Paul Williams (Swansea Programme Notes)
Posted by Paul Williams on 10/02/2018
Second half of the season, that is. Welcome, everyone, to our first home league match since the visit of Llanelli on December 3rd. A quick glance at the calendar tells me that this was a day short of ten weeks ago. What a contrast from my younger days when the Wizards would play something like 40 competitive games in a season (which always came to an abrupt end on April 30th), and we could be assured of at least one home game every two weeks, with a fair sprinkling of floodlit midweek affairs making up the numbers.
That was way back before the advent of league rugby, when the Welsh club scene provided an intensely competitive environment in which only those with the necessary ability and resilience would excel. It was an environment that produced the players who made up the great Welsh teams of the 1970s, an environment in which there were no easy fixtures – Tuesday night fixtures away somewhere in the Gwent Valleys would abound, and these were as tough as any clash with Swansea, Llanelli, Cardiff, Newport et al.
Nowadays the Welsh club scene at our level is, apparently, not fit for purpose. It seems that, for example, Justin Tipuric and James King learned nothing from playing alongside experienced players such as Richard Morris, Chris Gittins or Chris Davies. That, at least, is the view of a certain official from one of the WRU Championship clubs – I wonder whether that opinion would be the same had his club not missed out on promotion to the Principality Premiership a couple of years ago.
The suggestion it seems, is that regional ‘A’ teams are the way forward. Okay, so let me respond to this, not with any kind of official viewpoint representing Aberavon RFC, nor is it intended as any kind of snipe against any of the regions, but it is simply one that sums up my own feelings – I have a lifelong attachment to Aberavon RFC that simply cannot be transferred to an Ospreys second-string team. I have supported my club since childhood (more than half a century ago), and one does not tear up that kind of commitment and ‘move on’. By default, as an Aberavon supporter, I wish the Ospreys success, and have been known to go along to the Liberty Stadium to watch them in action, but there is simply neither the emotional attachment nor the post-match social ambience that a home game involving the club with which I grew up provides. Kicking established semi-professional clubs, who have spent a decade and a half jumping through increasingly difficult and expensive hoops to meet the participation criteria, into an amateur-only league would result in this particular long-serving club volunteer walking away from the sport forever, and I strongly suspect that I would not be alone in this.
On to this afternoon, however. This is the first home match of the ‘second-half’ of the season, in which points are carried forward based on league positions achieved during the ‘first-half’ in matches against half of the division played on a home-and-away basis, into a series of matches played against the entire division on a home-or-away basis. Not confusing at all. It does, however, provide us with the opportunity to welcome the All-Whites to Aberavon for the second time this season, evoking memories of some good old battles in the days of yore.
It also evokes, in my case, memories of a rather painful day after a Swansea Supporters Club dinner twenty-odd years ago, at which I, as an invited Aberavon representative (there were also guests from the supporters clubs of Llanelli, Neath and Bridgend in attendance) found myself in the company of Swansea legend, sadly no longer with us, Dicky Dobbs, who swiftly conscripted me as his assistant for the purposes of going to the bar and getting drinks for the entire table at which we were sitting. That wasn’t the problem – it was Dicky’s insistence that we have a surreptitious whisky while at the bar waiting for the round of drinks to be assembled that did the damage. Several trips to the bar later Dicky was still going strong, I, less so. The following afternoon Swansea were our opposition at the Talbot Athletic Ground, and I all but collided with Dickie in the dressing room corridor. I suspect I looked nowhere near has healthy as I did! He was one of our sport’s great characters, whose reputation lasted long after his playing days.
Welcome, Swansea. Welcome, with all the history and tradition you hold. Enjoy your visit to Aberavon. Enjoy the game. Long may such fixtures continue.