Monday, 27 September 2010

Keep Your Eye on the Round Ball

Hopperational details
Sunday 26 September, Neath 3  Bala Town 1 at The Gnoll in the Welsh Premier League, after a walk in gorgeous morning sunshine around the Gnoll Estate.
Mosshouse Wood Reservoir on The Gnoll Estate

This match in one sentence
The result of this disappointing game was never in doubt, but Neath look better going forward than in defence.

So what?
The big spenders of Neath go third, ten points behind Bangor City but with a game in hand.  Bala Town are bottom of the table.
Who caught the eye on the pitch?
Some eyebrows were raised when former Swansea City fans’ favourite Lee Trundle joined Neath in the close season, but it is by no means his first experience outside the English Football League.  He did not enter League football until signing for Brian Flynn at Wrexham at the age of 24.  A move to Swansea under the same manager followed, and I remember when he was said to be the first footballer outside the Premiership with an “image rights” deal.  He is now 33, and his goals-to-games ratio was very impressive up to 2006-7.  Neath’s opening league game of the season had a record crowd of over 800, and his contributions today were warmly received by the home crowd.  I guess that this could be a win-win arrangement for player and club if the Neath management have done their sums correctly.  The Bentley with the personalised number plate was tucked away discreetly at the top of the car park, and he delivered a man-of-the-match performance.

Lee Trundle scores from the spot to make it 2-0 to Neath
The first goal (from another ex-Swan Kristian O’Leary) came as a result of a Trundle corner, and the third (a spectacular shot by Chris Jones) was served up on a plate by his clever flick, and much enjoyed by those spectators still awake.  Trundle himself was tripped for the penalty that he converted for the second.  He did most of his best work with his back to goal, receiving the ball to feet and holding it up before bringing a runner into play with a clever flick or layoff.  He occasionally showed frustration with his team-mates’ lack of vision or execution, and one display of petulance was taken as dissent by the referee who yellow-carded him.  He was indeed the star of a poor game.

A swan from the Gnoll Estate
An ex-Swan from The Gnoll
This match had the same effect on my pulse rate as …
… sitting in front of a tank of freshwater tropical fish with a mug of cocoa.
A snippet from the programme
I was aware that the Welsh Premier League had restructured (see my earlier post from Airbus UK v TNS) but I noticed that three of Neath’s first five competitive games have been against Haverfordwest County.  A premier league victory was followed by an aggregate defeat over two legs in the Loosemores League Cup.  English clubs and fans have very mixed feelings about their Carling Cup, which has just had a resurgent week after giant-killing by Brentford and Northampton.  The competition format has had several tweaks over recent seasons, with sides in Europe being exempt until R3.  Lower league Scottish teams will play at least one match in the CIS Insurance Cup and the Alba Challenge Cup before their league programme starts.  It seems to me as a casual observer that three games out of five against the same opposition is not a structure that will spark the interest of fans in this rugby union stronghold.  The Welsh authorities have taken a brave step with the 6:6 split in January, and perhaps their league cup now needs a remodelling too.
What I learned today
Neath is undoubtedly a rugby town.  Six hundred spectators were herded into the shade of the main stand for today’s game.  However, several thousand will no doubt be here on all sides for reigning national champions Neath RFC’s upcoming game against Pontypridd.  Neath FC’s move to The Gnoll will hopefully have spin-off benefits for both clubs, and arguably they are showing ambition through the signings of Trundle and O’Leary.  The sharing arrangements at Vicarage Road (Watford/Saracens), Adams Park (Wycombe Wanderers/Wasps) and the Madejski Stadium (Reading/London Irish) have all lasted for several seasons and seem to prove that co-existence can be beneficial.  I am sure there are others that I have missed.  As a Hertfordshire resident, I know that there are occasional mutterings about the pitch at Watford, but many realistic fans are said to be anxious that Saracens have been looking elsewhere.
Modus Hopper Random Talking Point
Don’t get me started about the colours of the football boots worn by the youngsters who took part in the half-time entertainment.  I blame the parents, and in the meantime will send the incriminating evidence once again to @BeatTheFirstMan for his Fancy Dan blog at

... and finally, a blurred nuthatch (I hope) from The Gnoll as a tribute to my equally but differently obsessed brother Martyn who, as @BlurredBirding on Twitter and through his blog keeps us up to date with feathered friends.  He taught me everything I know about gulls.

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