Almanack: Life's a beach for Barry Town

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AN IDYLLIC British summer seaside scene: a flotilla of sailboats on the horizon, gentle waves breaking on the shore. Couples stroll arm-in-arm, dogs chase frisbees, a group of men play football on the sand. They played with a lot of commitment, in fact, and no little skill - which is just as well, because next year they could be playing Barcelona or Inter Milan.

The beach is on Barry Island in South Wales, and the footballers are the first-team squad of Barry Town, who today take on Cardiff City in the Welsh Cup final, with a place in Europe at stake. It is the club's biggest match in 40 years. So why is their training camp a holiday camp?

'It's a lovely evening,' said Andy Beattie, the player-coach and captain, 'And I like to train with a view.' He squinted across the Bristol Channel. 'It's always gentle, anyway,' he went on. 'We must be the first team to get to the Welsh Cup final untrained.'

The wisecracking Beattie is a veteran of Merthyr, Maesteg, Mangotsfield, Cinderford and Caerleon, and has six caps from semi-pro internationals. But his approach on the beach was plenty professional, harrying the youngsters, joshing the veterans and getting up with a grin when crocked.

The players' mood is ebullient: in a way they can't lose. Barry Town have had a hard time recently, stemming from their desire to play in the English non-league Pyramid. The Welsh FA took exception to this, and ruled that they must play outside Wales, in exile in Worcester, miles from their supporters. Eventually the club - losing money - settled for Welsh football. They have had to work their way back towards the top division - but promotion came this year in terrific style, and the cup run has brought the crowds back to Jenner Park, the club's home.

The team is sponsored by the Pixie Tavern, a pub on Barry's main drag. Staff and customers there were predictably elated: a team photograph was brought down from the wall, and the merits and demerits of squad members eagerly discussed. 'It's my smartest suit at the Arms Park on Sunday,' said Derek, the barman. 'In the directors' box and that. To tell the truth I'm a Cardiff City man myself,' he revealed, sotto voce, 'but I'll be a Barry man for the day. It's got to be right to support your local team.'

Back on the beach a long pass went out of play on the left wing (the sea). A jolly brown mongrel chased after and retrieved it, to the gratitude of the players. They were less happy when the hound moved into central midfield and started to pester the strikers with little regard for the offside rule. Eventually Andy Beattie wrapped things up. Was he happy with the session? 'Very good.' Any jellyfish-related injuries? 'No, it's only dogshit we worry about here.' Worried by Cardiff City? 'No, there's only 11 of them.' And if you, win, what about Europe? 'Yes. Fantastic. Inter Milan? We could beat them, I reckon.' A huge grin. 'On the beach.'

(Photograph omitted)

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