The Pleasure Of Rugby

By Jim Dyer

© Jim Dyer 2012

"...     and Andy Irvine does a ho o o oge kick from the twenty-five, and Delme Thomas palms to Barry John......." Oh, the dulcet tones of the one-and-only Bill McClaren at the annual Wales versus Scotland rugby international. Those were the days eh, those balmy days of the sixties and seventies when, from boy to man, those enjoyable spectacles were ever available on a Saturday afternoon. For me it was Rodney Parade, Newport, where I watched famous players take the ball and run the length of the field.

At school I played rugby for the dauntless Belle Vue Secondary School, and later Duffryn High School. I was a fast runner and good tackler so my positions varied from the wing to wing-forward. We played mainly other local schools such as Father Hill's and Newport High, but sometimes we ventured up the Valley's to Twmpath or West Mon High. There were some good players amongst us, not to forget Josh White, who died young but I am sure he would have made international had he lived. Later I had a few games for Newport Saracens Extra Thirds, eventually other teenage things took over but I still went to Rodney Parade.

Some games we won, some we lost but it was great feeling to be given your jersey on a Friday and your name appearing on the notice board. It was also a good excuse to skip lessons to train, and of course sometimes complimentary tickets were given for Newport matches. It was through these little gifts  that I got to know about famous teams like The Army, Cambridge University, and Sale who often played at Rodney Parade. This was before the nineties and the beginning of BIG teams, a time when teams such as Cross Keys and Glamorgan Wanderers could get players into the Welsh squad.

Rodney Parade was a great place to go for us lads to see famous names like Bryn Meredith, Ken Jones, and Glyn Davidge. To us they were heroes, and I can still smell the liniment from their sweaty, steamy, bodies as we ran with them as they left the field. I saw most of the famous matches and my now scraggy autograph book is festooned with the names of famous players who deigned to sign.

It was here I saw some the famous matches against visiting touring sides. The most memorable was Newport v All Blacks in the sixties when Billy Uzzell dropped a goal to give us a superb win. I was about fourteen then and the stadium was so packed I had to jump over the railings onto the pitch. I wasn't there long though as the linesman 'A Bit of Bandage' (as he was known) scuttled me back.

As I grew older the boys would meet-up on freezing Saturday afternoons for a few pints of Bass at the Lord Raglan in town, before wending our way over Newport Bridge. We would be there after as well. Of course we would have one or two in the clubhouse as well where occasionally we would mingle with the players. Was I jealous of their smart blazers and Newport badge! The players would change year after year but a new growth of stars emerged like Jeff Squires, Norman Morgan, and Stuart Watkins – many who made Welsh colours.

Of note from school-days was the schoolboy international at Rodney Parade  in the sixties when the sides fielded some great names who would go on to their senior international teams. Phil Bennett was one. To my fame Tony Neary stayed with me for the weekend. I remember my dad taking them to Pontypool Road Railway Station to catch the train north.

In the years that followed I went to many internationals at the old Cardiff Arms Park, the first, as a schoolboy. It was pelting with rain and – the crowd kept throwing sandwiches at our umbrella. It was so bad we went home at half-time. Of course there were away matches too, Twickenham being the most popular. The famous match when Chico Hopkins came on for Gareth Edwards, I remember because I didn’t go. I gave my ticket away and spent the day with a lady in Kensington. Murrayfield with the Scots was also memorable. Staying at St Andrews we spent time in Dundee and Aberdeen but the best was when the Alcan boys brought a Scotsman back with them. Drunk as a skunk he slept all the way back and they deposited him in the Rogerstone Club.

In later years I continued to go to matches occasionally and those memories still flood back. Many of the same old faces are still there, friends and foe. The whole arena has been re-vamped, new stands and seating. Now (2012) Gwent Dragons are the stars but it is still shared with Newport RFC. Recently, Newport County football have made their home there too so you could say that the joint is now jumping! But nothing will replace for me those sixties days.

Jim Dyer – 5th November 2012