Bryn – Sporting Traditions and Developments

Sport has for many years played a central role in the village of Bryn and to this day there are certain individuals and groups who continue to give much of their time and effort in promoting sporting interests in the village.

There are few records dating back beyond the twentieth century which can reliably confirm the history of sporting interests and associations in the village but it is quite certain that the late 1800’s witnessed a local surge in sporting interests and ambitions. Traditionally, rugby union was the sport of choice with our young men and with the progressive development of local industries it was only a matter of time before Bryn’s young men expanded their horizons and sporting ambitions further afield. It would be untrue to think of sporting achievements centering solely on rugby union for there have been many other sporting pastimes adopted – not only by villagers but also through the village school and a succession of sport minded teaching staff.

In an effort to capture most if not all sporting aspects of village life this article contains a snippet or brief overview of the range of sports that have in time have played a part in developing village life. South Wales has been a tough, industrial area for more than two centuries and sport has been a means of relaxation and channeling of energy into achievement and recognition for many individuals and groups of sportsmen – Solitaire is the only sport I can think of that does not require participation from others or opposition to pit your wits and strength against!

You will notice that there are few references to individual achievements included here as most team sports rely on a combined effort and to single out individuals is not appropriate; however there have been some outstanding team and individual efforts over the past century or more and these efforts have been recognized.

So let us begin and we’ll start by listing sports and sporting teams that had their foundation in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Rugby Union – Bryn Wanderers Rugby Football Club was founded at the turn of the century in 1900. The club was formed at a time when rugby union was very much the sport of the Welsh valleys and the young men of the village adapted quickly to the guile and physicality required by Wales’s national sport. Opposition was readily available throughout the area and rivalries were formed with other clubs in the Maesteg, Port Talbot and Neath areas. “Wanderers” is an unusual title to adopt but was very apt for a club that played its games at four different venues before finally settling at the “Welfare” in the 1930’s. Between the two World Wars the team flourished and it was not unusual to see young men leave the pit late Saturday morning, clean off the coal dust and board the service bus (or in the early days even walking to nearby villages) to play a match against local rivals – returning later that night by public transport, probably much merrier, the match result not having such an effect as to dim their enthusiasm. I suppose when you worked miles underground with all the dangers you faced daily, getting rucked by the opposition pack of forwards or being tackled hard didn’t mean such a lot.

During the post WW2 years, the club flourished and the late 1940’s and 1950’s saw what some regard as the best years in the club’s history. Christmas 1959, saw the opening of the village rugby club and this has a direct effect not only on the development of rugby union but also on other sports – this is very much the same today and the village rugby club has been home to most village sporting teams. One person of note in the history of the rugby club is Maldwin Morgan, who held the post of club secretary for forty-two years – a hard working individual who loved his rugby.

There have been some outstanding players who have gone on to play at higher levels and there have been teams of note in the early 1950’s with characters and tales too many to mention here. Ron Roblin and Dean Jones both gained international recognition and were awarded their caps at youth level - both went on to play at senior levels for many years

In the 1975 – 1976 season the rugby club returned to the Welfare Ground after four years playing matches away at Longlands Lane, Margam and the “wandering days” were at an end.  The new ground was opened with a match against a team captained by Wales and British Lions wing three-quarter J.J. Williams. The club celebrated it’s centenary in 2000 with a tour of Texas, USA where they played against Houston, the Cayman Islands and The Alamo (poor in attack but a great defense!), but the next season saw a decline in fortunes and the rugby team folded in season 2002 – this was a massive loss to the village. After a difficult period, all was not lost for from the ashes we again have a rugby team in the village – reformed in 2007 and these young men are again making an impact – they are however short on numbers and need as much support as possible so ................ I would encourage you to get out on a Saturday and get behind them.

Soccer – Associated Football was founded in the village towards the end of the 1960’s and Bryn Rockets flourished throughout the 1970’s and into the early years of the new millennium. There had always been an interest in soccer among young men of the village but until the foundation of the Rockets, those keen to play had to join clubs in Maesteg or Port Talbot.

Ray Wheaton, Anthony James, Colin Davies, Peter Pearson, Stuart Morgan and Randall Tucker were amongst those leading from the front as the Rockets developed into a very competitive Sunday League team, more than able to hold their own with their “towney” rivals. Sunday soccer was something quite new to the village and the club enjoyed many seasons of success and support. Initially the Bryn Rockets were based in the Royal Oak but later moved to the Rugby Club, but the Rockets maintained their independence through hard work, fun raising activities and sponsorship. Their “days at the races” are legend and again there are too many tales to tell here!

Unfortunately, the Bryn Rockets no longer play soccer – mainly due to a lack of numbers and in similar vein as affected the “Wanderers” in the first years of this century, this lack of numbers saw the demise of the Bryn Rockets. ... however, the Junior Rockets mini soccer section has attracted many youngsters and although the junior teams do not play regularly there is a fire still simmering in the village that only needs a breath of air to burst into flames and the Rockets might yet take to the field show the spirit that made them such difficult opposition to local clubs.

Cricket  - this most gentle of summer sports has been a feature of village sporting achievement for many years and the teams of the post WW2 era were formidable indeed. Originally played in the shadow of the Oakwood colliery, the wicket had two concrete ends which made batting against pace bowlers a fearful event ......although pace bowlers did enjoy the experience! It is uncertain why this era saw the cricket team close but it is possible that player’s availability, work commitments and a lack of funds both played their part.

The Saint Tydfil’s Church Youth Club was instrumental in resurrecting the fortunes of cricket in the village during the late 1960’s and the youth club team developed into a very useful village team able to compete successfully with established Port Talbot league teams – who can forget defeating the Llewellyn Street team who at that time were riding high in the area. Gareth Jones, Alan Penny, Lindsay Jones and Ken Thomas all made valuable contributions to the success of the team but as this was a team built on youth, it did not progress and the team ceased to play in the early 1970’s – too many other sporting attractions, alcohol and women were all cited as reasons for the clubs demise.

A few barren years passed but towards the end of the 1970’s the cricket team was reformed with some of the original youth club members and an influx of younger men from the village. Those who will know village cricket will be aware that teams are often made up of teenagers, young men and “mature” players and a blend of all provides an ideal balance. This new team flourishes today and over the years has competed successfully in the Port Talbot midweek leagues, the Morgannwg leagues and lately the Vaughn Sounds cricket leagues based in Swansea. John Parker, Ian Morgan, Tommy Shooter, Steve Bater, Rob Lewis, Rob Thomas, Tony Davies, Colin Davies and evergreen Alan Penny were all central to the success of the cricket team over the years but lately there are younger players including Ryan McCartney, Russell Davies and Nathan McCartney who have made a significant impact ensuring the continued success of the village cricket team.

We cannot end this section without recognizing the immense contribution made to the success of the cricket team by Alan Thomas – his cricket teas are immense and with help from Rita and the ladies of the village, Alan has put on buffets that would grace Lords!!

Bowls – the opening of the Welfare in 1930, gave many villagers the opportunity to take part in sport that otherwise would not have been possible. Tennis courts were used by many in the summer months but the sport has never featured prominently in village life; but bowls, the gentlest of summer sports has for many years been part of village sporting achievement. The village has for more than seventy years had a very competitive bowls team and over that period has provided many players to county competition – there has probably been more representation at higher level in bowls that all other sport combined in our village. Jim Thomas, John Jones, Colin Dixon, Gareth Jones, Edwin Jones, Brian Hughes, Alan Penny, Ron Roblin, Ceri Lewis and John Edmunds are only a few of those who continue the competitive spirit of bowls in the village and as with the cricket team , what would bowlers do without an excellent tea provided by the ladies who support the team. “Gentlest” may be a strange description of village bowls for those who either watch or play will be aware how fiercely competitive the sport is – and nowhere more than on a summer’s evening at Bryn! The setting is possibly one of the most picturesque in South Wales and the bowls green has been recognized as one of the best maintained in the area.

There are other sports that have featured in village life – darts, pool and snooker or billiards are amongst the traditional smoke room or club sports that have been part of village life. Darts and pool remain as part of club house and public house sporting activities but snooker and billiards were lost with the Miner’s Institute.  The village did have a boxing gym for many years under the patronage and guidance of the late Ike Davies – a boxer of great reputation; some of us will remember walking home after a painful evening spent lifting free weights or working out on the sparring bag!

There are golfers of renown past and present but these enthusiasts play their sport outside the village ... although we have boasted a golf society that may see a resurgence in the years to come!!

Athletics as a pure sport has never featured prominently in the village but with the growing popularity of middle distance cross country and half marathons in the 1980’s the Rugby Club did promote a forestry 10K race, which boasted more hills going up that ever came down. This event was the brainchild of Glan Phillips, Lyndon James, Geoff Pugh and Peter Jenkins and for a number of years attracted great interest from South Wales athletic circles with teams and individuals competing from far and wide. The soon to be introduction of the  “Beast of Bryn”, which is no reflection on the pumas and cougars who reputedly now inhabit the surrounding forestry, is to be applauded and supported as we have a village that thrives on competition. It is sad to relate that a number of our representative teams and principal sporting achievements have fallen away due to a lack of numbers and yet we have a greater population now than for almost fifty years – hopefully “The Beast” will regenerate sporting interest amongst our youngsters and encourage a new generation to front up and realize that you have to be in it to win it!

Yours in Sport!!

Owen Jones