Scrum Down in the Departure Lounge

From Planet 219

In the lead up to the Rugby World Cup, Eddie Butler looks back 40 years to the death of a dictator and the autumn in Madrid where he first learnt to love rugby, reflecting on the struggles both Wales and Spain have faced since then.

Forty years ago, General Franco of Spain died. And what has that got to do with anything? I’ll see if I can remember.

I found myself recently, to a soundtrack of creaking limbs, playing cricket on the wonderful Central Park in Blaina, halfway up the Ebbw Fach Valley between Abertillery and Brynmawr. Physical protest induced mental confusion. Gazing from the pavilion across the outfield towards the rugby pitch at the southern end – where once David Watkins, Robert Norster, Mike Ruddock and Nigel Meek flexed supple muscles at the outset of their winter-sport careers – I said with great assurance that I had never been there before.

The words were no sooner delivered than a battered scorebook was placed before me and there, on July 9 1975, at number 4 for Monmouth batted an E Butler.

Was this a worrying sign of memory malfunction? That wouldn’t do, because 1975 is etched in my mind. In its early July I was weeks away from going to Spain for a year, conscious that although I knew almost nothing about that country it was certainly going to be different. But never mind a foreign land – how different, looking back, was even old Monmouthshire then. The last of Blaina’s pits, for instance, had only just closed. Beynon’s Colliery had been running at a loss for years and a fire underground had finally put paid to it in April ‘75. Six Bells just down the road in Abertillery was still going, and a bit further on – and around the corner – Marine in Cwm would stay open until 1989. However, in general these were the days of closures everywhere – that of, say, the ICI Fibres (formerly British Nylon Spinners) factory in Pontypool, in whose Research Department my father had worked since 1950.


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