Lewi Jones was a well known character around Llanelli and beyond, especially in rugby circles.
He was a dedicated Scarlets supporter who ran the line for many years before professionalism. International referee Clive Norling even asked his opinion on a decision during a local derby with Swansea. If two linesman were already appointed Lewi would often just carry on behind on of them. Lewi would often lead the crowd and his yellow and red cards would be branded at opposition players and supporters, sometimes even the officials. No wonder they stopped him bringing a whistle to matches!
When the Scarlets moved from Stradey there was a large petition to let him do a last lap of the field.
He was friends with many of the players, especially Phil Bennet and was Best Man at Ray Gravell's Wedding (rumour has it that he was in every official photo from the day, in a sharp pinstrip suit and very drunk)
Tributes when he passed came not just from Scarlets players but also the likes of Phil Steele, Adam Jones and Leigh Halfpenny.
The Scarlets held a minutes silence for him after his death - possibly unprecedented for someone with no official ties to the club.
Lewi was well known at rugby clubs throughout Llanelli & District. He would run the line for any of the local teams.
Trimsaran made him 'Officials Coordinator' at their Annual 7s Tournament.
He once turned up at 10:30am in Burry Port to carry out a pitch inspection for their 3pm match with the Llanelli Warriors.
He walked to Pontyberem through torrential rain to run the line for a match with Furnace.
"Mr. Rugby" - Pantyffynnon RFC
When the Warriors were formed in 1995 Lewi ran the line for them and missed only a few of their 1st 200 matches over 17 seasons. He travelled literally across the world, even making Steve Hanson smile with a big kiss on the lips at an All Blacks captains run.
"The biggest character I ever met" was how former Marist St Pats and Hamilston Marist player Bernard 'Gappa' Gittings, owner of a pub and hotel and coordinator of NZ grassroots rugby website described him.
His presence at a Warriors 7s tournament helped inspire TRI Rugby Ltd to set up the 1st integrated side in Scotland (there are now 4 Clan sides in Scotland and several others worldwide).
His last match was in Kilmarnock in Scotland between the Bradford and Bingley Bumble Bees and the Warriors. The Bumbles held a minutes silence for him up in Yorkshire.
In the summer Lewi played golf (again travelling extensively) and watched cricket - his 1st minutes silence coming from Felinfoel CC. He also enjoyed going to the Vetch to watch the Swans.
He did the rounds of local pubs and so the customers of The White Lion, Royal Oak, Calsonic Club and Greyhound could rely on him for all the sports results and his opinion on the Scarlets latest performance.
He shopped and delivered papers for a regular clientele but would always be happy to referee kids having a kick about in the street or a park. He travelled on the local buses and would check everyone's tickets - often on his way to a carnival or social event where (wearing his Police tie) he would help direct traffic.
To be carded and/or kissed by him was almost a rite of passage in Llanelli and thus he was woven into the folklore of the town.
He has a dedicated facebook page (CLIC) and even a spoof twitter account. He was so legendary there were even several unfounded rumours of his death. The Warriors produced a 2017 calendar dedicated to him which sold well with copies going across the globe.
We hope that this competition will remind people of him, give them a chance to remember him and inspire others to live life to the full. Please share your stories either here or come along to a game and see the cup in person.
Lewi Jones R.I.P.
Personal Memories Of Lewis Jones, Gwilym Lewis (Player/Coach – Llanelli Warriors) written for the program for his Memorial match:
Although I’d seen Lewi at matches, it wasn’t until I started working at Heol Goffa SAC that I first met him, telling me both the teams I’d played for (Amman Utd, Betws) were rubbish. We had a relationship based on rugby results – if I’d lost, especially if to a Llanelli team, then Lewi would be the 1st to ask me how I’d got on, he’d be harder to find if we’d won. He always though – had his carrier bag with the latest paper and his notes with him and could give me all the local results. He wasn’t always at Heol Goffa, being integrated into the community well before that became a policy – popping in for food between earning a pound or two doing someone’s shopping or delivering the paper. When the Star went up to 52p, Lewi tried to avoid the cut in his margin by charging £1:02 for delivery. He once took a Star on tour with us to Scotland to give it to a client who gone up a day earlier.
The Warriors were just starting to play regular fixtures at this point and I began to realise how well known he was. He was part of a hardcore of Warriors who set the foundations for the club – although his loyalty to the cause was sometimes questioned – When we played SWT bus drivers or a club where he might get a pint he seemed over generous to the opposition.
I also started to hear my first Lewi stories: getting drunk ever night on a centre holiday to Butlins – revealed on the 3rd night – he was drinking for free whenever a popular song hit the disco, directing traffic at Burry Port Carnival (in a Police tie of course), blowing the whistle at Stradey park when he thought an offence had been committed – until he was banned, sneaking into the back of the bingo at Furnace Rugby club and shouting HOUSE! and one story so good I’ve heard at least two people claim it: A member of the Heol Goffa staff was at a 7s tournament in Pontyates, as was Lewi. The member of staff gave money to lewi for a ‘cigar and a pint’ several times throughout the day. When he was leaving to change for the night his wife, working behind the bar, called him over and asked him to pay his tab, “What tab?!” Lewi had been taking the money AND telling the bar that the member of staff was paying, Lewi of course, had long since disappeared. Is it true that Lewi was best man at Ray Grav’s wedding and appeared in ALL the official photos in a pinstripe suit?
And I was witness to some as well – the 1st time we went to watch Wales together Lewi acted exactly as though at Stradey, walking along by the bars, randomly asking people where they came from and then telling them all – Neath, Pontypridd, Cardiff, Abertillery, that they were rubbish! I played for Burry Port at the opening of Mynydd Y Garreg’s clubhouse, Lewi turned up and even though two linesmen had been appointed he just carried on and ran one line next to the official. I remember the frequent strops, flag waving and of course the constant cards. Lewi came a cropper on the 1st Warriors tour, getting on the wrong end of a bucket of water in the middle of the night, he was so bewildered, stood there in his wet vest and pants, weight increased to 7st – that I got the blame despite arriving as he came out of the room. Tour suited Lewi though – two rugby matches, new people to meet and plenty of drinking. I have a vivid memory of him dancing in a dance club, amongst the glow sticks and whistles, up on a platform in his Llanelli blazer and newly acquired Southend RFC tie throwing shapes til 2am. He surpassed that in New Zealand – he used up two disposable cameras before we reached the Brynglas tunnel and shock of all shocks, after our 1st match there – bought Dean Gilasbey a pint! The Warriors had won the match by 2 points, Carterton scored a try at the death but the 1st conversion wasn’t allowed because Lewi wasn’t behind the posts and then he ruled the 2nd attempt wide – to the surprise of all those watching. Arriving in Wellington for the 2nd test Lewi told Gary he was meeting his uncle there. Gary could get no further details other than “IN WELLINGTON!” out of Lewi and gave it up as an impossible job to find him. Amidst all the chaos of Lions match day, the first person Lewis saw was his uncle and so he felt vindicated. If that wasn’t lucky enough, when Gary later spoke to the uncle he had had no idea that Lewis was in NZ. When we met the All Blacks, Graham Henry remembered “that funny little man from Stradey who was always shouting at me”. The stay in Auckland was extremely tight and there is a classic photo of Lewi sleeping on a travel shelf – just to set the record straight, this was a set up picture. Lewi slept in his own bed apart from a couple of drunk wanderings where he tried to get in the wrong bunk.
I didn’t see much of Lewi’s golf career – the carding of a pilot after a rocky flight, the standing up and cheering an English defeat in a pub on the way back to Wales and the cards/greetings/abuse that were everyday Lewis. I remember how upset he was a after one game in Stradey where he’d bought himself a half only to be told pints were on offer – he tried but failed to get a refund on the difference, catching him trying to sell free programmes we’d printed up to give out at one match, of him being the worse for wear before travelling to Betws one year, but when accused of having already had a pint quickly responded - no he’d had 2 halves. Of course more stories came out of the woodwork when he passed away – Clive Norling – at the time the world’s leading referee, asking his opinion on a decision at Stradey, going out for New year’s Eve and coming back very drunk with more money than he had taken. Going out and celebrating his birthday in March, even though he was born in October, I once saw what his birthday celebrations were like once when he was staying with Lee who’d broken his arm and needed emergency help to get Lew out of the Police van and into the shower – what a transformation, one minute all abuse the next “Gwilym my boy!” – next day up at 6am to fly to Scotland.
Lewis was so popular that thousands singed a petition for him to have a final lap of honour at Stradey and he and a parody Twitter account. Lewi fought back from a 1st stroke, running the hospital ward as though it was his own front room and then back running the line for the Warriors. He was at the Warriors 200th match and made the tour to Scotland to see the 1st integrated side there play. When he passed the 1st tribute was from Felinfoel cricket club, the 2nd was the Bumbles in Yorkshire and is Lewis Jones the only man to have had no official connection to a professional rugby team and still had a minute’s silence? Other tributes came from Adam Jones and Leigh Halfpenny, neither ever (then) Scarlets players. His facebook page membership shot up past 3000 with over 12,500 people seeing one of his photos. He was nominated for a Mencap Award for Heroes by Stephen John who remembered how he had defused a match between Felinfoel and Bonymaen Youth by kissing the Bonymaen coach. He won various golf medals and was named Carmarthenshire Disabled Sportsman Of The Year. A posthumous nomination for Services to Sport has also been made (see below).
All this Lewi achieved by sheer strength of character. At a time when people do all sorts of things to become famous, Lewi was known without any media help, just by getting about – running the line for his carers nephew in Furnace, sitting in his seat at Parc Y Scarlets, doing his rounds of Felinfoel pubs.
He could be headwork but he was always happiest meeting people and having a laugh. Llanelli is a poorer place without him.
Lewis Jones: Nomination for an award for Services to Sport.
Lewis Jones was born and brought up in Kidwelly and then moved to Felinfoel. Throughout his life he was an avid sports fan following Swansea City and playing golf. However it was through rugby that Lewis contributed to sport.
A physical and a learning disabilities prohibited Lewis from contributing in the traditional ways; playing or serving on committees but Lewis contributed to the maximum of his abilities by running the line at as many rugby matches as he could.
All his adult life Lewis would take it upon himself to run the line at rugby matches. Despite not having his own transport Lewis would work hard to be involved.
He was widely known and officiated for numerous local sides including Pantyffynnon who referred to him recently as Mr. Rugby, Trimsaran where he was “Officials Coordinator” at the annual Jonathan Davies Youth 7s, Furnace for who he walked unannounced through the rain to Pontyberem in the hope of being involved, Burry Port (walking there by 10am to help inspect the pitch for a 3pm kick off), Mynydd y Garreg where he was involved in the opening of the Clubhouse, Felinfoel where he once defused a tension filled youth match with Bonymaen by liaising with their coach and his home town club Kidwelly.
When rugby was still amateur he ran the line for the Scarlets and was well respected enough that the world’s leading referee at that time, Clive Norling asked his opinion mid match. Even after professionalism saw WRU appointed referees he was still a prominent enough supporter that Graham Henry recognised him when he was in New Zealand.
My own involvement came through the Llanelli Warriors RFC. Lewis was involved from the start and missed only a handful of games in 17 years. I know that on a weekend he would often officiate at a local game on Saturday and then several junior games on a Sunday morning before joining up with the Warriors on a Sunday afternoon (in addition to any mid week games he could find). More than just a linesman Lewis would keep the scores, help decide man of the match, offer advice whenever asked and welcome any new players into the fold. He served on the committee including a spell as Chairman and was part of the glue that held the club together.
Through the Warriors he travelled around Britain and to New Zealand where his enthusiasm and strength of personality helped the Warriors be accepted wherever they went and ensured their trips were a success.
Lewis suffered a stroke in February this year but was back on the sidelines by May at the Warriors 7s tournament and attended the TRI Nations Cup in Scotland. Unfortunately he passed away after a second stroke later in the summer.
Tributes came from many corners, supporters, pundits, international referees and British Lions past and present, he was described as “the biggest character I have ever met” by the coordinator of a New Zealand grass roots website and the Scarlets held a minutes silence – even though Lewis has never officially been part of the club.
The point of this nomination though is not how well known Lewis became but to draw attention to the effort he made to contribute to rugby to the full extent of his abilities. The time and effort Lewis put in throughout his adult life were phenomenal – it is hard to imagine how he could have done more. If everyone put the effort that Lewis did to help sport then the county would be full of world beaters. In his small way he represented the clubs and rugby culture of Carmarthenshire far and wide in a hugely positive way and for that I feel he deserves recognition.
A page of photos of Lewi in action: CLIC
Lewi - superhero: CLIC
Coverage of Lewi's funeral: