I didn’t get to see Newport County’s brilliant FA Cup win over Leicester live as I was travelling at the time, but I managed to watch bits of it and I did get to see the highlights and what wonderful highlights and viewing it was.
It was great to watch and, while I’m not the biggest football fan, I do enjoy watching the highlights and I found myself very excited on Monday night when the draw for the next round came around.
I had my cousins over and we were more excited at finding out who Newport would play next than we were watching Wolves’ win over Liverpool. I can’t remember ever being as excited for a draw as I was for that.
I’m not really a Newport fan, although I do like to see the Welsh clubs do well, especially when it comes to the FA Cup. For that match and the rest of their FA Cup run, I’ll be supporting Newport as well as Swansea of course. That’s something special that football still has in the FA Cup.
The romance of the cup. Minnows can still knock one of the top sides off their perch.
Back when I was growing up, I supported Wrexham, and still do, when everyone else was supporting Arsenal and Manchester United so I remember Mickey Thomas’ free-kick back in 1992 very well.
Football has retained that romance which is so important for the grassroots level – that there is always the chance of briefly meeting that higher level.
Welsh rugby used to have that romance in the form of the old Schweppes Cup, but unfortunately the sport has lost it. The same goes for England too since the days of the Pilkington and then Tetley Cup.
I have so many memories of the Schweppes Cup.
Some of the fixtures that stick out for me as a boy were watching my cousin play for Tumble against Maesteg, Banwen drawing Pontypridd in the cup in a game in which I actually refereed and watching my club Pontyberem hosting Llanelli at a packed Pontyberem Park back in 1988 .
This was the year they beat Neath in the final before Jonathan Davies went north and just seeing the likes of Jiffy and all of Llanelli’s stars in Pontyberem was brilliant. You can’t underestimate how much that means to a local side and the whole of the community.
Kids running onto the pitch just to touch and shake hands with their heroes. No wonder so many a young kid wanted to grow up and play for their big local team and their country. Oh, how the kids of today have missed out on those wonderful days.
I also remember the day Pontypridd played Pontyberem. Pontypridd had the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Dale McIntosh, Sonny Parker, Lee Jarvis and a few other big stars playing for them that day. It was the last year or so before the game went regional.
Thousands were there that day and I went to the clubhouse after it was packed. All credit to Pontypridd, the players stayed there for a good couple of hours after too. It made the day even more special. That’s what it meant to these village sides.
In fact, the previous round was between Pontyberem and Mountain Ash, with both clubs knowing that whoever won would face Pontypridd.
Not long before, a Pontyberem stalwart, Peter ‘Genie’ Griffiths, who ran the line for many yearshad passed away at a very young age. His funeral was the morning of the Mountain Ash game and his family wanted the game to go ahead. Pontyberem went out and beat Mountain Ash that day for Peter.
There was something special about those games. They meant so much to the villages and everyone involved with the clubs.
The week after the 2015 World Cup final, I reffed Gowerton v Crymych on the Saturday. Because of the media interest around that match I was refereeing straight after the World Cup final, there was a good crowd of way over 1,500 people there to watch.
One of the committee members was saying afterwards that it was like the halcyon days of the old Schweppes Cup.
Unfortunately, we’ve effectively lost that something special.
But, it has to be said, there isn’t much that can be done to stop it either.
The advent of professionalism means it’s just not possible anymore and rightly so for player safety.
You couldn’t have one of the regions playing a club side these days and potentially putting 150 points or more on them and worse still putting players safety at risk – the score nor injury would benefit no one.
Some more of Nigel Owens’ columns
The thing with football is that it’s always 11v11 and the giants aren’t always at a size or strength advantage. The bigger teams may be technically better and should be fitter too, but they’re not necessarily physically bigger or stronger.
The disparity in football doesn’t affect safety. In rugby, it does.
You have to give credit to the Welsh Rugby Union for having the three finals played at the Principality Stadium. That adds some romance and allows small village teams their moment in the sun. It gives the grassroots players the chance to play at the best stadium in the world and that is something special for sure.
It isn’t what it used to be like of course, with small clubs drawing the heavyweights of Welsh rugby, but it’s the next best thing.
On another note, even the local district cups have fallen by the wayside.
I remember the West Wales Cup, known as the Tovali Cup, would have the second-half broadcast live on S4C. How times have changed.
Local derbies and big cup games are what bring in the crowds and keep the smaller clubs going.
Thankfully, the leagues are going back to being more local than they have been in past years, so there are more derbies about and that is how it should be too.
But it’s a shame that we don’t have those old cup games to really excite us anymore. It used to be the pinnacle of Welsh club rugby but that’s been lost.
Ultimately, there’s nothing you can do to stop that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not missed.