (Farah 80p) Farah missed penalty 51

TONYREFAIL B.G.C. 1 (Cicigoi 49)

Att 120

Entry/Programme £2

The Welsh Spring hop ended as it has started, at a ground that we’d actually planned on visiting for quite some time! AFC Butetown’s Canal Park home is used for a carnival each August Bank Holiday making a visit on the normal Welsh Hop impossible. But this was a visit that was more than just a question of helping to complete a league, as Butetown’s colloquial name is far more evocative.

Call this area of Cardiff “Tiger Bay” and you can’t help thinking of Dame Shirley Bassey belting out songs like “Goldfinger” and “Something.” Famously she was born in Tiger Bay, and the Manic Street Preachers wrote the song “The girl from Tiger Bay” for her to sing, although I’m bound to comment that she spent most of her childhood in nearby Splott!

The district was originally built as a model town designed by John Crichton-Stuart 2nd Marquess of Bute whose ancestral seat gave the area its name. The estate has always served Cardiff docks and as such has seen a regular influx of immigrants, these days the area has the largest Somali community outside of Mogadishu.

Butetown like any docks community has seen more than it’s fair share of deprivation. Here’s it’s in stark contrast to the adjacent gentrified Cardiff Bay development, to the point that the tower block including former Dr Who producer Russell T Davies’ flat was pointed out to me at pitchside! At times the looming presence of the Millennium Stadium in the background seemed to taunt rather than inspire.

That’s despite the area having seen massive investment over the last few years including the Louden Square area beyond which you’ll find the football ground. You only have to scratch the surface to find that Butetown has still got real issues.

There’s the newspaper reports of needles being found on the football pitch. Then there was the well-known hopper to parked his car nearby but since he was early sat in the car for a few minutes. That was enough for a group of young men to start kicking his car, not damaging it, but letting him know that his presence was known. Certainly there was sights and smells away from the pitch during this game that I suspect were not entirely legal.

But that is why clubs like AFC Butetown and Tiger Bay FC who also play here, are absolutely essential. When the temptations are there, having something that acts as a positive role model, sometimes when there’s little or nothing else, is something that needs to be nurtured. Here the club has precious little to work with too.

There’s a changing room block reinforced with a quite incredible amount of security, a railed off pitch, and nothing else. The pitch isn’t enclosed, hence the issue over needles and there’s no clubhouse save for the community centre behind the goal. Following a running theme following the Landore game the pitch was in dreadful condition and credit to both teams for at least trying to play a passing game on it.

I grabbed a Jerk Chicken and enjoyed the company of the Tonyrefail and their fans whose hop game back in August was one of the best hosted I’ve seen in recent years. It wasn’t the easiest of games to watch, the pitch made that impossible. Both sides missed plenty of chances, Butetown missed a penalty but in the end the draw was probably the right result.

There are plenty of better grounds to visit than Canal Park, but if you can look beyond the fairly obvious problems Tiger Bay has, then this is a club whose importance shouldn’t be underestimated.

It didn’t take long to complete the drop-offs, and soon enough I found myself on the M4 heading for home. I love Wales and it’s football but this once again was a hop that proved to be difficult to organise. That’s no reflection on the clubs we featured, and the South Wales Alliance were their usual joy to deal with. The fact remains that the format will need to be radically altered if the Welsh Spring Hop is to remain on the calendar. Much will have to be considered.