Turned up­side down’

Glamorgan Gazette - - Your Views -

prob­a­bly where the rot started,” he says.

“But we haven’t been pay­ing for a num­ber of years, not least be­cause we haven’t been able to af­ford to.

“We did reach a point where we were bring­ing in boys from out­side Maesteg, be­cause over the years it be­came harder to at­tract lo­cal play­ers. A few sea­sons ago we were call­ing around other clubs in the val­ley, but what we were get­ting back was: ‘No­body wants to play for you.’

“I don’t know why that was the mes­sage. Per­haps the is­sue comes down to our not hav­ing grown our own play­ers over a num­ber of years.”

He said: “I sup­pose you could say we’ve been com­pla­cent in that we prob­a­bly sat back and ex­pected what’s hap­pened over the years to con­tinue, namely that we would be at the top of the pyra­mid in the Llynfi Val­ley and play­ers would want to come and play for us.

“But the pyra­mid has been turned up­side down.

“Maesteg Quins have risen through the divi- sions. We lost play­ers to them and they have built re­ally well. They have boys who went to school to­gether and they’ve been cen­tral to what the Quins have done. “That’s the way it goes. “That’s what league rugby brought in.

“It’s OK peo­ple say­ing it was bet­ter when there was no league rugby, but we wouldn’t have had the com­pe­ti­tion we’ve en­joyed over the years.

“The era of 18 clubs at the top of the pyra­mid wasn’t sus­tain­able. That’s why we went to leagues.

“It has given clubs chances to com­pete at a higher level.”

Maesteg are not alone in find­ing life dif­fi­cult in mod­ern-day Welsh rugby, but their plight has shocked many be­cause it doesn’t seem so long ago that they were a force in the game, draw­ing with the Maori in 1982 and fin­ish­ing third in the Welsh Cham­pi­onship four sea­sons later, beat­ing Neath and dou­bling Pon- ty­pool when both were im­mensely pow­er­ful.

Af­ter the club made pub­lic their plans to re­group, for­mer Eng­land and Lions hooker Brian Moore was among those to sym­pa­thise, say­ing via Twit­ter: “I used to use my ex­pe­ri­ences play­ing away at Maesteg as in­spi­ra­tion be­fore Eng­land v Wales games – sad news.”

Phil Davies and Ru­pert Moon also sent wishes.

Farmer says: “It is wor­ry­ing for Welsh rugby gen­er­ally rather than just Maesteg, be­cause the num­ber of boys play­ing the game these days seems to be get­ting smaller in Wales.

“Also, 20 or 30 years ago, we’d have thou­sands of peo­ple watch­ing us on a Satur­day after­noon or un­der lights in mid­week.

“Now there’s a lot more things for peo­ple to do.

“And that ap­plies to kids as well. They have a load more leisure op­tions.”

It is hard to re­mem­ber a decade like it in the club’s his­tory.

Two past play­ers who fea­tured for the Old Par­ish in their pomp, Gwyn Evans and Leighton O’Con­nor, are in at­ten­dance for the game with Fern­dale.

Wales and Lions man Evans be­came a by­word for loy­alty, stay­ing with his home­town club when he could have left for pretty much any other Welsh side of his choos­ing.

“It’s sad,” he says, “but it’s partly down to the way rugby is struc­tured. We had pro­tec­tion back in the old days, but things change and you sim­ply have to try to make the best of it.

“There are four re­ally good clubs in the val­ley, but, for me, Maesteg should be the one that the three oth­ers feed to. “They have the fa­cil­i­ties. “If we were able to get the four clubs in the val­ley work­ing in a co­her­ent way to get one de­cent side, we’d have a very good team at Maesteg. But, of course, not every­one will think that way.”

Wales B in­ter­na­tional O’Con­nor coached Maesteg twice af­ter re­tir­ing as a player. The oc­ca­sion against Fern­dale is es­pe­cially no­table for him as his sons Luke, a full-back, and Lloyd, a scrum-half, are play­ing.

“It’s an emo­tional day,” he says. “But it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for the boys to play for Maesteg.

“Nowa­days, clubs do their own thing rather than look to help the one side, which is fair enough be­cause they all want suc­cess. Per­haps Maesteg have been left be­hind.

“But they’re a great club, on and off the field, and I loved ev­ery minute that I played for them. We worked hard on the field and played hard off it. That’s the way it was in those days. Let’s hope they get back to those days again.”

The bad news for the club is that it’s a long road back. The good news is they have a plan, based on ex­ploit­ing their un­der-16s and youth teams. “It’s the way for­ward,” says Farmer.

“There’s no mir­a­cle so­lu­tion, but the will is there for the club to start climb­ing again.

“I have sat down with the young­sters and told them they are the fu­ture of this club.

“Last sea­son was our 140th year and, yes, it’s great to have all that his­tory to look back on. Un­for­tu­nately, his­tory isn’t go­ing to help us in the here and now or in the fu­ture.

“The good old days are not go­ing to keep the club go­ing for the next 140 years. So a hard de­ci­sion had to be taken and, hope­fully, with a steady flow of youth boys com­ing through we can build and those play­ers per­haps will be the first team in a gen­er­a­tion to call this club their club.

“That is crit­i­cal, a po­ten­tial game-changer.

“There will be op­por­tu­ni­ties for lo­cal boys in se­nior rugby with Maesteg.

“We are view­ing this as a new be­gin­ning.”

ADRIAN WHITE

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