Paul Williams (Bridgend Programme Notes)

Back to (a new kind of) normal

While contemplating the task of writing these words, some random thoughts entered my head from somewhere, one of which was how, back when I was much, much younger, I’d have been looking forward to Aberavon’s traditional opening fixture at home to Glamorgan Wanderers. That would be followed by Llanelli and then Cardiff (both alternately either home or away) with Newbridge drawing September to a close, unless the month happened that year to contain five Saturdays, in which case an extra match against someone like Torquay would fill the gap. This season we face an empty weekend in just a couple of weeks’ time.

Back then, your typical season would see Aberavon play something in the region of forty plus matches. Nowadays we’re looking at little more than half that total, and although there have been occasional attempts to improve on that, these have been somewhat less than successful and, as a result, short-lived – the ill-fated British and Irish Cup will be remembered (but perhaps not for long) for the horrendous mismatches that occurred when the Welsh and Scottish teams were thrown in against RFU Championship teams and Irish Provinces with infinitely greater resources at their disposal. Sadly (from a purely selfish viewpoint) the planned tournament involving the top six Welsh Clubs with Scottish counterparts in 2019-20 became a casualty of the global pandemic before it had started. It was interesting hear Jason Hyatt express the opinion that he’d like to see that idea revived at some point. I fully agree – if the aim is to improve standards, then a cross-border competition of that kind would surely have a part to play. Hopefully, as we embark on our first ‘normal’ season with a full home-and-away league programme since before Covid19 raised its ugly head, the Indigo Premiership can again provide an entertaining and accessible spectacle in keeping the sport’s long traditions.

Recent seasons have seen today’s match elevated to the status of the main ‘local derby’ for both Aberavon and Bridgend. With the two clubs’ respective traditional, rivals Neath and Maesteg, currently competing elsewhere in the league structure, the ‘derby’ status has, at least partially, been confirmed with the establishment of one such fixture now taking place on Boxing Day. Strangely, Easter weekend hasn’t received the same treatment to complete the picture. It is, however, a great fixture with which to kick off the season, as these encounters seldom fail to produce competitive and thoroughly committed displays from both teams, with the added spice of there being a bi-directional path, well-trodden by players, between our two clubs. This afternoon, as always, we bid the Ravens a warm Aberavon welcome.

It would be remiss of me here not to mention that our long-time club scribe, historian and Welsh Rugby statistician extraordinaire Howard Evans who, after an eighteen-year association with Aberavon, has taken the difficult decision to stand down. Howard has been a regular contributor to these pages since 2004 and was instrumental in the publication of a book that chronicles the history of Aberavon RFC a few years back, but at the tender age of 81 he feels that the round trip of some eighty miles from his home in Rumney, Cardiff to home matches, not to mention the mileage he’s clocked up when heading to away games to the west of here, is too much, particularly when the days get shorter and autumnal sunshine gives way to the worst of the Welsh winter. I’m sure everyone at Aberavon RFC will join me in wishing him all the best and recognising the contribution he has made during his association with the club. Many, many thanks Howard.