The Last Word: Betrayal that leaves Welsh rugby rotting at the core

Reorganisation has resulted in once-proud clubs being cut adrift and left in terminal decline

Volunteers at Pontypool Park comb the pitch for used needles and syringes, the detritus of drug abuse. Screwdrivers, nails, knife blades and broken bottles are planted deliberately on the try line. Arsonists persistently target the main stand. Vandals rip out seats and attempt to destroy the historic scoreboard.

The desecration of an iconic rugby club and the decline of a once-proud town are interlinked. Sport is swamped by the backwash of social and economic alienation. Pontypool officials pleaded with police to impose a 24-hour dispersal order around the ground in midweek following the latest outbreak of vandalism.

Ignore the illusion of today’s supposedly timeless passion play at Twickenham. The hymns and arias will have a hollow ring. Welsh rugby, once a unifying factor in the villages and towns of the principality, is in crisis.

Though there has been a small increase in schoolboy participation, the game has imploded at youth level. Second-team matches at senior clubs are regularly cancelled through lack of players. Wales’ Under-20 team conceded 67 points to England in Friday night’s defeat in Newcastle.

Club rugby, cut adrift because of a strategic commitment to four regional teams, will be dead within a decade, according to Pontypool director Ben Jeffreys. His father Peter, a fan from the age of five, stepped in last year to save a storied club, formed in 1868. A bitter legal dispute with the Welsh Rugby Union, over enforced relegation in an era of ruthless rationalisation, forced Pontypool to the brink of bankruptcy. The irony, that they were founder members of the Union in 1881, is both cruel and telling.

They play in the third-tier Championship. Where once 25,000 flocked to Pontypool Park, barely 500 maintain what used to be the habit of a lifetime. The club is seeking to reinvent itself, through sponsored pancake tossing contests and name-a-puppy campaigns, but their supporter base is overwhelmingly aged 40, or over. A local pub acts as a clubhouse.

There is little tangible evidence of the £20m the WRU claim to have invested in the grassroots. Though portrayed as progress, restructuring has produced little more than rancour and disillusion. Wales captain Sam Warburton has accepted a central contract, despite the concept not being thought through. His fellow internationals are leaving the Welsh game for France and England.

The past has a golden sheen, even if the future appears dark. A mural in the main street immortalises the Pontypool front row of Graham Price, Bobby Windsor and Charlie Faulkner. Legendary figures for Wales and the British Lions in the amateur era, their achievements helped create a shared sense of identity.

Price is Pontypool president. Four generations of his family have played for the club. “It’s in your blood,” he says. “Our team was successful  because of the club rugby talent coming through. That talent will soon run out.” The message is amplified by the plight of a traditional rival, Bridgend, another club representing a town afflicted by youth-unemployment rates approaching 20 per cent. Now marketed as the Ravens, their crowds have dipped as low as 150.

Along the mountain road which links the Ogmore and Rhondda valleys, are the villages which once formed a production line of players and teams which reflected the toughness of their upbringing.

Places like Wyndham, Lewistown, Pant-yr-awel, Blackmill and Evanstown have been contracting since the last deep coal pit closed 30 years ago. Nant-y-moel, whose rugby clubhouse is a mid-terraced two up, two down, are struggling for players because teenagers move away as soon as possible.

The traditional escape route, playing top-class rugby in front of their own people, has been blocked by the bureaucrats. Such betrayal carries consequences.

Dignified Powell deserves better

Chris Powell, the Charlton manager, should not have to ask for respect. He has earned it, in the most trying of circumstances. He deserves the reward of a Wembley appearance, even if it is an inappropriate stage for an FA Cup semi-final.

Neutrals will wish him well in today’s quarter-final tie at Sheffield United because of his positive nature and careful husbandry of a club which has been added to the football portfolio of Roland Duchâtelet, a Belgian who made £400 million from the micro-electronics industry.

Duchâtelet owns five other clubs: Standard Liège and Sint-Truidense in Belgium, Ujpest in Hungary, Carl-Zeiss Jena in Germany and AD Alcorcon in Spain. He is seeking to expand his empire by buying Bari in Italy. Five of Charlton’s six signings in January came from the family business.

Powell has yet to agree a new contract, because of his insistence that he regain control of recruitment. He doesn’t want more money. He merely asks to be allowed to do his job properly and to the best of his ability.

English football has far too few black managers. If Powell becomes a victim of regime change, the Football League will have more explaining  to do.

Jade's a Jewell

Britain held its breath when skier Jade Etherington ploughed into advertising hoardings after winning silver in the Winter Paralympics yesterday. Her courage, in hurling herself downhill despite having five per cent vision, should, to quote a discredited slogan, inspire a generation.

News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Dennis Rodman has confirmed he is not going to the Middle East to 'talk to with the leaders of Isis' as claimed in a recent satirical report
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam