Parc Taf Bargoed | Man and Ball Is an Absolute Necessity

Nelson Cavaliers 2-4 Aberfan FC

📍 Parc Taf Bargoed | Merthyr Tydfil, Wales
🏆 South Wales Alliance League (Div. 2)
⚽ Wales (Tier 6)
📅 Fri 19 Nov 21 | 7.30pm
🎟️ £2 | Att: ?

This weekend was supposed to be different. Having previously booked train, plane, and match tickets to see Feyenoord in Rotterdam, the Dutch government’s decision this week to close all football stadia on COVID-related grounds has forced me to change my plans completely.

This, of course, is one of the risks of travelling in this era, although it’s still hard not to be disappointed. After all, De Kuip has long been on my groundhopping bucket list, while I was also looking forward to seeing Dordrecht and Sparta Rotterdam.

Ever the optimist, though, I quickly switch my attentions to the alternatives on offer in South Wales, where I ascertain I will now be for the next few days. In terms of tonight, a quick look through Futbology’s “Nearby fixtures” tool throws up Ton Pentre and Cardiff Met as viable suggestions, but then something else of interest catches my eye on Facebook: my former club Nelson Cavaliers are hosting Aberfan FC (formerly Aberfan Social) under the floodlights.

Friday Night Lights at Parc Taf Bargoed

Keen-eyed observers of football in this region will have noted that Parc Taf Bargoed is actually the home ground of third tier Treharris (who themselves have recently moved from the quaint and oft-revered Athletic Ground of yesteryear). But with no game this weekend for the Lillywhites, each of the three clubs have apparently spotted a monetary opportunity; the ground itself – nestled on the tip edge of a nature park in nearby Trelewis – is exactly halfways between the villages of Nelson and Aberfan.

Following some swift negotiating, it’s therefore decided that tonight’s match won’t take place at The Wern – Nelson’s regular home ground – but at Parc Taf Bargoed, so-named after the coal mining valley that Trelewis gatekeeps. With this in mind, an admission fee of £2 is set, while a one-off match programme (also £2) is produced (using, apparently, Microsoft Publisher 98). The small but modern clubhouse behind the goal even promises tea, coffee, and hotdogs, although the latter are sold out by half time.

Parc Taf Bargoed - the home of Treharris Athletic Western.

Two Clubs on the Rise

Welsh domestic football has undergone a significant restructure in recent years, with the old Welsh League now replaced by the Cymru South at tier 2, two Ardal (“district”) leagues at tier 3, and six regional leagues at tier 4. One of these – the South Wales Alliance League (itself a merger of the old South Wales Senior and Amateur Leagues) – boasts three divisions, the lowest of which (i.e. tier 6) contains tonight’s teams.

As a result, this season is something of a return to former glories for Nelson. Founded in 1972, the Cavs were stalwarts of the Senior League for much of the 1990s and 2000s, before dropping into the seventh-tier local TERV League in 2012 (I left the club in 2011, so am absolved of any personal blame!). They returned, though, in the last season before COVID, and are now looking to reconsolidate at this level.

Off the field, everything suggests that the club belong in this environment. As well as being able to run an eighth-tier reserve side for much of the last decade, Nelson also boast a successful veterans set-up, with several players having represented the Welsh national team in recent seasons.

Their opponents, meanwhile, have grander ambitions in the short term. While Nelson sit comfortably in mid table, Aberfan are looking to go top of the table tonight, with automatic promotion very much the immediate goal. Their lofty position is somewhat unsurprising; there are several ex-Merthyr Town players in their squad, and tonight’s lineup even features a 41-year-old Gavin Williams, the former West Ham, Ipswich, and Bristol City player that managed the Martyrs between 2016 and 2021.

A Physical Battle

The game itself is indicative of football at this level, with most of the emphasis on the physical element of the game. That said, the opening twenty minutes sees some bright football played by both sides, before the pitch begins to deteriorate.

Nelson, surprisingly, race into a two-goal lead courtesy of Liam Dellanna (the first of which is missed by yours truly), before a naive foul allows Luke Tarr to pull one back from the penalty spot for the visitors. The game then descends a little, with several breaks in play for injuries and a series of confrontations sparked by several over-enthusiastic challenges.

These vignettes illuminate a lot of what local amateur football is often about, with clubs usually casting certain roles to type. The most prominent of these (and often the spark for most of tonight’s flashpoints) is Aberfan captain/pantomime villain Blaine Webber, a strict acolyte of the dogma that ball and man is an absolute necessity. Webber arrives as late as possible in the majority of his challenges yet, like a first-born allowed to overindulge, avoids punishment of any sort, leaving Nelson’s father-and-son managerial duo of Aaron and Rod Powell perennially incredulous.

Luke Tarr prepares to convert the first of two penalties for Aberfan

Another small joy of football at this level is the two-way nature of verbal observation. Whereas in more “professional” environments players are trained to ignore abuse, here, any thoughts ventured from the touchlines are returned with an equal measure of sensitivity. “How many, ref?” cries Powell senior after one particularly robust challenge. “Shut up you fucking prick,” comes the response from the guilty party. “I got the ball!”

Aberfan, to their credit, turn the screw in the second half, with home goalkeeper Matthew Farr making several good saves to keep his side’s lead intact. Indeed, having watched Farr for some years, its fair to say that a lack of height is the only reason the 33-year-old has ever failed to “make it” at a significantly higher level.

He is powerless, though, when Nelson concede another silly penalty and Tarr steps up to make it two from two. With minutes to go, Aarran Caffell then completes the turnaround, before Matthew Jones adds the extras in injury time, taking his side to the summit of the division.

Not quite a full De Kuip then, but still an enjoyable Friday evening under the lights in front of a healthy crowd of 120 or so. The lack of refreshments is a negative, but this is soon forgotten after a post-match stop-off at the Rowan Tree for a couple of Doom Bars.

Treherbert’s 2-0 defeat at St Joseph’s the following day means that Aberfan are now a point clear with over half the season played, while the Cavs remain in 12th (out of 16 teams). Next up for the new leaders is a tricky trip to Butetown in Cardiff, while Nelson also head to the capital to take on St Josephs.

Postscript: Nelson successfully consolidated in their comeback season, finishing in 11th place with 30 points. Aberfan, meanwhile, achieved their goal of promotion, finishing in third, and will be looking to challenge for a second successive promotion in 2022-23.