Paul Williams (Neath Programme Notes)
It’s been too long
Despite the memory of a certain high-profile contributor to these pages getting into hot water for producing a light-hearted “Neath are back at the Talbot Athletic Ground” article some twenty or so years ago, I have decided to use a similar theme to kick off the 2023-24 season, albeit hopefully avoiding the pitfall of potential misinterpretation that resulted in the furore surrounding that previous occasion.
The Welsh All Blacks have been sadly missing from our fixture list for a few years, following a fraught but, mercifully, brief period in their long history that will hopefully now be firmly consigned to the past. Thankfully the good old Boxing Day derby is back on the agenda… no disrespect to Bridgend, with whom the Wizards have partaken of a regular and enjoyable festive joust over the past few seasons, but Aberavon v Neath (or vice-versa) has been as much a part of the Christmas season as Turkey and mistletoe for anyone with even the slightest interest in rugby around these parts. I’m not sure why Easter Monday couldn’t have been drafted in to complete the traditional picture, but we should all rejoice that one of the biggest crowd-pulling events in Welsh club rugby is back with us. The game so desperately needs these occasions.
It will also be a great pleasure to resume my acquaintance with long-serving (and sometimes long suffering) Neath club secretary Mike Price. Mike is a genuine rugby man and all-round good egg whose great love, like that of so many of us, is the bread-and-butter club game, and he, our mutual friend Howard Evans and myself have been singing (perhaps rather tunelessly) from the same song-sheet regarding our views on the way the sport at this level has been heading in the past few years, collectively pleading for someone – anyone – in a position of influence to look at the structure of the club season with a view to removing undesirable features such as month-long gaps in fixture lists during which clubs are expected to survive on next to no income.
Of course, it’s a little too much to expect a settled short term future, with the impending formation of a new ‘elite’ league between the Premiership and the professional game likely to bring further disruption to the local rugby calendar during the next year or two but, hey-ho, we’re well accustomed to uncertainty and change which have been fairly constant since the 21st century began. It’s early days yet, so we all await seeing flesh appearing on the bones of what is at present a very skeletal draft proposal. This is the latest initiative in attempting to strengthen the development pathway for potential Welsh international players, at a time when the fortunes of the national team have been rather more “ebb” than “flow” during recent seasons.
So, a warm welcome to all those who have made the short journey south-eastwards to join us here at the Talbot Athletic Ground. Believe me, good people of Neath, you have been sorely missed.
Enjoy the game.
The whole world loves a volunteer!
It is no secret that rugby clubs such as Aberavon are highly dependent on volunteers to keep things ticking over, never more so than on a match-day. However, such people sometimes move on or relinquish their roles for health, family or personal reasons, and we do find ourselves short-handed from time to time in terms of match-day stewarding, assisting at the turnstiles or even selling match programmes etc., we’d love to hear from you. Drop an email to email@example.com, leave a message on the Aberavon Supporters’ Group on Facebook, or come along early on a home match day and seek out Carole and Ian Parry in the players’ dining room pre-match for an informal chat.