Welsh League Ground #5: Cambrian Lakeside Academy, Cambrian & Clydach Vale Boys and Girls Club

Ground: Cambrian Lakeside Academy
Date of visit: Saturday 10th February 2018
Fixture: Cambrian & Clydach Vale BGC v Haverfordwest County
Welsh Football League Division One
Admission: £5
Attendance: circa 50

Another weekend that didn’t exactly go to plan because of the weather. It’s bordering on the absurd the way this winter has caused havoc to Welsh domestic football’s schedule with hardly any teams outside the Welsh Premier League able to fulfil all their league fixtures up to this point. The end of the season will be of great interest to groundhoppers, but I suspect it’s going to be a nightmare for clubs who need to cram in their fixtures before the cut-off date. For some teams it is already looking like a 3-4 games a week scenario in the spring months.

One such club faced with this prospect is Penydarren BGC, whose ground I planned to visit this weekend. Not a Welsh League ground at present, but the importance of their fixture – an FAW Trophy quarter-final – meant it was the must-see football match in the south of Wales this weekend. Alas the weather did its dastardly work and their ground The Bont was unplayable. Fortunately, an agreement was reached whereby the game was switched to Merthyr Town’s Penydarren Park. However, kick-off was pushed back two hours so that ruled it out for me.

So receiving this news upon arrival at The Bont at about five past one, it was a case of making a dash back down the A470 and up the Rhondda Fawr to Clydach Vale for the 2pm kick-off at the Cambrian Lakeside Academy. With a 3G pitch that match was guaranteed to be on and had it’s appeal, pitting an improving Cambrian & Clydach BGC side against Welsh League leaders Haverfordwest County.

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The Club

Cambrian & Clydach Vale Boys and Girls Club have previously featured on this blog. A summary of the club’s history can be read on that post, rather than repeating (i.e. copy and pasting) it here. I will briefly outline how things have moved along since my initial visit because the club have really turned around their fortunes on the field over the winter months.

A run of 8 wins in 11 games moved Cambrian from the bottom end of the table up as high as 3rd in Welsh League Division One shortly before Christmas. Form has tailed off slightly since then, but the Cam Army (as they style themselves) are still on course for a decent final position this season if they can finish the campaign well.

It’s been a slow work in progress but it is a credit to the work the Cambrian management team – led by Craig Hughes – have carried out in the past 18 months. Last season they managed just one home league win all season, during this campaign they have turned the Lakeside Academy into a very difficult place to visit.

What is especially commendable about the progress is that age profile of the Cambrian squad, which mostly consists of players developed through the club’s UEFA certified academy. It’s a team full of local players and Hughes has not been afraid of blooding players as young as 16 in the first team this season. With a modest budget, the club do need to produce their own players but there is a strong ethos of developing local players at the club. It’s not just about producing players who understand ‘the Cambrian way’, but as local players they are embedded in the fabric and culture of the place. In this sense what Cambrian are trying to do meets the ethos of being a truly community club.

Cambrian is a club, I confess, I have taken something of an interest in. While I wouldn’t be as bold as to consider myself a supporter, I do look out for their results every weekend and I am pleased when they do well. I’ve had nothing but positive dealings with the club’s first team management who are open and really supportive of Welsh football writing. On the field they are building a good football side around young players that in time will hopefully get the support it deserves from the community.

It will always be a tough sell because the Welsh Valleys is not an area that provides big support to Welsh domestic football in terms of attendances. In that sense clubs like Cambrian will always be up against it financially and when you factor in they entirely self-finance their academy, any success they achieve will always involve, to some extent, punching above their weight.

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The Ground

Cambrian Lakeside Academy is about twenty minute drive from Pontypridd, and less than two minutes off the A4058, the main trunk road up the Rhondda Fawr. It’s nestled at the end of Clydach Vale, a small community that owes its existence to the mine that was once situated in the vale, on the site of what is now the Clydach Vale Countryside Park.

The pitch is 3G, the growing importance of which in Wales was really pushed home on Saturday when just 2 of the 19 scheduled Welsh League games took place – this one and the game at Penybont (which is also a 3G pitch). The ground also boasts a futsal pitch at its eastern end.

It is fully compliant with the incoming Welsh Tier 2 licence with the addition of covered seated stand behind the changing room end, complimenting stands on each touchline, which now presumably means Cambrian can seat 250 under cover. There is also the bonus of floodlighting, which, remarkably, are not an essential part of the new ground regulations.

Spectator’s Eye

As the name would suggest, the Lakeside Academy is rather more a venue built for players rather than spectators. It has the look and feel of a complex with football ground odds and ends tacked on and where spectator facilities are present they are basic and simply there to ensure the essential standards for the level are met.

Parking at the ground is very limited. Fortunately, there is plenty of space on the road abutting the ground, plus the Lakeside cafe car park is less than five minutes walk from the ground. There is plenty of space, even when Ton Pentre are the visitors.

In the ground you can get a hot drink (tea and coffee £1), but that is the extent of it on the visits I have made. The Lakeside cafe is just a short work away, offering a more substantial range of refreshments, but this caters to the pre and post-match experience.

View from the Lakeside cafe

Unfortunately, it is a place that suffers on a day like this when it’s cold, windy and there is a constant downpour. The setting is charming though with the hills of the Clydach Vale providing a picturesque backdrop and in the fairer months you can make a pleasant day of the visit, first by exploring the nearby lake and country park, then refreshments at the cafe before watching the match.

Programme

I didn’t pick up a programme on this occasion. In the past I found the Cambrian programme to be on the basic side of the spectrum. See previous Cambrian post for my impressions.

Crowd

There was a solid following from Haverfordwest so the ‘away stand’ was open for this match, while the ‘home stand’ behind the dugouts was closed. I don’t know the reason for this, whether it’s do with ongoing work, an expected low attendance with it being a Wales rugby international day, or simply that the seating behind one of the goals is more popular these days.

My rough head count put the attendance at around 50, with probably around 20 from Haverfordwest making up that number.

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The Match

Cambrian & Clydach Vale BGC 3-0 Haverfordwest County

I was anticipating a close and competitive match. Cambrian have made the Lakeside Academy a bit of a fortress this season. They are a well-organised side, pragmatic rather than expansive, although they can play and do have some good attacking players. Haverfordwest County were top going into the game, so I was expecting them to be a well-drilled outfit. You don’t get to the top of the Welsh League without being a fairly hard-nosed outfit.

Ordinarily the conditions on the day wouldn’t be conducive to attractive football but this is were 3G comes into its own. It may be where Cambrian had the home advantage too as they were more adept at keeping the ball on the surface for most of the game, while Haverfordwest’s pretty direct play on the day didn’t really offer them much of base to work from, especially with Cambrian’s centre backs dominant in the air.

In a tight first-half there was very little between the sides. It was no surprise there was a stalemate at half-time as neither side really showed enough invention or conviction in the opening half. Both sides had their crossbars rattled from long range strikes, but that was as good as it got in a half that lacked quality and clear cut chances.

 

The dribbling of Cambrian winger Sam Jones was a feature of the game.

 

The second-half saw Cambrian come out and take the game by the scruff of the neck. A flurry of activity in the opening ten minutes eventually led to a penalty award for handball. It looked a bit harsh from where I was stood, but the referee was less than ten yards away and I was about fifty, so he was in a much better position to make the call. Anyway, Cambrian’s experienced centre forward Richard French stepped up and made no mistake from 12 yards to give the home side a lead they probably just about deserved on the balance of play.

The next twenty minutes were typically Welsh League end to end and both sides had opportunities. But the longer the half wore on the stronger and more confident Cambrian became and less likely Haverfordwest looked to get themselves back on level terms. The crucial second goal went the home side’s way and it came from a goalkeeping error. Liam Reed’s shot on the turn didn’t look overly threatening but Haverfordwest’s goalkeeper Conah McFenton allowed the ball to slip through his legs and into the goal. Cambrian put a final flourish on their dominant second-half performance when French scored his second goal in injury time.

Cambrian certainly deserved the win on the day and while it could be argued it wasn’t a three-goal game, there weren’t too many complaints from the Haverfordwest supporters around me. They knew their side were well beaten on the day.

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It is a strange to give a verdict here. I enjoy my visits to Cambrian because I like the club’s ethos and I like what the management team are doing in trying to build a successful team with a clear identity based around local players. It is a true community club managed by people from the Rhondda area so they really buy into that culture.

That said, the Lakeside Academy probably isn’t the best spectator experience on a cold, wet and windy winter’s day. If you are going to visit, best save it for the warmer months or when there’s a Rhondda Derby on because the place is completely transformed for those matches.

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