Monday, 26 September 2011

An Ode to Sosban Fach: Llanelli RFC - 5000 Matches and Still Singing

I am football before rugby. As a Welshman, this is almost slightly contentious. Having said that, as anyone who knows me will testify, I am sports mad and am a keen follower of the oval shaped ball's game as well. Life is only relative, after all.

Being from deepest west Wales, you would think that my allegiances would naturally gravitate towards the Scarlets of Stradey Park. Most West Walians have supported Llanelli RFC over Swansea RFC although there are many honourable exceptions.

I in fact, support neither. Or should that read, both? Because when it comes to rugby, my support is not as tribal as most. I simply support all of the Welsh regions and of course with a passion, the national side. When it comes to the Magners League or the Heineken Cup, as long as Welsh clubs progress, that's all I care about. It also doesn't help that of my University mates, there's a split between Scarlets and Ospreys fans.

So I'd like to think that on this matter at least, I come from a place of moderation where my views are not blinded by stringent club loyalty. So the comments that are to follow should be taken with that perspective.

The Heart of Welsh Rugby - Llanelli RFC
What does mean a lot to me in the broadest sense is history and heritage.

It is with this in mind that I salute the 5000th match played by Llanelli RFC and their modern alter-ego, the regional Scarlets side last Saturday night at the new Parc Y Scarlets.

Whatever your Welsh rugby allegiance, it would be a brave man who would not accept that the embodiment of the passion and soul of the history of Welsh rugby does not reside in the club that until November 2008 played at the legendary Stradey Park.

5000 games on from its reputed first match on January 1st 1876, the club and region can recall Welsh legends that played in the red of Llanelli. Without doubt its finest hour came in the 1970s when  the likes of Ray Gravell, Gareth Jenkins, Delme Thomas, Phil Bennett and Derek Quinnell played for a team that was coached by the best Welsh coach the national team never had the honour to play under - Carwyn James.

© Alan T Richards
In their near 140 year history, they have supplied the Welsh national side with at least 17 Captains since 1891 and have supplied the British and Irish Lions with at least 24 players since 1938.

The Day the Pubs Ran Dry
Throughout the years, Llanelli have incredibly never lost to Australia. They've played them 5 times and won in 1908, 1967, 1984 and 1992 to go alongside their 28-28 draw in 1975.

They have also defeated Canada (1903), Czechoslovakia (1957), Tonga (1974) and Fiji (1985) but there is one match and one scoreline that is and will forever, be etched on the collective memory of the Welsh nation for as long as a rugby ball is kicked.

October 31st 1972 was the day immortalised by the Welsh folk singing comedian Max Boyce as 'The day when the pubs ran dry' when Llanelli beat the mighty All Blacks by that unforgettable scoreline, 9-3.

Now I know that Swansea RFC fans will respond with the comment that they have supplied the Welsh national side with at least 20 captains since 1891 and the British and Irish Lions with at least 23 players since 1904. They will also add that they have defeated South Africa 3-0 back in 1912, it was they who first beat the All Blacks 11-3 in 1935 and it was they who beat the then World Champions Australia 21-6 in 1992.

Indeed, Cardiff RFC fans could also add their tally of at least 36 Welsh captains since 1884 and that they have supplied the British and Irish Lions with at least 40 players since 1904. They could also boast of their victories against South Africa in 1907, a 100% record against Australia with wins in 1908, 1947, 1957, 1966, 1975 and 1984 and also against the All Blacks of New Zealand in 1953 by 8-3.

But it is with the wonder of television, in that golden decade of Welsh rugby, against that most stern of international opponents, that Llanelli RFC's victory in 1972 will surpass all others in the annals of Welsh club rugby sporting history. Whether Swansea or Cardiff fans accept this is a mute point - it is a simple and unquestionable fact.

Happy Anniversary i'r Sosban Fach
Llanelli's famous ode is the song, Sosban Fach. Such is the team's interconnection with this song that catalogues the troubles of a harassed housewife, that saucepans sit proudly atop the rugby posts at the new Parc Y Scarlets.

They'll be singing Sosban Fach down in Llanelli and throughout Wales and beyond for years to come and Welsh rugby and Wales as a nation is all the better for it.

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