Review: Charlie Faulkner – The 1 and Only
For many people who lived in Wales during the 1970s, the names Charlie Faulkner, Bobby Windsor and Graham Price, A.K.A. the Pontypool front row, will evoke strong memories.
As a teenager growing up in Newport during those times, I am no different and it was a pleasure to recall those memories while reading this book.
Charlie sadly died in early 2023 before he managed to complete his autobiography and it was co-author Greg Lewis who finished it, along with input from teammates, friends and family.
The 1 and Only charts Tony ‘Charlie’ Faulkner’s rise from a local Newport works team – Whiteheads – through local junior team Newport Saracens, to first class rugby at Cross Keys, then Pontypool, Wales and eventually the British Lions.
Remarkably he achieved all of this while working full time as a furnaceman in the Whiteheads steel works.
He also moonlighted as a doorman, and I have first-hand experience of seeing Charlie manning the door at a local night club, The Stowaway, where the presence of a current Welsh international prop who was also a black belt in Judo made for more orderly nights out than was common back then.
Charlie Faulkner was a formidable individual who unfortunately, from my perspective, played for my team’s deadly local rivals from ten miles up the road.
I can therefore vouch for his comment that ‘we may go up, we may go down, but we never go back’, and at club level it was often a painful experience to watch, although at international level the reverse was true.
The Pontypool front row, occasionally known as the ‘Viet Gwent’, formed a rock-solid platform that was the keystone of Welsh rugby success in the mid to late seventies.
Charlie Faulkner played over three hundred first class rugby games, scoring twelve tries. His international career consisted of nineteen full tests, of which he was victorious in fourteen.
He was particularly proud of his record against a certain home nation, recalling, ‘I always liked beating England, I won every game I was in against them’.
During the course of his five-year international career (I was surprised it was so brief, I’d been certain it was longer), he won the Five Nations four times, achieved a triple Triple Crown and two Grand Slams, some record!
He played three tests for the British Lions in 1977 and undoubtedly would have played more if he had not suffered an injury early that year.
The 1 and Only is an entertaining journey through the effort and sheer hard work that went into Charlie Faulkner’s achievements. Unsurprisingly, he also provides insight into what actually went on in the scrum, which may not be for the fainthearted.
“Every time we bound, one of their props took Bobby’s ear in his mouth and held onto it. Imagine the pain of that! If Bobby moved, he was going to get it ripped off. I told him I’d help him out, so I swung an uppercut through and laid the Frenchman out. Unfortunately, his teeth had been clamped around Bobby’s lughole when his jaw got cracked. Sixteen stitches Bobby said he had for the tear.”
There is a roll call of the legends of the game that are too numerous to list which evoke very fond memories. Perhaps the most notable is the part that Sir Gareth Edwards played in Charlie’s selection and quite how much he relished the space and the front foot ball that the pack then provided.
The seventies were a problematic period industrially in Wales and significant change was already underway, but for so many of us, the rugby team provided a ray of light.
A front row and pack that never went back, in tandem with legendary backline sparked a ‘golden age’ for Welsh rugby. It was a heady mixture of grit, determination and flair which the book recalls brilliantly.
It is difficult to read The 1 and Only without reflecting on how it captures a dimension of the social fabric of the time: a snapshot of a world that has gone forever.
Rugby was embedded in the heavy industry which defined South Wales in those days and was the environment that spawned the Pontypool front row.
Charlie describes wonderfully how intense local rivalries characterised the game, a local derby against a nearby Welsh team or an English team from just over the border every week.
Back then, rugby was a primarily amateur game (although giving a player £10 for petrol was not unheard of) but one that meant losing overtime shifts to make yourself available to play.
Going back to work on Monday after winning a Grand Slam on the Saturday or getting a team talk from Mervyn Davies who then immediately lit up a cigarette, are just two of many examples of how today’s professional environment is so different from when Charlie was playing.
He makes a number of points about how professionalism has improved things: ‘players are properly compensated’ and ‘wives are treated more respectfully’, for example.
The book also explores what has been lost since those days, ‘ the intense rivalries have gone’, and with it the connection the players have with their communities.
Charlie Faulkner: The 1 and Only is not only highly entertaining but provides an opportunity to reflect on the changes that have been wrought in the game of rugby whilst also remembering and celebrating a genuine legend.
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