Welsh League Ground #10: Centre for Sporting Excellence (Ystrad Mynach), home of Trethomas Bluebirds and Risca United – A Return to My Roots

Ground: Centre for Sporting Excellence (home of Trethomas Bluebirds and Risca United)
Date of visit: Wednesday 21st March 2018
Fixture: Trethomas Bluebirds v Trefelin BGC
Welsh Football League Division Three
Admission: £3 (programme £1)

I spent a large part of my childhood running around Trethomas. There was a time when I stayed more or less every week at my grandparents’ house on Mary Street, running around the back lanes, down on the Rhymney river catching minnows, exploring the slag heaps on Bedwas mountain, kickabouts on the village field and afternoons with my grandfather in either ‘the Rupe’, the ‘Pyke’ or the British Legion.

When my grandfather died in 2006 the memorial was held in the village and the wake at the Ruperra. My Nan has since moved out of the village so it’s been a long time since I’ve been in Trethomas, but it’s a place that is embedded in my experience, loaded with emotional attachments and all sorts of nostalgia. Therefore, when I started to take an interest in the Welsh League and saw the village’s club, Trethomas Bluebirds, played in Division Three it was always my intention to go and watch them at some point.

Except, Trethomas Bluebirds are no longer based in the village but half a dozen or so miles further up the Rhymney Valley in the village of Ystrad Mynach, where they use the state of the art Centre for Sporting Excellence (CSE) as their home ground. We’ll come on to that in good time.

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According to the match programme, Trethomas Bluebirds AFC were formed in 1903 by local coal workers. A benevolence fund allowed the ground on Llanfabon Drive to be purchased, a place where locals could play and use football as a means of recreation outside their work in the local colliery and coke works.

For most of their history Trethomas Bluebirds (the name deriving from Cardiff City) played at recreational level, the story of their rise to the Welsh League beginning when they joined the Gwenty County League in 2003. The ambitious committee finally achieved this goal when Trethomas won the Gwent County League in the 2015/16 season and won promotion to the Welsh League. Last season the Bluebirds consolidated their status by finishing 11th (out of 16) and this season they are on course for a top five finish.

The ground at Llanfabon Drive is now owned by Caerphilly County Borough Council. A lack of facilities at the village field meant Trethomas Bluebirds negotiated a groundshare with the rugby union club in the neighbouring village (Bedwas RFC) in time for the 2015/16 season, providing the club with a ground fit for the Welsh League ground criteria. After two seasons at Bedwas, Trethomas moved grounds again for this season, basing themselves at the CSE in Ystrad Mynach.

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The CSE is situated on the site of the old Ystrad Mynach hospital (the new hospital is opposite on the site of former council offices). Opened in 2014 it consists of two purpose-built grounds – one for football, the other for rugby union – with 3G all-weather pitches. Facilities at the CSE also include fitness rooms, media and office space associated with the rugby union side of things. The football ground boasts a FIFA 2-star 3G pitch and a grandstand with 500 covered seats.

As with many of these modern 3G complex grounds the CSE lacks the character of a truly home football ground. There is very little in the way of identifying this as a home ground for any specific club (Risca United of Welsh League Division Two are also based at the CSE), from a spectator’s point of view there is very little to be endeared with. However, from the playing side of things the facilities will be well above what a club of Trethomas’ means could develop for themselves at present.

On this night the pitch played well enough, although I did watch Risca United here last October during Storm Brian and the pitch didn’t hold the water particularly well – not ideal for a so-called ‘all-weather’ pitch. I have read this same observation elsewhere about other occasions at the CSE.

There isn’t much in the way of spectator amenities at the CSE, a coffee machine inside is your lot. Outside Nat’s Tasty Baps offer a range of hot drinks and snacks from a burger van. The coffee as good as you’ll find around the Welsh League for £1. There are two pubs within short walking distance of the CSE; The Cooper’s was Risca United’s preferred choice for post-match nourishment if I recall correctly.

The club do provide their own refreshments for their officials and those of the visiting club and it was very kind of Louise Hill to extend the offer watch the game from the warmth of the balcony, as well as sorting out the home team-sheet, although I preferred to watch the game from the grandstand.

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Trethomas Bluebirds (Own Goal 55) 1-1 Trefelin BGC (Jamie Latham 33)

The Bluebirds are enjoying an excellent season and went into this fixture with title-chasing and unbeaten Trefelin on the back of five wins on the bounce. I was expecting a really good football match on a good surface. I knew from previous experience with Trefelin BGC that they train on 3G, which promotes the passing style manager Richard Ryan has built his side’s success around. While the match was a good contest between a very physical side (Trethomas) and a more technical outfit (Trefelin), unfortunately the game didn’t quite hit the heights I was hoping for.

Trefelin dominated the ball for most of the game, while Trethomas were happy to be more defensive and try to disrupt Trefelin’s rhythm with their physicality and a succession of fouls in midfield. Unfortunately, the physicality would spill over into recklessness in the second-half, but on the face of it I did like the contest between these two very different styles of play.

Trethomas look a very organised and disciplined outfit out of possession and it took a while for Trefelin to produce any real cutting edge. An early burst down the left by Jordan Edwards was their best chance until around the half hour when they took the lead with more or less the first chance presented to them – and it was presented to them.

Bluebirds goalkeeper Gareth Williams did well to race off his line and snuff out the threat from a through ball. However, he overplayed and played the ball straight to Trefelin’s Jamie Latham. The young forward showed good touch to loft the ball into the empty net from 25 yards.

Trefelin created several chances before half-time but they were profligate in front of goal, especially striker Shaun Best who squandered a couple of good positions. While Trefelin led at half time and looked firmly in control with their domination of possession, as their chairman Steve Green remarked to me at half-time, while the lead remained 1-0 there was always a chance of being pegged back.

So it proved.

Early in the second-half Trefelin conceded an own goal from a corner-kick. It was a soft goal to give away against a side that up to that point hadn’t looked like offering a huge threat going forward. Soon after Trethomas’ Ricky Jones was sent off for a wild lunge on Trefelin’s Joseph Jones. That meant the Bluebirds were forced to play out the remaining half an hour against one of the division’s best sides with just ten men.

Credibly, Trethomas dug in and defended really well. Their organisation meant Trefelin created very little in the way of chances, the best efforts coming from long-range and Gareth Williams wasn’t forced into any real work. When the full-time whistle blew, it would be a cruel judge that would deem Trethomas worthy of their point for their tenacity in the second-half and for largely nullifying the threat of a very strong side that looks destined to play at a higher level.

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A feature on the CSE can’t really ignore the other Welsh League club based there: Risca United. As it seems unlikely I will re-visit the CSE again this year, I’ll give Risca United some space here with a brief outline of their history.

I will add a note for Risca United’s benefit that if I am back at the CSE I will prioritise one of their fixtures (although I did watch their home fixture v Pontypridd Town earlier in the season) and if possible will try to make a trip to their historic home Ty-Isaf Park on another occasion.

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Risca United AFC (nickname: The Cuckoos) was formed in 1946 and initially began life in the Monmouthshire Senior League. Their first dabble in the Welsh Football League came in the early 1950s but after a decade they were forced to return to the county leagues for financial reasons.

It would be nearly 30 years before Risca United would return the Welsh Football League, but in the interim they forged a reputation as one of the most successful outfits in the Monmouthshire Leagues, a golden period arriving in the 1970s when The Cuckoos won a league and cup double in three consecutive seasons. It was an unprecedented achievement at the time and the football club were recognised by the presentation of a unique trophy from the Monmouth Senior League.

The Cuckoos returned to the Welsh Football League in the early 1990s, quickly rising through the divisions to reach the top flight in 1995. Their stay in Division One was brief and they soon slipped back through the leagues. In the basement they remained until a resurgence in the recent seasons that saw successive promotions in 2013/14 (to D2) and 2014/15 (to D1). After a two year stay in the top flight, last season Risca finished bottom and were relegated back to Division Two.

The club’s nickname ‘The Cuckoos’ originates from an old (and somewhat twee) story about the villagers of Risca trying to catch a cuckoo under the (false) assumption it was a rare and precious bird, to foiled by the bird’s capacity to fly. The tale ends with a traveller teasing that there is no need to capture the book when the village is full of cuckoos.

Risca United’s tradtional home ground is Ty-Isaf Park, which is located in the actual town and historically shared with the Risca rugby union side. With the FAW introducing mandatory regulations for tier 2 clubs, Ty-Isaf Park would fail to meet the criteria. I’m not sure if there was ever a possibility for refurbishments that would make the ground compatible with the new criteria (the ground being a council lease and shared with the rugby club), but the decision was taken for the 2016/17 season and beyond for the first team to relocate to the Centre for Sporting Excellence (CSE). The reserves and youth side, I believe, are still based at Ty-Isaf Park.

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