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Sunday 26th August 2018 ko 11.00

South Wales Alliance Division Two

VALE UNITED 7 (Waagenes 7 35 Gregory 32 Caseley 74 Richards 83 86 Hanson 90)

STM SPORTS OLD BOYS 1 (Partridge 48p)

Att 168

Entry £3

Programme £1

The alarm sounded with a judder and I was shocked into life. Perhaps that evening in Abertillery could have been curtailed a little earlier. But the band Jo90 were excellent (Robyn and I booked them for our wedding!) and the delights of what appeared to be “Grab a Granny” night at the Glasgow Phoenix nightclub were nothing if not amusing!

The weather though was a cause for concern. The rain was sheeting down and at the Upper Boat in Rhydyfelin the two coachloads of hoppers wore expressions that evoked that of a schoolboy sat outside the headmasters office waiting for six of the best. I sat quietly and ate and thought. I know I and the other hoppers are well used to getting wet, but if there was one host club I really didn’t want it to rain for it was Vale United. 

You may remember Robyn and I seeing the Bridgend-based club’s promotion to the South Wales Alliance in 2017 courtesy of a play-off at the rather unusual venue of Pentre Park near Ton Pentre. With the Welsh Hop being based in the SWAL I ended up watching a side that we could visit, beat a side in Llanharry that we already had.

I kept in contact with Vale via Twitter and with a neat triple involving Vale, Portcawl and Llangeinor available it was time to pay the Corntown Carpet a visit. The club are mighty proud of their pitch, and with the weather as it was, its quality was tested. The trouble is, I’ve long since learned that when a club tells you how good its pitch is, it often means there’s precious little else. And in Vale’s case that meant absolutely no cover.

The tragedy was that Vale’s plans were rock solid. There was a hog roast, Vale United branded cup cakes, and even specially brewed Vale United Groundhop beer. Still with just about everyone crammed into the clubhouse, those 3 items sold extremely well!

And while the weather did wash away most of the local support, Chris and I has some special guests. Anyone with an ounce of footballing soul will have enjoyed Garth Vader’s company over the 18 months or so, and GroundhopUK have made the decision to become kit sponsor for the season. Chris Berezai has also taken orders for replica shirts to be sold too with all profits from their sale also going to Vader. It was good to sea Richard and the team and for once we didn’t jinx them!

I borrowed a brolly from the coach and went to watch the game, or more accurately braved the downpour. Now in hopper terms, wet games on hops do tend to become the stuff of legend. The games at Exwick and at St Dennis are noted for the volume of rain that fell, well this saw as much rain if not more, and unlike those examples there was no cover here.

The game was worth getting wet for though. I’m sure many will wonder what relationship the visitors have with Welsh League outfit STM Sports? The answer is none, Old Boys split from them a few years ago, and I was firmly informed of this when advertising the hop on Twitter, and used STM Sports Twitter handle by mistake. Mind you the visitors did feature former STM Sports defender Lloyd Nessbert who’s departure from a game at Cardiff City Stadium in 2015 was rather unusual to put it mildly!

This was as thorough a beating (or should that be drowning) as you’ll see anywhere. Vale managed to belie the dreadful conditions and pass the ball well on a pitch that lived up completely to its billing. I hope the club did well on its big day, despite the awful weather. I watched a club whose staging was absolutely spot on lose anything up to 100 people from the gate purely because of the weather. Vale United didn’t deserve that, and tonight I’ll raise a glass to them. You see, I did buy a couple of bottles of that beer, and very good it is too!