THE OLD FIRM FOUNDED 1875
The History of the "Old Firm" Mountain Ash Rugby Football Club
In the year 1875, the second son of the then Lord Aberdare, the Right Hon. William Bruce, was a student at Oxford University and played rugby at College. During vacation, he would practise with Ted Williams, a rugby player of West Mon. Grammar School, who was the son of Mr Roger Williams, of the Capcoch Inn, Abercwmboi and brother of Dr R. Llewellyn Williams, the retired Minister of Health for Mountain Ash Urban District Council. Local lads started to join in and in 1875 a meeting was called at the Mountain Ash Inn, inviting all who were interested in Rugby Football to attend.
About 30 people attended and a Club was formed. This was the meeting that formed Mountain Ash Rugby Football Club.
THE EARLY DAYS
In its first season, under the captaincy of Ted Williams, the Club played Treherbert, Cross Keys, Aberdare Crusaders and Cardiff Harlequins four times each and played on a field near Newtown Bridge, kindly lent by Col. Gray.
The first Secretary was Mr W. Mills and in 1882/83, Ben Tiley was elected Captain, a position he retained for some 11 seasons. As Captain he did probably more than anyone else in those early days to set the Club on the path of real progress. He was to become known as The Father of the Old Firm and without doubt he built up one of the strongest rugby sides in Wales.
One of the highlights of the 1891 season was the visit of the renowned Swansea side, captained by the great W.J. Bancroft. They played against the Old Firm at the official opening of the Club's new ground, The Washery Field, which was once again situated near Newtown. Regular visitors in those days were Clubs such as London Welsh, Belfast Collegians, Hartlepool Rovers, Dublin Old Wesley, Plymouth, Llanelli, Swansea, Aberavon and of course, Cardiff. The great local rivals at this time were Llywnypia and many tales were told of the grim battles fought out between the two Clubs in the old Glamorgan League days.
THE OLD FIRM
A hawker named Mr Wiltshire used to sell fruit to spectators and would shout the old firm, the old firm, patronise the old firm when selling his produce. After a Welsh International Trial match at Mountain Ash at the turn of the 19th Century, the rugby writer Old Stager dubbed Mountain Ash the Old Firm which has remained with the Club to this very day.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
International honours started to come to the Club when Fred Millar was selected to play for Wales (1896,1900 & 1901). Frank Mills, who later played for Swansea and Cardiff was capped from 1892 to 1896 inclusive and these two were followed through the years by W.T. Osborne (1902 & 1903), Wyndham Jones (1905), Dick Thomas (1906,1908 & 1909), Fred Samuel (1922), Tom Collins (1923), Bob Barrel (1929 & 1933), Les Manfield (1939,1947 & 1948), Haydn Morris (1951 & 1955), John D Evans (1958) and Jonathan Mason (1988).
Up until World War II, there had always been an Old Firm player in the Welsh team when it had won the Triple Crown, except in 1911.
Frank Mills, Fred Miller, W.T. Osborne and Wyndham Jones were in Triple Crown winning Welsh sides and Fred Samuel was in the 1922 Welsh team that won the International Championship but not the Triple Crown.
With the formation of the Northern Union at the turn of the century, Mountain Ash lost players to the official paid ranks but the Glamorgan League championship was won for the first time in 1895/96.
1901 saw Reuben Carpenter share a new record with W. Jowett (Swansea) of 41 tries in a season. This record held until 1921/22 when yet another Mountain Ash player, Buller Loveluck, scored 43 tries.
In the winter of 1902/03, Canada toured the British Isles playing 21 matches, winning 7 (including games against Ulster, Bristol and London Scottish), drawing 2 and losing the rest. Their first match on Welsh soil was against Cardiff in January 1903 and after the Capital City club had beaten them 29-3, the Old Firm and Swansea also lowered their colours.
The Club suffered a set back in 1904 when they lost their playing field after Messrs Nixon built a Washery on the site. The Company, however, gave the Club use of a field a mere stone's throw from the old one, a ground which came to be known as The Field between the Tips. During these years, the Club had its Headquarters and changing rooms in the Cresselly Inn.
In 1908/09, the Old Firm were once again winners of the Glamorgan League. It was during this season that the Club moved to the venue where many a great game has been played and which many regard as its spiritual home, the Recreation Ground, Woodland Street. The Glancynon Hotel, the Old Firms current Clubhouse, became the new Headquarters.
In 1911, the Old Firm became the second Welsh Club to visit the South of France, defeating both Bayonne and Pau. The season 1913/14 was also memorable because the Club won both the Glamorgan Challenge and Knock-Out Cups, defeating Maesteg at Treherbert.
The 1914 War put an end to rugby for a couple of years, but from 1916 on, occasional games were played, the players being mainly miners exempt from Service in the War itself.
The year 1916 was a momentous one as it saw the introduction to the Club of a young player who was destined to play a significant part in the history of the Club, covering over 50 years. Enoch Watkins led the Club through thick and thin and was associated with many great moments in the Old Firms history, which his efforts made possible.
He was also a joint founder of the Welsh Academicals in 1927. The likes of Enoch Watkins do not appear on the scene all that often and his part in the history of this great Club is assured.
AFTER THE GREAT WAR
The first General Meeting of the Club at the end of the 1st World War was held in December 1918 at the Duffryn Hotel. The meeting commenced with a bombshell, a letter from the bank stating the Club had an overdraft of Â£180. Messrs.Herbert George, D. Harris and Ted McGregor, all Club Officers before the War, wiped out the overdraft from their own pockets thereby saving the Club from extinction.
The season 1919/20 was not very successful; a new team had to be built and gate money for that season and the next only averaged about Â£7 per match. But the beating of Neath at the Gnoll in 1920,by a try, gave the Old Firm the cherished Evening Express Award of Merit.
At the end of the 1919/20 season, Ted McGregor, had to relinquish the Secretaryship owing to pressure of business and it was he who recommended to the Committee that they should elect Enoch Watkins as Secretary. Enoch was 25 years of age at that time and was always the first to acknowledge his debt to Ted, who through his position on the Welsh Rugby Union, knew everyone who mattered in Welsh rugby. He made the point of taking Enoch everywhere with him and, by introducing him to all those personalities who mattered, invaluable contacts were made.
A strong fixture list was built up and with the help of local businessmen who offered jobs, Secretary and future Life Member Enoch Watkins signed a number of quality players from depressed areas. Fred Samuel, Sid Congdon, Oliver Davies, Tom Davies and W.F. Thomas came from Llanelli, Buller Loveluck from Aberavon and his brother Gwilym from Pyle. So keen was the interest shown in the town by the influx of these players that by the end of September 1921, the gates were over Â£100 per match.
Jim Beynon was Captain during the infamous 1921/22 season which saw the Old Firm play the leading Clubs in Wales and England and finish with a playing record of played 47, won 40, drawn 2, lost 5, points for 506 and points against 128.
The brilliant back division of this side comprised of Fred Samuel (capped 1922), Wat.Phillips, Tom Collins (capped 1923), Syd Congdon (what a crying shame he was never capped), Tom Parry and the two Lovelucks. The Mount eight were formidable opponents for any side and consisted of W.F. Thomas, Tom Davies, Oliver Davies, Ben Teague, Jack Allen, Jim and Dick Fryer and F. Morgan. Wing Buller Loveluck smashed Reuben Carpenter's 20 year record by scoring 43 tries.
In 1922/23, eight Mountain Ash players, Fred Samuel, Tom Collins, Sid Congdon, Buller and Gwilym Loveluck, Tom Shepherd, Oliver Davies and T. Brown appeared in the International trials. Buller Loveluck and Sid Congdon were reserve for Wales on 8 and 13 occasions respectively but Fred Samuel and Tom Collins were capped in 1922 and 1923 respectively. What a pity for the club and the players themselves that Sid Congdon and Buller Loveluck were never called to the International arena during this period.
December 4, 1922 saw Cardiff lose by 11 points to 5 in an unofficial match to mark the opening of the grandstand at the Rec.
The years 1921 to 1927 were the golden era of the Club and such were the home crowds that in less than two years, 1921-1923, the Committee were able to spend almost Â£700 on improvements to the Rec - a small fortune in those days.
Between 1920 and 1925,the Old Firm met and defeated every first class Club in Wales with the exception of Newport and when Harry Packer, the British Lions manager of the 1924 tour to South Africa, brought an International XV to Mountain Ash, the crowd paid Â£440 to watch a famous local victory.
Further French tours were organised and games were played against Perigeux and Brive in 1922, Clemont Ferrand in 1923 and Stade Francais in 1925.
In October 1923, Pontypool's ground record was taken after a 10-9 victory and later that season on Easter Monday 1924, Swansea's St Helens ground record was taken, the Old Firm winning 9-8.
The Glamorgan League Championship was won again in 1930/31, after two epic battles with defending Champions, Treorchy, who were going for a third consecutive victory. The first match, played at Taff Vale Park, Pontypridd in May 1931 ended 0-0 after extra time. The second encounter took place the following September before a crowd of 4,000 at Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd and with the score once again 0-0 in the dying minutes, the two Jim's won the Cup for the Old Firm with Jim Coughlin winning the race to touchdown for the vital try and Jim Cummings kicking the conversion to give Mount a famous 5-0 win.
It was in this era that an outstanding young player from the town called Les Manfield, who became one of only four players to represent Wales before and after the Second World War, made his debut for the Club. The ultimate, a British Lions tour would surely have been his but for the hostilities.
As the economic downturn took hold in the 1930s, the Club's fortunes changed.
Mr Shad Lewis who later became a Life Member and had shouldered a tremendous financial drain decided that he had had enough in 1937, when the Club reached rock bottom. Mr Lewis could no longer shoulder the burden alone and in 1937 a public meeting was held to decide the future of the Club. Over 300 people attended which showed the interest was there but the economics were crippling. But it was the decision of the meeting that the Old Firm had to be kept alive.
There was plenty of enthusiasm but no money or kit. Enoch Watkins, who had relinquished the Secretaryship to Ned Bradwick approximately 10 years prior, had lost his contacts but his friendship with Jimmy Austin was to prove the Club's salvation.
It was Jimmy Austin who had been co-founder of the Welsh Academicals with Enoch Watkins in 1927. Austin brought along a nucleus of the Accies and around them, under the able captaincy of Tommy Williams, a team was built up.
Just as the Club was on the rise again both on and off the field, the team going 21 weeks without defeat from mid October and with an exciting back division with an average age of 22, dark clouds were gathering in Europe and shortly afterwards the Second World War was upon the country. For the next seven years, there was no rugby played by the Old Firm due to events in Europe.
THE POST WAR YEARS
At the end of the War, a public meeting was called in the Workmen's Hall and the Club reformed in 1946 with Watcyn Phillips as Chairman, Arthur Lloyd as Secretary and Glyn Davies as Captain.
There had been some rugby played at the end of the War by colliery teams, so there was a pool of players ready to mould into a team. One of these colliery matches had been held on Easter Monday 1945 between Miskin and Darren in aid of the Mountain Ash Grammar School Memorial Fund. A gate of Â£125 was taken and after 3 hours of stalemate, the referee suggested that the team who got nearest the opponents line would win the match. A bandaged player eager to return to the field found himself near to the opponents line and was accorded the honour of having scored. No one was certain which side won, but it expressed the spirit of the times and rugby was on its way back into the life of the town.
The old story of the past was once again to be repeated. The Mount had no cash and no kit as such, but there were players. Some felt the Club should have kept going during the War years enabling it to keep a first class fixture list. Ivor Edwards, who began a long association with the Club and later became Secretary and a Life Member, came to the rescue by offering kit and the Old Firm were back in business.
The post War era commenced with a game against Penygraig at the Rec. Over the next few seasons, the Club's fixture list was built up once again and Bridgend, Ebbw Vale, Glamorgan Wanderers, Penarth, Pontypridd, Maesteg and Tredegar were played regularly with English opposition in the form of Nuneaton, Cinderford, Torquay Athletic and Newton Abbott also featuring.
In 1950/51, Cardiff visited the Rec to celebrate the Club's 75th anniversary, Mount going down 22-6 to Bleddyn Williams's team, which included former Mount player and future Welsh International John D Evans. In 1951, another former Mount player, Haydn Morris, who was playing for Cardiff, gained his first cap against France and followed this up with two more in 1955 and a British Lions tour to South Africa in the same year. John Evans gained his two Welsh caps in 1958 and appeared in over 300 games for Cardiff.
In 1953,a dire blow to the Club's fortunes came with the compulsory purchase of the Recreation Ground by the County Council. Although security of playing tenure was obtained, the grandstand, dressing rooms and perimeter fence to the playing area were removed. In one fell swoop, the Club's first class status was seriously undermined.
Due to the absence of satisfactory facilities at the Rec, many first class clubs, which had appeared on the Club's fixture list for some 60-70 years, saw fit to drop fixtures with Mountain Ash. Undeterred, the Club continued to arrange as strong a fixture list as it could get.
In 1956, the Youth section of the Club was formed by Emlyn Richards and Lyn Clarke and has continued supplying quality players to the current day.
In the 1959/60 season, under the captaincy of Denis Bryant, who later became Club President in the early 1970s, the Old Firm lost just four games. He was elected Captain for a second year and was instrumental in 1960/61 in establishing the second team or Athletic XV as it was called. This coincided with the sad demise of the town's other rugby union club, Newtown RFC.
Looking to the future, the first Clubhouse was opened in 1963 by Judge Rowe Harding. The season 1964/65 saw the Old Firm winning the Mid District Championship under the captaincy of Cliff Morgan, later to be Club coach, Chairman and Life Member.
The following season 1965/66, the Athletic XV, under the leadership of David Wells, did not miss out either winning the Ivor Williams cup.
The 1966/67 season must surely rank as one of the Club's finest and successful post War, the final tally being played 41, won 26, drawn 8, lost 7 with 402 points for and 195 against. Brian Mayo was top scorer with 116 points and Tom Pullman, in his first season as Captain, scored 73 points which included 23 tries.
In 1968, the Youth section, which was formed 12 years earlier, was fully incorporated into the Club, where it continued to provide quality players for the senior ranks.
The year 1968 saw the Club win the W.R.U. National 7's District Competition, the squad consisting of Alan and Phil Mumford, Geraint Jones, Malcolm Close, Alan Locke, Alan Davies, Pat Williams and Ken Brackston.
With the advent of the W.R.U. Challenge Cup in 1971/72, Mount played a number of first class Clubs. In 1972/73 a strong Cardiff side which included Gareth Edwards eventually beat the Old Firm 22-0 at the Arms Park and in 1974/75 at the Rec. Abertillery stole the honours 7-6 with a penalty in the dying minutes.
The Club celebrated its Centenary season in some style in 1975/76 under the captaincy of Tom Pullman, one of only two players to wear the Old Firm 1st XV jersey on over 500 occasions. Reigning Welsh champions Pontypool were defeated 12-11 at the Recreation Ground, Leicester scored in injury time to snatch a 22-19 verdict, Pontypridd won 25-24 and in the last 16 of the Welsh Rugby Union's Challenge Cup, Merit Table topping Bridgend scored with just five minutes remaining to scrape home 8-6 in a game played on a snow covered Rec on a Sunday afternoon. South Wales Police were defeated 9-3, the Welsh Academicals 13-12 and in the earlier rounds of the W.R.U. Cup, the Old Firm beat Builth Wells 114-4 in a record score for the competition that lasted 20 or so years. In that game the Old Firm showed their pedigree for running rugby by not kicking any penalties or drop goals but scoring 21 tries and 15 conversions (4 pts for a try).
In 1979, the Glancynon Hotel, Mount's former base in the early part of the Century, became the Club's new home. The Ivor Williams Cup returned to the Club in 1980/81 after a 15 year absence when the Athletic XV, captained by Gary Hopkins, beat Junior Union Club Llantrisant 15-7 in the final at Abercynon.
The season 1984/85, under the captaincy of flanker David Thomas, saw a young Mount side win Section B of the newly created Mid District Championship and in 1985/86, Stephen Pascoe, at 21 one of the Club's youngest ever Captains, led the team to the Section A title.
The Supporters Club was formed in the mid 80s and they became a great help to all the Club's teams as well as giving the Old Firm vociferous support. In 1987/88,the Club again looked to the future by starting a Junior Section.
In 1988, Jonathan Mason, who was playing for Pontypridd at the time, became the 12th Mount player to be capped when he came on as a replacement for Wales against New Zealand at Eden Park, Auckland.
In 1989/90, under the captaincy of Dean Conway and coaching of Brian Evans, the Old Firm became Mid District Champions which ensured the Club a place in Division 2 of the newly created Welsh Rugby Union National League structure.
In the first year of the new National League, Mount finished third behind champions Dunvant and Llanharan, after looking a good bet for promotion at one stage of the season, but were joint top try scorers for Division 2 with Llanharan, scoring 59.
Centre Paul Withers had the distinction of scoring the Old Firm's first ever League try as Mount beat Wrexham 36-3 at Caedrawnant in their first ever League fixture.
In 1991/92, Mount had a plum draw in the WRU Cup, playing Llanelli at home. The Club and town was at fever pitch with excitement as thousands lined the pitch at the Rec. In the week running into the game, the match was threatened due to frost but a sterling effort by the Mount Committee and volunteers, who ensured the pitch was covered and even hot air blowers used, ensured the game went ahead.
Llanelli paid the Old Firm the compliment of fielding their strongest side and at 18-13 down with 20 minutes left, Mount were still in with a chance of a huge upset. The Scarlets fitness and bulk eventually told but they knew they had been in one hell of a Cup tie for their 26-13 victory.
In 1992/93 under the captaincy of Mark Bennett, the Old Firm were promoted to Division 1.
The following season in a desperately close finish, the Club was relegated finishing one point adrift and ruing 6 games lost by 5 points or less. Abertillery, who were promoted, edged out Mount twice, 15-10 with an injury time try and 8-6 at Abertillery Park but Maesteg were defeated 12-6 and Ebbw Vale 27-3, in what turned out to be the last big game at the Rec.
The Athletic XV demonstrated the strength of the Old Firm senior squad by winning the Ivor Williams Cup for three consecutive seasons beating Caerphilly (9-6) in 1991/92, Hirwaun (8-3) in 1992/93 and Ynysybwl (14-9) in 1993/94 in the final.
The season 1994/95 saw Mount move their home matches from their spirtual home, the Rec, where the Club had played since 1909, to a new ground, Parc Duffryn Pennar, on the other side of the town. Built on the site of the old Duffryn pit. The Club invested in a new grandstand, dressing rooms, floodlighting system and superb playing surface. Such has been the impression made by the Club's new ground that County matches, Schoolboy Internationals, F.I.R.A. World Cup matches and various other representative fixtures are a regular occurrence.
Tondu were defeated 34-6 in the first ever match at the Parc, outside half Mark Bennett scoring the Old Firm's first ever try at their new ground.
Later that season, the Old Firm got to the last eight of the W.R.U. Challenge Cup, eventually going out at Sardis Road to Pontypridd.
Another milestone was reached in season 2000/2001 when the Old Firm ran out for its 125th season, marking the occasion with a match against Public School Wanderers in the Paul Ryder Memorial Match.
Over the years, there have been great teams, great players, great victories, memorable characters, times of struggle and great moments that will forever live in the memory. To all the people who have contributed to the Old Firm over the years, a debt of gratitude is owed. And to the current and future generation, never forget you are representing a proud Club with a great history and tradition.