Aber Valley, Aberaman Athletic, Aberaman Park, Aberdare Athletic, AFC Penrhiwceiber, Chris Berezai, Cwmbach Royal Stars, Football, groundhop, groundhopping, GroundhopUK, ICI rifle fields, Merthyr Saints, Nelson Cavaliers, Non League, Wales, Wern Park
Sunday 28th August 2022 ko
11:15 South Wales Alliance Premier Division
MERTHYR SAINTS 1 (Maia 37p)
ABER VALLEY 5 (Razimielski 6 45 65 James 22 Neville 83)
Entry & Programme £5
14:00 South Wales Alliance Division One
ABERDARE TOWN 6 (Johnson 12p Jones 14 64 Olson 18 Thomas 22 Welsh 70)
AFC PENRHIWCEIBER 0
Turner missed penalty 90
17:00 South Wales Alliance Division Two
NELSON CAVALIERS 0
CWMBACH ROYAL STARS 3 (Jones 19 J Price 43 L Price 66)
Entry & Programme £4
In some ways Sunday was when the South Wales Alliance Hop really hit its stride. For one thing we had 3 superb grounds to visit this time, with all respect to Cardiff Cosmopolitan their 3G cage was unlikely to excite many! The other factor was having league chairman Phil Sweet on the coach, he’s a man of Merthyr so hearing his memories and knowledge of his home town put where were were and what we were watching right in perspective. Of course the hop and later myself had visited the Saints before, the hop seeing it as the very first club visited on the very first Welsh hop in August 2002. But there was a move to consider…
The club had started life as Hoover Sports but in 2000 they opted to rebrand themselves and move north of Merthyr, to Pant, just the other side of the A465 “Heads of the Valleys Road,” to the former ICI works ground.
ICI had a plant in nearby Dowlais that was used mainly to produce ammonia for use in armaments – The plant closed in 1963, and its sports facility ended up being taken on by the local council. Saints moved in, but have moved for this season, from the right side of the clubhouse to the left.
That description really doesn’t do the move justice. The new ground features floodlights and a seated stand, neither of which were in situ at the old ground which is still extant and used for reserve and youth games.
There was quite an atmosphere about the place when we arrived, and thanks should go to all at Aber Valley, they made sure we weren’t the only ones taking a coach to the game! An ice cream van arrived, promptly broke down and had to be towed away, but everywhere I looked there was someone holding either a tea, sweets or some form of merchandise they’d bought from the Saints.
In fact it all served to mask Saints’ issues away from this event. The problem was that in the days before this, lack of players had seen the club come close to folding so while the visitors gained a straightforward win the fact that Saints were there and hosted so well must be seen as a positive result for all concerned.
I must admit that when I’m groundhopping very few revisits excite me. There are a few exceptions, and Aberdare’s Aberaman Park was definitely one of them. The club of course has a storied history; part of the DNA is Aberdare Athletic who were a Football League club from 1921-27 playing out of Ynys Park.
The club moved to Aberaman Park in 1927 and became Aberaman Athletic and many will remember the club as a successful Welsh League outfit. The name reverted to Aberdare in 2012 and the club were relegated to the South Wales Alliance in 2018.
The upshot of that was I knew we’d be visiting not just a good ground, an exceptional one. The only issue I could see was how to park either the coach or the multitude of cars. The cars ended up in a field beyond and the coach was artfully squeezed in in a gap by the turnstiles. And yes, I think we all enjoyed the “Grasshoppers” typo at the gate, although with some groundhoppers’ hatred of artificial pitches I’m now wondering just inaccurate a term it was?
The best description of our afternoon was that it all felt that it was of a far higher level. Nevertheless I did feel sorry for AFC Penrhiwceiber who were cast as the fall guys in this game, and it’s never pleasant taking a hiding in front of a large crowd. Incidentally they’ve now moved from Glasbrook Field , and have taken the now defunct Tynte Rovers place sharing at Penrhiwceiber Rangers‘ Glasbrook Terrace. Now there’s another ground to do before you die…..
At both Saints and at Aberdare I’d got used to people coming up to me and asking where were visiting that day? Wern Park, in Nelson without exception produced a wince at every single person I mentioned it to, which I do feel was a little unfair.
The village in Welsh is Ffos-y-Gerddinen, or Mountain Ash Bog- perhaps that’s why the English name, after the Nelson’s Arms coaching inn, tends to get used. Falklands War hero Simon Weston was born here too, but back to the football ground….
I get it, I really do, some folks see thing only in terms of facilities, and since there’s no stand, or floodlights at Cavaliers I can see why some might see a visit there after what had gone before as something as a come-down. I didn’t and don’t, for one thing variety is the spice of life and I promise you this, you’ll never visit a ground like Wern Park!
You’ll be like just about everyone there, who enjoyed the use of the topography of the place, particularly the seating cut into the hill. While we’d moved from two grounds ideally suited to hosting a hop game to one where all concerned had to work hard at it, it was an enjoyable evening out. And while I’m not a particular fan of outside catering being brought in, congratulations to whoever reversed that catering van down the hill, and my “Dirty Chips” were delicious!
The game saw a match-up with Cwmbach Royal Stars another club with a pub in their name, and who could forget the “Executive Stand” behind the goal there? Here they passed and moved sufficiently better than their hosts to win the game. As I walked back to the coach I reflected that it was one of those occasions when there was something in it for everyone.
And of course, that thought could easily be extended for the entire day.