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Merger-talk leaves Sardis Road faithful feeling the pain

28.1.2003

[icWales] RUGBY is in the blood in Pontypridd. Cut them and they bleed black and white - with a red Buy As You View logo.

As you enter fortress Ponty, with the high brick wall of the railway station towering above you like a city wall, all roads lead to Sardis Road - also known as the "House of Pain".

The legendary reputation of the ground as a place to be feared by opposition teams has built up over the decades, via a combination of honest, hard players and vociferous loyal supporters.

Even the thought of losing the Ponty name, to a merged side with - horror of horrors - city big boys Cardiff, is enough to turn the beer sour in the Pontypridd Ex-Service-men's Club - known as "Duffies" to the regulars.

Overlooking the hallowed pitch of Sardis Road, the club is a regular haunt of the extended family of Ponty fans, all devoted to the Valleys' team cause.

Sat on the red leatherette seats in the bar yesterday afternoon, one such loyal supporter is 50-year-old milkman, Clive Brickell.

"I've supported Ponty all my life, and been a season ticket holder, along with my wife Mary, my brother David, and his wife Wendy, since 1976," he says, clutching his pint glass embossed with the Pontypridd RFC badge on one side, his name on the other.

"We have always been the under-dogs and we have always survived," he says. "We have had some fantastic moments - winning the Principality Cup against Llanelli, getting to the final of the Parker Pen last year was another good one - but, for me, the three games against Brive were typical Ponty - battling, and hard."

The "Battle of Brive" in 1997 saw a mass punch-up involving players from both sides, continuing later with a bar-room brawl.

That match, and the two sub-sequent fixtures, are all part of Ponty folklore, but fans fear rich tales like that could soon be cut off at source if David Moffett's provincial plan goes ahead.

Mr Brickell is vehement in his opposition to joining with the Blue-and-Blacks.

"If it's Cardiff we merge with then that's it. I wouldn't go and watch a team in Cardiff, I would rather stop watching rugby alto-gether," he says, mouth set in a hard line.

"Nearly all the games will be played down there - if I had wanted to support Cardiff I would have gone to watch them when Neil Jenkins and Martyn Williams went - but I didn't because Ponty is my club. It's like trying to merge Man Utd with Arsenal.

"At least a merger with someone like Bridgend would be more equal, we would have half the games up here and half down there, and that wouldn't be too bad," he added.

But Mr Brickell fears the decision may be out of supporters' hands.

"We have had a petition here behind the bar, and have collected more than 200 names in no time, and I'm planning on joining the protest next month - although I don't know what good it will do."

Dennis Morgan, 53, owns Pontypridd Embroidery Services in the town centre, which puts personalised names and numbers on rugby shirts emblazoned with the Ponty badge - as well as printing T-shirts telling the world you're a "Valley Commando", or a "Ponty Boy".

The father of Welsh full back Kevin Morgan, a great product of the Ponty youth system, he thinks the demise of the rugby club would have a devastating impact on the town.

"It would be catastrophic," he says. "We have been printing the campaign T-shirts which say `Ole Ole Ole, No Merger, No Way', and 99% of the people who come in here are against the plan.

"The Ponty side has traditionally been made up of local boys, which builds up a great spirit.

"If the club goes, that would be like having the heart of the community taken out. Rugby is one of the only things we have left up here.

"People all over the world know the name of Pontypridd because of the rugby team - I can't imagine it if that goes."

In the Indoor Bowling Club, ex-Pontypridd captain and coach Joe Smith sat discussing the future of the club with his friends. "Ponty is different," he states. "There is a family atmosphere, everybody is welcome, it's a Valleys thing."

 

              

 

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Gwerthiant tocynnau tymor ar i fyny, llu o noddwyr newydd, carfan gref... beth yw'r arolygon i Bontypridd am y tymor i ddod? Season ticket sales on the increase, new sponsors on board, a strong playing squad... what are the season's prospects for Pontypridd RFC?