Llanharan RFC - A History
Compiled by Hugh Smith
To the Premiership and Back Again
2003-04 wrote itself into the record books as Llanharan's most successful season since its formation in 1891.
Coaches Dennis John and John Phelps produced an exceptionally talented side that, under Gareth Edwards' leadership, won a thrilling race with Maesteg to the division one championship.
It gave the club a place in the top echelon of Welsh club rugby, fulfilling an ambition that had sustained players and members since the introduction of national leagues.
It was a fitting culmination of a long and notable record in Welsh rugby, with the game having become formally established in the village in 1891-92 when it was little more than an agricultural hamlet. The earliest photograph on the club house wall is dated 1898. In 1919, Llanharan achieved the proud status of membership of the Welsh Rugby Union.
Unfortunately, injuries badly hit our small squad and, lacking the resources of the big town clubs, we failed to build on a promising start and were relegated to the Asda first division in 2005 after just one season at the top.
The subsequent campaign became of necessity one of rebuilding after more than a whole team left, mainly to join other premiership clubs.
Although results brought a few modest mid table finishes, the team began to turn the corner at the outset of 2008, rising from bottom to a 6th place finish. Many young and talented players had emerged, often home produced and they were developing into a useful side. Even better was to come in 2008/09 with a third place in the final reckoning.
Progress was maintained in 09/10 as we finished runners up to UWIC and were top try and points scorers in Swalec One East. The team skippered by Gareth Edwards, an impressive seven consecutive years at the helm, also won the East District Cup, thrashing Cardiff HSOB 77-10 at Glamorgan Wanderers.
Paradoxically, that very successful team disintegrated in the summer and Dennis John, who had been joined the year before by Mathew Lloyd, a former player of his at Pontypridd, was faced with another rebuilding task. Perhaps understandably the team took a time to gel, winning just once in the first eight matches, but from there on Llanharan were a match for anyone in the Swalec One East, ending the campaign 31 points clear of the relegation places, albeit in a modest ninth (out of twelve) places. It was an unfortunate year for skipper Justin Jones who missed most -of the action after dislocating a shoulder in the preseason victory over Narberth.
However, it marked the end of an era with Dennis John stepping down after nine years at the helm and Brian Mills vacating his team manager’s post having enjoyed association with Llanharan covering three decades. Even so their experience continued to be available to the club, both accepting the role of adviser, for rugby and business respectively.
Dennis had operated at all levels in the Welsh game, part of the famous Pontypool team in the Sixties and Seventies and having had charge of Wales A as well as acting as temporary coach to the senior national squad in South Africa. Brian retired in 2010 after serving as Regional Director of Coors Breweries.
Mathew Lloyd, assistant coach since 2010, former UWIC and Pontypridd player and previously coach at Caerphilly, took over as head coach with Colin Malone and Adam Rosser as his assistants.
Into the West
2011/12 was a history making season in that the WRU moved the club to One West to accommodate the relegation of Ebbw Vale into One East. Several new faces were drafted in and perhaps predictably it was a mixed campaign with a lower mid table finish in 8th place.
During the year Steve Whitehead was put in place as team manager. Steve as a player turned out for Cambridge University and Newbridge. He was formerly Sales Director for Bass.
The club also learned that it would be a founder member of the new National Championship made up of the best performing First Division clubs over a five year period plus demoted Tonmawr and Pontypool. It was not well received in some West quarters as we were assessed as a West club. Had it been as an East member then we would have missed out, although perhaps unfairly. The extra points weighting for Premiership membership counted heavily in favour of Glamorgan Wanderers and Ebbw Vale, thus reducing the places for rank and file One East sides to three effectively. Also, on an overall basis Llanharan would have been in the top ten division one clubs anyway. That became twelve when the WRU did an about turn and agreed that Carmarthen Quins and Bridgend could in retain Premiership status.
The National Championship
This new competition began in September 2012 against the background indicated above. Llanharan joined Bargoed, Beddau, Blackwood, Bonymaen, Bridgend Athletic, Cardiff Metropolitan University (formerly UWIC), Ebbw Vale, Glamorgan Wanderers, Narberth, Newbridge, Pontypool, Tata Steel and Whitland in the new league. Tonmawr should have been one of the relegated premier clubs but received WRU permission to drop to Division Six and become a village community club again. Pontypool failed in their High Court appeal against relegation from the premiership. There was some reservation about the team's prospects in a competition designed to represent the best of community rugby, but in the end a mid table 7th place was a most satisfactory achievement for Nathan Huish's men.
The main objective of retaining championship status was again achieved in 2013/14 with a 10th place, 18 points clear of relegation. Adam Rosser left to take over as backs coach at premiership Cardiff and Dennis John stepped back into the coaching sphere as the emphasis was again placed on young talent.
2014/15 saw a late relegation escape under new skipper Scott Malone as Cardiff Met were beaten at the Dairyfield n the penultimate game to send Tondu down with already doomed Blackwood. It was no more than deserved as the team and coaches rallied well after a 15-0 reverse at Tondu in February which had brought a surprise resignation from Matthew Lloyd.
With Dennis going into retirement, Jonathan Hooper joined Colin Malone as backs coach ahead of 2015/16. A former Wales Sevens man, he was also once a Dairyman, having been a scrum half and occasional wing in the 2000s.
Unfortunately, the campaign brought relegation, an unprecedented run of 25 consecutive defeats ending with a resounding 42-24 home bonus point win against Narberth on the final Saturday with a performance that at least sent supporters into the summer with a smile on their faces.. The underlying factor was a large late summer loss of players. It was a struggle to field a competitive side though those who wore the jersey never dropped their heads, often against overwhelming odds. Two early season bonus points were even stripped off the club by the WRU after failing to send a team to RGC 1404 in Colwyn Bay on the Saturday when Wales were taking on England at Twickenham in the World Cup. Understandably, many were unwilling to be travelling back on a six hours journey with such an important game taking place (night time kick off).
That last day win was a fitting send off for Head Coach Colin Malone who stepped down after an association with Llanharan stretching back to 1998 when he arrived as a number eight, later to captain the team. Despite losing Jonathan Hooper, who resigned through work commitments, he battled on uncomplainingly and left to appropriate accolades.
For the next season, Jeff Pick as head coach and Kevin Jones his assistant, both of whom had stepped up to assist, were handed the reins. Past players of note, they were joined by another, Wayne Jervis, in the role of team manager
Pre National Leagues - An Era of Success
Prior to the national leagues we had established a deserved reputation as great cup fighters. We ran the great clubs of the time such as Pontypool, Cardiff and Pontypridd close, losing once to Pontypridd on a penalty shoot out. But we also claimed the scalps of Glamorgan Wanderers, Tredegar, Penarth and Abertillery who were then part of the so called “first class” elite of Welsh rugby. Twice we reached the quarter finals, losing gallantly to Aberavon (1988) and Cardiff (1989), a remarkable achievement for a village club. It was a great era in our history, earning the title Whitbread and Rugby World Junior Club of the Year in 1989 after being runner up in 1988.
It merely reflected sustained success on the domestic front – East District title holders eight times from 1977 to 1989, Usher Cup winners in 1982 and 83, and Silver Ball finalists in 1977 and 1979.
Llanharan played their first Sunday game of rugby on February 3rd 2013, a second consecutive icy winter, when a postponed Swalec Cup match was staged - but the away Beddau team ran out 32-18 winners.
The Arrival of the National Leagues
The arrival of league rugby in Wales gave the ‘second-class’ clubs a chance of rising to the top. On the opening day of what was then the Heineken League, 23rd September 1990, Llanharan recorded the highest score of the day in defeating Aberavon Quins by 43 points to 18.
In this first season of league rugby we excelled, finishing second in their division. This led to the club being promoted, along with champions Dunvant, to Division Two and a place among the elite of the Welsh game. During that season another club player, Anthony Donovan, appeared for the Barbarians. The following year Llanharan RFC celebrated its centenary year, with games against Cardiff and Pontypridd a highlight on the field, and a grand dinner in City Hall the climax of off the field events.
Although the club finished third on try count in the league in 1992-93, hence just missing out on promotion to the top flight, following seasons proved disappointing culminating in Llanharan being relegated in the 1996-97 season. However, after another season of poor form, 1998-99 ended with Llanharan once again being promoted back into Division One.
Not Just the Firsts
Underpinning the senior set up is a comprehensive playing and coaching structure. We pride ourselves on raising home made talent. Each weekend we field Youth and Second XVs while each Sunday dozens of youngsters play in teams from under 8 to under 14. Twelve players have been capped by the Welsh Youth, including Arwel Davies and Wayne Jervis the latest. In 09/10 Harley Thomson played twice for Wales under 18.
THE SECOND XV enjoyed an invincible 100% season in 2004/05, John Rees’s men taking both the East District and the Mid Glam Enoch Lewis cups. 09/10 was another successful year, the side led by Paul Winter winning the Mid Glam league and getting to the final of the Enoch Lewis cup.
2010/11 was not a good year as player shortages and the effects of playing in the new East Wales Second XV league brought just three wins.
However, it was also of credit to the club that at the end of 2010-11 the Cardiff Association of Referees, whose officials operate mostly at Second and Youth XV level, voted Llanharan Club of the Year, an award for the club deemed to offer the best welcome to officials.
2011/12 was a case of just missing out on glory, losing semi finalists in the East District (UWIC) and Enoch Lewis (Tonmawr) cups and losing playoff contenders to Heolycyw in the Mid Glam Premier league, but the team coached by Dai Martin played some attractive rugby and scored well over 100 tries.
The Seconds were back on the glory trail in a successful 2012/13 campaign. With Lloyd Thomas again leading the side they won the Mid Glamorgan Premier league table and then the play off championship, disposing of Maesteg Celtic in the semi final then walloping Heolycyw 43-6 in the final at Pyle.
2013/14 saw the team, now coached by stalwarts Nikki Allen and John Howe, lose out in the premier league play offs but win the Mid Glam Enoch Lewis cup, John Rees again skipper in place of the injured Lloyd Thomas as they beat Bryn 40-3 on a sunny may afternoon at the Dairyfield. It was a season when they often struggled to raise a full complement, but at least they ended on a high.
Kevin Jones and Clinton Davis were at the helm for 2014/15 helped by Hugh James and Jeff Pick, and with John “Spider” Rees as team captain they won the Mid Glam premiership championship beating Heolycyw 35-3 at Porthcawl, but a last move try saw Kenfig Hill take the Enoch Lewis Mid Glam cup with a 21-16 Dairyfield victory.
More success followed in 2015/16, taking the Premier League title by finishing in top place, there now being no play offs. This was a remarkable success, considering the loss of many players to first team duty.
2014/15 proved a sad year for YOUTH rugby at the club as coach Hugh James’s valiant efforts to raise a team eventually failed with all fixtures scrapped. It marked the end of over 50 years of age group rugby at Llanharan, but with older members of the disbanded side moving on to help the Seconds to success and a highly active junior and mini section it was hoped that the side would again be revived..
2005/06 was perhaps the Youth’s best campaign as the side led by Michael Huckridge winning the East District cup by defeating Pontyclun at Pentyrch, surprisingly the first major trophy in the 40 years plus history of the team. Zach O'Driscoll's outfit chalked up another good campaign in 09/10, winning their section of the Blues regional league, the Taff Rhondda Merit Cup and the Pontyclun Sevens, with Harley Thomson getting capped twice by Wales at under 18 level.
2010/11 was also a good year for the Youth, now under the full charge of Kevin Jones. Ironically, it started with a month’s ban imposed for an accumulation of disciplinary points the previous year. Yet they still succeeded in reaching the East District cup final where they lost to Glamorgan Wanderers 23-15, no disgrace against the team that was unbeaten playing in a higher section of the Blues youth leagues and winner of the Welsh Youth cup two years running. Llanharan were without skipper Scott Malone, son of Colin, one of the club’s senior coaches, the wing forward injuring himself on First XV duty, having become a regular on the seniors’ team sheet along with another youth qualified star, Harley Thomson.
2011/12 brought an east District semi final but Glamorgan Wanderers from a higher section were too big and strong and we went down 47-9.
The succeeding two campaigns saw young sides struggle to compete and, worryingly, in 2013/14 many games were called off despite the efforts of new coach Hugh James who took over from Kevin Jones.
Llanharan has always been served by excellent administrators. In recent times there was the inimitable Tudor Benjamin followed by Keith Taylor, the present secretary, who has held the post for over forty years in total.
Such commitment was in contrast to the demise of the general committee, the club moving in the 21st century to a streamlined business committee, but an expanded rugby committee returned in 2015/16, a response to greater interest.
In common with so many other community clubs Llanharan has found it hard to attract young officers and committee, and it was a welcome breakthrough in July 2014 when Becky Bull took on the role of Treasurer, the first woman to hold office in the club, although up until the late sixties an active ladies’ group made half time jugs of team and provided after match meals.
Unfortunately, ill health prevented Becky from taking up the post, but the club was fortunate to maintain the female element when Kay Postans became treasurer in 2015/16.
The Club Badge
The badge is symbolic of the village’s history and culture. The four quarters show:
- A sheaf of corn – pre coal mining Llanharan was very much a pretty agricultural village with its picturesque stone cottages clustered around important buildings such as the church, corn mill, inn and blacksmith’s, much of the economy related to the needs of the Llanharan House estate.
- A Llanharan spaniel reputed to be a distinctive breed at a time when the estate also boasted its own pack of hunting hounds.
- The parish church of St Julius and Aaron, an ancient foundation that boasts a Tudor chalice.
- A pit head winding gear, reflecting the coal mining that dominated the village for almost a century.
The quarters are separated by a black cross commemorating the Llandow air disaster of March 12th 1950 when eight club members were in the plane returning from the Dublin international, seven of them losing their lives as it crashed on landing. Only Mel Thomas survived, sadly passing away in May 2011 at the age of 86. A special disaster memorial adorns the wall of the bar.
Although we celebrated our centenary in 1991, it is believed that a side was playing before 1891. The oldest picture on show at the clubhouse is dated 1898. In 1919 the club was awarded WRU status.
Early days saw the club use local hostelries such as the High Corner and Turberville as a base. In 1948 the first purpose built HQ/changing rooms, a wartime hut, were transported from Llandow airfield. A clubhouse was built in 1962 on the site of the old British Restaurant. The original building was another wartime hut, transported piece by piece from Stormy Down camp and progressively enlarged into three bars and a concert hall.
Progress it may have been but there were still constraints – a large committee at the time held its meetings in the clubhouse kitchen. Eight or nine would be crammed into a space adequate for no more than five. The tale is told of the late Rylan Edwards one meeting sitting on the fire extinguisher which duly activated itself, unleashing a demented appliance flying around an already restricted space and causing mayhem!
It was a venue which hosted some great acts – Ryan and Ronnie, the Hennesseys, Max Boyce, The Searchers and many more. Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, a big band still at the time, turned up late one gig in the 1970s and were sent away by an irate committee, which had been trying hard to placate an increasingly restless packed audience.
We moved out of the old club in 2002 into new premises in the former British Legion club on the opposite side of the main road. The advantage here is that it is alongside our ground, The Dairy Field, so called because of the adjacent CWS Milk Depot which closed in the late 1960s after 50 years of milk processing and whose site has been developed for housing. In fact the whole perimeter of the ground was being transformed in the period from 2006. Even Josie's garage and coal yard, so long a feature of Bridgend Road, entered a phase of redevelopment in 2007 which resulted in the removal of the old petrol station forecourt from the front of the clubhouse, enhancing the appearance of the building, while houses now occupy the old yard. Josie's father Joe was for many years before his death the club's president. The clubhouse is recognised as one of the best in Wales and has become the adopted home of the Glamorgan County RFC whose events are regularly hosted, with the prestigious Silver Ball finals being played on the ground. It is now fronted by attractive landscaped gardens and a beer garden was opened at the end of the 2008/09 season.
The ground itself was purchased in 1989, the previous playing field having been on the Welfare Ground, an area of land originally bequeathed to the village by the Blandie Jenkins family of Llanharan House. In the years before hot water shower facilities were provided at the Welfare Ground in 1948, committee men would borrow a trolley from the local train station and collect churns full of piping hot water from the old CWS Creamery, wheeling them to the High Corner stables for the players to wash in tin baths. The Turberville Hotel also served as HQ at one time.
We marked the advent a national league by playing our first game on our new field against Aberavon Quins to open season 1990-91, scoring eight tries in a big 43-18 win. A 440 seater grand stand, partly funded by a members’ debenture scheme and incorporating spacious changing rooms, was added to a covered terrace two years later and top quality floodlights soon followed, upgraded to the highest standard in 2010/11.
The move to the ground prompted the media to nickname us “The Dairymen” with all the attendant puns that can be imagined. However, the traditional supporters prefer to use “The Black and Blues” which they have imaginatively put to the music of the Marseillaise!
The choice of colours is said to relate to impoverished bygone years when a sympathetic Cardiff gave us a set of their kit – the black and Cambridge Blue has been worn ever since. In respectful appreciation Llanharan henceforth called themselves the “Black and Blues” as opposed to the “Blue and Blacks.”
American Football at the Dairy
The summer of 2009 saw a new venture with the South Wales Warriors, an American Football team, using the Dairyfield as its home for the British National American Football League campaign. It was a considerable success with good crowds attending the Sunday afternoon fixtures, all of them blessed by sunny weather. in 2011 they were crowned British national League Second Division champions.
A Family Club
Family links have always been prominent in the club’s sides – six Cogbill brothers (Eddie, Trevor, Mel, Arthur, Lewis and Howard) once played in the first team in the 1930s and a whole front row of Vowles brothers (Ray, Phil and Bernard) appeared in one game. These family links have spanned the generations, and two brothers who began their careers here went on to represent Wales, actually playing side by side in the second row - Glyn Llewellyn (1990) and Gareth Llewellyn (1989), currently the most capped forward in our history. Richard Donovan (1983), Garfield Owen (1955) and Danny Pascoe (1923) also went on to international status.It is of note too that Fatika Mollitika (Tonga 2004/05) and James Morris (Malta 2013/14) were capped while playing for the club.
The Llanharan RFC Songsters
The tradition of male voice singing in Llanharan was revived by club members when they formed the redoubtable “RFC Songsters” in 1966 and it was believed to be the only choir of its genre in Wales. Sadly, the active membership of this proud band of men had been dropping throughout the first decade of the 21st century. It still undertook its wide range of activities, most of them for charity. £2000 was raised for Ty Hafan children's hospice in 2007.
2013 was, however, a sad year as the Songsters gave their final concert at the clubhouse, an ageing and dwindling band of choristers finally giving in to reality, a failure to attract new members forcing the inevitable. Philip Benjamin conducted the choir in this poignant performance, a role his father Tudor had undertaken for many years previously.
Even so, they left the club and the community with many happy memories and in a final charitable gesture disposed of their assets to the club, the Community Shop and the Drop in Centre.
The Club Song
A lot then has been seen and achieved over the years and, in the words of the club song:
"Black and Blue are the colours,
Rugby is the game,
We're all together,
And winning is our aim,
So cheer us on through the wind and rain,
Llanharan, Llanharan is our name."
Updated May 29 2016