While at the unveiling of the Stradey Park memorial stone a week or so ago I began thinking about where the new Taylor Wimpey homes were actually sitting on the hallowed turf. We were told that the stone marked the location of the stand. There was much confusion that day as players and fans tried to work out their bearings. Some disputed that the stone was on the site of the stand and one would dare not question a 6ft 4 former Wales and Lions player as to his geographical skills.
Looking around, all that was left was the old stone wall at the Furnace end of the ground where once stood two red metal gates. On Saturdays the throngs would pour through having first stopped off at such delightful watering holes as The White Horse, The Colliers or The Stradey Arms. Once through the gates one was faced with the turnstiles, which had we were told by some of the Scarlets historians, been made and paid for at the end of the 1800’s. They were we were told, or at least one of them was now at a museum somewhere.
Once through the turnstiles one was confronted by the pitch itself in prime condition ready for the men in red to dash on to. The stands tho shabby were home for the visiting fans and locals alike. I preferred the scoreboard end though could often be found on the Tanner Bank stand, uncovered as it was at the time. Why I even met my wife there at a match between Llanelli and South Africa.
As we stood there in the company of the greats to unveil the stone, my thoughts turned to those days and I found myself, no doubt as others did slightly uncomfortable with the new and wanting to close my eyes, make a wish and see the old again. That feeling of awe, of boyhood hero worship was still there as I looked over to see Delme Thomas, Roy Bergiers, Phil Bennett, Derek Quinnell, Terry Davies and a host of men associated with the Scarlets.
They were and still are giants in Llanelli. Delme joked about time being unkind to him and how his hair was so black on the photo on the stone. We must accept the change he said but one could see clearly that it was still hard for Delme to do so. Derek Quinnell told me that he himself was looking forward to watching The Scarlets from his home or walking just down the road wwith his grand children to see them in his old age. There was a grand farewell to Stradey Park with much pomp and ceremony many years ago but this was the final farewell. All around us now stood new homes with new families and new cars. Some were well aware of the significance of the plot of land their home was now sited on. The streets have even been named after those 1970’s heroes.
Like the man who picks up the rugby ball following a try we must return to the centre line. The beginnings of this brief journey into sentimentality were sparked by wondering where the homes where sited in relation to the pitch. I wanted to know specifically who it was who lived in number 10 Stryd ‘Phil’ Bennett and where that home was located. I got my answer very quickly as a young family emerged from the house complete with their young son in a red rugby shirt. They had bought the house they told me because they were fans of Llanelli RFC and they had attended the ground as children. They had they said not fully appreciated the significance of the number of the home, nor the street name until friends and family had pointed it out. The discussions led to more speculation. Whose home is on the centre line. Who’s home is on the spot where Roy Bergiers scored that historic try? Perhaps it is one for the geographers.We live in an age where our history gets thrown in a skip. Where once giants played is now home to the children of men and women who took that sacred journey on Saturdays. For a while, they could exert all of their emotions in one fell swoop as their heroes conquered the opposition, the most famous of which was the 9-3 win over The New Zealand All Blacks. As Cor Meibon Llanelli belted out Sosban Fach it was difficult not to shed a tear for what was once the home of Llanelli RFC.