I loved playing rugby; I loved training; I loved windswept, rain battered nights on a molehill riddled patch of green with trains rattling past. I can hear “the boss’s” Northern lilt calling out training drills. The cold would burn my throat until I warmed up but there was nothing like the feel of the dimpled rugby ball in my hand. Under the glow of the floodlights, I felt welcome. There was always a friendly face ready to pick me up from a heap on the floor; always a smile and cheer when you got it right; always a warm hug if you needed it.
We had so many different backgrounds, some military, some police, some business people, doctors in training, factory workers, tradeswomen, council workers and shop assistants, teachers and healthcare professionals and full-time mums, carers and students. We were from different towns, some travelling a fair distance to get the chance to play for, what I think, was the best team around. When I joined, I’d played other sports and had to play catch up. I loved the team, the coach and the sport so much, I worked hard to learn everything I could and they were patient while I did so
Sport often has a philosophy that only the best are picked, that you could lose your place at any time, that you are only useful if you play. I think that there was something special about that team because, somehow, everyone played a part in making it a well-respected team. We’d take on internationals without any kind of worry. A team started by a few pioneering women that now boasts its own list of internationals.
I went to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of a special team and I was nervous because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy returning to a place I have fond memories of, seeing people I have a big place in my heart for, and facing the fact I’m not able to take part anymore.
The Falcons, as the ladies side are called, sponsored a men’s match in honour of the welcome they received from the club. When I arrived, I remembered why I adored the place so much. It didn’t matter who was in the Pontyclun colours, they were defending the same stretch of green and won a mud plastered match with the club and balcony cheering them on all the way.
There is an energy there when the Falcons are around, a roaring laugh, a friendly hug. The veterans of the team are mothers, wives, partners or independent. Any preconceptions that ladies in rugby are collie-flower eared probably wouldn’t last long there. Twenty years on and they all look pretty fantastic. Turns out rugby is hard on the body but clearly great for you! It felt good, really good to see each familiar face, to hear them all in the same place again and to be a part of it. Ferb was with me and he’d have sensed how nervous I was heading in but quickly settled into charming everyone around him and nearly snaffling some quiche…
The rugby club and the ladies themselves lifted me today. Training on those sodden nights or dusty summers; from running at the back in the warm-up to being able to run at the front; from not having a clue what I was doing, to the moment the captain turned to me and yelled “yes!” before yanking me into a hug; complete novice to scoring tries, playing for them is an experience bottled in my heart, that through each fight, each tough challenge, I’ve embraced and held onto.
I played for the Pontyclun Falcons and they were, and still are, the best.