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Early Neath rugby





The first recorded match in Wales is one between Swansea and Neath on 7th February 1872. Dr TP Whittington, pictured above is credited as being the founding father of Neath rugby. In 1873 he played for Scotland but was listed as Merchiston College.    





The Bird in Hand Field is where the old Civic Centre and car park opposite now stand. Rosser St is still standing, the Gnoll is approx 75 metres to the right of the photograph. The early days of Neath RFC saw the club move both headquarters and grounds on several occasions, financial considerations were always top of the agenda. 



15.jpg (60690 bytes) 13.jpg (116926 bytes) The oldest known records of Neath RFC, the committee meeting minute book for seasons 1886-87 to 1890-91. Extracts of these minutes, illustrated below appear in the club centenary history compiled by Trevor Dargavel. (WRM-0177)

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A quotation for two galvanised wrought iron baths for use by the club. £3/17/6 each, the equivalent of £3.88, the price includes delivery. (WRM-201)


03.jpg (81638 bytes) 02.jpg (29262 bytes) Neath RFC Minute Books - 1891-2 - 1893-4 (WRM-0178)


Baines Trade Card 1890s - J Davies, Neath (WRM-182)


62.jpg (156225 bytes) Neath RFC season & members tickets (WRM-0226)




In 1890, one of the great Neath characters made his bow. He was Bill Jones, originally a wing, who later moved into the pack “due to failing eye-sight” and captained the Club for some seven seasons before becoming its first Life Member.


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The 1908 Wallabies were the first tourists to play at Neath, the tourists won 15-0 against the combined side. An account of the Aussies time at Neath can be read in the biography of Tom Richards, one of the stars of the touring side, penned by Australian author Greg Growden the account recounts the warm welcome and hospitality shown to the Australians...........

"If this was not emotional enough the tour went into overdrive involving endless dramas, when it crossed the border with Wales, and headed for the grim, dim town of Neath. There was a brief stop in Tonypandy to play Penygraig where there was 20 stoppages for supposed injuries to the miners before they were revived with a swig from a mysterious black bottle, and then they continued to Neath.

Situated just north of Swansea, Neath is the ultimate ugly Welsh town, a tough hamlet of miners, steelworkers and wild men, most of appeared in the black jersey of Neath with the white Maltese cross on the front. The home ground, the Gnoll, is the most inhospitable of places, with the changing rooms more akin to pithead baths than a first-class arena.

For decades, Neath had been renowned for their underhand mischievous play, being known throughout Wales as the hillbillies of the local club scene. Even countless decades after the first Wallaby tour, Neath were upsetting Australian teams. In 1992 Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer described the town as 'the bag snatching capital of Wales', and alleged that his players were grabbed by the testicles, spat on, had their eyes gouged and were stomped on during a midweek game. If Dwyer had perused the match report of the first Australia-Neath game of 1908, he would have expected nothing less.

It was one never ending stink. After the time of the game had been put back one hour to 4pm to allow the local miners to get to the ground on time, they had plenty to jeer and cheer about after one of their players was knocked unconscious in the opening minutes, after which their full back Dick Hughes was winded.

The 8000 strong crowd immediately called on the referee Edgar Johns from Swansea, to send Australia's Normie Row off, as he was the man closest to hand each time a Neath player collapsed. Johns ignored their pleas. By the second half, they were virtually baying for blood when their skipper DH Davies could not resume because of broken ribs, but went silent when Dix complained to the referee that he had been bitten, showing the teeth marks on his hand. Not surprisingly when Johns whistled full-time in darkness he required a police escort to leave the field, while  the Australian team returned to their hotel with "a 'mounted' policeman on the conductor's step."

Rusty described the match as "a most unpleasant one, the crowd were out to see that their football heroes were right and come what may, the Wallabies were wrong. This crowd was an extraordinarily cantankerous one, especially after Davies their vigorous leader of a wild forward game, was led injured from the field. Then there was hooting, booing and shouting. There was some reckless kicking, and many stray punches going round which reflected badly on both sides.


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A year later Neath are touring themselves to the Midlands with matches against Leicester & Coventry. (WRM-0194)



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