AMERICAN rugby fan Bert James is Pontypridd’s biggest supporter across the pond.
At the turn of the century, when he discovered his ancestry led back to the Valleys town, he fell in love with Pontypridd, including the rugby team that bears its name.
The 52-year-old hasn’t missed a result since his love affair began, despite having never set foot on the paved terraces at Sardis Road.
But, if the team manages to reach the final of the British and Irish Cup this season, Bert, from Scranton, Pensylvania, has made a promise to himself to visit its famous ground for the very first time and experience a legendary home of Welsh rugby at first hand.
Online, where he keeps in touch with fans, coaches and players, he calls himself the Ponty Dragon, and has since bought his very own Pontypridd jersey.
Devoted Bert gets programmes and memorabilia sent to him by the club, and sets his alarm early on match day so as not to miss the action sent by fellow Ponty fans.
“My wife Lisa, she knows how it has consumed me,” dad-of-two Bert confesses.
“I am on the computer every morning singing ‘Olé, olé, olé’ as they do on the terraces.
“The kids say they want to go to Disney World again this year. I said they can go, but I will be going to Wales.”
In the late 1800s, Bert’s great-grandparents moved to America from Pontypridd. He also has family who once lived in Mountain Ash and others who lived in Cardiff.
“I had to pick a team,” he explains, “and then I was hooked.
“At the time, I knew nothing about rugby at all.
“Where I live, there is no rugby and I had no exposure to the sport until I found out about Pontypridd.
“The players are fantastic and the supporters keep in touch with me, giving me score updates online.
“They are my eyes and my ears on the terraces – everyone keeps me posted.”
In 2001, he took his son Morgan to watch Wales play the USA in Connecticut, while the British and Irish Lions toured Australia.
They also went to the IRB Sevens tournament in Iowa and will do the same again in Philadelphia later this year.
“I’ve tried to recruit more Ponty supporters in the USA and with the Sevens and the Olympics coming up, I think the sport has a lot of potential to grow over here,” said Bert.
“I had already been over to Britain to visit one of my cousins, who is a college professor teaching American history at the University of Dundee.
“The people were fantastic and just seeing and walking over the old Pontypridd bridge would be incredible.”
Pontypridd will next play Llanelli in the quarter-finals of the British and Irish Cup this Saturday, March 5. Meanwhile, on his calendar, Bert has left dates in May clear.
He says he doesn’t want to jinx it, but that’s when he hopes he will return to the Valleys – this time to see the Pont lift some silverware.