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Sport

Neath fight on as they target a bright future

12 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Neath in action

Simon Thomas

It’s safe to say Neath RFC are putting up one heck of a fight – and not for the first time in the club’s proud history.

When they were denied a place in the WRU’s new Elite Domestic Competition (EDC), they made their feelings known in no uncertain terms, calling the decision “grossly unfair” and “reprehensible” after they were the only one of ten applicants to be turned down.

They were not about to leave it there either.

Refusing to simply accept their omission, they have now submitted a second bid to join the EDC, declaring they are “back in the hunt”.

Whether or not they will be successful remains to be seen, with Cardiff RFC also expected to stake a claim for the tenth and final spot in the new league, having not applied initially.

But it’s clear from speaking to the people in charge at the Gnoll that they are determined to ensure a positive future for the club, come what may.

Former glories

You only have to walk around the clubhouse and look at the pictures on the walls to be reminded of former glories, with the likes of Brian Thomas, Jonathan Davies, Allan Bateman, Gareth Llewellyn, Lyn Jones, Scott Gibbs and Shane Williams having worn the famous Maltese cross, to name just a few.

Formed in 1871, it’s the oldest rugby club in Wales and one with a rich history, having won numerous trophies and produced countless internationals down the years.

The firm aim of those now at the helm is to build on that and provide a vibrant focal point for the local community.

Yet, just last summer, the famous old club was facing an uncertain future.

That was when former general manager Matty Young stepped in, buying the limited company for £1.

“When I took over the club, there was substantial debt,” he says.

“But I felt if I didn’t do something and take it on, it was going to go under.

“It was because of people around me that I had the confidence to do that.”

‘Lion’s den’

Businessman James Hadley, who has come in as stadium sponsor and chairman, is full of praise for Young’s efforts.

“He has gone into the lion’s den. He has done that for the club,” said Hadley.

“If he hadn’t, I can 90 per cent say the club wouldn’t still be operating, as nobody else was willing to do it.”

Over the past nine months, significant progress has been made on reducing the debt. Placing this in the context of the EDC rejection, Hadley says: “We have had a decision go against us for a financial predicament that’s no longer applicable and which we have resolved.”

The plan is now to transition the club into a Community Interest Company (CIC), where it would be owned by the community with five appointed board members.

Neath players celebrate

As for the EDC, nine clubs have so far been confirmed – Aberavon, Bridgend, Carmarthen Quins, Ebbw Vale, Llandovery, Newport, Pontypool, Swansea and RGC 1404. The ten-team tournament is to be ring-fenced for three seasons with a salary cap for all sides.

After initially being turned down, Neath have now submitted a “second expression of interest”. Following further talks with the WRU, they say they are “excited” by this opportunity and trust their “interest will be received positively”.

Ambition

Whichever league they find themselves in next season – be it the EDC or the Premiership – the ambition is plain.

“We are very much focused on becoming a success, regardless of the ultimate decision by the WRU,” says Hadley, who, like Young, is from Resolven.

“Our goal is to make the club as good as it can possibly be and give back to the players, the team and the community.

“It’s genuinely a philanthropic venture for all of us.

“We see ourselves as having a huge role to play in the whole of the Vale of Neath.

“We want to create a sense of community and a sense of event and theatre here.”

Taking up the point, Young says: “I feel we are the most important stakeholders left in Neath-Port Talbot.

“Marks and Spencers have just announced they are closing, you’ve got the situation at the steelworks, you can see the problems that are happening everywhere.

“We want to offer something positive amid the difficult times, a kind of beacon of light.”

Work is already well underway in terms of bringing a new lease of life to the Gnoll, which will stage its next Premiership match on Saturday, March 23, when Pontypool are the visitors.

A gym and a recovery room have been put in place, while the dressing rooms have been spruced up and there are plans for the clubhouse as well, plus other developments.

Hadley concluded: “The Neath brand is a very strong one with a lot of history and we are looking to build on that. There’s definitely a positive future for the club.

“We are going to do amazing things.”


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Dai Rob
Dai Rob
28 days ago

Neath had a lucky escape!!
The clubs signing up to this new shambles of a league, will have given up their control of their clubs and handed it j er to the so-called regions.
The regions will want their pound of blood no doubt, and will not be happy without having full control of their new development clubs.
RIP Welsh Rugby.

Cwm Rhondda
Cwm Rhondda
28 days ago

Isn’t it time that Welsh rugby clubs said enough is enough to the WRU. My local team seems to be in a different league every other year (not through promotion or relegation) due to a league restructuring. What Welsh rugby needs is a pyramid structure (like football) that remains constant for many years. The constant change of league and cup competitions smacks of desperation on behalf of the WRU. I don’t know why rugby club representatives who attend WRU meetings keep on taking this nonsense. Clearly the architects of this new league structure have no idea about rugby in Cymru… Read more »

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