by Rhys Powell
Ten seasons ago, Maesteg RFC rubbed shoulders with the greats of Welsh club rugby. This season they will be starting over with a clean slate, at the bottom of the Welsh rugby pyramid.
The club are steeped in history within Valleys rugby. They have created Welsh internationals like Allan Bateman, Ray ‘Chico’ Hopkins and Gwyn Evans, all of whom not only wore the three feathers, but also represented the British and Irish Lions.
Since the dawn of regional rugby in Wales, Maesteg have been held close to the chest of the Ospreys, with young talent from the club often promoted to the Liberty Stadium setup.
This is the team that hosted the Maori All Blacks in 1982 and held them to a 10-10 draw, a match that brought the small valleys town to a stand-still, leaving the international rugby community aghast. So just what has happened to the legendary ‘Old Parish’?
Following back to back relegation, they dropped to Division 2 West, where they found themselves alongside local rivals Maesteg Harlequins. The fortunes of the Llynfi Valley outfit went from bad to worse as the clubhouse was struck by an arson attack in 2013, destroying the majority of the memorabilia that documented its 138-year-old history.
The club managed to steady the ship, rebuilding both their clubhouse and their reputation, as they held down a place in Division 1 West Central. That is, until this summer.
In a statement released to the members, club secretary, Darren Farmer, stated that the decision to drop to Division 3 East Central C was the only viable option. Mr Farmer also explained that the only other option was to try and build a team in the last few weeks leading up to the start of the season.
In the statement, Mr Farmer said: “Times have changed over the last 20 years and the club has failed to adapt, we must now change to ensure Maesteg RFC remains as a rugby club and at the centre of our community.
“The committee felt they had no option other than to take the decision to drop down the leagues. The only other option was to attempt to try and put a team together over the coming weeks to compete in Division One, but with only 6 or 7 players training regularly this appeared to be a very tall order.
“We all have to concede that we are no longer one of the elite clubs in Wales and we need to realise that we are a community club who must to rely on home grown talent to survive.
“We plan to keep the membership prices the same as previously agreed in the AGM even though we will be dropping the match entry price. We have taken this decision as the ongoing costs of running the club remain the same and the membership money collected each year is essential to keeping the doors of the club open.”
A spokesman for the Welsh Rugby Union told Gair Rhydd: “A number of measures have been taken in recent years by WRU and regional staff, schools and clubs to help develop rugby in the Maesteg area, not only in terms of supporting the clubs but by investing in a school club hub officer to promote and increase opportunities for girls and boys of all abilities to enjoy what rugby has to offer.
“The fantastic work of the Maesteg hub officer to increase rugby participation in school resulted in Maesteg re-establishing and sustaining a successful youth set-up.
“The plan has always been for those players to sustain the Maesteg senior team in the future and although they are a season short on being able to do that with 20 third year youth players in their ranks, a lot of positive work is already underway to continue to grow and sustain junior, youth and senior rugby in the area.”
Since the dawn of professionalism in Welsh rugby union, grassroot club rugby in Wales has suffered, and the Old Parish’s fall from grace appears to be yet another case of chronic failings. Whether or not the inception of a ‘New Parish’ will be symbolic of an upturn in the community game remains to be seen.