ARTICLES THAT APPEARED IN THE 1936-7 HISTORY OF NEATH RFC
Its Origin and Early History
Its Origin and Early History
Donald H. Jones F.S.A. Scot.
back at the beginning of the ‘seventies, syas local tradition, some Neath boys
home on vacation from English schools produced a rugby football on the gnoll
grounds and introduced “ Scratch ” sides to a sport that was new to Neath.
It was rugby football – an odd sort of game; something of a scramble! No one
appears to have noted the date or cared much about it, but it established in the
Neath Rugby Club, and in the old “ Swansea and Glamorgan Herald, ” dated
February 7th 1872, the following report appeared :-
Football Club. On Saturday a match was witnessed between
This is the earliest report of a “Neath Club” that has come to the
writers notice, and the only one that appeared in conteporary newspapers during
the 1871-2 season. Official newspaper used by the club in 1895 states “Founded
1875” which is curious, for there can be no doubt about the club’s activity
from 1872, and the records do not reveal re-formation.
Among those Neath students was late Dr. T. P. Whittington, reputed
founder of of Neath Club. He gained early distinction for himself and Neath by
securing a place in a Scottish national fifteen, seven years before the Welsh
Rugby Union was formed.
In response to an enquiry by the writer, Mr. H. M. Simson, secretary,
secretary of the Scottish Union, states: “I find that T. Whittington,
Merchiston, played against
In October, 1874, a lad of seventeen and a newcomer to the district
joined a group in a praqctice game on the present Gnoll Grounds. His play was so
impressed that he was immediately invited by the late Mr. W. H. David, a well
known Neath solicitor and club foundation member, to join the club. That lad was
Sam S. Clark, and to-day he happily survives to rejoin his old club in its
celebrations as its first Welsh international and oldest surviving player.
Among the clubs personnel at that time ans in the seasons immediately
following was the late Mr. Lewis Kempthorne-in whose chambers club meetings were
held-and Phil Braine, whose jersey featured a huge Maltese Cross covering the
entire of his chest! He migrated to
In the early days the club played in assorted dark jerseys, and the
subsequent adoption of the now celebrated black jersey appears to have been a
matter of fashion. Major Clark says “The South Wales Union are also black,
with a fine leek spreading the chest.” Of the adoption of the Maltese Cross,
he adds: “Moxam came on the ground one afternoon wearing a small Maltese Cross
in his cap (caps were worn in those days) ; the boys immediately caught up a
suggestion to adopt it as a badge-to break the monotinous black.”
The badge deserves more than a significant origin!
In 1874 the club played on the present Gnoll Grounds, then let to the old
Cadoxton Cricket Club by Mr. Charles Evan-Thomas, Gnoll House. A dispute with
the Cricket club led to the football club moving to “Superintendent Evans’s
Field” on the site of the Gnoll Cinema. Other grounds included “Trick’s
October 1877, it was decided at a meeting of old South Wales Football Club “to
institute a challenge cup to the value of fifty guineas, to be compared for by
any club subscribing Two guineas to the fund.” Neath was represented and in
the same year played and won its first cup game against Llandeilo at Neath.
challenge cup created intense rivalry, and at times considerable feeling, among
Welsh clubs, and the most noteable cup draw of the whole series was probably
that between Neath and Swansea on the Gnoll Ground about 1879, when Major Clark
played in seven drawn games. “Four of these,” he relates, “occupied two
hours and forty minutes each and the final and eighth game was won by Neath by
one try at the close of extra time. Beth Haycock was the scorer. There was no
conversion, as an intensly exited crowd swept the field and rendered further
on march 15th, 1879, Neath played its first match against Newport,
this also was a cup game-and
Neath lost heavily.
is interesting to record that it was in the Castle Hotel, Neath, where the Welsh
Rugby Union was formed, in the 1880-81 season.
1881-2, in which season he was club captain, Major Clark became Neath’s first
Welsh international player, when he was “capped” in the first game ever
played between Wales
may appropriately select for these notes a Neath team of that year which played
and defeated Cardiff
by 1 goal and 3 touch-downs
to 1 touch-down:-
Backs: G. P. Lewis, S. Clarke.
Threequarter-backs: H. J. Kempthorne and McEwen
Half-Back: S. S. Clark (Captain)
Quarter-Backs: F. Williams and J. Jones
Forwards: T. Hutchins, T. E. Richards, H. Marley, D. Watkins, Williams,
Blenkinsopp, P. J. Braine and W. B. Trick
The goal was kicked by the captain-he was noted for his lengthy kicking.
1887-8 we find the name of Dr. E. V. Pegge connected prominently with the club-a
splendid fellow who always played in bared arms and legs. A popular captain, he
once caught up with his team on tour in
Such fine old players as Llewellyn Morris, George D. Trick (Neath’s
youngest player in those days), David Gwynn, Walter Broskam, Thomas Morris, Alec
Cross, Walter Phillips, Hugh Evans, and John Michael (‘’inspector’’)
also wore the Neath jersey with Dr. Pegge in 1890, and some of them are happily
still with us to-day to exchange reminiscences of the many stirring contests in
which they participated.
It is interesting to note that an illuminated address presented to Major
No notes on the early history of Neath club would be complete without
mention being made of Captain Walter E. Rees’s early association with the
club, and his subsequent career as secretary on the Welsh Rugby Union from 1896.
Following his joint secretaryship with Mr. Russell Thomas he carried on alone,
and at the close of the 1890-91 season – a memorable season in the early
history of the club- a contemporary report states: ‘’Neath.—The past
season has been the most successful this club has had for many years. The club
went on tour at Christmas, meeting Devon County and Torquay and defeating both
teams…..The London Welsh paid their first visit to Neath, and, notwithstanding
the strong team they brought down, the game ended in a draw. Other well known
English teams lowered their colours before the plucky Neath men…..The team
have greatly improved their play……and we may refer to the large which have
been secured and the unstinted praise bestowed by the spectators upon the
splendid expositions of football afforded them. The return to success…..has
mainly been due to the indefatigable honorary secretary, Mr. Walter E. Rees,
whose devoted services so impressed the members, from their president (the Hon.
H. C. Bruce) downwards, that they…..presented him with a handsome gold Albert
chain and pendant, suitably inscribed.
season closed when Northampton succumbed to ‘Good old Neath’ (on March 31st
at home) to the tune of three goals and three tries to nil.’’
Twenty years had now elapsed since the formation of the club, and the
recent progress made had placed Neath in the forefront of Welsh rugby. They had
secured, for those days, a fair representation in the national side, and their
exhibitions had enabled the committee to obtain fixtures with some of the best
English sides. In 1894 Fred Hutchinson, a forward, was the next Neath player to
gain international honours, being ‘’capped’’ against
The writer is fully aware that there are many other personalities who played their part in the early activities of the club, but this review has purposely been confined to the first twenty years of the club’s existence-a period when records are scanty-because they are considered the most fitting to record for to-day’s commemorative celebrations
TRIUMPHS AND TRIALS OF THIRTY YEARS - MY REFLECTIONS
BY COUNCILLOR J. B WILLIAMS, MAYOR OF NEATH.
President, Neath Rugby Supporters' Club
MY CONNECTION with Neath Rugby Football Club extends over a period of thirty
years, and it is a happy coincidence that the Diamond Jubilee celebrations
should take place during my year of office as Mayor of the borough.
D. M. Evans-Bevan Esq, J.P.
MAJOR SAM S. CLARK OUR OLDEST INTERNATIONAL
by Donald H Jones
From among those Welsh rugby pioneers of sixty-odd years ago and a long and distinguished
list of talented players who have since worn the All Blacks' jersey, a
deservedly honoured guest to-day is Major Sam S. Clark, who survives as Neath's
first Welsh international and oldest player.
NEATH SUPPORTER'S CLUB: A REMARKABLE RECORD
A programme of this character would be incomplete without reference to the
remarkable achievements of the Neath Rugby Supporters' Club, who are responsible
for its publication. Formed in 1930, this young but virile offshoot of the
premier club has worked untiringly and ensured the continued success of the
parent body. The full details of the social and financial efforts cannot be told
here, but all those who have played their part in its development are gratefully
thanked. In 1932 the Supporters' Club took the initiative in a scheme which had
been the subject of much talk for the past 30 years, namely the provision of
accommodation for the players and a pavilion. This building was erected at a
cost of £1,542, and when £1,000 had been wiped out the pavilion was handed
over to the premier club, free of all liabilities, and leaving the Supporters to
clear £400 plus interest, a task which was accomplished in 1935. Apart from
this outstanding effort the Supporters have also assisted the premier club with
handsome donations, and by their whole-hearted endeavours increased the
membership to 1,000. Donations have been made to outside organisations, and
senior and schoolboy internationals in the town in recent years have been
presented with framed photographs of themselves. Members have also voluntarily
carried out repair and painting work on the ground.
The present officials of the club, who deserve all praise for their past triumphs and encouragement in their future enterprises, are: President, The Mayor, Councillor J. B Williams, J. P.; chairman, Mr. W. Cooper; vice-chairman, Mr J. M. Parker; treasurer, Mr. Stan. Simmons; hon. secretary, Mr. Bert Gorman; hon. solicitor, Mr A. R. Harris; committee, Messrs. Tom Rouse, W. G. Rees, A. D Evans, ex-Supt. Rees Davies, Messrs. T. Garfield Jones, Bert Sutcliffe, W. A. Griffiths and Glyn Stephens, J.P., the founder and originator of the Pavilion Scheme.
The Supporters are not resting on their laurels, and are already assisting in the provision of a new wicket to retain county cricket for Neath sportsmen. In addition, the erection of a reversible stand in the field for the benefit of cricket and rugby spectators is being undertaken by the Club. The impossible is unknown to these gallant workers, and may their future schemes be marked by progress and success, and the unstinting support of the generous-hearted sporting public
OUTSTANDING POINTS OF INTEREST
|Insufficient space prevents the inclusion of a complete record of the Neath club's achievements and outstanding personalities since they started their real rise to fame in Welsh rugby, and any notable omissions will be readily understood. The secretaries of the club since 1886, when Mr. T. Harry Hawkins resigned, have been, in the order of appointment, as follows: Mr. A. Russell Thomas, Capt. Walter E. Rees, J.P., Mr D. J Price, Mr. Ben Griffiths, Mr. A. W. M Tench, later treasurer, and Mr. A. L. David, who guided the fortunes of the club through periods of prosperity and adversity for 25 years; Capt. A. J. Morris, M. B. E and Mr. W. Arthur Griffiths, the present secretary. Neath had only five internationals before 1900, and ten from then until the Great War, proof of the difficulty in gaining recognition. For example, Joe Davies, that great full back, was seventeen times reserve to W. J. Bancroft without being ''capped'', whiled Charlie Powell, one of the most brilliant inside halves who ever played, and Johnny Thomas and Joe Birchell, a clever pair of halves of later days, never gained recognition. J. D. D. Davis, one of the greatest all-round sportsmen Neath has produced, scored 33 points on his own in his last match for Neath Seconds before joining the premier fifteen in 1897. Glyn Stephens was the only Neath international to captain Wales, while the only father and son to be ''capped'' in the history of the club were the late Howel Jones and his son Howie Jones, who both played in nearly every position in club rugby. An occurrence of equal importance in recent years was the recognition of two brothers at the same time, first brothers Glyn and D. R. Prosser in 1934, and this season the brothers Harold and D. L. Thomas. Tom Arthur holds the club record with eighteen ''caps,'' and Dan Jones the most prolific scoring record. In recent years Tom Evans, that great captain, led Neath in many great duels as Welsh champions, but few can compare with the memorable match between Neath and Newport on April 16th, 1910, when Neath won by 4pts. to 3 pts. and secured the championship and retained a three years' ground record.|
A WORD OF WELCOME
In the true Welsh spirit of friendship we accord a warm-hearted welcome to
Oxford University, our distinguished opponents on this auspicious occasion.
Their decision to visit the ancient borough of Neath for the Diamond Jubilee
game has been received with enthusiasm in all sporting circles in the town,
because it is certain that they will assist the All Blacks in providing an
exhibition of rugby which will be fully in keeping with the fine traditions of
the club. To-day, of all days, will be an occasion for the telling of rugby
reminiscences, and those who will readily recall the palmy days before the war
show see a contest which will bear comparison with some of the more memorable
matches. Every arrangement has been made to entertain the Oxford men in the
right royal fashion, and we trust that they will spend a pleasant time amongst
us and become regular visitors in the future. The ''Dark Blues'' made their
first visit to Neath on March 19th, 1932 when Tom Arthur was the Neath captain,
and it is interesting to recall that of that team Gwyn Moore and D. I. Thomas
are the only two players selected for to-day's match.
A hand of welcome should also be extended to the many Neath players and officials, who have rendered yeoman service to the club in smooth and troubled waters, making special mention to those who figured in its outstanding achievements. The appearance of Mr. A. E. Freethy, a member of the Welsh '' Big Five,'' as to-day's referee is particularly pleasing owing to his associations with both teams. He is a member of the Neath Selection Committee, and has refereed six inter-'Varsity games between Oxford and Cambridge Universities and twenty internationals.
In conclusion, let us all join in wishing the Neath Club triumphant progress in the future, so that the next sixty years may be marked down as even more remarkable than the time that has gone.
ARTICLES THAT APPEARED IN THE
CENTENARY HISTORY OF NEATH RFC
edited by Trevor Dargavel
Following rugby football, and in
particular the fortunes of Neath Rugby Football Club, has been one of the most
pleasurable pursuits of my life. It has brought innumerable friendships. some
enemies, although I trust not many, travels to grounds far and wide overland and
in the air (I have not as yet travelled by sea to follow Neath), great exciting
rugby moments, some disappointments when things have not gone right, and the
pleasure of talking and writing of the deeds of those who, in my time, have
proudly donned the all-black strip of the oldest of the major Welsh clubs.
NEATH AND THE BARBARIANS
| The famous Barbarians are due to visit the Gnoll in connection with the
Centenary celebrations. Previous visits by the tourists to Neath were in 1921,
1923 and 1924. The results were:
March 29th, 1921-
April 3rd, 1923-
April 22nd, 1924-
Neath players, with years first selection, have appeared for the Barbarians:
''Dr''. Gywn Thomas (1912), R. Vernon Hill (1915), Rees Stephens (1947), Roy
John (1950), Courtenay Meredith (1953), Viv Evans (1953), Brian Sparks (1956),
Ron Waldron (1961), Grahame Hodgson (1963), John Dodd (1965), Wilson Lauder
(1969), Dave Morris (1971)
have won the Snelling Sevens tournament twice. First occasion was on Saturday,
April 25th, 1964, when Cardiff were beaten 10 points to 5 in the final. The
Neath Seven were: Howard Rees, Rhys Thomas, Keith Evans, Martyn Davies, Dave
Morris, Morlais Thomas (capt.), Peter Davies.
was repeated in 1970 when Ebbw Vale were beaten 18 points to 8 in the final. The
Neath Seven were: John Roberts, Glen Ball, Wynne Davies, Dai Parker (capt.),
Dave Morris, Norman Rees, Wilson Lauder.
In this tournament Parker won Player of the Tournament award, and Lauder scored 24 points.
By John Billot - ''Western Mail''
enjoy another Golden Era, with only one defeat in championship matches during
the last three years, Neath look proudly at their contribution to the greatness
of the Principality on the rugby field. In 90 years of international rugby,
Wales have called 44 Neath men to wear the scarlet jersey on 260 occasions and
share the triumphs and disappointments of a game that owes its origins to the
distant days when jubilant Silures tossed the heads of Roman legionaries around
the vicinity of the Gnoll.
SEVENTY YEARS OF SCHOOLBOY RUGBY
by Les Smith
| When I was asked to write a brief history of Schoolboy Rugby in Neath I felt
honoured and pleased but soon discovered, after glancing over the records, that
I was about to embark on a most formidable task. It is most difficult to decide
which events will prove of most interest and which parts should be omitted when
covering the activities of nearly seventy years.
Many hundreds of boys have participated in schoolboy rugby in Neath, and ninety-five have represented their country. It is clearly obvious that all cannot be named, but there are highlights when it is impossible not to make mention of certain players, not necessarily the most outstanding. To any who read this and feel that their names should have been included and cannot find them here, my apologies.
It is not possible to praise adequately those teachers who, through the years, have sacrificed evenings and Saturday mornings in all weathers to accompany the lads on training sessions, inter-school games and inter-town games, often at great inconvenience. Nor must we forget all the local enthusiasts who assisted and made the teachers feel that their work was worthwhile. There were the supporters who appreciated the clean, open game when the boys endeavoured to put into action the coaching they had received.
Throughout the period there was always encouragement from the local clubs; Neath, Skewen, Briton Ferry, Tonna and Resolven, and we shall always be grateful for their ready willingness to give the use of their grounds. The Neath Borough Council are to be thanked for the use of the Court Herbert Playing Fields and the Supporters' Club who were always ready to assist, both financially and otherwise.
One can scarcely imagine the feelings of elation and excitement of those boys selected to play for their team, or even more so, to wear the Welsh jersey; nor is it possible to express the feelings of disappointment felt by those who failed to make the grade. But their achievements are now all part of history.
Schoolboy rugby in Neath was founded in 1904, the pioneers being Messrs. W. Davies (Skewen), Theo Beynon, T. R. Nichols and Vic Evans, father of the Rev. Gareth Evans who played for Neath. These gentlemen held their first meeting in the Anchor Cafe in Queen Street. Judging from the response of the schools it was evident that the Neath Boys were ready and anxious to take up the game, so that progress must have been rapid.
In only the first year three boys, Gwyn Thomas, Sam Daymond and Glyn Stephens were ''capped'' for Wales, the last named gaining in a second cap the following year when Neath won the much-coveted Dewar Shield and became champions of Wales for the first time, a distinction they have achieved on seven occasions since. In the pack alongside Glyn Stephens was the late Inspector Tal Davies.
Little is recorded of further activities prior to the first world war, but we do know that three further caps were gained, one by John Roberts (father of Cyril Roberts and grandfather of John Roberts) all three of whom played for the premier club. At this time too the late Albert Freethy took up an appointment as a teacher in Alderman Davies' School; he was an enthusiastic and outstanding teacher of schoolboy rugby, and later gained a world reputation as a referee.
Immediately after the first world war rugby activities were resumed and inter-school rugby was regularly played; there were twenty-five schools affiliated to the Union. J. Walter Jones was chairman and A. E. Freethy was secretary and coach. The latter, who trained the town side, was a strict disciplinarian and tireless worker who took the boys to the field to train at every possible opportunity. Even if it rained too heavily to go to the field, there was no respite, for there was scrummaging practice and blackboard lessons and the teaching of tactical moves in the club-house at the headquarters, the Bird-in-Hand Hotel.
A. E. Freethy continued as secretary for just two seasons, but his knowledge of rugby and strict training resulted, in the season 1922-23, in a team which is still remembered and regarded as one of the finest schoolboy sides ever. The Dewar Shield was won for a second time, and this invincible team played and won 19 games, scoring 385 points with only 39 points against.
Five boys were chosen to play for Wales: Trevor Walters, Griff Bevan, Sam Bates, Cliff Beynon and W. Griffiths.
To mark the season's outstanding success two local ladies arranged a dinner and a concert at the Gwym Hall in June, 1923, in honour of the team. Walter E. Rees, Secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union, presided, and sporting celebrities from all the neighbouring clubs were present to see each of the boys presented with a gold medal, a team photograph and a specially designed Neath Cap. The shield was hung in the Neath Council Chamber as it has also been on subsequent occasions.
The team, under the guidance of A. E. Freethy, was kept together and became the famous Neath ex-Schoolboy team known throughout South Wales as ''The Invincibles''. Other boys of this early post war period who gained distinction were W. Thomas ''Coogan'', who later played for Swansea before turning professional; Howie Jones, 1922; Tommy Day, 1922; Len Shipton, 1922; Gwyn Moore, 1926 and Randall Parker, 1927. In the 1927 season Neath had five boys in the Welsh side.
Strong school teams were: Melyn, Gnoll, Alderman Davies, Glynneath, Coedffranc, Skewen Lower and ''The County''. When any of these teams met in Shield games a good following was assured. One particular final between Gnoll and ''County'' is worth recording. The game, in the 1932 season, was played on the Gnoll, but after a pointless full-time, and extra twenty minutes each way was played without a decision being reached.
On the following evening the teams again met and again played twenty minutes extra time each way, but again without a decision being reached. Finally the president, Alderman D. G. Davies, presented ''the cup which was not won'', each team to hold it for six months. The interest in this game was so great that it attracted a record crowd, and so important was the occasion that a previously arranged Neath v. Aberavon game was cancelled even though this was itself a most attractive fixture.
A further successful and eventful period followed, so full of excitement that it is difficult to marshal the facts and place them in their correct perspective. Although a large number of well remembered players came into the limelight and some really spectacular games were played it is necessary to remember first a few of the local sportsmen who gave such valuable assistance, and also the strong following of supporters. A name that is synonymous with Welsh Rugby us Glyn Stephens. After playing both as a boy an an adult he became active in the administrative side of rugby. He was elected President of the Neath and District Schools Union in 1938, and retained the office until his death in 1965.
It would be difficult to over-praise the assistance given by this outstanding personality, he was a ''live'' president who contributed both moral and financial support, and during each season he attended as many games as he possibly could. He was a strong advocate for schoolboy rugby and, as a member of the Welsh R.U., lost no chance in fighting this cause.
H. G. Phillips (founder of Phillips Bros.) was an ardent rugby fan who gave the schools several sets of jerseys and a shield from competition amongst the schools. Invariably each member of the team that won the shield was given a voucher worth a few shillings to spend in Phillips Bros. T. J. Thomas, trainer from 1922 for very many years until his death, was also trainer to the Welsh Boys side. Councillor J. S. George and Ivor David who were always on call to officiate at a game without thought of a fee. Mr. David was a former schoolboy player who became a very well known W.R.U. referee and the first former schoolboy player elected to officiate at a schoolboy international (Bristol, 1948).
Some of the games of this period are worthy of mention, for the boys played attractive football and had a very strong following. When playing Dewar Shield games away from home it was necessary to organise special trains and buses for the supporters; many people will recall such occasions.
In 1933 Neath Boys beat Abertillery at Bridgend before a record crowd. Two years later, on the same ground, Neath beat Newport in a memorable final. Hedley Williams was the captain of this side, and he was later to play for Wales against England. 1933-34 was Neath's second invincible season, with a score of 300 points against 72 points. Jack Sargent created a schoolboy record by scoring 37 tries. Another well known player who played in the Shield game was Rees Stephens who played two years for Wales and led the side in his second year.
Leicestershire, Gloucester and Bristol were frequent visitors to Neath, and it was customary for one of these sides to play on the Gnoll on Easter Tuesday. These were gala games, often with a band in attendance and very large crowds turned up to see the games. A normal gate would be over £80 when the charge for admission was sixpence and a shilling. Before the game the two teams would be taken for a bus trip to Porthcawl, Mumbles or the Vale of Neath, and the game was always followed by a special function. The boys were often given free seats in the cinema. The Supporters Club would always rally round for these games and gave much appreciated assistance. Two other prominent players of this period who later graduated to senior rugby were Granville Davies (1930) and Morlais Thomas (1939)
The third era of schoolboy rugby must surely be that which followed the Second World War.
It is said these world wars had a way of leaving nothing untouched, and like every other organisation, the Neath School's Union had its reconstruction problems. Rugby footballs were a rarity, and playing kits were virtually unobtainable and it was found that clothing coupons were more important than money. Whitehall and Westminster were respectfully canvassed, but without result. Eventually clothing coupons were begged from anyone and everyone, kits were purchased, and schoolboy football was again alive.
The early seasons were uninspiring, but 1948-49 was remarkable, for Neath boys were trounced 33 points to nil by Cardiff on the Arms Park, but in a return game on the Gnoll, Cardiff boys were well defeated. Another great game was on the Tiger's ground where Neath beat Leicester by 22 points to nil.
The outstanding boys of this time will be remembered and the merits of these lads will be discussed by those who remember then: John Huins (1946), Don Devereux (1947), Doug. Allin (1949), D. Rowlands (1951), D. Joseph (1956), M. Rogers (1952), C. Dyer (1958) and M. Doyle (1962).
The Neath Schoolboy movement has been a nursery in every sense, for its boys have graduated to Secondary School and Senior Rugby. Many English and Welsh clubs have benefited from the training given to boys on local grounds, but of greater interest to local followers will be the following Neath players, though this list is by no means exhaustive: C. Michael, Rees Stephens, John Huins, Don Devereux, D. Allin, Bryan Richards, Ron Waldron, John Weaver, Arthur Hickman, Gwyn Moore, M. Abraham, H. Jones, D. M. Evans, A. Morris and M. Doyle.
Among the boys who enhance their reputations by being capped by the Welsh Secondary Schools Union since that body was founded in 1924 are: C. Michael (1924), Tonna Morgan (1925), A. Hickman (1927-28-29), Vernon Friend (1932) and Terry Shufflebotham (1946-47-48).
Many boys will remember with respect the late Fred Evans, chairman from 1924 for 27 years. It is impossible to estimate the work that these gentlemen did for schoolboy rugby. Theirs were the guiding hands when tasks seemed insurmountable; they were the persons who kept things going when younger and less patient colleagues were inclined to ask ''Is it all worthwhile?''
Since 1954 the care of schoolboy rugby in Neath has been in the capable hands of Messrs. Sam Edwards and Viv Griffiths-two most knowledgeable and enthusiastic coaches. They have given much time and patience to the continuation and furtherance of the schoolboy movement. We wish them and their colleagues every success in keeping alight the flame which was sparked off in a little cafe in Queen Street in 1904.
Rees Stephens is a man that has done a lot for Youth Rugby. 21 years ago he founded Neath Athletic which provided for hundreds of youngsters to play rugby after schooldays. It has provided a splendid nursery for Neath and other first-class clubs, several of its members becoming Senior Internationals. This year the Club went on a tour to the United States.
THE HAT, JAUNTING CART AND THE CHICKEN
by Ron Griffiths
Rugby correspondent, ''South Wales Evening Post''
| ''Neath'' they assured me when I turned up for my first reporting assignment
at the Gnoll, ''is where all the best Welsh forwards come from. Don't forget it,
lad and you'll be all right.''
That piece of welcoming advice was offered some 20 years ago. Now Neath Rugby Club celebrates its centenary and the quality of its forward play, skilful, resilient and strong, remains as high as it ever was. It was at the Gnoll, with its vociferous customers sounding off about those and so and so's in the Press, that I first learned to appreciate what makes a good forward tick.
The record book is full of the fabulous deeds of the men in black. When I arrived on the scene, thrown in at the deep end, so to speak, by a sports editor who reckoned it was time I broadened my sporting outlook, Rees Stephens and Roy John were in their prime, Courtenay Meredith was beginning to make his first crushing impact, and others, far too numerous to mention here, were maintaining the high standard of Neath packs.
Stephens, as gentle off the field as he was vigorous on it, ran around with stockings rolled down, always at the heart of things, always demanding attention from the Welsh selectors. Stephens, a giant among men whose abiding love of rugby and everything connected with it, has stood the test of time.
John was unquestionably the greatest line-out forward it has ever been my privilege to watch in action. There was style, grace and poise about the way he soared up to make the two-handed catch, pivot in mid-air and whip the ball into the waiting hands of the scrum-half. What a tragedy we don't see anything like it any longer! Since rugby's rulers outlawed ''blocking'' the line-out hasn't been the same. Now it's a shambles, a running sore on the game.
Individually and in harness, Stephens and John were world class forwards, a credit to the club which produced them a credit to the game they adorned with so much skill and dignity. Courtenay Meredith was entitled to that sadly overworked adjective ''great'' as well, not only in the home countries but in South Africa where he toured with the British Lions in 1955.
There were a host of other fine Neath forwards in the 1950's. Perhaps I might be forgiven for recalling here the deeds of two of them, those ebullient characters Bill Brennan and Brian Sparks. Both were talented, both so full of fun and mischief one never knew what to expect next.
My first encounter with them was on a Neath tour of Ireland. We were in Cork, returning from a party at a country club in the early hours of the morning. Suddenly, a committeeman seated in front of the bus stood up and yelled, ''Who's stolen my hat?'' Blank looks all round. ''Perhaps you've left it at the club'', one player suggested.
He hadn't of course. Sparks, admittedly a little worse for wear after a hard game followed by an even harder night, had pinched the hat and stuffed it into his kitbag. Next morning he came down to breakfast, his face an expression of innocence. He handed the hat over with the explanation, '' I found it in the boot. Some practical joker must have thrown in in there''. His word wasn't doubted; after all, he was a policeman then.
Later, on that hectic tour which left the unwary Irish wondering what had hit them, Brennan almost got himself disowned by the party. He arrived at the ground driving a jaunting cart and clad in the most immaculate top hat and tails.
Committeemen thought they were seeing things. Even secretary Arthur Griffiths, as benevolent and kindly as he is today, imagined Brennan had taken leave of his senses. Everybody, you see, was convinced Brennan had pinched the lot from some unsuspecting Irishman.
It turned out that Bill, who, I am sure, could have sold sand to the Arabs had he put his mind to it, had borrowed the cart and the clothes with the blessing of the owner who didn't, of course, know the purpose for which they were needed.
Brennan, loveable and likeable, lived life to the full, even if officialdom didn't always appreciate some of his pranks. When he was left out of the side, which wasn't very often, Bill enjoyed himself with a pint or two.
So when it was decided to rest against Garryowen on that Irish trip, Bill went off and indulged a little more than he should have done. An hour before the kick-off he rolled up, to be asked, ''Where the hell have you been? You're playing,,'
For a minute or two poor Bill didn't comprehend. Then the penny dropped, his mouth sagged, and he exclaimed, ''What! You must be ------ well joking''. Assured that it was indeed no joke, he downed a couple of cups of black coffee, took a cold shower, then went out and played a stormer. We all marvelled at the fitness of the man.
That riotous tour was followed by another to the West County, a memorable expedition if only for the big selection hoax and the cooked chicken that disappeared from the window of one of Torquay's plush restaurants.
Neath has lost to Bridgwater on the way down, and this inspired a couple of coniving committeemen to launch the hoax. It was a telegram which was supposed to have been sent to me from Neath supporters demanding the immediate resignation of the five-man selection panel. For one of the five that wasn't the most jovial of rugby tours.
The chicken....well, that was the result of youthful high spirits and some frustration. A group of players had waited so long for service, one of them, a scrum-half with a touch of wickedness about him, decided it was time for some action. So he led the group out, whipped the chicken on the way and served it later in his hotel bedroom. An understanding club footed the bill.
Perhaps I had better wind up his chapter of happy memories there and extend to Neath, where I first discovered what rugby reporting is all about, a happy and successful centenary season.
THE NEATH RUGBY SUPPORTERS' CLUB
by Ron Davies
(Hon. Secretary and Life Member)
No history of the Neath Rugby Club would
be complete without reference being made to the Supporters' Club, and its close association
and the assistance it has given the Premier Club.
HOW MANY BEFORE MARTYN?.....A LEADING QUESTION
by WALLY THOMAS - ''Neath Guardian''
| The man who has been given the
honour of leading the Neath team in this memorable centenary season is
scrum-half Martyn Davies, and when his team-mates re-elected him to the position
he became a member of a small band of only five men who have held the captaincy
of the club for three or more consecutive seasons.
While we know that Martyn Davies is the latest in a long line of Neath captains, we cannot say how many predecessors he has had. For there is no record of who led the team between 1872 and 1884.
The first captain, in 1871-72, was Dr. T. P. Whittington, who ensured his name was deeply-rooted in the club's history by bringing it its first international cap-which, let it be said yet again, was a Scottish cap!
His captaincy is recorded, but then comes a gap of 13 seasons. There may well have been 13 captains in that time, but, on the other hand, some players may have held the position for two, three, four or more seasons.
The number of captains on record is 57, but two of those are J. Pulman (1914-15) and A. McCarley (1939-40) and neither actually led the team because of the outbreak of war in 1914 and 1939.
Way back in the 1890's and the
first ten years of this century there crops up the name of W. Jones, and if he
was the same person then he must have been a most remarkable chap indeed. For he
skippered the club for nine seasons and perhaps even more astonishing is that
the first time he did it was in 1896 and the last time in 1909-a period of 13
The first man to be captain for
three consecutive seasons was the legendary Major S. S. (Sam) Clarke, who was
also the club's first Welsh international. He was captain from 1885 to 1888.
It is recorded that the club's
greatest season was 1928-29, when the team was led by Tom Evans, who was also
captain the following season.
That 1928-29 team was one of all the talents, and although the club has had many great times since 1871, there are many who will die arguing that the one led by Tom Evans was the best of them all. Whether that be right or wrong, no other captain has had Tom Evans's privilege of leading a team which scored 930 points in a season. And it is a safe bet that countless billions of blades of grass will grow on the Gnoll Ground before another captain will enjoy the same privilege.
NEATH GRAMMAR SCHOOL'S GREAT RECORD
By Timothy Glover
Sport, among other things, is a
great teacher of geography and, in South Wales, Rugby Union is the star pupil.
RECOLLECTIONS OF NEATH RUGBY
by Judge Rowe Harding
My recollections of Neath rugby go back to 1921, but my memory of those early
encounters is rather dim, except for one match at Swansea when P.C Hopkins, as
he then was, broke his leg with a crack which went off like a pistol shot. I
also remember the last game the Barbarians played against Neath in 1924, in
which I played on one wing and Ian Smith, the famous Scottish wing on the other.
The game ended in a draw, but the Barbarians would have won if Ernie Crawford
had converted our last try, scored under the posts.