The rugby club that rose, then fell, in just two years
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.”
Former Ferryside RFC coach Nathan Jones.
Chairman and player to the last, ‘Jacko’ Thomas.