Misty Mountain Hop

The Welsh Alliance League sits at level three of Welsh football and takes in clubs from Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbighshire and even into Flintshire to the east. Formed in 1984 it promotes into the Cymru Alliance and relegated to the Anglesey, Gwynedd and Clwyd leagues. The second of three groundhops taking in the league’s clubs took place over the long August bank holiday weekend.

Friday August 22nd 2014

Halkyn United 0 Greenfield 2

Attendance: 219 (at Pant Newydd)

Halkyn United were formed in 1945 and played in the evocatively titled Mountain League, a pre-cursor to the Clwyd League. They originally played on a pitch adjacent to Village Park in Pentre Halkyn before moving to the field next door to Halkyn Cricket Club at Pant Newydd. On a clear day the elevated view takes in sights as far as Blackpool but today a chemical works, Widnes Power Station, the Wirral and the River Dee proffer a varied backdrop to the game. The game itself is won very comfortably by the visitors with a goal in each half. This is a shame for the hosts who were in the Cymru Alliance only eight years ago.

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Saturday August 23d 2014

Pwllheli 5 Llanrug United 4

Attendance: 328 (at Recreation Road)

Football in this famous Welsh seaside resort dates from 1879, the first match being against Porthmadog. The club initially played on a field next to the railway station but in 1899 the town’s new recreation grounds were opened by Solomon Andrews an entrepreneur synonymous with the development of the town as a tourist resort. Nowadays the pitch is adjacent to the town’s leisure centre and it is a very decent facility. The hosts win a thrilling end-to-end game by the odd goal in nine thanks to a brace of quality goals from Carl Jones and a hat-trick from substitute Rhodri Scott.

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Nefyn United 0 Llanllyfni 4

Attendance: 286 (at Cae’r Delyn)

Weeks before the hop Nefyn had announced that they had no choice but to step down to the Gwynedd League due to struggling to attract players. It seemed a shame to miss out on such a scenic ground so the right thing to do was just watch a Gwynedd League match instead. Cae’r Delyn is a scenic wonder with stunning vistas of the Iron Age hill fort Garn Boduan to the west and the peaks of Gwylwyr Carreglefain to the east. The match highlighted the host’s inadequacies in terms of playing strength but it was nice to see a hefty handful of banknotes being gleefully counted at the end of the game. Just as long as Mickey Thomas hadn’t been in they will have done just fine out of the occasion.

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Barmouth & Dyffryn United 6 Llanrwst United 2

Attendance: 294 (at Wern Mynach)

The club has archives dating back to 1863 which makes the club one of the oldest in Wales. The club play at Wern Mynach which nowadays has a nature reserve at the north end which has been developed out of a disused landfill site. The club have played in a variety of leagues over the years including the Cambrian Coast League and the Central Wales League. The club won the Gwynedd League in 2006/07 but were denied promotion to the Welsh Alliance on ground grading issues. To their consternation the following season’s champions, Llanllyfni, were promoted with inferior ground facilities. Barmouth appealed to the FAW and were granted a belated promotion. The current team play some excellent football and were far too strong for the visitors from Llanrwst, a super hat-trick from captain Paul Lewis leading the way to comfortable three points.

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Sunday August 24th 2014

Blaenau Ffestiniog Amateurs 4 Penmaenmawr Phoenix 2

Attendance: 320 (at Cae Clyd)

Probably the ground most people were looking forward to lies in the heart of the slate mining area of this mountain town. Football had been introduced to the town in 1885 and clubs like Ffestiniog Town, Blue Stars, Ffestiniog Juniors and Ffestiniog Athletic played regular friendly matches. The original Blaenau FC being formed four years later in 1889. With flat land at a premium the club lead a nomadic existence playing at Holland Park, Manod Recreation Ground, Newborough Park, Oakley Park, Haygarth Park, and later still at Tanygrisiau’s Y Ddôl ground before the council provided land at a former refuse tip at Congl-y-Wal in Manod in 1956. The club had a policy of signing semi-pro players from the Liverpool and Wrexham areas and this became unpopular locally and the club floundered. In 1980 a new club was formed in the North Western Hotel and notably called Blaenau Ffestiniog Amateurs. The club progressed through the Vale of Clwyd and Gwynedd leagues gaining promotion to the Welsh Alliance in 2009. Even though the Cae Clyd ground has long lost its railway platform canopy as cover against the elements, the modern replacement on the opposite side serves its purpose admirably as the second half is hit by mountain rain. The precipitation seems to galvanise the home team as they overturn a 1-2 halftime deficit in a one sided second half. A truly magical ground and cradle of the game football.

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Penrhyndeudraeth 1 Gwalchmai 1

Attendance: 394 (at Maes Y Parc)

Penrhyndeadraeth have a bit of a problem, the on field success of the team has seen them outgrow their relatively basic Maes Y Parc ground. Winning Division 2 of the Welsh Alliance last season has seen them enter into a season of “grace” for required facilities like hard standing and a post and rail pitch surround. Formed as recently as 1981 the club has dashed through the Caernarfon and District and Gwynedd leagues. The club has certainly exceeded the town’s previous pre-eminent club, Cookes United, the successful works side of the Cooke’s Explosive Works who competed in the Cambrian Coast League. The company became part of ICI and the club and works closed in the 1990’s, their Cae Cookes ground became derelict. An somewhat attritional draw is played out with Gwalchmai and the proceedings are pleasingly interrupted but the distinctive horn and smoke of the Ffestiniog Mountain Railway passing the ground.

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Nantlle Vale 3 Amlwch Town 0

Attendance: 344 (at Maes Dulyn)

The day ends in the small village of Pen-y-groes in the heart of the Dyffryn Nantlle slate quarrying area. Nantlle Vale FC have a rich heritage dating back to 1920. The club won the prestigious Welsh League (North) in 1960. In the 1970’s the club gained notoriety for its robust play under the guidance of player manager Orig Williams, who was a professional wrestler known as El Bandito! The Maes Dulyn site had become very run down by the mid 2000’s so in 2007 the club embarked on an impressive series of improvements and now boast one of the best grounds in the league. The team is equally impressive tonight dispatching Amlwch Town with some ease.

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Monday August 25th 2014

Holywell Town 3 Llandyrnog United 0

Attendance: 377 (at Halkyn Road)

The club traces its’ heritage back to 1893 and the formation of the Holywell FC team who sported the same red and white stripes as the modern club. Holywell United and Holywell Arcadians were pre-cursors to the post World War II reformation of the club. Prior to then the various town clubs played at Ffordd Fer. With a school having been built on the land, a new ground off Halkyn Road was opened in 1946 and Holywell Town became one of the biggest clubs in Wales. Such was their record they became founder members of the League of Wales in 1992 although they were relegated from that league for a second time in 1999. The present day team has some steel to it though, galvanising under the motto “refuse to lose” they brush aside a workmanlike Llandyrnog side.

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St.Asaph City 3 Mochdre Sports 1

Attendance: 254 (at Roe Plas)

The St.Asaph club has risen rapidly in recent seasons overtaking St.Asaph based neighbours Y Glannau as the (now) city’s highest ranked club. In November 2012 the clubs’ Roe Plas pitch was seriously flooded when the adjacent River Elwy burst its banks. The club successfully applied to UEFA for a £10,000 grant to repair the damage and this was a catalyst for elevation to the Welsh Alliance for the 2013/14 season. The facilities are still basic, the away dugout moved alarmingly when a Mochdre sub leaned against it! The hosts dominate the game and should have been more than three goals up when Mochdre (which translates as “Swinetown”) grab a late consolation as the forecast rain began to get heavier.

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Kinmel Bay Sports 2 Glan Conwy 2

Attendance: 221 (at Y Morfa)

In scenes redolent of The Brittas Empire the match was originally cancelled following a dispute between the football club and the leisure centre management. It centred over soil mixed, as it turned out, with sizable pieces of aggregate being strewn over the Kinmel Bay pitch. Patently it could not be used in that condition and an eleventh hour meeting saw the game take place on the back pitch. The onslaught of predicted monsoon weather saw the elements triumph as the sides played out a 2-2 draw. Kinmel Bay had ironically moved to the venue having dominated the Clwyd League under their previous guise of Abergele Rovers. Rovers’ Parc Pentre Mawr had scant facilities and the move to Kinmel Bay Leisure Centre gave the club an opportunity to progress. Hopefully the ground dispute will be settled amicably in the not to distant future.

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What a great weekend of football in the mountains and coasts of North Wales. It was truly lovely to stay in Barmouth, a frequent holiday destination as a young football watcher. When the Welsh sing of “Bread of Heaven” I have often wondered what they mean but I believe weekends like this give an outsider just a small slice of it! Next years’ hop will be the last in this excellent league, you really ought to come.

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River Deep, Mountain High

I joined the Welsh Alliance hop one game late after an unexpected Friday night visit to Cefn Druids. So Saturday morning began with a trip over the Menai Straits using the historic old Thomas Telford iron bridge.

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First port of call was to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllanty-siliogogogoch and this involved the obligatory photo of the railway station with the longest name in the world. The local football side moved to their current ground of Maes Eilian in 2008, their Gor’s Field home still in use for the club’s reserve team. The current ground is decent with a seated stand and a covered terrace. More importantly the welcome is cordial and accommodating. The home side prove far too good for their troubled visitors Pwllheli. Despite a penalty saved by Kevin Davies, the visiting keeper, Llanfairpwll rattle in four quality goals without reply.

Llanfairpwll (2) 4 (Frazer 9, 48, Smith 38, Vousden 70) Pwllheli (0)0

Attendance: 271 at Maes Eilian

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A quick drive to nearby Gaerwen for some Second Division action between the local side and Penrhyndeudraeth. Lon Groes is an immaculately kept ground liberally splashed with Gaerwen’s red and black colours. Before the match starts a short detour was required to the local school hall where the club was serving Lobscows, a traditional Welsh stew which garnered universal approval. The match saw the visitors dominate, and despite another missed penalty, it bothered the four sheep behind the goal more than the home custodian, Penrhyndeudraeth ran out easy winners by five goals to nil.

Gaerwen (0)0 Penrhyndeudraeth (2)5 (P.Roberts 33, 79, Hughes pen 45, S.Jones 69, L.Jones 88)

Attendance: 241 (at Lon Groes)

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– Lobscows

Another warm welcome awaited at Maes Meurig, home of Gwalchmai. A well develop ground with three stands and the strange sight of houses back gardens opening out into the ground itself. If the locals welcome to the crowd was first class it did not extend to their guests, Llanberis, who were put to the sword by five goals to one, Marc Evans catching the eye with a well taken hat-trick.

Gwalchmai (3) 5 (Sinott 19, M.Evans pen 36, 38, 82, S.Sinclair 53) Llanberis (0)1 (Parry 88)

Attendance: 389 (at Maes Meurig)

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The final game on Anglesey came at the heavenly home of Glantraeth. The Trefdraeth ground is picturesque beyond compare with mountains soaring skyward, colours changing with the advancing evening. The club put on a super effort with food and drink and a tight encounter is enjoyed by all as the light gently faded.

Glantraeth (1)3 (Taylor 25, 76, C.Roberts 78) Llanrug United (1)2 (Pritchard 18, D.Williams 90)

Attendance: 308 (at Trefdraeth)

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The natural beauty of Anglesey gives way on Sunday morning to urban sprawl as Llandudno Junction ground the Flyover is hemmed in by housing and busy roads. That said the club seems to have a really good core of volunteers and they put on a great effort for their visitors. Sadly for the hosts the visitors, Holywell Town, are in no mood to roll over and dominate from start to finish, the Railwaymen doing well to keep the score down to five unanswered goals.

Llandudno Junction (0)0 Holywell Town (2)5 (McElmeel 26, G.Williams 45, S.Jones 56, J.Jones 73, P.Williams pen 80).

Attendance: 302 (at The Flyover)

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Just over a mile saw the convoy arrive at Cae Ffwt, the home of Glan Conwy, separated from the River Conwy by a single track railway. The first notable thing about Cae Ffwt is how small the pitch is, narrow and hemmed in, one corner flag so tight to the perimeter only short corners can be taken. The second notable thing is the vista, Conwy Castle looks glorious behind the green and white hooped dugouts and the bank and the road end provides stunning views of the river with the mountains of Snowdonia beyond. A tight, drawn affair is highlighted by the humourous interjections from the match announcer.

Glan Conwy (0)1 (Knight 51) Nefyn United (1)1 (C.Jones 5)

Attendance: 305 (at Cae Ffwt)

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– Lamb Cowl

Saturday’s final match was at Llanrwst and followed a particularly edifying drive alongside the River Conwy. Into Llanrwst means crossing the river via a stunning medieval bridge which groans with the weight of unexpected traffic.

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Gwydyr Park, the home of Llanrwst United (a 1983 merger of Llanrwst Athletic and Town), is a stunner. Heavily wooded hills loom over the stand giving scale and beauty to the backdrop. It is the stand rather than the game, a dour goalless slugfest that is the talking point of the evening. A local official tells anyone that will listen that it came to the village in the 1960’s having been transported from Accrington Stanley’s Peel Park. Whether it’s the whole stand or the clearly aged corrugated iron cladding that’s vintage Stanley is open to debate, but it’s the type of romantic myth I would like to believe has at least some semblance of truth to it. Research will be done. What is fact though is there is probably not many more finer places to spend a gloriously warm summers evening.

Llanrwst United (0)0 Bodedern Athletic (0)0

Attendance: 370 (at Gwydyr Park)

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If Carlsberg did raffle ticket sellers…

Sunday morning allows a quick visit to the ruins of Denbigh Castle before trundling down to Central Park, home of Denbigh Town.

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Another scenic ground with a church and a former metal asylum dominating the attractive stand. The club go the extra mile with welcome posters all around the ground. The visitors, Barmouth and Dyffryn United, arrive late and never get going. Mike Lundstrom opens the scoring for Denbigh and then the match becomes the Kristian Pierce show as the midfielder bags a very classy hat-trick.

Denbigh Town (2)4 (Lundstrom 27, Pierce pen 30, 72, 75) Barmouth and Dyffryn United (0)0

Attendance: 285 (at Central Park)

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The next game is in the remote village of Llandyrnog, the place looks deserted as the convoy hits town. The pub, the Golden Lion, where the local side was first formed, opens quickly to accommodate its welcome but unexpected guests. The ground itself, Cae Nant, is quirky. The pitch is massively uneven, you cannot see one of the corner flags from the clubhouse such is the camber. The small stand is partially caged, the club seemingly having lost some of the padlock keys. The visitors are dear old Pwllheli again and to their immense credit they battle back from an early Josh Davies goal to take their first point of the new campaign when Mercall Williams bags a deserved equaliser.

Llandyrnog United (1)1 (J.Davies 4) Pwllheli (1)1 (M.Williams 40)

Attendance: 232 (at Cae Nant)

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The hop ends at Meliden a suburb somewhere between Prestatyn and Rhuddlan. A basic ground with no stand and a small dressing room block could have been a disappointing end to the weekend. What makes it though is the effort of the locals, a family day is underway as we arrive and stalls line one side of the ground, and it’s a happy atmosphere to end the weekend. The historic and ancient Welsh Cup, currently the property of 2013 winners Prestatyn Town, makes a surprise but welcome addition to the occasion. A local derby with St.Asaph ends with Meliden taking the points with two hard earned goals.

Meliden (1)2 (Moss 35, McDougall 84) St.Asaph (0)0

Attendance: 323 (at The Mine)

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So once again a superb weekend faultlessly arranged by the experienced Groundhop UK team. Marvellous weather, welcoming clubs, scenic grounds, and a good standard of football, I think they might just have discovered the very elixir of life itself.