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The Welsh Hop Up – March 2012

It was an early start as I creakingly arose at 5.00am on Friday 9th March, forced myself under the steaming jets of the shower, grabbed a quick cup of coffee and hit the road at 6.00am. The first stop was in Leicester, where I picked up Graeme and then we drove through the sunrise up to Nottingham, where Chris was already out by his car when we arrived! It was a brief stop for Graeme and me. I left my car outside Chris’ house, hoping that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the damage the vehicle received the last time it was parked up there!  We picked up Mike at the National Motorcycle Museum off the M42 where his wife had thoughtfully decanted him and then, with Chris driving sedately, and we luxuriating in the leather seated comfort of his limousine, we headed south onto the M5, the M50 and eventually the M4 to Pontypridd, or, to be exact, to Treforest where the University of Glamorgan is situated and where various previous “hops” have used the halls of residence for accommodation. We were there by 11.30am although it seemed like half a lifetime since the morning’s bleary start, and met up with Lawrence who had driven down from Oxfordshire with a couple of assorted hoppers adorning his passenger seats and a couple of hub caps missing! We had an hour or two to kill as Chris and Lawrence went off to collect some programmes and what better place to while away the time than a local hostelry which just happened to serve food. So it was beer and breakfast/lunch all rolled into one!

Keith, from Castell Coaches, was driving and we repaired to the coach yard in Caerphilly where he is the transport manager and deposited the cars and took to  the coach for the journey down to Cardiff Railway Station where we picked up the rest of the hoppers who had come down by train.It was 3.30pm by this time, but we still had another eighty five miles to travel up to Lampeter for the first game of the “hop”!

Lampeter is a tiny town, yet it hosts a quite quaint university of some repute! It was, by this time, dark and Lampeter Town’s floodlit pitch adjoins the local Rugby Union pitch which is also floodlit. Indeed, a Rugby Union match was taking place and the local U-16 team were giving a good thrashing to  some shellshocked visitors (we never did find out who they were). Time for a quick pint in town in a pub which was a throwback to the 1950s – drinks only served and a wooden floor – and then back for the game. Lampeter Town were third in the league and their opponents who rejoiced in the evocatively Welsh nomme-de-guerre of “Llanybydder”, were some five places off the bottom. I suppose we all expected a fairly straightforward home win, but we have learnt on these expeditions to Welsh climes to expect the unexpected and so it was with little surprise that we saw Llanybydder take the lead on thirteen minutes through the very English sounding Oliver McEnery. Mark Rivers pulled one back for Lampeter and as the game appeared to be petering out to a tame draw. Standing on grass with frozen feet in uncertain light, the hoppers began to contemplate the comforts of hotel rooms for the night, then Llanybydder popped up again to upset the applecart with a second goal only six minutes from  the end! This sparked some furious attacking by the home side which was rewarded with an equaliser three minutes into added time and the game did indeed end all square!

It was still twenty  five or so more miles on the coach to Aberystwyth (I really felt like Marco Polo or “Stout Cortez…..with wild surmise……silent on a peak in Darien”). Chris, however, had done wonders with the accommodation. I had a large double room with a forty inch TV set and en-suite with a jacuzzi. The only  down side was that I was staying but the one night!

The best was yet to come! I don’t know how he did it, but at breakfast the following morning, Chris had arranged for a couple of comely young blondes from the other side of Europe to be in the dining room attending to our every need! Well, perhaps not EVERY need! We all  appreciated his attention to detail, if not his dress sense for the day. He said that his wife’s favourite colour is pink, but even she couldn’t put up with the mishmash of pink  and black and white daub that constituted the Partick  Thistle football shirt that he was wearing! Each to his own, I suppose!

Chris, our friendly Sturmbannfuhrer, suitably accoutred


The first match of the day (and the second of the hop) was played at Aberystwyth University. They play at The Vicarage Playing Fields and Keith, the coach driver,  managed to give us a pretty good tour of Aberystwyth, exploring several interesting alleyways not intended for coaches and executing several miraculous manoeuvres, before getting us to the stadium overlooked by the impressive National Library of Wales. The University had done us proud. There were several red and black track-suited students who inspected passes and generally helped to direct affairs before and during the match. They weren’t totally male dominated, mind you, when it comes to screwing raffle ticket money out of golden mouldies like myself, they sent in the fairer sex with a bevy of female students appealing for our ticket money!

Aberystwyth University, Vicarage Playing Fields

It was a misty, murky, dank sort of morning and if ever a game had 0-0 written all over it, this was the number one contender! Even when the home side had Gareth Thomas sent off in the 43rd minute, we all still felt that they could contain the feeble and innocuous attempts of the visitors. And so it proved to be until, completely out of the blue, up popped Lee Jones four minutes from time to  fire home an unlikely winner for the away team. I felt sorry for the students, struggling at the wrong end of the table. It had not been the best of games – indeed there were many who would regard that statement as over generous – but the university just didn’t deserve to lose and this defeat drags them deeper into the mire!

The next game was but a short hop down the coast to  Aberaeron and the reason that they were included in the hop is because it is mooted that next season, they will move to a new ground away from their pleasantly situated town centre location

Aberaeron FC

surrounded by hotels, shops and houses. This match was a division lower that the morning offering and yet the fare was superior with Aberaeron, who are pushing hard for promotion, pitted against mid-table Machynlleth. Aberaeron produced by far and away the best programme for the hop, all glossy and colourful, but at £2.00 it was twice the price of all the others! They also had too much fire power for their opponents and ran out comfortable winners by 3-1.

The last game of the hop was even further down the coast and yet further down the league pyramid. This was a match from The Cynghrair Costcutter Ceredigion League Division 1 (The Cardigan League to you and me!). I think that it was generally  accepted that this was the best football match of the hop and the the most exciting too. New Quay, the hosts had a quite picturesque ground cut into the hillside  with high viewing points aplenty (but like the rest of the grounds this weekend, you needed to bring your own seat!). They had provided a bar and a goodly range of food for the discerning hopper and brought to the occasion a team as yet unbeaten this season with eleven wins and two draws from their thirteen league matches. Their opponents,

New Quay's Parc Arthur Ground

Maesglas, were the only team above them in the league, five points ahead, but they had also played five games more! For those with weak bladders,there was but one toilet, and that was housed in a disabled cubicle, so the largest crowd of the hop had long queues for relief!

The game itself was a cracker! The two teams were evenly matched, although the home side were reduced to ten men mid-way through the second half. It was Maesglas who took the lead in a game of no quarter given but by the interval, New Quay had drawn level. Meirion Evans, the referee had his hands full in the second half as tempers frayed and the search for a winner – by both sides – grew more intense. It was Maesglas who won it  with a goal towards the end and then, they too had a player dismissed right at the death, but New Quay had lost their first league match of the season!

The weary hoppers piled onto the coach for the long journey back to Cardiff, calling in at Port Talbot to set down some of the hoppers for a more convenient train. All  the worry about whether the last train would already  have left was laid to rest as Keith did his usual expert shift of driving and deposited all the hoppers where and when they wanted, including the car travellers back at the depot in Caerphilly.It was a quiet, pensive drive back to Nottingham. On the way, Mike’s wife fittingly collected him from Birmingham International Railway Station. Chris had us back in Nottingham by just on midnight and I had Graeme back in Leicester by 12.30am and was home myself just before 1.00am!

It had been an exhilarating couple of days! You have to appreciate all the work and the intensity of effort that Chris puts into the organisation of these hops and then, it is all over in one intense blur of activity. I am always impressed with the military precision of the organisation of these events, which to the untutored eye always appear to be relaxed and laid back. Chris, himself drifts through the proceedings, seeming to know everyone by name, with a smile and a chat ever ready to help or advise. It all seems so effortlessly simple! I suppose that that is the art of good management!

Here’s to the next time!!!

Cynghrair Costcutter Ceredigion League

Friday 9th March 2012 7.30pm

Lampeter Town       2                  Llanybydder          2

Mark Rivers 35                              Oliver McEnery  13

Josh Coombes 90+3                     Daniel Thomas 84

referee:- Wyn Roberts                   attendance:- 197


Spar Mid-Wales League Division Saturday 10th March 2012 10.30am

Aberystwyth University                0                      Bow Street             1

Gareth Thomas sent off 43                                        Lee Jones 86

referee:- Mr S Jenkins                                             attendance:- 236


Spar Mid-Wales League Division 2 Saturday 10th March 2012, 1.30pm

Aberaeron              3                          Machynlleth             1

Ryan Jones 20                                     Kurt Jarman 60

Dale Thomas (og) 65

Rhydian Davies 85

referee:- Paul Morgan                          attendance:- 224


Cynghrair Costcutter Ceredigion League Division 1

Saturday 10th March 2012  4.15pm

New Quay                  1                  Maesglas                 2

 Charles Harvey 14                         Llifon Howell 38

 Jamie Thompson s/o 87             Richard Evans 88

Chris Morgan s/o 90

referee:- Steve Plane                      attendance:- 276


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