The Last Word: Farewell to the warrior poet of Wales

Cliff Morgan, who died last week, will live long in the memory for his eloquence and principles

The study, made musty by ancient cigarette smoke, had the intimacy of a confessional. Mottled by the autumnal shades of wooden bookshelves and leather seats, it was a place of reflection and exultation, from which Cliff Morgan preached the sanctity of sport, and the emotions it aroused.

He greeted me in his home in Earls Court as yet another interviewer, seeking perspective from a more measured age. Even then, before throat cancer scoured his honeyed voice and sport was overwhelmed by scavengers and opportunists, Morgan's lyricism, warmth and integrity were legendary.

We spoke about the dignity of the human condition. He was an early advocate of the Paralympics, and channelled the embryonic movement's spirit. He resented the way it had been pigeon-holed as "disabled sport", and relished its capacity to inspire and elevate its participants.

His athletes were people, not playthings or commodities. Sport was their vehicle for self-expression. Competition encouraged them to rise above their fears and limitations. It was a source of joy, in unexpected situations, for unheralded individuals.

Rugby was mentioned, but only in the context of his upbringing, in a Nonconformist family in the Rhondda Valley, where the biggest social sin was excessive self-regard. "Fur coat, no knickers," he said, with gentle, ruminative laughter, as memories merged. The conventions of chapel were recalled, along with boyhood pleasures such as singing second tenor in the choir.

Here was living history, a warrior poet who took the bus to play rugby for his country, Wales. His boots were in a brown cardboard case, and his outside-half's swerve, pivot and sidestep had been perfected around the cowpats in the village game.

Morgan trained twice a week, on a kipper and a pint of bitter. He represented the British and Irish Lions, and became a hallowed broadcaster. As a commentator he had that rare gift of reflecting what we felt, not telling us what we had seen.

We have all been reacquainted with the definitive 90 seconds of a life which ebbed away, after 83 years, on Thursday. Morgan's accompaniment to that iconic Gareth Edwards try for the Barbarians against the 1973 All Blacks is a hosanna to the sport which shaped his values and suited his character.

It is impossible not to contrast his rejection of material reward with the greed and vulgarity which will climax tomorrow in the annual orgy of the closing of football's summer transfer window. His reflections, featured in one of many tributes to his generosity and intellect following his death, are worth repeating:

"You must not have too much. You can only live in one house, have one car if you are lucky, one roof above your head. You should not want too much, as long as you've got enough to pay the bills, educate the children. All the other things are futile, aren't they? They pass. They're gone. What endures are friendships and loyalty and respect."

His generation of sportsmen is fading into the distance. Soon, like old soldiers, they will be gone, subsumed into the record books and preserved in grainy, black-and-white archives. But they will live on through the eloquence of their words and the strength of their principles, and must not be forgotten.

That is why I trust the minute's applause for Bill Shankly before today's meeting of Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield exceeds tribal boundaries. It has meaning beyond the usual formalities of respect and remembrance.

Shankly, like Morgan a product of a harsh, character-forming, coal-mining background, never forgot where he came from. He understood the power of a community united in song, and in spirit. He did things the right way.

Soon after my interview with Morgan, I received a hand-written note from him. It was an unforgettable courtesy, and contained an enduring reminder of the privilege of being around professional sport, as observer or participant: "We are blessed."

England's proper Ashes heroes

The girls of summer were back in the old routine at an ungodly hour in Durham yesterday morning, in their accustomed role as a warm- up act.

England's women cricketers duly received their version of the Ashes, but had still to exist in the shadow of Stuart Broad's boys club.

While women's sport deserves the respect of robust criticism in the event of underachievement, it also merits the reward of high praise when things go well.

The team led by Charlotte Edwards are the antithesis of the pitch-sprinkling, self-regarding, game-killing England men. They are authentic role models, who visibly enjoy what they do.

The multi-format Ashes series produced a series of heroines who flourished under pressure. Heather Knight's 157 effectively saved the solitary Test match; Lydia Greenway's 80 won the decisive T20 international; and wicketkeeper-batsman Sarah Taylor produced the most thrilling winning cameo of this cricketing summer when she launched into a full-length dive to take a right-handed catch which defied gravity, geometry and belief.Rejoice, as another lady once said.

Warp factor

So much for the Second Coming. Jose Mourinho is not even first among equals. The warped logic of modern football ensured that some celebrated his controversial reacquaintance with fellow manager Pep Guardiola, now at Bayern, in the European Super Cup. If the old game really needs such a graceless, disingenuous egotist, it is in more trouble than it realises.

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
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

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes