Regeneration is obvious all over South and West Wales, after the demise of the coal industry, with new shopping centres, apartments, harbours , beachfronts, restaurants and stadiums, for this is a sports loving country.
On Tuesday night I drove to West Wales and the new Parc y Scarlets, which I had written about a couple of months ago. It is the new home of Llanelli Scarlets, a local rugby union club and for the first time a football match was being played there, Wales v Luxembourg U 21's at the start of a new UEFA tournament. The Red Dragons had only tied 0-0 away in Ettelbruck, Luxembourg last week, but the country are expecting great things from these youngsters, with Brian Flynn the coach who is immensely popular with his players, the fans and the FA of Wales executive.
I was their guest and as we stepped off the coach, and as we tried to enter the stadium, the alarm went off, and those inside had to hurry outside. I spoke with 2 of them, the Mayor and Mayoress of Llanelli, Hubert Hitchman and his wife, and joked that their splendid mayoral chains of office had been the problem. Mr Mayor told me that the Parc was full to its 15,000 capacity when the famous Barbarians rugby team played there, but that the Scarlets only half filled it.
At one end in the seats is the phrase WEST IS BEST, and at the other end, SOSBAN, referring to the good luck saucepan that The Scarlets hang on the top of the rugby goalpost.(See my last blog 10/23/2008 for an explanation. www.scarlets.co.uk) The local Welsh Premier League club Llanelli FC are second in the table and host leaders Rhyl FC in the next few days at their stadium at Stebonheath Park
We were treated to a splendid pre match meal and I was SO IMPRESSED that I spoke with James, the catering manager, and asked that he go and bring out the chef Paul Owen to receive my, and others, positive comments. I told him it was up there with many World Cup and Champions League meals that I had enjoyed. We started with Carmarthen Ham, Fig and Pearl Las Salad with crumbly Welsh soft blue cheese. The main course was slow roasted beef wrapped in streaky bacon with caramalised baby onion gravy, served on a fondant potato with a winter vegetable medley. The dessert was SENSATIONAL. Homemade rasberry and white chocolate cheesecake served with a rasberry cream.
Lots of bottles of wine. I was lucky to be on the table with my friend Ron Bridges of the FAW who was a FIFA referee and linesman for 17 years, in the middle for matches from Lisbon to Kiev. He is the only Welsh referee ever to referee a UEFA final, which was Spain v France U 21's. Anyway, he and his wife Anne are wine connoiseurs. We had red Sicilian Sangiovese Merlot and white Mission Bell California chardoney. There was also Welsh water-Princes Gate, pure bubbly water delivered by clouds, filtered by rock!! Yippee, said the label!
Luxembourg were wearing warm up jackets with LETZEBUERG on the back, the local dialect. It is always a delight to hear The Wales National Anthem, with the French and Italian, the 3 truly magnificent ones worldwide. This evening it was sung by a young Welsh woman called Annelies. Three of the Welsh lads, Aaron Morris, Joe Allen and Jonathan Brown didn't have their shirts tucked in and I hope they get a lecture from their moms. If they had been playing for Brian Clough they would have got a few choice words.
The Welsh made amends for the goalless first leg and played some open and skillful football. Creating SPACE is a most important part of successful football, and this they did with a 5-1 victory. Neal Eardley of Oldham Athletic, who has also played for John Toshacks full squad, put the home side ahead from the penalty spot after 10 minutes, and then provided the cross for Jonathan Brown of Cardiff City to score the second.
The visitors were pretty aggresive tacklers, which made the Maltese referee Marco Borg very cross !!. Leicester City's Andy King made it three on 34 minutes and Simon Church scored goal No. 4 just on half time. Intensity slackened in the second half and Ben Polidori scored his team's only goal of the match, but then substitute James Wilson of Bristol City headed in Eardley's cross to end the scoring, and send the West Wales crowd home happy. www.faw.org.uk