Whilst not intending to provide a definitive history of the club, it is to be hoped that these paragraphs will provide our visiting colleagues with some insight into the background of the Old Penarthians RFC and, at the same time, serve as a reminder to our own members of the legacy that they have inherited.
Although that bastion of learning, the Penarth County School, was founded in 1896, it was some 33 years before an increasing awareness and pride in the high ideals achieved by that establishment caused former pupils to take positive steps towards continuing a connection in later life.
The School gymnasium was, infact, the setting for the historic meeting which took place on the 30th of November, 1923, to consider the feasibility of forming an association of old boys that could incorporate sections catering specifically for cricket, hockey, rugby football and other social activities.
Initial reactions was sufficiently encouraging for those enthusiasts to proceed with a more formal gathering just seven days later when, on the 7th of December, 1923, the then Headmaster, Mr JM Judd, took the chair when the proposal to set up the Penarth County School Old Boys Association was approved unanimously. It is recorded that hockey, cricket and rugby sections were formed at the outset with the interests of the latter represented by a committee that comprised WH Taverner as Captain and R Barnes as secretary in company with Messrs Munro Price and Lot Thorn, the latter late to become renowned as the long-serving Secretary of Penarth RFC.
The results of the few games played during the limited months remaining that first season are not known but, in 1924-25, Penarth CSOB embarked upon 21 fixtures of which 10 were won, 2 drawn and 9 lost, reflecting a very creditable start indeed. Nevertheless, it was, perhaps, symptomatic of a squad of only 18 players that no fewer than 8 matches had to be cancelled although our American colleagues, used to travelling vast distances to opposing grounds, may be more in sympathy with Secretary WAP Hoskins who, in his report for that year, bemoaned the reluctance of certain individuals to turn up for away fixtures. After all, Penarth is situated fully 4 miles away from the centre of Cardiff!
Fortunately, these early hiccups did little to hamper future progress and the fortunes of the rugby section continued to prosper with the formation of a second fifteen in the late twenties prompting a "takeover" bid from Penarth RFC who, in 1928, made tentative approaches designed to wean away the organisational responsibility of the section from the association. The move was, however, resisted and the two clubs have continued to wend their separate ways in moods not always as harmonious as they are today.
During the following decade, the old boys Association lost much of it's early impetus whilst interest in the rugby section continued to gather momentum. Indeed, the Club successfully survived the trauma of one season when outside half Glyn Jones and three quarters Ted Evans, Horace Davies and Eddie Humphreys departed en bloc to command places in the Penarth first team whilst a major development was the 1938 decision to separate from the association and to operate under the present title of Old Penarthians RFC.
Emerging from the Shadows of pioneering administrators Arthur Randall-Edmunds and Mac Henderson in those years preceding World War II was a man later destined to make the greatest individual contribution to the future of the Club. Bill Whitaker captained the side from prop in the two seasons prior to hostilities and returned from active service to dedicate himself to establishing the Penarthian name as one that is respected in Welsh rugby circles.
In his capacity as Secretary during the period 1949 to 1961, the energetic solicitor elevated the fixtures list over and above the previous limitations of Cardiff and District involvement and these wider horizons attracted the interest of the steady stream of players and officials that enabled the Club to go from strength to strength. Indeed, Whitaker's powers of persuasion saw Penarthians in a position to field three and later four sides as a "norm" that was matched only by Glamorgan Wanderers in Wales at the time whilst he himself still found time to instigate in company with John Westlake-Hill of Llandaff RFC. The South East Glamorgan coaching structure that is so admired throughout the rugby world.
The most tangible evidence of Bill's industry, however, is still to be found in the annual Sevens tournament that is staged by Penarthians on the third Saturday in May of each year. Introduced in 1950, the event is not only the longest running but probably the most popular of it's kind in the Principality. It is a date set down in many an enthusiast's diary as the day on which international and other leading players - both past and present - rub shoulders at the Clubs Cwrt-y-vil headquarters in an atmosphere of keen competition and social camaraderie that is quite unique.
Penarthians' impact on the post war scene was such that, in 1961, the Club was accepted into probationary membership of the Welsh Rugby Union and successfully negotiated the statutory three year trial period to attain the prestigious status of full membership of an elite body that, even today, encompasses only 230 Clubs.
Not content with the achievement of this ultimate recognition, the Old Boys set about a programme designed to improve the facilities available to their members.
The early playing days had enabled the Club to take advantage of a harmonious relationship with the school and all matches were then played at those Stanwell Road premises. Unfortunately, a change of Headmaster produced a change of attitude and various impositions highlighted, in the early fifties, the need for another ground. With the co-operation of the Penarth Urban District Council, security of tenure was established at the previously soccer dominated stronghold of Cogan Recreation Ground. Perhaps surprisingly, the two codes continued to operate side by side in an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence for a period of some 15 years and the Old Boys senior members still savour the days at Cogan as being amongst the most successful in the playing history of the Club. Certainly there have been few seasons to rival the majesty of the 1961/62 record which reflected 35 victories, 8 draws and only 3 defeats from a total of 46 outings whilst Brian Joseph's 311 points in a season and Barry Griffith's 33 try tally are records from that golden ere which remain unchallenged.
The acquisition of the old Band Hut in Andrew Road provided the Club with it's first taste of self sufficiency and, and although the limitations of that tiny property still necessitated a heavy reliance on the excellent hospitality that had been extended over a period of many years by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Joseph as mine hosts at the Cefn Mably Hotel, the committee, with Bill Whitaker then it's Chairman and Arthur Haswell as secretary, firmly fixed there sights on more ambitious projects.
Conversion of the former tip at Cwrt-y-vil produced a new playing field for the town and the Club was indebted to the Local Authority for the availability of an adjacent plot of land that put into prospect the possibility of our very own Clubhouse. Restrictive covenants associated with the land posed problems that seem to bar the sale of alcohol and certainly sobered up the membership until it was suggested that this situation could be overcome if the Club itself would purchase an initial supply of the essential liquids for consumption by those in attendance who would, in turn, be invited to make a donation sufficient to replace the original purchase!
Perhaps it was as well for the future Financial standing of the Club that these matters were resolved in a more acceptable manner by the opinion of learned council and, fortified by the proceeds of the sale of the Andrew Road premises in and a loan from Ansell's Brewery that caused a number of sleepless nights for those worthy committeemen who had taken personal guarantees in respect of repayment, work began on the project that took the Old Boys into the third, and latest, stage of their development.
It was a far cry from the 18 enthusiasts who had founded the Club in 1923 to the membership of close on 500 that became Associated with the activities that sprang from the opening of the premises in 1964. Nevertheless, it was a success story that was achieved only through the foresight of a few and the hard work of their supporters. Even so, there were few illusions as to the need for a continuing commitment if these gains were to be consolidated and built upon to provide a worthy heritage for the future Generations of Old Penarthians.
When the first function, the 1964 Sevens, was held at the ground in May of that year, the Clubhouse was bereft of formal furniture and the thronging crowds were served from trestle tables by members far from experienced in the art of pulling a proper pint. This was, however, a situation that changed rapidly and matters were on a more even keel on September 7th, 1964 when the President of the Welsh Rugby Union, Mr. Nathan Rocyn Jones, officially opened the building and was kind enough to bring along his own specially selected International XV to mark the occasion.
Eighteen years of selfless devotion from a myriad of members who provided unpaid assistance in the strictly commercial atmosphere of a full time bar operation was the foundation for the financial stability that enabled the Old Boys to expand the area of social amenity to it's present level whilst incorporating new changing rooms, two squash courts, and an indoor training area equipped to standards that are the envy of the majority of the first class sides in Wales.
It is, perhaps, unfortunate, that the improvement in our playing standards has not quite kept pace with that evidence in our facilities but it is still a matter of Club pride that the football we play is a competitive nature that nevertheless epitomises the sporting spirit associated with the greatest game of all. In so saying, however, we are mindful of the fact that it is only a game and the friends that are made after the final whistle are even more important than the result on the field.
We look forward to meeting you. We sincerely hope that you enjoy meeting us and we would assure you of the warmest of welcomes should you ever decide to visit.
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