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Friday 24th August 2018 ko 18.30

South Wales Alliance – Premier Division

CANTON LIBERAL 2 (K Cotterill 4 49)

GRANGE ALBION 1 (Churchill 43)

Att 189

Entry £3

Programme £2

The Welsh Hop is an operation built on experience from top to bottom, and I do include the hill at our accommodation at the University of South Wales, in Trefforest! This year there seemed to be more to do, and at times it seemed that we were using more of our fail safes than usual. It started as early as Thursday when Caerphilly failed to deliver their programmes (they turned up Friday afternoon over 24 hours late!) and then after the driest summer since 1976 the rains came…

There was the Gwent County League’s participation to consider. We’d pondered approaching that league when we finished our stint in the old South Wales Amateur League 8 years ago, but the Mid-Wales League picked up the phone to Chris Berezai before we could make the approach. That led to us spending 3 years in mid-Wales then 3 more in the company of the Welsh Alliance. When we finished there, the Amateur League had merged with the South Wales Senior League so it was a no-brainer to return to Dave, Phil, and all our friends at the newly re-named Alliance. It’s been a happy 3 year stint, but we didn’t have quite enough clubs for our last (for now) hop with them.

It was an obvious choice to head to Gwent. From a GroundhopUK perspective it would allow us to retain a popular base at the University with the local pub, “The Otley Arms” now the stuff of legend. It would allow us to seamlessly dovetail Gwent to the Alliance so once agreement was reached with the new league it was decided that we’d use the Saturday as a day’s introduction to it. From the Gwent County’s League’s perspective it would allow them a bite-sized taste of what we were about with a view to taking on the event in full in 2019.

But in 2018 and back in the South Wales Alliance we owed Canton Liberal a hop game. They’d stepped in at short notice as opponents on our return to South Wales at Sully Sports and our intention was to visit them at their ground opposite the Cardiff City Stadium the next year. The trouble was that pitch work saw them move to the former Cardiff Grange Quins ground at Leckwith Stadium, and with a number of hoppers having ticked off that ground we decided to hold off visiting them until they returned home.

The only problem with that was what the whole experience was likely to do to GroundhopUK’s Chris Berezai! He’s a Swansea City fan and to add to having to watch a game with his club’s biggest rivals as the backdrop, there was the not insignificant matter of Swansea being relegated from the Premier League simultaneous to Cardiff winning to promotion to it. Of course noone would be cruel enough to mention it would they? I suspect he found the glowering figure of Bluebirds’ manager Neil Warnock displayed on the outside wall of the Ninian Stand as offputting as I did.

As if to add to Chris’ woes Canton now play on Cardiff City’s old pitch, dug up from Ninian Park before it’s demolition and replanted round the corner at the Cardiff Sports Campus, itself adjacent to Leckwith Stadium. The Bluebirds’ young teams use the pitch too. Behind it is a “Balloon” type indoor pitch. I wonder if we’ll ever see a game in there?

I arrived in an unusual way for me, by car. With Robyn unable to get to Cardiff before 8pm, Beds hop organiser Craig Dabbs deputised for me on Coach 2 and I drove to Leckwith, so I could collect Robyn from Cardiff Station straight after the final whistle. It came with the added bonus of being first on the scene too.

I parked up at Leckwith just as the club were setting up and getting the gate manned. It became clear that the club were doing extremely well with less than ideal facilities. The difficulty was severalfold, the pitch was both above and a little distance from the changing rooms, and there was little or no protection from the elements. But food was being sold, and the local beers sold well, even if Libs did forget to supply a bottle opener! Our thanks to Adrian Bean for preventing a very quick dash to the local Asda.

There was the added bonus of a local derby to enjoy. Grange Albion play just the other side of the Cardiff City Stadium from the Sports Campus, so the weather clearly putting off several locals was a real shame. Mind you when half the crowd could name the 3 officials maybe some of us hoppers have become almost local, so engrained in SWAL culture we’ve become!

It was a good game to watch on an excellent pitch with a fiesty encounter being shaded by Liberal mainly because Keiran Cotterill was just that little bit sharper in front of goal than anything Albion had to offer.

After it was over I collected Robyn as arranged and as we headed north to Trefforest she asked me what I’d missed. I said something like, “Lovely club, not much to work with at the ground, but a good game” I stand by those words, but more than that I just enjoyed Canton Liberal’s company for an evening. I hope they feel we’ve returned the favour.