More than a game.

Even at this great age I still keep getting myself into odd situations where I am out of my depth.  It was only a few weeks ago that I found myself with the owner of a German piano company at the launch of his new piano, having to play a couple of tunes.  This was after he had spoken and after a real live concert pianist had also performed.  I always think its best to let the audience know that I’m probably more surprised than they are to see me in such company and then…well, and then drop as many names as possible.

It was sometime ago that I agreed to help out with a fundraiser at the Hyst on High Street to raise money for the Sandfields under 10’s Football tour to Malaga in 2020.  It sounded like it was going to be a good night.  They had asked Alan Curtis, Nigel ‘Speedy’ Stevenson and Lee Trundle to be their guests for a Q&A and I had been asked to act as MC.  I knew they would have lots of great stories to tell so to be able to ask some Swansea Legends a few questions seemed like a good night out to me.

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When the poster came through the first thing I noticed was they were selling the event as an evening with 4 Great Legends.  I wondered who else they had invited to speak…then I found out that in this context I was down as being a legend.  Now, I used to play a bit when I was younger and if you were to spend some time in my company at some footballing gathering it wouldn’t be too long until I told you that I had once captained Swansea Schoolboys, we had won the Welsh Championship with a team that included Jeremy Charles, Russell Coughlin and Steve Lovell.

It was with a ‘hand on my shoulder’ from the organiser that it was explained to me that my legendary status wasn’t anything to do with the beautiful game. I had only made it into that column of the poster as their designer didn’t know much about football, and that really, they should have had me down as doing the interviews and singing a few songs at the start.

It’s always difficult in those situations to know what to sing.  Nobody has come to hear an introverted singer songwriter.  I know, I’ve done plenty of events where my deeply personal songs soon make way for me to delve into a collection of Beatles and TREX covers as I try to save the night.  I decided on a rendition of my biggest hit, ‘Fireman Sam’, and then one up tempo original tune before handing over to the curry and raffle.

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Alan, Nigel and Lee were terrific.  Lots of stories about the best goals they had scored, the best and toughest players they had played with and against; and also, the current state of the Swans and, were we really going to be Promotion contenders at the end of the season.

Now I would be the first to admit that my footballing career never reached the giddy heights of these professionals but one thing we all shared in common, we had enjoyed playing football as kids for our local ‘colts’ team.

This evening was to raise funds for the Sandfields Under 10’s tour. As I watched the videos of their different teams and started speaking to the parents and coaches who were there, it started me thinking about my ‘colts’ days.

Robbie JAMES - Panini stickers - Swansea City 1982 - Stoke City 1984 - Queen's Park Rangers 1987.png

My first experience of playing organised football pre dated the Brynhyfryd school team.  My elder brother Gareth and a couple of his friends from Brynhyfryd had been invited to play for Brynmill Colts, and I tagged along.  I was only about 7 so my memory is a bit hazy (if you have a better record of the team I’d love to hear or see some pictures) but I’m pretty sure the centre forward was an 11 year old Robbie James (I think he had a moustache even then)  and the only game I actually played in was in a torrential storm at Ashleigh Road because some boys hadn’t turned up.

A couple of the boys’ fathers from that team thought it might be better to set up a team a little closer to our base in Brynhyfryd and their commitment led to the formation of Cwm Albion Colts.

The thing is, at the time we took it all for granted.  The organising, the week nights they gave up for training, washing the kits…but as I sat there chatting on Wednesday evening those characters came back as large as life.  Names you might not have heard of before are the real legends of Swansea football for me.  Roy Lloyd who used to scout for Coventry.  Albert James, the father of Anthony and Martyn James, and the uncle of Robbie James, Cwm Albion boys who all went onto become professional players.

 

Robbie and Anthony James Left, Martyn James right

Why did they do it?  I think they enjoyed running their own club… but they also loved the game and they loved the kids and wanted them to enjoy playing football together.  Most of those coaches stayed with the teams long after their own children had left for the senior teams.

I’m not even really sure if I said thank you.  What I do know is that years later, when I met up again with Roy Lloyd we would talk about games and players from 30 years ago as if it had been last weekend.  He always reminded me about a goal I scored at Underhill Park in the pouring rain when I was 8 years old which left my right foot, ‘like a rocket’.

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Lee Trundle with Mark Hunt and friend

Which brings me back to Sandfields Colts.  I was having a chat with Mark Hunt the man behind the club these days.  I told him I didn’t remember playing against Sandfields when I was a kid.  Hardly surprising he said.  They only started about 10 years ago. 9 kids playing on the grass next to the County Hall with a round manhole cover as their centre circle. Now they have nearly 200 boys and girls on their books.

As I was chatting to him I realised, this wasn’t a chore for him and he certainly wasn’t somebody looking to do ‘good works’, he loved it.  Then I mentioned my time as a colts player and I said there was a guy called Albert James who ran my side.  Now Mark is a lot younger than me, but Albert had been his coach as well when Mark played for Cwm Albion some ten years later.  This would have been long after his son Anthony had gone on to be a pro.

I don’t expect Albert James and Roy Lloyd realised how much they had given us as kids, and I don’t expect Mark and his team at Sandfields, and all of the other volunteers at all of the other clubs, realise that’s exactly what they are doing for a whole new generation too. The kids might forget to say thank you, but they will never forget.

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