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Saturday 25th August 2018 ko 11.00

Gwent County League- Division One

A.C. PONTYMISTER 3 (Thomas 53 Davies 71 Kidman 85p)

BLAENAVON BLUES 2 (Burton 28 Cuff 76og)

Att 238

Entry £3

Programme £1

Saturday dawned, and the University of South Wales looked the same as it always did. I readied myself for the day ahead and walked down the hill to meet the coaches. The hill was still as steep as ever. And breakfast at the Upper Boat Inn, at Rhydyfelin was the same as ever, and I remain amazed that there’s any bacon left in Wales. But for all the familiarity, everything had changed.

Normally when an organised hop switches leagues completely and we restart with a new hotel, coach company and league. But the Welsh Hop these days is a big eleven game beast so with the South Wales Alliance having only 7 clubs left that were able and willing to host, it opened up the idea that we could introduce a new league over a day with a view to them taking on the whole event in 2019.

So the coaches headed north up the A470 and quickly found Pontymister. That would have been superb but the football club actually play in at the Longbridge in Risca, a mile or so away, having moved a few years ago!

The odd name references the Longbridge 32 arch viaduct built here in 1805 to carry the Sirhowy Valley tramLine. The bridge was demolished in 1859, and later an outdoor baths was constructed. That in turn closed in 1978, but the grass pitches remained in use, with the rather dilapidated changing rooms the only link back to those baths.

Now unless you’re a club as rich as Manchester City you are always going to want better facilities, and it looks like Caerphilly Council will soon redevelop that block. But sometimes what endears isn’t the millions its charm and ingenuity- and its both of those that Pontymister will be remembered for. I love a club where there always seems to be something you’d like to buy, and here is was drinks, cakes, bacon rolls, drinks and so on.

That list also included raffle tickets and a strip or two were bought by one of the coach party’s more enthusiastic beer drinkers. I suspect it might have had something to do with the fact that 7 out of 8 of the prizes were alcoholic. What did he win? A football, which is still in the boot of my car.

As any organiser of these events will tell you, you want a good club to kick off the event. Here we got a good club and a good game too. I have a lot of time for Blaenavon Blues and the club whose pitch lies on top of a viaduct will I’m sure be great hosts when their time comes. The big decision then will be will we include either a trip on the steam railway, a trip to the Rhymney Brewery, a trip to the Big Pit or all three!

Here both sides led and both sides could have legitimately claimed to have deserved to have won the game. Perhaps the neutrals had the best time here, enjoying a rip-roaring grassroots Valleys game without having to worry about who would end up victorious.

In the end Pontymister shaded it, no bad thing from the perspective of the organiser but as Robyn and I strolled back to the coaches the smiles on peoples’ face told me everything I needed to know. The league we were watching may have changed, but the spirit of the Welsh Hop, and that of football in the Valleys in general hadn’t. And if you’d have asked Chris and I what our biggest worry over the switch to Gwent would have been, it would have been that.

I clambered aboard my coach, much happier than I’d been at breakfast. Everything and nothing had changed, and that’s exactly how I wanted it.