19.10.2010 Ponty Rugby Matchday magazine
Mention to any Pontypridd fan or player over the last 20 years who their unsung hero is, the chances are Mark Spiller’s name will crop up frequently.
An abrasive blind side flanker, who was nicknamed by his peers as “The Clamp” due to his immense upper body and arm strength. Many a Ponty turnover between 1993 and 1998 was as a result of Mark ripping the ball away from the opposition in rucks and mauls.
Mark joined Pontypridd in the summer of 1993, having previously played for Ebbw Vale and Pontypool. He made his competitive debut in September 1993 in a 22 all draw at Neath, and in total, he played 110 games for Pontypridd scoring 14 tries.
What some may not know is that Mark was a very successful product of the Pontypridd Schools system. Educated at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen, he represented Pontypridd Schools in the second row at u-15 level (where I am told he has gone down in history for a 70m try he scored against the Vale of Glamorgan Schools), Mid Glamorgan u-17’s and the Combined Valleys Schools.
Internationally, Mark represented Welsh Schools u-15’s, (where incidentally, he gained one of his caps in a 6-4 win against Scotland at Sardis Road), at u-18 level, where he gained four caps, and also toured Zimbabwe, and at u-21 level (where he played in the same team as Chris Bridges, Adrian Davies and the ex-Ponty hooker Leighton Phillips). Mark also represented East Wales against a touring New Zealand side that included future all All Black stars Robin Brooke, Steve Bachop and Jon Preston.
Mark made his first class debut at 18 for Ebbw Vale against Newbridge in 1986. He spent five years at Eugene Cross Park, then moved down the Gwent Valley to Pontypool. It was during this time that Mark moved into the back row, playing most of his games in the 7 shirt, and under the tutelage of one of the all time greats in the back row at Pontypool Park, Chris Huish. In those two years at Pontypool, a highlight for Mark was a tour of New Zealand, where in a game against Waikato, he came up against the current Welsh coach Warren Gatland.
Mark recalls when he first came to Pontypridd, the pre-season trial games that were set up the coaches, he and Phil ‘Tonka’ Thomas (who had also joined the club that season) were up against Chief, Gavin Owen and Denzil Earland.-hard men and devils in the dark arts of back row play. No quarter was asked or certainly given!
His five years at Pontypridd were arguably the best of his career, where he won the Swalec Cup in 1996 and the League a year later. He also represented Wales at A-team level (where one of the games was against New Zealand and a certain Mr Lomu at Sardis Road), and, on a couple of occasions, was included in the full Welsh squad. Unfortunately, his talents were not fully appreciated at the top level of the game as they were by the Pontypridd faithful.
The squad of the mid 90’s was full of great characters, in his own words “the sense of team spirit on and off the field is something I will always treasure”. This “team spirit off the field” was evident during a trip to Newcastle, where along with Neil Eynon and Jason Lewis, he was attempting to enter a local nightclub. The doormen would not let Neil in- because allegedly he had short sleeves and tattoos on his arm (how times have changed!). The only way Neil could get into the club, was if he swapped shirts with Jason, which being the devoted team mate that he is, did. To see Neil in Jason’s shirt must have been a sight, but it certainly served its purpose!
Mark’s favourite memories of his five years at Pontypridd were the three games against Brive. He says that the first game had the most intense atmosphere he has ever experienced before, during and after a game, from Phil John’s pre match speech, to the crowd banging on the cages as the teams were running out onto the field. Even in all that noise and mayhem, Mark says that the travelling Pontypridd support could still be heard loud and clear.
Given the build up to the second game, Mark says the match atmosphere was a little unreal, with both sides appearing to stand off from each other. However the third game mirrored the pattern of the first game.
His other abiding memories of his time at the club was the atmosphere in the clubhouse following the cup final win in 1996, and the title clinching game in Bridgend the following season. All that could be seen in the stand and on the terrace at the Brewery Field was black and white, and all that could be heard was the “Ole Ponty” chant. If ever there was a home game played away, that was it.
Mark was also given the nickname “Shoeless” by the Pontypridd players. This, I am told, is not down to fondness of baseball, but on many a time, he would turn up to training in his slippers!
A serious leg injury sustained in cup game against Bonymaen in 1998 curtailed his career at Pontypridd. At the end of that season, he left the club and returned to Ebbw Vale.
Today, Mark lives in Nelson with wife Jacqui and two sons Elliot and Conor. He has also gone back to his previous occupation as a Builder/Roofer, but he is not lost to the game, as he coaches Nelson u-16’s. His sons are also following in their dad’s footsteps, and are making a name for themselves, Elliot as a hooker and Conor in the back row for their respective regional age groups.
You never know, but in a few years time we may see another member of the Spiller family grace Sardis Road in a Pontypridd shirt.
Parents for all their support and the ex-Ebbw Vale coach Phil Gardner
Chris Huish (Pontypool)
Recreation Ground, Bath
Simon Poidevin (Australia)
Away in Ebbw Vale in a 47-7 win in 1997.
Mark Spiller was interviewed by