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A New Beginning

A New Beginning

A short while ago I was contacted by one of our supporters, Nigel Phillips, who told me that his brother, Sheldon Phillips, was researching the history of the 1893 National Eisteddfod in Pontypridd. His research had turned up some interesting facts about the history of rugby in Pontypridd, suggesting that the first games were played as far back as 1873, which is three years before the ‘official’ formation of the club.

In my book, In Black and White, I said that it was difficult to establish precisely when rugby started in Pontypridd and credited its beginning to a meeting at the Butchers Arms on Taff Street at some time in the 1870s. The account of the meeting was given in 1926 by James Spickett, a former pupil of Cowbridge Grammar School and then a well-established solicitor in the town. Spickett stated that he was 17 at the time of the meeting, and Sheldon Phillips has discovered that he was born on 4th November 1859. This suggests that the meeting must have taken place some time in late 1876 or early 1877.

When the club decided to celebrate its centenary, the year 1876 was chosen as the start date for Pontypridd Rugby Football Club. However, Sheldon’s research has discovered that a ‘Football Match’ was played between the Roath and Pontypridd clubs at Sophia Gardens on Thursday, 18 November 1873, reported in the Cardiff Times newspaper. It seems that it had rained heavily for several days prior to the game and “the ground was in anything but a favourable condition.” The report goes on to say that:

…the ball was, at 3.10 pm, kicked off by the Cardiff team, who, following well up, soon forced it so near their opponent’s goal as to oblige their ‘touching’ it down. The ball having been again brought on the field, play was steadily resumed with great energy on both sides. So equally matched indeed were the teams, that on ‘time’ being called at 4:20 pm, no goal had been obtained…Notwithstanding the inclement state of the weather, a goodly number of ladies honoured the players with their presence.

A report of a further game appeared in the Western Mail on 16 November 1874, “between the Cowbridge Grammar School and the Pontypridd football club” on the Ynysangharad fields “kindly lent by Mr Gordon Lenox.” The game was played “in accordance with the Rugby Rules” and “witnessed by a large number of spectators, and a commodious marquee was well filled with ladies.” In the evening a public dinner was held at the New Inn Hotel, under the presidency of Mr Gordon Lenox.

Sheldon has found further reports of games between Pontypridd and Cardiff at Ynysangharad Field in February 1875 and Pontypridd and The Wanderers at Cardiff Arms Park in March 1875. Although reports of all these games state that they were played under ‘rugby rules’, the number of players in the teams seemed to be composed of either eleven or twelve men and contained a ‘goalkeeper’. Games of ‘football’ played at this time were often likely to be some hybrid of what we now know as soccer and rugby, although one of the reports in the Western Mail stressed that “carrying the ball is a prominent feature of the game” and “what afforded most amusement to onlookers was the running business.”

So, thanks to Sheldon’s research, we can move the date of the start of rugby football in Pontypridd from 1876 to 1873 and we can acknowledge the major part played by Gordon Lenox of the chainworks in its very early days. This places Pontypridd on a par with teams like Cardiff, Neath, Llanelli, and Swansea as being at the very beginnings of rugby in South Wales.

Alun Granfield