Showing posts with label Penygraig RFC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Penygraig RFC. Show all posts

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

The Day 'Dally' Messenger and the Kangaroos Came To Tonypandy.

The year is 1908. Desperate to secure a regular source of revenue and encouraged by the success of the Wales v England Northern Union test match that drew an estimated crowd of 12,00, the Mid Rhondda Athletic Grounds Committee decide to form a Northern Union team of their own. The Northern Union game is rapidly gaining ground. A renowned member of the Welsh team that defeated England on the Mid is the formidable Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones one of the heroes of the epic 1905 victory over the New Zealand All Blacks. Dai now plies his trade with Merthyr who themselves have turned to the Northern code. At their AGM Penygraig RFC express their disappointment at the decision of the Mid Rhondda Athletic Club to host a professional side. Only two years earlier Penygraig
abandoned their Belle Vue venue to play future games on the Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground. Now they must procure a new home for the coming season. To add insult to injury Penygraig captain George Matthews, Wrentmore, Palmer, Griffiths and Norris jump ship to join the newly-formed Mid-Rhondda Northern Football Club . Such is the impact made by Norris he is subsequently selected to play for Wales against the Kangaroos. Penygraig’s loss proves to be Mid-Rhondda’s gain. It comes as no surprise to the aggrieved Rhondda Leader correspondent who states:
“It is no wonder that the amateur game is fast losing ground. For years past Penygraig have had a very strong team, and several players, capable of holding their own in international and county matches, have been passed over as unworthy of the slightest recognition, while others not possessing half the ability and playing for the teams in the city and elsewhere have been selected. In Police-constable Bevan, Mathews, Flynn, and Baker, Penygraig possess forwards for whom, it is contended, it would be hard to find superiors in Wales, and seemingly they are not worthy of selection. These and sundry other grievances, it is stated, are the cause of the dissatisfaction.”
Ignoring objections, the Mid-Rhondda Northern Football Club is formed, and a fixture list hastily drawn up for the coming season. One fixture catches the eye above all others. On October 3rd, their fifth fixture of the season, they will face the formidable might of the touring Australian Kangaroos. Like the 1905 All Blacks, an air of mystique surrounds the visitors on this their first visit to our shores and it is the Rhondda public who are to get the first glimpse of the ‘Kangaroos’ from ‘down under’. There was, however, one name in the Australian touring party that was already well known in Wales. Centre Dally Messenger had played for the New Zealand All Golds at Aberdare when Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones secured a victory for Wales by scoring a try in the dying minutes of the game. Messenger is a
supremely gifted footballer who began his career playing Rugby Union. Had he not changed codes Messenger would have been included among the Australia Rugby Union tourists, the ‘Wallabies’, who coincidentally are touring the British Isles at the same time. The fact the New Zealand All Golds invited an Aussie to join their tour suggests Dally is a player of the highest quality. By the end of the All Golds tour Messenger topped the tour aggregates by more than 100 points. His unique talent is confirmed by the captain of the 1908 Australia Rugby Union tourists, Herbert Moran. In his book ‘Viewless Winds’ Moran states:

:“. . . (Messenger) was full of surprises, unorthodox, flash (and) directed largely by the unconscious mind. . . (he) never became a slave to copybook practices (because) his instinct enabled him to see and take an opening in that operative second which is all-important.”  Moran also compared Messenger to Bradman because, like the great cricketer, he always seemed to have ample time to adjust his body to the perfect position before the ball arrived. Messenger could also kick off either foot and, was a deadly long distance goal kicker. On one occasion he kicked a goal from the side of the 25-yard line in his own half, a feat which was included in earlier versions of the ‘Guinness Book of Records’.

Moran’s description of Messenger’s abilities could, in many respects, apply to a more recent Australian exponent of Rugby Union football, the mercurial David Campese. It is unlikely officials of the Australian Rugby Union would have been as magnanimous as the captain of their national side. Following Messenger’s defection to League the New South Wales Rugby Union struck all his games from the record books. They were not restored for another hundred years. Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones was not alone. Perhaps they had a beer together after the game in Aberdare and compared notes, only Messenger would have preferred milk as he was strictly tee-total. Messenger has already attained celebrity status in the North of England where ‘Messenger Will Play’ placards are placed outside grounds to confirm his appearance. On Saturday, October 3rd the estimated crowd of 7,500 who climb the Empire Hill to the Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground are excited at the prospect of seeing the great man in action. They will not be disappointed.

The day is fine, warm and cloudy, perfect conditions for running rugby. Long before kick-off spectators file into the ground, some straying onto the pitch and the start of the game is delayed by 15 minutes. As the visiting Australians eventually race onto the field their opponents greet them with a loud cheer. The ‘Kangaroos’ wear sky blue and maroon tops, representing the New South Wales Blues and Queensland Maroons from whom the tour part is comprised. Before the game kicks off the ‘Kangaroos’ perform their ‘war cry’, their version of the New Zealand ‘haka’. The reporter for the Rhondda Leader is distinctly unimpressed, describing it in his match day report as ‘somewhat ludicrous’. What follows the kick off, is anything but ludicrous.

Australia exert all the early pressure and when Mid Rhondda eventually manage to break away a pass is intercepted by Messenger who is himself tackled by one of the Mid Rhondda forwards. Shortly afterwards Australian dominance is rewarded with a try for Morton. Messenger converts from a difficult angle. Mid Rhondda exert some pressure of their own and from a resultant scrum the Australian half back Auleyzark is injured and carried from the field. Mid Rhondda have been handed the advantage, but one man has other ideas. Messenger is becoming increasingly more dangerous and difficult to contain and keeps the points ticking over in the ‘Kangaroos’ favour with a penalty kick from half-way. Messenger continues to inspire the visitors and from a scrum he takes the ball and outpaces the whole of the home team to score a magnificent try which he then converts.
Shortly afterwards Mid Rhondda are given a massive boost when Messenger limps off the field. They now face just eleven men. Australia defend desperately to keep the Mid at bay and are rewarded when after several minutes Messenger returns to the fray. They have conceded no points in his absence. Hedley thwarts a dangerous attack by Mid Rhondda and play now sweeps from end to end. During this period the home team waste a golden opportunity to score when from an attacking scrum near the visitor’s line the ball is kicked too hard over the dead ball line. Mid Rhondda are awarded a penalty shortly afterwards near half-way, but Jackie Rees fails to convert. Mid Rhondda remain scoreless against the twelve men of Australia and further punishment is dished out when, from a free kick, L. Jones crosses for another try for the visitors. The conversion attempt fails but minutes later, as half time approaches, Hedley fields a relieving kick and passes to Messenger who races upfield to score his second superbly executed try, turning a somersault in the process. The referee blows for half time and the crowd draw breath knowing they have witnessed something special.

Half Time: Mid Rhondda 0 Australia 18

The second half is barely underway when Messenger drops a goal which is greeted by loud cheers
from the crowd obviously appreciative of a special talent. Not surprisingly, having played most of the first half one man short, Australia begin to tire. This is also their first fixture since travelling the long haul from Australia by boat. In order to maintain fitness levels, the team had worked as stokers and undergone daily sessions in the gymnasium and boxing ring. But nothing can replace actual game time and inevitably Mid Rhondda begin to gain the upper hand. An excellent bout of passing results in Wrentmore running in a try for the home team. Wrentmore then succeeds in bringing down Messenger, stifling a dangerous attack. The Mid now launch a series of threatening onslaughts in Australian territory but meet fierce resistance and are repulsed time and again. It takes a moment of Welsh wizardry from Dai Thomas to breach the defence when he weaves past weary Australian defenders to score Mid Rhondda’s second try. In the dying moments Australia and Cheadle are denied a fifth try when Morton is adjudged to have been offside.
Final Score: Mid Rhondda 6 Australia 20

Teams: Australia – Back, C. Hedley; Three-quarters, F. Cheadle, A. Morton, H. Messenger and D. Frawley; Half Backs, A.Butter and E. Auleyzark; Forwards, L. Jones, J. Abercrombie, S.Pierce, R. Graves, and D. Lutge (capt.) Mid- Rhondda – Back, W. E. Lewis; Three-quarters, J. N. Jones, Joe Jones, Jackie Rees and T. Edwards; Half Backs, E. D. Rees and Jackie Davies (capt.); Forwards, D. Williams, W. Baker, D. Thomas, F. Norris, F. Wrentmore and S. Bevan. Referee, Mr. McCutcheon

One player has etched his name indelibly not only on the game, but on the consciousness of those fortunate to have been witness to his talents. Herbert Henry “Dally” Messenger will become the tourist’s top scorer by some distance with 160 points. To this day he is regarded by many as one of the greatest exponents of rugby in either code. He certainly impressed the match reporter for the Rhondda Leader.
“. . . their side seemed to be a one-man show, and that man was undoubtedly ‘the Percy Bush of Australia,’ viz., Messenger. This player is superb as a three-quarter, and we deem him one of the finest exponents of Rugby extant.”

Every year the man voted best Australian
rugby league player receives
the Dally Messenger Award
The Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground has been graced by the presence of a supremely talented athlete. Following his previous tour with the New Zealand All Golds elite soccer clubs including Glasgow Celtic, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur tried in vain to prise him away from the oval ball. Those present at the Mid are grateful he chose instead to display his unique talents on the rugby field. In the second test against Great Britain he will score the try considered one of the greatest ever witnessed in Test League Rugby.  Nobody will ever forget the day Herbert “Dally” Messenger came to Tonypandy.

This famous ground should be preserved and developed for the benefit of the community. Please sign the petition above if you agree. Thank you.

The 'Mid' is left of centre.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

When the Balloon Almost Went Up in Tonypandy - 'The Great Northern Union Scandal'

By 1907 the owners of the Mid Rhondda Athletic Fields had a problem - money or more precisely the lack of it. They desperately needed a regular income stream to maintain and improve the ground. The Annual Horse Shows and Bank Holiday Galas and Sporting Events were always well attended but did not provide sufficient revenue for a whole year. Mid-Rhondda already had two excellent rugby teams in Llwynypia and Penygraig who regularly provided members of the Welsh team including the legendary Willie Llewellyn. Although Ton Pentre were proving remarkably successful, soccer was still viewed as a sport played in North Wales and discounted. What to do?

Scandalous storm clouds are gathering over the union game but for the committee of the Mid-Rhondda Athletic Grounds a silver lining will soon follow. Allegations of professionalism involving Aberdare and Treorchy see Welsh international Dai 'Tarw' Jones, member of the victorious Welsh team that beat the All Blacks in 1905, become the most high profile casualty. Refusing to give evidence to the WRU he, and several others, are permanently banned from the amateur game. Merthyr Alexandria escape with just a warning because they have already indicated they are about to leave the Union and embrace the Northern Union code. Suspending their players would only encourage them to defect to the Northern Union which is now perceived as a very real threat.

An interesting development has seen a disillusioned Ebbw Vale already switch codes citing, “. . .bogus amateurism in the Monmouthshire League."  They are swiftly joined by the newly formed Merthyr RLFC. In their first season (1907-08) in the Northern League Merthyr finish 23rd and Ebbw Vale 26th out of 27. Banished from Union Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones is recruited by Merthyr. On 1st January 1908 he is selected to play for the newly formed Wales Northern Union team against New Zealand at the Athletic Ground in Aberdare. Dai becomes the second dual code international following in the footsteps of “the Lion of Salford”, the former Penygraig forward Jack Rhapps.  

It is New Year’s Day on a near frozen pitch and the test against the New Zealand All Golds is a tight and tense affair. At half time New Zealand lead 8-3. Wales fight back hard in the second half and with time running out the crowd of 20,000 are sent into raptures when Dai scores what must be the winning try. New Zealand however have one last chance to salvage the game. With the line at his mercy Dick Wynard drops a pass and a try goes begging. Shades of 1905. Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones has become the scourge of New Zealand in both codes. Black or Gold it’s all the same to Dai. To this day he remains the only Welsh rugby international to have been on a winning Welsh side against New Zealand in both codes. 

Buoyed by the commercial success of the encounter the Northern Union look to another area they consider sympathetic towards the professional game. The new Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground is viewed as the perfect venue to host the first ever encounter between Wales and England under Northern Union rules. For the Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground committee, it must feel like manna from heaven. The opportunity to ensure a sound financial future for the ground appears to have dropped into their lap. They eagerly embrace the opportunity. The treatment meted out to Rhondda clubs, and Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones in particular, following the ‘professionalism’ scandal has soured Rhondda clubs’ relationship with the WRU. Reporting on the build up to the big game the Rhondda Leader suggest:

“Great interest is being evinced in the forthcoming international (Northern Union) football match between England and Wales which will be played on the above grounds (Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground) on Easter Monday next. This is the first match under Northern Union rules to be played in the Rhondda Valley, and no doubt will influence to a great extent the action of certain people who have a leaning towards professionalism.
In Treherbert, it is stated, a syndicate has already been formed to run a professional team, and it is anticipated that a few matches will take place during the present month; whilst rumour is busy with other clubs in the Valley. If professionalism gets a foothold in the Rhondda the Welsh Union will have no one to blame but themselves, as the Rhondda has been practically neglected by the Union for many years.”

The Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground 1973 before the Stand was demolished.
(Picture copyright Keith Jones)

The Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground committee enthusiastically set about preparing for the anticipated huge crowd that will attend the game, sparing no expense to ensure the day is a success. Such is the level of interest railway companies schedule special excursion trains from all parts of South Wales. The presence of Dai ‘Tarw’ Jones in the Welsh line up is of itself a massive attraction. Dai is not just a local but a national hero. 

The day arrives. Before kick-off an informal meeting takes place between Northern Union officials and representatives of Welsh, or soon to be Welsh clubs, who have indicated a desire to become involved in the professional game. The Rhondda Leader reports Mr. Platt, the general secretary of the Northern Union, as declaring that provided suitable grounds could be obtained teams would be formed at Penygraig, Treherbert, Maesteg, Pontypridd and very probably Pontypool. There is the distinct possibility that the Welsh Rugby Union is about to face a challenge from the Northern Union in its own back yard. This could prove to be a seminal moment for the game of rugby in Wales. On 20th April an estimated crowd of 12,000 watch the game which Wales win 36 - 18.

The game exceeds expectations and the crowds depart delighted at what they have witnessed. The Western Mail writes, “. . . if first impressions count for ought, then the big majority of Rhondda Valley spectators who made their initial acquaintance with NU football must acclaim the game as played under the new regime with positive delight.” The Mid Rhondda Social and Athletic Club committee take the plaudits. You can almost hear hands being rubbed together in glee. Wheels are immediately set in motion. Within weeks the Mid Rhondda Northern Union Football Club is formed and admittance to the Northern Union secured on 30th June 1908 where they join Ebbw Vale and Merthyr. 

In true entrepreneurial fashion, prior to the announcement of the formation of a Northern Union side to play at Mid-Rhondda, the committee organise the ‘Fourth Annual Grand Professional Sports Gala and Carnival’. With some justification, Tonypandy now prides itself as being ‘the metropolis of the valleys’ (Rhondda Leader). The committee are keen to showcase the facilities on offer to prospective fans of the newly formed club. The event will include a Horse Show, ‘which promises to eclipse any event of its kind hitherto held in Wales’, and for good measure, Timbering, Shoeing and Ambulance competitions. Huge stands have been erected around three sides of the show ring to accommodate the 8,000 to 10,000 anticipated spectators at one shilling per head. The covered stands will of course be extra. The massive sum of £200 in prize money is on offer for the various sporting activities and 300 entries have been received. But the ‘piece de resistance’ is worthy of P.T. Barnum as the Rhondda Leader reveals:

“The committee have engaged at great expense Mr. Victor Swanton of Pontypool, the great Welsh aeronaut, who will make a grand balloon ascent and parachute descent on both days of the sports. A very large crowd is anticipated to witness this unique event. Mr. Swanton will be on the grounds on Friday afternoon next, when he will make preparations for his ballooning operations. . . On the Whit-Monday, a grand street carnival will start from near Trinity Chapel at 12 noon, headed by the Dinas Silver Band, which will be in attendance during the sports.”
Mr Swanton’s much anticipated balloon ascent does not go to plan. Instead of witnessing a unique event the spectators are called to the intrepid aeronaut’s aid as the balloon veers sideways instead of upwards. Sweeping towards the south-west it strikes the high fencing on the steep banking and the violent impact dashes Swanton against the sides. Some of the crowd rush forward and catch the guide ropes bringing the balloon to the middle of the field where the shaken and embarrassed aeronaut clambers out. It was decided not to make another ascent that evening. In retrospect, the balloon fiasco foreshadows the fortunes of the newly formed Mid-Rhondda Northern Club.

If you believe the 'Mid' should remain a community resource and not be considered for housing development please sign the petition to show your support.
The 'Mid' is left of centre.