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Neath RFC

With Neath RFC due to celebrate its 150th Anniversary next season, today – February 18, 2021 – marks another very significant sporting dateline.

For today is the 100th anniversary of Glamorgan County Cricket Club earning the approval of an MCC Sub-committee for their application to become a first-class county.

Glamorgan County Cricket Club had been formed at a meeting at The Angel Hotel in Cardiff on July 6, 1888 and had long harboured hopes that the Welsh county would one day achieve first-class cricket.

And the man who convened that meeting was none other than Mr. J.T.D. Llewelyn, a real sporting philanthropist with a special Neath rugby connection – for he had been “at the helm” being described as President of the new Neath RFC when rugby football was first played in Neath at Court Herbert in 1864.

After formation, Glamorgan were soon playing Minor Counties cricket with Neath men to the fore and interestingly the Club failed by just a single vote to stage the opening Test of the 1905 series between England and Australia.

Ahter the First World War, Glamorgan’s campaign to become a first-class county took on a fresh impetus – and, with so much Welsh blood spilled during the conflict, surely they could not be denied ?

Glamorgan’s secretary, opening batsman and often captain was T.A.L. Whittington.

He was a Neath man and a son of Neath’s first rugby captain Dr. T.P. who was no mean wicket-keeper himself being a member of the Neath team which won the inaugural cricket South Wales Challenge Cup in 1879.

T.A.L. Whittington enjoyed a 22-year career with Glamorgan, hitting a top score of 188 against Carmarthenshire in 1908. Before the War, he had already played first-class cricket himself for sides as disparate as the West of England, South Wales and Minor Counties (the latter two against the South Africans).

He also played first-class for the MCC and twice toured the West Indies with them, registering a top score of 154 on his first trip in 1910/11. Later, he played a first-class game for Wales against Scotland – had his father lived, he might have been amused as every Neath man knows that Dr. T.P. (neath’s first rugby international) had won his cap not for Wales but for Scotland.

In true Neath tradition, T.A.L. Whittington was up for the battle. Taking a sabbatical from his work as a solicitor in Neath in order to undertake the paperwork for the application, he led Glamorgan’s drive for first class status.

Sir Sidney Byass, the owner of the Margam Steelworks and Aberavon RFC’s president, also gave Glamorgan a loan of £1,000 over a ten-year period so that match guarantees could be met and other costs could be covered.

During the autumn of 1920 the campaign gathered pace as Whittington gained the agreement of Somerset, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Hampshire and Northamptonshire to play home and away games.

Just before Christmas, Lancashire joined up and then Sussex assented in early January which gave Glamorgan the backing of eight counties which was the minimum number needed.

Glamorgan’s application for first-class status was heard by the MCC meeting at Lord’s on Friday, February 18, 1921. On the proposal of Henry Murray-Anderdon, the Honorary Secretary and President of Somerset, supported by Sir Russell Bencroft, the Hampshire Chairman, it was recommended that Glamorgan should be awarded first-class status for 1921.

This was duly rubber-stamped by the MCC and the formal announcement of their elevation into the County Championship came at Glamorgan’s AGM on March 19, 1921 at the Grand Hotel in Cardiff.

Back-slapping and applause greeted the reading of the statement from the MCC – and apparently there were tears in the eyes of J.T.D. Llewelyn.

One of Neath RFC’s founding fathers and the so-called “Father of Glamorgan Cricket” had realised his dream of Glamorgan securing first-class status !

When summer came, J.T.D. was overjoyed to be present at Cardiff Arms Park on May 18, 1921 when Glamorgan, led by Cardiff’s Norman Riches, took on Sussex in their inaugural County Championship match.

Much to the delight of their loyal band of supporters and patrons, Glamorgan won – but it is a little sad to reflect that given Neath and Port Talbot’s key role in the elevation to county status that Glamorgan will not play here in 2021.

Coronavirus restrictions mean that all games will be played in Cardiff – perhaps it can be remedied in 2022 which will coincide neatly with Neath RFC’s 150th ?