Llanwern v Ynysddu Welfare
CCB Centre for Sporting Excellence / Friendly / 30th July 2015
“The Llanwern number 10 IS football.” Matt Harrison – 30th July 2015
Home. I was finally back. After briefly returning to the Valleys 2 weeks ago, I was soon off on the road again to Sussex to watch more crappy football, but now I was firmly home and not moving for a few weeks. I had my few days of recuperation after a lively 5 day trip down south and I was ready for a few days of Welsh football. I had to be on best form as I was tour guiding for 3 days for a prestigious visitor to the Valleys: Gibbo. That’s right, after years of me inhabiting his footballing environ in the north, Gibbo was finally heading down to see what forged Matt Harrison (me) and why he is the way he is.
I’d made sure he came during a 3 day period in which I could take him to 3 footbal matches and I had it all planned out. Beforehand, Gibbo had expressed his disdain for 3G pitches, so obviously for the 1st leg of his trip in the Land of My Fathers I took him to the most modern and most artificial pitch in the valleys in Ystrad Mynach.
Ystrad Mynach is a small town located a 10 minute drive from the family home in Quakers Yard. To get there, you have to cross from the Merthyr valley into the Rhymney Valley with Ystrad Mynach sitting just 5 miles north of Caerphilly. My history with the town is purely based around trips to the Ystrad Mynach park as a child, purely to go on the amazing ‘lighthouse slide’ – what a treat that was! Apart from that and renting a suit from there, I’ve had very little to do with Ystrad and there’s never really seemed be that much to the place really. So that’s why I found it weird when I read that a top class sporting facility was being built there: the CCB Centre for Sporting Excellence. I’d seen photos of the place on Welsh journalist Mark Pitman’s Instagram account and I was mightily impressed with the look of the place. I made sure I’d pop along next time I was home.
Gibbo had arrived in the valleys in the morning and after a quick drink in the Glan Taff Inn – where Lost Boyos was created one drunken Christmas Eve – we headed back to Harrison HQ. I’d asked my Dad about pubs in Ystrad Mynach and he reeled off a few before mentioning The Rowan Tree – a pub on the road between Nelson and Ystrad Mynach and one of the few nearby pubs I’d never visited in my misspent youth. That seemed as good a place to start as any.
We arrived at the Rowan Tree shortly after 3pm, after watching some crappy preseason tournament game between Real Madrid v AC Milan, and within minutes Gibbo was falling in love with the barmaid; this became a running theme throughout the next 3 days as we learned that Gibbo clearly has a thing for Welsh girls. After having a particularly sickly tasting pint of Coors and enjoying views of the valley below us, we decided to shuffle on into Ystrad proper.
Another reason behind the Rowan Tree visit was the ‘scenic’ walk between there and Ystrad Mynach through Penalta Park. However, the walk involved more drug bags, mud and soaring cyclists than picturesque scenery and Welsh wildlife. Plus, my “it’s only ten minutes away” mantra was proving very flawed as the pathway turned out to be far longer than I anticipated.
Eventually we emerged from the walk at Ystrad Mynach’s church with the Royal Oak pub across the road. Clearly, the walk had done something to fry our brains as in a bizarre twist neither me or Gibbo ordered any lager or ale and plomped on our table instead was a bottle of Thatchers cider for Gibbo and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale for me. We then had the pleasure of sitting outside in the beautiful Welsh sunshine watching angry motorists navigate the roundabout next to the pub.
From our seats in the pub we could see our football ground destination down the road and so with cider and ‘Newcy Brown’ drunk, we headed down the road toward the ground. I went all nostalgic as we walked past Ystrad Mynach park and spotted the ‘lighthouse slide’,so adored in my childhood, still intact.
There was still one more planned pub stop, but we did have the opportunity to have a brief nose at the imaginatively named CCB Centre for Sporting Excellence (CCB stands for Caerphilly County Borough by the way) – I’ll save talking about the ‘facility’ until later though. Onwards to the Coopers.
My Dad had highlighted the Cooper Arms as a must visit and I think it is fair to say that if Gibbo remembers anything from his trip to the Valleys it will be our visit to this pub. I’ll throw in here what an awesome pub it is – a typical, old-school valleys pub and my ideal sort of place, but it was the one event we witnessed unfold in the pub which will stick in the memory. Let me elaborate. So, whilst me and Gibbo were enjoying our Kopparberg (yes, I’d now switched to cider for some reason) a wacky gentleman entered with his rather taciturn pal.
“Alright John! Seen on Facebook that you’ve not been well. How are you doing?” queried the ‘wacky’ lad, before John gave him a run down of how he was feeling and then asked how he was doing. He then went into a spiel about how he’d got over his 8 month depression and was fine…until some hospital workers came and ‘kidnapped’ him in the middle of night. “I’m an escaped mental patient,” he proudly declared to the pub much to everyone at the bar’s amusement. We assumed that this was a joke, but it definitely wasn’t . Within minutes of buying a pint, two hospital workers turned up to take him and his mate away. I looked at Gibbo and merely said “Welcome to the Valleys.”
After witnessing an escaped patient be dragged from a pub, drinking more cider and witnessing Gibbo fall in love with another Welsh barmaid, it was time to head next door to the ground.
‘Very impressive’ was what was going through my head as we walked into the Centre of Sporting Excellence. Yes, it is a bit bland and soulless, but ultimately it’s a modern sports facility. I just couldn’t get over the fact that such a place had been built in little old Ystrad Mynach. The place consists of two identi-grounds with the adjacent rugby ground mirroring the football ground. The main building and hub sits between them with a gym, offices for Newport Gwent Dragons and two conference suites – one titled ‘The Ryan Jones suite’, after the Welsh international rugby player, and, more to my liking, ‘The Aaron Ramsey suite (Caerphilly being the Welsh international’s neck of the woods).
I can’t be bothered writing everything on offer at the ground, so here’s a list I copied and pasted from their website:
- FIFA 2 star 3G Football Pitch with Grandstand (500 seats)
- IRB 3G Rugby Pitch with Grandstand (500 seats)
- Stength & Conditioning Room
- “Aaron Ramsey” conference suite
- “Ryan Jones” conference suite
- Community Meeting Room
- Rugby & Football Changing rooms with Officials changing facilities
- Newport Gwent Dragons/Welsh Rugby Union staff offices
- Car parking for around 75 cars
The ground is also set to become the new home for Welsh League club Aberbargoed Buds. Neither team playing in the game we were attending would be calling here home (as far as we were aware anyway).
I suppose the notable thing for us there was the 3G pitch – I’m not sure what makes it a ‘FIFA 2 star’ one. However, there was one feature that got my heart racing: just like when I visited Worthing FC 6 days before, I was excited about the red astroturf outlining the whole pitch. I really don’t know why this has become ‘a thing’ for me – maybe I just like the mix of the Welsh colours green and red in front of me.
The sun was shining down on the ground and my crappy camera was struggling to get decent photos, so we navigated our way around the ground, whilst Llanwern’s attackers took shooting practice at us, and headed for the stand. Here, our conversation switched to the leg room of the 500 seater stand. Undoubtedly, whoever oversaw the construction of the stand was some sort of giant, as I’ve never been in a stand with such ridiculously plentiful leg room.
In the past few months I’ve been highlighted as some sort of ‘bad influence’ on people, generally due to my extravagant football drinking sessions. However, today I felt like some sort of ‘good influence’, as I finally got to meet Nicky Roberts of the excellent My Year In The Welsh League blog. Nicky is a disillusioned Cardiff City fan who apparently came across Lost Boyos and decided he wanted to do something similar. Hailing from the Rhondda valleys, he has decided to try to do 100 games in 2015 all within the borders of our beautiful home nation. Now I think about, maybe it’s bad I have influenced him to attempt such a feat! Anyway, he’d picked out me and Gibbo with his theory of “You can always spot a groundhopper as they have a big camera and take photos of corner flags.” Gibbo had just been guilty of both.
The whole purpose of the evening’s trip was just to check out the new facility in Ystrad Mynach and the football was almost a supplementary affair. What none of us predicted was how enthralled we’d become in the game itself. This was down to one thing: Gareth Delve – the greatest footballer on the planet.
I’d commented beforehand that my favourite thing about coming back home and watching Welsh League football is that there is always an older player, who doesn’t run too much but completely bosses the play. Well, this evening we had such a player and he was honestly the most fun I’ve had watching a footballer on my travels in a long while. Just look at our various tweets below.
As Llanwern attacked at Ynysddu incessantly in the first half, I commented on how good a touch the Llanwern number 10 had, but as the game unfolded he just became more and more magical. Superb touch, jinking runs, skills and the most cultured of left foots. Me, Gibbo and Nicky’s Twitter timelines became a feed of love for ‘Llanwern number 10’ I still didn’t want to learn his name as I felt his enigma was preserved if we solely referred to him as ‘The Llanwern number 10’.
Predictably, it’d be ‘Llanwern umber 10’ who opened the scoring and with a beauty. After skipping past a few players, he fired home a ferocious left-footed shot from the edge of the box. This prompted me to tweet the below tweet, which was the only way I could sum up his showing the opening 25 minutes.
The ‘number 10′ show continued for the rest of the half as he almost mocked the Ynysddu defence at times with his passing and trickery. Even the Ynysddu Twitter account tweeted us later saying how their defence had been given the ultimate run around.
I was now proclaiming him to be Wales’ answer to Juan Roman Riquelme and as I made such a comment he performed a beautfiul outside of the foot pass that cut right through the whole Ynysddu, leaving Llanwern’s striker to run onto and easily fish. This was just joyous stuff.
Half-time: Llanwern 2 – 0 Ynysddu Welfare.
By now, my fellow Swansea pal Huw had turned up for the second half and on his arrival we all launched into outpourings of love for our new favourite footballer. Huw has played in the Welsh Leagues and does seem to know everyone, so I instantly thought he’d be able to identify and name ‘The Llanwern number 10’ as he came out onto the pitch, but he couldn’t. This guy really was an enigma.
Before the second half got underway I thought we’d get the trademark double thumbs up photos done and it seemed that Nicky was very excited for this moment. He obviously had to have a photo, but he went into detail about how he been practicing for this moment and had even debated how to perform his double thumbs up. Wide apart or close together? I told him that I go body-wide and he seemed to settle for that tactic too. Congratulations Nicky – you have now made it in life.
Ynysddu had produced very little in the first half, but they did grab a goal back when the Ynsyddu number 7 fired home powerfully. 2 – 1. However, Llanwern had their number 10 and with him on the (artificial) field Llanwern were always guaranteed a win.
There was still more moments of magic as 10 went on a mazy run past more defenders, despite clearly being absolutely knackered. He then took the face off a Ynysddu defender as he smashed a thunderous first time shot goalwards, only for said defender’s head to get in the way.
Then after 70 minutes, the unthinkable happened. Number 10 was substituted. Fair to say we gave him a very hearty ovation as he trodded off the pitch. Undoubtedly, he is already the early front runner for my prestigious Lost Boyos Player Performance of the Season award – an award won by some chap called Leo Messi last season. Messi would do well to get in the Llanwern starting XI ahead of this lad though.
We’d now lost total interest in the game, despite Llanwern making it 3-1 in the 73rd minute when the Ynysddu goalie fumbled a shot only for the Llanwern 12 to come in and poke past him.
Full-time: Llanwern 3 – 1 Ynysddu Welfare.
It’d been great fun watching football in Ystrad Mynach and it was great finally meet Nicky, after enjoying his blog over the past few months. Make sure to check out his site here or follow him on Twitter at @MYITWL. Nicky kindly gave me and Gibbo a lift over to Hollybush, a pub in Nelson where we were going to finish our evening with 1 or 2 drinks. We ended up staying until late drinking with my Mam and her friend Joanne. Something exciting did happen during our pub session though. ‘Llanwern number 10’ – now revealed to be called Gareth Delve – had been put onto our Twitter timelines and was now aware of his new fanclub. I was delighted when I received a follow from him.
So remember people: Gareth Delve for the 2016 Ballon d’Or. You read it here first.
Highlights: The Rowan Tree, Coopers Arms (and what we witnessed in there), tidy ground, red astroturf (!!!), decent game, witnessing the greatest footballer on the planet live: Gareth ‘The Llanwern Number 10’ Delve.
Low Points: cocking up the distance of our scenic walk, the ground is ultimately soulless.
You can read Nicky’s entertaining take on the evening’s events here.
You can see all my photos from our day in Ystrad Mynach here.