The rugby club that rose, then fell, in just two years

Carmarthen Journal - - Front Page - ROB LLOYD 01792 5455559 robert.lloyd@me­di­

ON the face of it, Fer­ry­side RFC is like any other Welsh rugby club.

The club­house walls are adorned with smil­ing pic­tures of past play­ers who have won rep­re­sen­ta­tive hon­ours, framed jer­seys sit proudly in a cabi­net above them.

There are tro­phies and mem­o­ra­bilia stacked on shelves, framed pic­tures of for­mer teams, a cap­tains’ board and car­i­ca­tures of club stal­warts down the years.

The 2018-19 fix­ture list greets you into the bar.

The chang­ing rooms have had a fresh lick of paint, red and white in club colours, first XV jer­seys are hang­ing on their pegs; a well-worn scrum­mag­ing ma­chine waits on the side of the field.

But there is no as you head team play­ing at Fer­ry­side this sea­son, the lat­est club to fall vic­tim to the harsh re­al­i­ties of the modern rugby land­scape.

This is a sober­ing tale of a club that rose from the ashes just two years ago, a club that went on to lift a tro­phy at Parc y Scar­lets and com­pete in the na­tional leagues.

But with de­pleted play­ing num­bers and no Welsh Rugby Union fund­ing, just 730 days af­ter re­form­ing, Fer­ry­side RFC were forced to call it a day.

I catch up with Nathan Jones on a quiet Tues­day morn­ing.

It is a glo­ri­ous day with the ground nes­tled near the mouth of the River Towy.

The rugby club, like so many across South Wales, has long been the heart­beat of the vil­lage.

The club­house re­mains open for lo­cal groups and func­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, Satur­day after­noons are a lot qui­eter these days.

Jones, at the age of just 21, was the man who helped re­form a side which had last played 16 long years ago.

He be­came coach, cap­tain and sec­re­tary and even started up a ju­nior sec­tion at the club.

“You could just see the po­ten­tial here,” he says.

“I am from New­cas­tle Em­lyn, but Fer­ry­side was a big part of my child­hood, I spent a lot of time here dur­ing the sum­mer hol­i­days stay­ing with my dad, it is a place close to my heart.

“The club hadn’t played for 16 years, so one day I spoke to club leg­end Peter ‘Jacko’ Thomas about the pos­si­bil­ity of re­form­ing the side.

“We rung around, there were count­less hours of tex­ting, phon­ing, email­ing and six weeks later we had a squad to­gether.

“We were for­tu­nate in a way that an­other lo­cal side, Myny­d­dy­gar­reg, had folded at the same time we were start­ing up so we were able to pick up a few boys and get a team to­gether.

“It was a great year, Scrum V came down to do a piece on us, film­ing our win over Kid­welly sec­onds, and we man­aged to reach the Scar­lets Cup fi­nal at Parc y Scar­lets, beat­ing Llan­dovery sec­onds in the fi­nal. We had 30-odd play­ers to choose from that day.

“It was a won­der­ful day for the vil­lage and at the time you just thought, the fu­ture’s bright here.” of 23 play­ers

Af­ter a sea­son of dis­trict rugby, Fer­ry­side were el­e­vated to the WRU Na­tional Leagues, play­ing in di­vi­sion Three West Cen­tral C.

There was early prom­ise, but a com­bi­na­tion of re­tire­ments and in­jury set­backs started to take its toll on the squad.

“We had five or six key play­ers re­tire, they had helped the side get back to­gether and we were hop­ing oth­ers would take it on from there. But as the sea­son went on half a dozen first-team starters picked up se­ri­ous in­juries, a cou­ple of play­ers moved away.

“Apart from con­ced­ing 60 points against the cham­pi­ons Cefnei­thin, we were com­pet­i­tive in most fix­tures and won five games, but we fin­ished the sea­son with only 12 or 13 play­ers, we had points de­ducted and were re­ly­ing on per­mits from other clubs.

“It wasn’t re­ally fair on the boys. We were go­ing into games with­out a bench, boys were play­ing with in­juries, nig­gles.

“Fi­nan­cially, it was also tough. When we started up, we had a meet­ing with the WRU and they told us we weren’t el­i­gi­ble for fund­ing for three years, we had to es­tab­lish our­selves first.

“How can you ex­pect a club to es­tab­lish them­selves start­ing from scratch with­out any help?

“In our first sea­son, trans­port costs weren’t so much of an is­sue, but in the na­tional league we were trav­el­ling to Tonna, Cwmg­wrach, Fall Bay in the Gower, and boys were hav­ing to pay £5 or £10 each for the bus.

“And there are plenty of other costs; peo­ple don’t re­alise how much strap­ping costs for games, there are med­i­cal sup­plies, pitch-mark­ing equip­ment.” Af­ter fin­ish­ing bot­tom of the pile in 2017-18, Jones had hoped to re­build in the close sea­son.

Seven play­ers were signed and the club was ready for an­other tilt at the na­tional leagues.

But while seven new play­ers came in, seven play­ers headed through the exit door and with barely a dozen play­ers at their dis­posal, the club de­cided to with­draw just a week be­fore the start of the cam­paign.

“I texted play­ers who weren’t play­ing, ask­ing them to join, but the ques­tion I of­ten got back was, ‘how much would I get?’

“As I said, in­di­vid­u­als were putting in money from their own pock­ets, so in the end we de­cided we had to make the call.

“It was tough.”

Jones is now play­ing for neigh­bour­ing Kid­welly in di­vi­sion one west, like a few of his for­mer Fer­ry­side team-mates.

In­evitably, the ques­tion turns to whether Fer­ry­side can find a way back again.

“I have had this dis­cus­sion with a few peo­ple. Boys have signed else­where, most have gone to a higher stan­dard,” he says.

“I would come back, but, as I said, this place is close to my heart.”

Jones has de­cided to put his ex­pe­ri­ences into print – “Fer­ry­side RFC: From suc­cess to fail­ure in 730 days, an in­sight on grass­roots rugby in Wales”.

“I see a lot of peo­ple com­ment on grass­roots on so­cial me­dia and a lot of peo­ple don’t re­ally know the ins and outs so I thought I’d put a few words down,” he adds.

“It is be­ing printed soon and all pro­ceeds are go­ing to the West Wales Am­bu­lance char­ity.”

Pic­tures: Adrian White

For­mer Fer­ry­side RFC coach Nathan Jones.

Chair­man and player to the last, ‘Jacko’ Thomas.

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