Friday, 3 December 2021

Risca United - Centre For Sporting Excellence

Risca United FC
Centre For Sporting Excellence
Caerphilly Rd
Ystrad Mynach
CF82 7EP

01443 864767 (ground)

Ground Number: 1027
Friday 3rd November 2021
Risca United 2-1 Ammanford
Cymru South


The club was established in 1946. They played in the Monmouthshire League for ten years before joining the Welsh League in 1956. They played in Division 2 East until 1961, their best finish being 5th in their first season. In 1965, the club nearly folded. only being saved when their ground sharers Fernlea AFC joined forces and took the clubs name. They had a golden period in the 1970s, finding great success in the Monmouthshire League. When the league was absorbed into the Gwent County League in 1980, the competition was tougher but Risca United were league champions in 1985. They rejoined the Welsh League Division 2 in 1990 and would finish as runners-up to Cardiff Civil Service in their first season. They would go on to do well at the higher level but Division 1 was renamed Division 2 in 1992, this was in effect the third tier of Welsh Football, following the establishment of the League Of Wales that year. Promotion to Division 1 followed in 1995, as Risca followed as runners-up to Penrhiwceiber. They would spend a couple of seasons here before being relegated back to Division 2. The club was briefly known as Risca & Gelli United although this coincided with relegation to Division 3 and a number of seasons were spent in the doldrums. Fortunes started to improve as the club entered the 2010s and in 2014, a third-place finish behind Barry Town and Llanwern was good enough for promotion to Division 2. A second promotion was achieved the following year, this time another third-place finish behind Barry Town United and Aberbargoed Budssaw them promoted to Division 1. They finished 10th in 2016, which was the best-ever season in the club's history, given that it was the second tier of Welsh Football at the time. Again though, Risca United found the going tough and they were relegated back to Division 2 the following year. They stayed in the Welsh third tier until the start of this season when they were placed in the Cymru South (tier 2) following a restructuring of the Welsh Pyramid. This was supposed to occur in 2020 but was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The team currently sit 14th, just outside of the relegation zone. 

Risca United enjoyed a run to the Welsh Cup 4th Round during the 1994/95 season. After drawing 2-2 with Llanwern in the 1st Round, they won the replay 4-1. After defeating Ammanford Town 3-0 in the 2nd Round and Pontypridd Town in the 3rd Round, they faced off against Football League giants Cardiff City. At Ninian Park against a full-strength Cardiff City in front of 1,200 spectators, for an hour the score remained 0-0 but eventually, the Bluebirds ran out 4-0 winners. Local honours include multiple Monmouthshire League Cups and several Monmouthshire Challenge Cups. In 2001 the club took part in a two hour BBC Wales TV football drama, “Score”. Filming lasted a week at Ty-Isaf Park where some TV stars, including, Sue Johnston (Brookside & The Royle Family), Eve Tyler (Belonging & Torchwood) rubbed shoulders with The Cuckoos. Some of the club's players even took part in filming at Elland Road in front of 40,000 Leeds United fans. Since 2018, the club has played at the Centre Of Sporting Excellence in Ystrad Mynach as the Welsh FA deemed their facilities insufficient. The council-owned venue has a 3G surface and is also home to Cardiff City Ladies.

The town of Risca is located near Newport and has a population of just under 12,000.  Risca RFC plays in the Welsh Rugby Union Division 1 East, at Stores Field. Both teams are nicknamed the Cuckoos. Historically, a cuckoo is said to have sung in Risca and inspired locals so much that they built a wall to try to keep it with them all year round, albeit unsuccessfully. The Risca Cuckoo, a £46,000 structure was erected near the Tesco store on the Pontymister Industrial Estate. Artist Sebastien Boyesen created the sculpture illustrating the bird’s association with the town. Risca also has an award-winning male voice choir.


For an entire month, I'd been enjoying Friday football in Wales, appreciating the vast amount of choice on offer compared to what was on in the English leagues. Although I had taken a week off last week due to the freezing temperatures, I was keen to get back to it this Friday. Happily, fellow hopper Colin was keen to come, though his interest was due to the fact that Cardiff City Women play there and he was looking to complete that league. There would be no worries with the wet or cold weather as it was a 3G pitch. There was a potential spanner in the works though. A warning light came on in my car and so there was no way I was going to 'Risca' trip to South Wales without getting it seen to. Luckily, my local garage was able to look at it on Thursday and so although I was without my car for a busy day at work, it was all sorted. The £130 bill was not as bad as I was expecting, it just turned out that the PCV valve needed cleaning which had something to do with emissions. This will all be taken into account when calculating my final travelling costs at the end of the season so as to give a fair comparison compared to public transport.

I did my research into the club on Thursday evening, once I'd confirmed that I'd have the use of my car. I noticed that Port Talbot Town were bottom of the league, having lost all 15 games. I'd really enjoyed my visit there in May 2013 as it was my first non - Wycombe game in Wales. They'd fallen a long way since then, having been in the playoffs for the Europa League back then. At least this had me avoiding the error of going to the address on Google Maps which was their old ground. On the downside, the new venue lacked the character of the old one and the plethora of takeaways that were nearby. Instead, these were replaced by assorted colleges, hospitals and industrial estates. I worked out that this was further, but I'd agreed on costs with Colin and was going to stick to what I'd said. It would mean me putting a bit more in but driving had got more expensive as it was, what with the reduced fuel economy experienced with the new type of unleaded. I also wondered if the new fuel had anything to do with my car needing to be fixed.

The day of the game came and of course, I had worked as usual. The store was packed as ever, but at least the vast majority of people were showing respect and masking up. Though I noted, that it must be a genetic thing with whole families choosing not to 'do their bit' to keep things under control. The workload was decent, enough to keep me occupied but not so much so, that I was rushed off my feet. I met Colin as planned at 3 and we were soon on our way. It was a good journey down, with the only delay at Newport on the M4 where it is always bad. We were in Ystrad Mynach by 5.50 and headed for the High Street. There were three places competing for our cash and Chicken and Pizza land won out over a Chinese and a chippy. I opted for a 12" Mexicana Pizza for £8.50 which was cheaper than it said on the menu. It was pretty decent and filled me up nicely, though not as nice as the place in Wycombe that I use. We were at the ground an hour before kick-off, paying a fiver to get in before going to sit in the stand. I was glad to get cracking with my blog as it passed the time and saved me doing it at home. The crowd was largely made up of local youngsters who had just been using the pitch and ran around the stand pre-match. By kick-off, they had scarpered though but there was still a decent number of people in attendance.

 Risca United sat 14th in the table. They were in disappointing form recently, having drawn their last two games - 1-1 with Goytre United and 2-2 in the reverse fixture at Ammanford. They'd beaten the side below them - Undy Athletic - 3-0 but suffered two defeats - 3-1 at Briton Ferry Llansawel and 5-0 at Cambrian & Clydach. Ammanford meanwhile were in 9th place, six points above Risca. Aside from the earlier clash, they had beaten Trefelin Boys & Girls Club 5-3 but lost 4-0 at Pontypridd Town, 4-3 to Cambrian & Clydach and 2-1 to Afan Lido. The game started off slowly, with lots of passing but little in terms of efforts on goal. If anything, Risca spent plenty of time in Ammanford's half but it was the visitors who took the lead on 36 minutes. It was a low placed shot from ex Swansea man Lee Trundle which didn't have much in the way of pace on it but was beyond the keepers reach. Four minutes later it was all square. There was a trip on the edge of the area and a penalty was awarded. Leon Thomas converted the penalty into the bottom left-hand corner and it was 1-1. The second half started in a niggly fashion and within a few minutes, Trundle had gone into the book with the crowd revelling in getting on his back. Ammanford were the better team at the start but Risca soon started carving out some opportunities of their own. A well-worked goal on the break gave the hosts the lead on 68 minutes, Harry Selway with a good ball to Thomas who grabbed his second. Near the end, it took a great save from the Risca goalkeeper to preserve their lead as he saved a one on one, Trundle blasting the rebound over. 

The attendance, in the end, was given as 152. A game that started as a slow burner turned into a decent contest and it was another good advert for Welsh football. It was also good to see Lee Trundle still playing - someone who I'd have loved to have seen in a Wycombe shirt. We left around 9.20 and made good progress at first. There was plenty of fog on the way home but we were kept company by an audiobook - Josh Widdicombe's 'Watching Neighbours Twice A Day' - a book about 90s TV shows. It was all going swimmingly until we got back to Wycombe and headed down the M40 towards Beaconsfield. All of a sudden, the traffic came to a stop, waited for five minutes and then got going again. That was not the worst of it though as the light on my dashboard that I thought I'd got rid of was back with a vengeance. It went off when the car was restarted but the car doesn't seem to like sitting in traffic. There was also a rattling noise coming from somewhere around the exhaust. It's something that will inevitably end up costing me money in the future but after all the drama and 15-minutes delay, I dropped Colin off at 12.15. He as ever took a while to get all his things together but had been good company. I was home 15 minutes later. I sorted a few things before typing my blog. I'd been planning on getting an early night but as ever, I didn't fancy any sleep and got off around 2.30 am.


THE CENTRE FOR SPORTING EXCELLENCE is a functional venue and is part of a bigger complex that includes a rugby pitch and other indoor facilities. There's just one stand, this has a couple of hundred seats in it. It has more space for standing and is strange in that it has seats placed randomly rather than all together. Entry is through the main reception. Although it is neat and tidy, it lacks personality or any sign that  Risca United play there.

There's a cafe at the ground, but I didn't try it. There was no bar to my knowledge. Around 10 minutes walk away is Ystrad Mynach High Street and this should have enough to keep you occupied pre-match. Overall, it's an ideal game for a Friday night, the 3G pitch meaning that the game will be on and there are places with more character to go on a Saturday. The club also deserves your visit as do every non-league club.

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