Our History

A Brief History of Penallta
Martyn Rowe

A book such as this one, giving a potted history of a wonderful rugby club, wouldn’t be complete without a
glance back to where it all began. Given the fact that as authors we weren’t around back in the early 50’s it is
sometimes awkward to get a truly factual story of those days into print. This book is heavily weighted in favour
of the ‘modern times’ but it would be grossly unfair not to make an attempt to paint a picture of how everything
started, of the people who were there to help the club onto its feet and of those who served the club either as
players or committee men throughout that period. Thanks to the long memories of people like Graham Munkley
and Allan Rogers we have been able to piece together a brief and historical account of the club’s first thirty or so
years into the modern era, and we’ve also dug up some great photographs from those days.
Penallta was formed around 1952, primarily by a group of miners from Penallta colliery, and played its first
fixture that year.Amongst the founding members was the Pit Manager, Arthur Sullivan, the Pit Sergeant John,
and the timekeeper at Penallta colliery, Len Hatcher. Len prided himself of knowing the name and registration
number of each and every miner. Intimate knowledge of the mining fraternity helped the canny old timekeeper
to talk the bigger miners into becoming forwards and the skinnier miners into becoming backs. One can imagine
Len sat there with his timepiece, one eye kept on miners turning up late, the other on someone with the ideal
physique to play flank forward.
Covered in the requisite dust and soot, the groups of mining men would convene for the usual early evening
refreshments in the local pubs. It was probably in one of these smoky dens that the idea of a rugby side formed
itself. That idea all those years back in the early 50’s was the birthmark of what has become Penallta RFC today.
Mining, comradeship and togetherness brought the inaugural Penallta side together back then, and it is those
roots that keep the club strong in the modern era.
Alongside the founders were brothers Jack and Howard Whittle from Hengoed, Bill Beer and a number of
non-miners drawn from Ystrad Mynach and the surrounding area. Len would sell tote tickets to the miners and
rally them to the cause of Penallta. It certainly worked. Since 1952 Penallta has run as a club and produced a
rugby team each year – the successes of today are due to Len, his cabal of committee men, the miners and those
tote tickets.
Len died in 1998 as the sitting club President, sadly missing out on the Brewer’s victory he so desperately
wanted to witness and the success of his club achieving WRU Status. He would be immensely proud if he could
see the club today. As Graham Munkley so poignantly says, “Penallta was Len’s family, and Len was our family”.
Len was replaced as President by Allan Rogers, another local boy and former MEP who was there at the birth of
Penallta and still has a very active role within the club.
Throughout the early years Penallta battled on due to the hard work of very few voluntary workers, always
managing to keep the show on the road. Len, along with Allan Rogers and Jack McKenzie were the Trustees
when Penallta raised the money to purchase a clubhouse alongside Penallta pit. The early sides of the 50s
included some good players who served the club for years with distinction. Players such as Bobby ‘Chunky’ Fowler,
Ron and Bill Carroll, John Court, Bobby ‘Donkey’ Jones, Gerald James, Frank Price, Reggie Carter and Johnny and
Alan Morgan all represented the club during those years when Britain, apparently, “had never had it so good’.
The photograph of the first ever Penallta side can be seen inside this book. Will Jones (the Driver) and Bill ‘The
Piano’ Davies are in there decked out in Penallta colours. What’s all that about?
Graham Munkley joined the club in the early 60s. Graham, now a life member through his impeccable service
to the club, was originally asked by Len to help Penallta out on Saturdays by utilising his skills as a qualified First
Aider. Graham worked for Penallta pit for years as the coalmine version of a ‘rub a dub man’. With his bucket of
dirty water and fungal sponge he began his loyal Penallta service by treating injured players each Saturday. Len
spotted the vision and pace with which Graham hurtled towards a ‘man down’ and it wasn’t long before
Munkley was wearing a number 14 shirt and representing the club as a player. Typically for a tough-minded
pitman who looked after the boys, Graham managed to miss the births of both of his children because Penallta
had a game. Graham had caught the rugby bug, possibly from his brown sponge.
In the 60’s Penallta developed into a strong side. Munkley was joined by Clive Jones and his brother Ponty and
both of them made a big difference to the ability of the side. Clive was one of Penallta’s best ever players, playing
at prop forward throughout his whole career. He was regarded far and wide as an outstanding player. His brother Ponty was a scrum half for many years and played on into the late 70s – he too is regarded as one of the Penallta
greats. Clive still watches Penallta every week. Given his size and his knowledge of the game, and given our
recent scrummaging exploits, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Clive might be asked to come back
It is unfortunate that playing records from these early years are not available. Not until Lee Acreman started
cataloguing appearances on a player by player basis in the mid 70s did the club have any official records.
However, it is known that some players, like Clive and Ponty, who played for Penallta for years, may well have
exceeded the 250 cap mark, but without official records they will never be recognised for it.
In the 1967/1968 season Penallta played against a Welsh International 15 led by Alun Pask. The club lost but
managed to score a try through Mike Thomas, father of today’s second team coach Mike. During the game,
Welsh player Brian Thomas kicked the ball upfield to Penallta straight into Clive Jones’ hands. Returning the
favour, Clive kicked it straight back and shouted to the international players, “we don’t need your help, we’ll win
the game by ourselves”. After the match, Clive led the boys with his usual singsongs, singing his favourites such as
‘Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer to the Phone’ and ‘Distant Drums’.
As the Penallta club emerged into the 1970s it was still very much a home to a village side and a social outlet
to its players and the wider mining community. Throughout the 70s the club stayed at the Cefn Llywna on
Penybryn hill, using the building as its clubhouse. Len, Allan Rogers and Bill Beer and the Whittles all continued
their hard work, as did the players. Despite job losses and seemingly endless downsizing due to price pressures
from overseas, the NCB’s pit wheels continued to turn, and its miners kept joining the pit team.
In the mid 70s Penallta were captained for two seasons by another player who would go on to be a longserving
and important member of the club. He was a prop called Lance Phillips. Lance spent years anchoring one
side of the Penallta pack with Paul Ferris on the other and since his retirement as a player has continued to work
on Penallta’s committee in a variety of roles, recently being heavily involved in club sponsorship. Perhaps Lance’s
biggest gift to the club was the introduction of his younger brother Craig, who throughout the 80s and early 90s
was Penallta’s Number 8 and six-time captain and arguably the club’s best ever forward. It was around the era of
Lance’s captaincy that Jackie Griffiths, a former Penallta hooker who had left to play for Blackwood, returned to
the club as its coach. Jackie had played for Penallta for years, and was an excellent, hard front row player. As a
coach, he had a huge impact on the club, improving the forward play by putting his coaching emphasis on fitness
and making the boys into a fast and mobile unit. Jackie worked through the 70s with players such as Jeff Rees,
Mervyn Payne, Tommy Higgs, Bobby Spiller, George Griffiths, Len and John Harding, Ken Dando, Aubrey Price,
Michael and Gary Hamer, Brian Court, Dilwyn Evans, Rob Jones and of course, the evergreen Munkley, and each
year he oversaw an improvement. In the mid 70s he was joined by younger players who immediately became
assets to the side. Local teenagers such as Lee Acreman, Craig Phillips, Mark Griffiths, Bobby Griffin and Gilbert
Davies all learned their trade under Jackie in the 70s, before all representing Penallta right through the golden
era of the 1980s. Jackie became the catalyst for the meteoric improvement of rugby standards at the club.
In the very late 70s Penallta took a further step towards the direction of club-enhancement. They introduced a
youth side, and in it were two players who would both become two of the very best to ever play for the club. The
Youth team featured a young fly-half called Jeff ‘K9’ Davies and his moustachioed centre partner Leighton
‘Lusher’ John. The pair had class. Long before sexy rugby made headlines across the world K9 and Lusher were
producing the goods at Penallta each Saturday. They joined the senior side in 1979, joining Lee Acreman, Griff,
Giller and Craig. Gradually, a very good side was beginning to take shape and Penallta would start winning
endless amounts of trophies.
The Penallta side throughout the 80s and into the early 90s enjoyed unparalleled success. They also stuck
together as a side and between them earned a mountain of 1st team caps. Players such as Nigel James, Rob
Purnell, Alan Thomas, Rob Jones, Colin Powell, John Rowlands, Mike Flanagan, Dai Thomas, Colin Taylor and Mike
Oliver also featured for the side during the winning years of the 80s. So did many, many others.
For the first time in its history, Penallta began growing significantly as a club. A mini section started up and a
consistent youth team started to produce more players. In the early 80s Penallta began a second side – so many
new players had joined the ranks that the club managed to field two teams each Saturday. Munkley was run off
his feet running between two fields with his bucket and sponge. On the field while things were going well,
things went sadly wrong off it. The mining strikes, the pickets and the harsh economic conditions of the early 80s
did little to help people in their daily lives. Miners, on strike, struggled to earn a living and the community
suffered. Penallta colliery, for years becoming more and more depleted in its workforce, eventually closed down.
Penallta looked after its players as well as possible, and at one point when the pit closed found that many of its
players needed to find work. It wasn’t an easy time for the valleys, but the Penallta spirit lived on nevertheless.
The 2nd side of the early 80s was full of legendary individuals. If the 1st team was about class and talent with the rugby ball then the 2nd team had different types of artists. They had players like Tyrone ‘Nippy’ Bullock,
Tattoo, Dessie Rees, Paul ‘Pastie’ Hollifield, Mickey Williams, Nigsy and Paul Ferris and they certainly knew how to
have a laugh. It was around this era that Penallta started regularly touring parts of the UK, leaving their indelible
stain on hitherto unvisited places. On tour is where characters are born – that legacy lives on amongst today’s
modern tourists, everyone trying to be the new Nippy or new Tattoo.
The Youth side of the late 80s was also a triumph. Players like Steve Barratt, Darren Hooper and Mike Voyle all
emerged from the Penallta ranks to enjoy long and successful careers. Mike Voyle played 22 times for Wales,
Darren Hooper represented the Welsh Districts and Steve Barratt played for may top clubs, including Pontypridd
and Newbridge. Finally managing to consistently field a youth side year after year, and then monopolising on the
successes by starting up a Junior club in 1991, a club which is flourishing today, Penallta can now look to ahead as
a club with not just a great history, but one with a great future.
The 1990s and the 2000s were up and down times for the club. This book is largely representative of the
modern era, inclusive of the downs of Rob Moore’s awful injury, the relocation to the rickety old Nalgo, the news
that our pitch will soon become an A&E ward, but also to the ups of wonderful Youth sides, great attacking
rugby, the achievement of WRU status and the headlong rush up the leagues. We hope we have done a bit of
justice to the ‘old days’. We are sure that stories from those days would make a great book of its own. None of
Penallta’s players will ever be forgotten, some are long gone now, some are ageing, but all are part of the
tapestry of good times, hard times and times of brotherhood that make the club so great.