Posted: 10/23/2008
Title: SOSPAN FACH-MORE THAN A JUST A STADIUM

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        Llanelli is a small town of about 40,000 in South-West Wales where there were steel factories, coal mines and docks where the local rugby team has played at the same ground, STRADEY PARK, for the last 129 years and Friday the era came to an end with an EDF ENERGY CUP match against Bristol.

       Capacity has been limited to 11,000 but had many more emotional and larger crowds in yester year. The club is now a proper professional club in the Magners League of Welsh and Scottish clubs. and also in the Heinniken European knock-out cup.They now call themselves just SCARLETS, instead of Llanelli Scarlets, so as to attract a wider audience. I see all these names in Australian, New Zealand, South African and Welsh and Scottish rugby and have to do research to see where they are located. Ospreys play in Swansea, 13 miles to the east, Blues in Cardiff the capital city. Maybe Celtic and Rangers are global enough to not use their city name, but not rugby. www.scarlets.co.uk

       Anyway, this small club, who like most rugby union clubs, were termed 'amateur' but put money in the players shoes in the dressing room while they were still on the field. I had a room mate at college who played in South Wales and was paid this way. 170 Welsh internationals and 21 British Lions have worn the scarlet jersey with the dragon emblem and they have beaten the Australian national team 4 times including in 1992 when the visitors were world champions.

       The Scarlets have an 'anthem'  'Sospan Fach' in Welsh, which is sung with gusto and sounds like a Welsh hymn but in fact is about red saucepans. Saucepans and other kitchen utensils were tin plated in local factories in the past and on the top of the tall goal posts they have red saucepans. In 1972 they beat the mighty New Zealand All-Blacks and grown men cried. Not because of the victory, but because there was so much beer drunk that the local pubs ran dry!!  In 1770 The Reverend James Buckley opened a small brewery, Buckleys Brewery, and the drink of choice, a bitter called 'The Reverend James' is still produced by Brains,the giant South Wales brewery who took over a decade ago.

   The match was officially a sell-out but earlier in the day a few $170 plus VAT tax tickets were still available with a 4 course lunch and a commemorative programme  Next month they move into a high tech new state of the art stadium, PARC Y SCARLETS with 14,500 seats and to keep the heritage, no commercial naming rights contract was considered.

     After the 27-0 victory over Bristol the choir marched onto the field and sang Sospan Fach along with the crowd and and an emotional Phil Bennett, 'King of Stradey', who played in the 9-3 victory over the All-Blacks talked on BBC radio about coming as a 5 year old on his dad's shoulders, and later as a 12 year old with his mates to climb over the fence and evade the stewards, and as an 18 year old to finally play there for the next 15 or more years. After the 1972 victory the police played rugby in the streets outside the park using their helmets. What price traditions!!

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