Pontypool RFC to leave grounds after anti social behaviour

By Kate Morgan
BBC Wales sports news correspondent

image captionThe Pontypool crowd watching an Australian touring side in 1966

One of Wales' most famous rugby clubs is to leave its ground after more than 70 years because of anti-social behaviour.

Pontypool RFC has played at Pontypool Park since 1945.

But the club claims blades and broken glass have been hidden on the pitch endangering players, referees and medical staff.

Club chief executive Ben Jeffreys called the announcement a "devastating blow" to supporters.

In a series of tweets the club said the grounds had become a "haven for destructive anti-social behaviour" and the club would be leaving at the "earliest opportunity".

The club has revealed "prolonged negotiations" with Torfaen Council, which is responsible for the ground, have broken down at a meeting with supporters.

A council spokesman refuted the allegation that negotiations had broken down and said it was trying to maintain an "open and constructive dialogue with the club".


image source, Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images
image captionGraham Price and Pontypool host New Zealand in 1989 but lost 6-47

1 The Pontypool Front Row were famed in rugby in the club's golden era of the 1970s and '80s. They consisted of Charlie Faulkner, Graham Price and Bobby Windsor, who also played for Wales in their heyday. And how famous? As well as the bruises opponents took home with them, Max Boyce wrote one of his best known songs about them.

image captionPontypool, Cross Keys and Newbridge v Australia in 1966, which the tourists lost 12-3

2: 'Pooler hosted visited touring sides

The ground has hosted some big touring sides over the years. A combined Pontypool and Newbridge team beat South Africa at Pontypool Park in 1951. Australia were also beaten in front of a large crowd in 1966.

image source, BBC/Mark Leech//Getty Images
image captionEddie Butler played from the mid 1970s for Pontypool - including here in 1983

3: TV commentator and broadcaster Eddie Butler captained Pontypool between 1982 and 1985. Other well known names to play for the club include David Bishop, Terry Cobner and Mark Taylor.

4: The club was a week away from folding after losing a High Court case in 2012 against the WRU's decision to demote the club from the Welsh Premiership.

5: Pontypool created history in the WRU National Championship by becoming first team to go through the whole season unbeaten in 2017/18.

image captionAn empty Pontypool Park in the late 1970s

The park passed into public ownership at the beginning of the 20th Century for the benefit of the community of Pontypool.

The club say an agreement dating back to 1920 prevents a permanent fence being built around the ground as it must be open to the public.

image source, Ben Jeffreys
image captionThe ground has been the target for anti-social behaviour

It says over the last five years more than 200 seats have been destroyed in the stands and volunteers have had to remove drug paraphernalia and human excrement.

Pontypool RFC said it has been "committed to doing everything possible" to remain at the ground was willing to spend up to £1m renewing the facilities at the ground.

"We have devoted the last four years in trying to overcome the resistance of Torfaen County Borough Council to give a new lease of life to what is a tired and rapidly deteriorating venue".

The council also denied it had reneged on any promises and said it had tried to engage constructively and support the club's aspirations, "within available resources and following proper process."

It said this had been made more difficult by having to contact the club via its solicitor since May.

image source, Allsport UK/Getty Images
image captionDavid Bishop kicks the ball for touch during a match against Australia in 1984, which the hosts lost 18-24

Legendary prop Graham Price, whose Wales and British and Irish Lions career was launched at Pontypool Park, has hoped the issues could be overcome.

He said: "What we are prepared to do - and we are prepared to pay for it - is to fence off the ground to keep all the mindless vandals out.

"But it seems the decisions being made by the council are against it."

Pontypool RFC said the club was still looking for an alternative site but none has yet been identified.

"But I am very confident that we can weather this storm," said Mr Jeffreys.

"The club has proved its resilience in recent years and it has overcome more significant challenges."

But he wants "those who stood in the way of progress" to spare a thought for the club's small band of volunteers.

"Our volunteers are the true heroes of Pontypool and it is them who I am most saddened for that we were not able to secure a victory in getting our plans over the line."

Council leader Anthony Hunt said the club was "an asset to the community" and he hoped it would stay at its home "and the majestic setting within Pontypool Park".

'The council has offered guidance surrounding the covenant on the park and the club's aspirations to erect a fence around the rugby pitch and are happy to continue these discussions," he said.

Mr Hunt said although issues surrounding planning and the covenant on the park were not straightforward "I don't believe they are insurmountable".

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