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Friday 26th August 2022 ko 18:30

South Wales Alliance Division 2

TONGWYNLAIS 1 (Older 59)

COGAN CORONATION 3 (Vilis 8 Preston 19 Taylor 72)

Att 234

Entry £3

Programme £2

I’m sure there are better analogies but for me the re-emergence of the Welsh Hop was my sign that the we were some way of putting the troubles of the pandemic behind us. With my many and varied connections to Wales I knew just how hard Coronavirus hit here, to the extent I knew the hop coach would be driven by someone new this time round. I thought of Steve Pitt who was lost to the virus during lockdown as the coach headed down the A470 from Treforest.

On a more cheery note we were back hopping the clubs of the South Wales Alliance- how many leagues put an official league secretary Phil Sweet, on the coach to make sure everything is how they feel we’d want it? Of course the reason this was a one-year reunion was the Gwent League’s former secretary’s failure to either answer his emails, or tell us he was no longer involved. That situation has been resolved and judging by the reaction of that league’s clubs when they realised they’d lost the event for this year will mean we won’t have that problem next time. In the end it was fortunate we we kept our relationship with the Alliance going even though we didn’t visit any of their grounds for 4 years. 

So the staples of the Welsh Hop carried on, such as the Otley Arms, the University accommodation and buffet breakfasts on the outskirts of Cardiff. When you’ve been on as many of these hops as I have, it all becomes rather evocative.

We were fortunate that the playoffs to get into the league gave us two new grounds to visit, otherwise we may have struggled a little, and for the record the idea never was to do both in the first two games of the hop.

If there’s place that aficionados of this hop must have passed a hundred times without ever visiting its Tongwynlais. It sits at the intersection of the M4 and A470, and I must admit I didn’t know they even had a football club until I saw the play-off schedule, I know wonder just how many times I passed by without realising? That feeling was magnified when we actually walked underneath the A470!

There was one issue with this being a one-off reunion and that was that we had to work with whatever was there. I did feel with Tongwynlais had a lot to deal with, and on if we’d been able to say we’d be hopping the Alliance for multiple years then maybe we’d have saved them for another year.

The problem was that a new water main is being installed in the village and that meant the coach couldn’t get down Ironbridge Road down to the ground, and the main is being placed under the football club’s normal pitch. Handily for them, the rugby club have folded (although their social club is still open) and so for this season the football is playing on the adjacent rugby pitch. 

That did have one massive advantage, it opened up a wonderful vista of Castell Coch (the Red Castle) in the background. If I’d have known about that backdrop when I first started watching non league football in Wales I’d have visited years ago. Mind you, when they move back, hopefully next season, it will open up a potential re-visit for the other pitch; we did similar for Chinnor FC.

It seems an age since we visited Cardiff-based Cogan Coronation, and here they looked a very good side, winning this one deservedly. I plodded by way round as the goals went in and spotted Dave Wilcox quietly watching in the far corner. Dave retired as League Secretary in 2011 after being on committee of firstly the South Wales Amateur League, and then the Alliance since 1973. Anyone who’s ever enjoyed a hop game in either the Amateur League and the Alliance over the years owes Dave a debt of gratitude. Put simply it was him who saw what we were trying to do and backed us, year after year. 

It was a joy to see him and an honour for him to be with us. He’s now patron of the league, which is a lovely gesture. 

I strolled back to the coach utterly contented, and there was the Otley Arms to come….