End of an era
Stradey will be sadly missed
October 23, 2008
Stradey Park in all its glory © Getty Images
Good old Sospan Fach!
The famous Llanelli cry - which translates as Little Saucepan - will live on but soon the old name and the old stadium will be history.
At the start of this season, the regionalisation of Welsh rugby demanded Llanelli's professional team become branded as the Scarlets. Tomorrow night, Stradey Park hosts its final match before the famous club moves to a newly-built home in Pemberton and the site is taken over by developers.
For 129 years Stradey has been home to one of the most successful and revered clubs in world rugby. An EDF Energy Cup tie against Bristol is hardly the grandest of exits but it is a sell-out. Stradey has been witness to legendary Welsh players like JJ Williams, Phil Bennett, Barry John and Ray Gravell, to Delme Thomas, Derek Quinnell and Ieuan Evans, and to modern Grand Slam champions like Stephen Jones and Dwayne Peel. It was also home to the legendary and inspirational coach Carwyn James, the only man to lead the Lions to a Test series victory in New Zealand.
The ramshackle old Stradey, the atmospheric old Stradey, the historic old Stradey is to be turned into a housing estate. The team's future resides in the plush all-seater Parc y Scarlets. All that will travel to the new home are the blood-red jerseys, the passionate fans and the sospans on top of the rugby posts.
The past will live on in folklore, in stories to be passed down the generations. Stories of that day in 1972 when 15 coffins were supposedly delivered to Stradey Park because Carwyn's Llanelli side would rather die than lose to the All Blacks. The coffins were not required, at least not for those in scarlet. Llanelli won 9-3.
Max Boyce, who was in the crowd, later sang: "Those who went to Stradey, boys, will remember till they die, how New Zealand were defeated - and how the pubs ran dry. And in a hundred years again they'll sing this song for me, of when the scoreboard read Llanelli 9 Seland Newydd 3.''
On four occasions over the last 100 years Australia have rolled into Stradey but shuffled out again, beaten and bruised. On the most recent occasion, in 1992, Australia were world champions and fielded virtually a full-strength team but lost 13-9. That night, the town streets echoed to the cry of: "Who beat the Walla-Wallabies, but good old Sospan Fach''.
Sospan Fach is a curious Welsh folk song derived from Llanelli's tin-plate industry. The industry is no longer what it was. Stradey will soon be no longer. But Sospan Fach will live on.
Welsh rugby cannot afford to lose Warren Gatland. Simple as that. No EDF Energy Cup group match is worth sacrificing a Grand Slam-winning coach for.
Gatland is nearing the end of his tether and well he might. The players and the management have now been drawn into long-standing arguments over player release and compensation.
And matters have taken a dark turn for the worse. It is fast becoming personal between Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis and his immediate predecessor David Moffett, the regions' new representative.
Gatland wants his players for three days next week to maximise Wales' chances of beating South Africa in their first autumn Test on November 8. Privately the Wales coaches feel South Africa is their best chance of picking off one of the Tri-Nations super-powers this November. But at present they will have to do so with just two full days of training under their belts because the regions insist the WRU request falls outside any current agreement.
The regions argue that to release their star players would affect their chances of success in the EDF Energy Cup, a tournament which in its current form is on the way out. They would also argue on a point of principle wider than just one round of EDF fixtures, relating more specifically to the participation agreement and compensation for player release.
But the two sides are not talking, apart from issuing a stream of statements through the media. If Gatland does decide to jack it in because of the politicians then all of Welsh rugby will suffer.
© PA Sport