The Early Years
The AFAN FOOTBALL CLUB was formed in 1876, and the club’s name was to change several times before settling as ABERAVON RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB. Early sport in the area saw a cricket team formed in Taibach in 1842 when Bando, a form of hockey, was also being played. However, after Theodore Talbot, heir to the Margam Estate and captain of the Margam Bando Boys, died in 1876, locals looked to a new sport – Rugby, which had already started in nearby Neath. By 1907-08 Aberavon had moved to their present location, at that time known as the Central Athletic Ground. Next came an important milestone as on July 26, 1913, Miss Emily Charlotte Talbot granted exclusive use of the Central Athletic Ground to Aberavon, and the Club was granted a Lease of 39 years at nominal rent. It was, in recognition, called the Talbot Athletic Ground (‘TAG’): and so it still is.
The ground was used as allotments for the War effort as Britain ‘dug for victory’ and in the Aberavon clubhouse is a plaque to 2nd-Lieutenant Rupert Price Hallowes, VC and MC. Aberavon players Charlie (‘Warhorse’) Jones, and 20 year-old Jim Evans had both lost an arm each in WW1. Jim ‘One-Arm’ continued to play. WW2 saw more games played than during WW1, mostly by Services sides and many involved Aberavon players. Aberavon began on October 6, 1945 with a ‘home’ win (at the GKB Sports Ground in Margam) against Abertillery by 6-5. Walter Vickery skippered with Secretary George Davies at full back; then on November 10, Maesteg became the first post-war visitors to the Talbot Athletic Ground for a 0-0 draw.
Ian Hall was made captain for 1971-72, a season which saw the four-point try and a WRU Knockout Cup introduced. In 1972-73 hooker Morton Howells was captain and his side enjoyed a good season under his captaincy. Wales toured Canada in the summer of 1973, both Martin and Shell appearing. The ship had certainly been steadied and with Morton Howells again captaining in 1973-74. Aberavon moved up to fifth in the Championship as well as reaching the final of the Cup. Morton Howells led the club for the fourth and final time in a very pleasing 1974-75 for Aberavon. They reached the Cup final again, however Llanelli defeated Aberavon 15-6, scoring three tries and a penalty against two penalties. South Wales Evening Post reporter Bill Taylor (alias ‘Rover’) during the 1920s, when he dubbed the highly successful Aberavon team of that era – ‘The Wizards of the West’. Clive Shell had become captain for Aberavon’s 1976-77 Centenary Season. Martin, Bevan and Williams all toured New Zealand with the Lions and Martin played in a Test, as well as appearing with Bevan in the tour match against Fiji. In 1978-79 Clive Shell was the captain for a third successive season.
Allan Martin took the captaincy for 1981-82 in a season of good wins and bad losses which ended in eighth position in the Championship. John Bevan had taken over from Omri Jones as head coach. December that season saw a 6-0 win at Neath on Boxing Day. Schoolteacher and lock forward Adrian Owen became captain for 1982-83 and while the club dropped to 11th. Billy James played for Wales against the touring Maoris before winning caps in all the Five Nations games. Adrian Owen continued as captain in 1983-84 with Roy Bish coach. Sadly, season 1984-85 saw Aberavon at its least successful to that date in post-war years, finishing 15th in the Championship. The 1985-86 season saw captain Ray Giles in outstanding form and he skippered Wales ‘B’ on tour. For the moment, though, the club looked to bounce back and Ray Giles continued as captain in 1986-87. Unfortunately, the campaign was to see another new low since WW2 as the club finished 16th in the Championship. On the sunnier side, Billy James was capped against England, Scotland and then Ireland. In the latter he became the only Aberavon player ever to skipper Wales. September 1987 saw Aberavon/Neath lose 34-8 to a Wales International XV in a John Bevan Memorial match at Aberavon. Afterwards, Tim Fauvel became the last-ever Welsh cap directly from Aberavon as he toured with Wales to New Zealand in the summer of 1988.
In May 1990 Aberavon toured Canada. The WRU’s Heineken League started in 1990-91. Aberavon were in Division 1, one below the Premier Division. Ray Giles was captain and in all games it was 18 wins and 25 losses. In 1992, the try was now worth five points. On Boxing Day Aberavon defeated Neath at the TAG for the first time in eight years. Allan Martin made his final appearance in December 1992. Centre John Jardine was captain for 1993-94. In 1994-95, the former Oxford University full back Darryl Jones was coach and took Aberavon to the Division 2 title as they were promoted back to the top flight, skippered by back-row forward Brian (‘Billy’) Shenton. The 1995-96 season proved the worst in Aberavon history. They finished 18th and bottom of the ‘Championship’ for the first-time ever. Colin Laity had his second season as captain when Aberavon competed in Division 1 (there was once more a Premier Division!) in 1997-98. More happily, a dinner at Afan Lido had over 700 guests to honour the First Lady of Aberavon and Welsh rugby – the remarkable Mrs. Evelyn Mainwaring.
It was all change in 1999-2000 as Chris O’Callaghan took over as coach in November and then in 2000-01 Aberavon were to win Division 1. Most importantly, Jamie Davies had rejoined the club from Aberavon Quins. There was an astonishing race for the Division 1 title in 2001-02 between Aberavon and Pontypool. The penultimate game at Tondu was a 63-21 win with ten tries, including a hat-trick by Jamie. The final match saw 14 tries needed to overtake Pontypool, who had ended with 27 tries in their last two games. Aberavon did it however with a 72-24 win at Broadacre. There had been successive Division 1 titles, yet no promotion for Aberavon. Bonymaen captain and lock Chris Gittins had signed for Aberavon in September 2001. He became club captain for the 2002-03 season and much of the three that followed. Jamie Davies set a magnificent club record of 515 points. In season 2003-04 the Ospreys were born as one of the five (at first) regions or super-clubs designed to save Welsh rugby. At Aberavon, theoretically under the Ospreys’ wing, Chris Gittins was again captain. Kevin Hopkins and Mark Jones took on the coaching roles the following season. In came ex-Wales hooker Garin Jenkins, aided by the likeable Jeff Pick in December 2006. There were new coaches and a new captain for 2007-08 with Simon King and Nicky Lloyd a fine choice as backs coach, while the magnificent Ian (‘Buddah’) Moore was the skipper. The talented Wales under-18 caps Ashley Beck and Justin Tipuric came in. Ian Moore was again captain for 2008-09 and there was an outstanding Aberavon performance in finishing third in the Premier Division.
2009-10 saw Ian Moore’s third successive season as captain with Aberavon. Chris Davies was captain for 2010-11. Both Ashley Beck (63 games, 25 tries) and Justin Tipuric (33 games) went to the Ospreys and were later capped by Wales with Justin also becoming a ‘Lion’. That same year Aberavon reached the final for the third time, but just lost to Pontypridd by 35-24 at the Millennium Stadium. 2011-12 found Chris Davies again captain. The victory at the Gnoll was Aberavon’s first there for 27 years – a 31-7 victory on Boxing Day 1984 when Mike Lewis scored 15 points. Richard Morris was making his 500th appearance against Newport. Jamie Davies and Chris Davies played for the Barbarians against the South of Scotland on October 11 and Simon King coached a Welsh Premiership XV against Georgia at Bridgend on March 27. Georgia won 36-32 but Carter, Jamie Davies, Chris Davies and Will Taylor all took part. Lock Sam Williams was a surprising choice for captain in 2012-13. In season 2013-14 Aberavon met great sadness, dreadful form and changes to coaches, captain and squad. Former hooker Jason Hyatt. Hyatt took the captaincy from prop Andrew Clatworthy and gave it back to Ian Moore. Aberavon needed one point for safety and would be home to second-placed Carmarthen Quins, it was Ian Moore that stepped up on the 44th minute to score the bonus point try saving the ‘Wizards’ from relegation. Season 2014-15 saw Ian Moore captain again, and for ‘Buddah’ it was also the season when he did represent the Barbarians. Jamie Davies and Richard Morris went onto the coaching staff. Ian Moore was again skipper as Aberavon entered the 2015-16 Principality Premiership season with head coach Jason Hyatt having been joined by backs coach Lyndon Lewis. The WRU once more made less-than-popular changes with tries worth six points and all goals two points, though the SWALEC Cup saw it all revert to the old values. Aberavon made the Premiership Playoff Final in 2017, home to Merthyr. Aberavon were leading 11-9 with only eight minutes remaining, but it was not to be. It was goodbye to the legend – Ian Moore and Chris Davies. James Garland took captaincy duties in 2017/18 season.
Follow the clubs journey from early amateurs to semi-professional era.
A sporting heritage project funded by the National Lottery.
Learn about the history of ‘the Wizards’ from the men that made it.