05 November 2017 / Club News

O Brother! Sibling success at a great family club

O Brother!


Penallta is a club built round families. Full tribes are known to emerge on Saturday afternoons. The Olivers and Flanagans would bring their entire Cefn Hengoed clans to watch Mike and Dai. In donkey jacket and work boots, Alan Flan would lead an ant colony down Graig hill from the looming Lansbury massif, ready to stalk the hallowed pitch-side of Ystrad Fawr. The picnic hamper would be full of cans on the way down and full of sleeping kids on the way home.


Clubs were forged in mining communities and built around the families that worked in them. The sport suited the rawboned brothers. It got their aggressions out. Like most valleys clubs Penallta had great brother partnerships down the years. At the very beginning the Whittles and Paynes were helping Len Hatcher start the club running. Deep in the pit-head bars, Len would have a davy lamp in one hand and a Gideon’s bible in the other, inspecting Bill Beer as he blew up the leather ball with his mouth. Len discovered Penallta’s first brilliant brothers, as Clive and Ponty Jones became Penallta’s superstar siblings of the sixties, combining to take on (and nearly beat) a Wales XV. Clive looks a respectable senior citizen these days in his knitted cardie, but back then he was one of the toughest rugby players in the valleys, harder than one of Graham Munkley’s frozen January cabbages.


We were beaming into the days of colour TV when three suave brothers from Cefn Hengoed joined the club. It was the Wayne, Lance and Craig Phillips show throughout the whole seventies, and with their Dad, they were leading figures through a glorious period, with ex-Penallta miner Craig captaining the club across six seasons and spending over a decade as Chairman. During their tenure, Penallta’s Kray twins - Charlie and Steve Tucker – burst on the scene, bringing a street brawling dimension. Steve would start the fights and Charlie would post record sprint times to finish them. The two brothers, bred in Lansbury’s spit and sawdust bullring, went on to play over 500 games between them, with Steve going on to coach the 1sts to Millennium Stadium glory. It was a halcyon era for Lansbury Avenue brothers, as Gonky and Redfers also played through the eighties. Redfers would keep a lighter in his socks and Gonky the fags down his pants, as they tried not to laugh at Nigsy stretching his hamstrings.


With Rubik’s cubes and disco dancing came the legendary brothers Flanagan. Flanny’s younger brother Mike joined 300-game full back Dai in the first team in the eighties before the trio of Hooper brothers brought try-scoring brilliance and dodgy moustaches to the Penallta wings. Darren Hooper went on to become one of Penallta’s first stars as he played against Wales’ best on the wing for Premiership Newbridge.


As Penallta entered the Britpop era, Penallta’s own Gallagher brothers came along. The Rowe half-backs spent the nineties arguing more than they did playing. Like the Tuckers, the Rowes weren’t allowed to drink together on the same table, so incendiary was their relationship. Nowadays they are legally prevented from drinking together at all by the AA.


In more recent years we’ve had the brilliant Jackson brothers, who would’ve played together more had Andrew not single-handedly taken control of the British army. And party-boys Pig and Piglet, otherwise known as Dale and Neil Roberts, who would‘ve enjoyed more playing time together had Dale not concentrated so hard on his crash dieting.


Talking of crash diets, we had Rhys Fozzy Thomas too. Arguably the most talented of three superb brothers who played through the noughties, Rhys spent most of his rugby career getting tattoos and enjoying packed lunches as older brothers Nicky and Geraint became leading stars of the modern Penallta era, with Geraint captaining the club for two seasons.


We've had Duncan Smith's boys, Doggit Ian and 2nd team stalwart Stephen Smith. Ian was a brilliant back-rower who won the Welsh Brewers Cup in 2001 before caber-tossing himself back to his native Scotland. His younger brother Stephen is still playing at 37, more than 300 games in for the mighty Penallta Troopers.


We’ve even had brothers who’d forgotten they were brothers, like when Ben Flower took up a coaching role and Matthew Flower was re-introduced to his younger brother by smiling Dad, Moose.


We’ve also had unlucky brothers, whose talents were cruelly interrupted by injuries, like Rhodri and Hywel Walsh. Rhodri flew down the Penallta wing for a few years but kept tearing his hammy, while scrum half Howie – who had all the makings of a top player – was forced to retire after spending more time in BUPA hospital than an war-ravaged Vietnam vet.  


And then brothers whose confidence levels were diametrically opposed to their training commitment, such as Julian and Gavin Spiller. Julian loved to talk a good game, while Gavin, who took ages to believe in himself, ended up a Welsh cup winner.


And of course, Bryn’s boys Andrew and James Powell became leading brotherly lights in Penallta’s modern age. James scored lots of tries out wide but probably not as many as back-rower Pouchy who had an incredible knack of scoring hat-tricks for fun. Both were superb players and the older Pouchy went on to play over 250 games for the 1sts.


But in modern times certainly, no two brothers have had such an era-defining impact on the club’s fortunes as Dale and Shaun Powell. In a week where we dedicate the programme to our 2nd team – the much-loved Penallta Troopers – it is fitting that we honour Curly and Dale. Not that Dale and Curly are synonymous with 2nd team rugby. Between them the Maesycwmmer brothers played well over 400 games for the 1st team, with Dale captaining the club in 2008. Indeed, the phenomenal success our club has enjoyed since the turn of the millennium has coincided with ‘Terry Mental’s Boys’ becoming senior Pitmen.


The Powells’ 2nd team endeavours began more recently. Last season, Dale took up a coaching role with the Troop. Like most of the players from our generation, Dale has a young family, working commitments and a shed-load of broken body parts to carry round with him. His playing days had finished and, lacking time to coach the 1sts, he decided to help Ray and the Troopers. So well did he do in his coaching role that the Troopers won the District Cup for the first time in their history.


The beginning of this season brought a new era for the Troop. Entering the new conference, the preserve of the best second sides in Wales, was great for the club. But being able to compete in the National Bowl competition each season was even better.


The new competition brought the need for better commitments from ‘social side’ players. Ray’s idea to set-up the ‘Penallta Legends’ Whatsapp group, for ex star players now retired but still young enough to play, was a great idea. It involved some legendary players who’d drifted away and has seen the likes of Karl Rees, Pouchy and Silky playing for the Troop to nurture younger players along, but without having to commit themselves to week-in, week-out action. The Legends idea interested a certain Mr Dale Powell too.


Then it was rumoured that Curly, Dale’s ‘little’ brother, was considering a comeback from retirement. The ex-captain of Cardiff RFC is easily one of Penallta’s greatest players and after more than a dozen years at the coalface (and with Curly, it really was a hard-running, head-pelting, barn-storming coalface) Curly and his famous arm-smasher needed a rest.


Like Dale, he bought a caravan, kept his Strongbows in Uncle Deano’s fridge and spent some time recouping. On Saturday, after spending the last few months dipping his toe back into it, he played for the Troopers in the 3rd Round of the National Bowl. Needless to say, he made a hell of a winning impact.


Even more happily for the Powell family, he was joined on the field by his older brother Dale. His Mam, Dad, brother in law and sister were all out on Saturday night – a proper Penallta family. And the brothers rolled back the years. 0-27 against Pyle 1sts. Unreal.


Where Curly is the hard-running cannonball of a centre, Dale is the mentally tough, physically immortal hooker with a twist. Because underneath the menacing look and years of duelling in the heart of the scrum, Dale is one of the most creatively talented hookers about. Dale was doing what Dane Coles is doing a decade before Dane Coles was doing it.


The Powells sum up everything you could ever want in a pair of rugby playing, valleys brothers. They might be hard and unforgiving when playing but they are charmingly lovely blokes off the field. Between them they have achieved a magnificent amount of personal accolades and team triumphs. Along with namesake Andrew Powell, Richard Rowe and brothers Nicky and Geraint Thomas, their performances during Penallta’s first year as a WRU club in 2004/2005 were incredible. It all culminated in the Silver Ball win at Sardis Road as a Division 5 club, an amazing feat from a bunch of young players who all emerged from Penallta’s youth set-up. The rugby the team played that season will always be the standard that all other Penallta sides wish to attain.


Dale and Curly brought an edge and a fearless determination to the side that every club could do with. Now into their mid to late thirties, to see them playing together again in the 2nds, and doing so incredibly well, brings a lot of joy to a lot of Penallta supporters. It’s brings a certain degree of shame too, because to see how fit they’ve kept themselves will have the average Penallta retiree bulimically bringing up their Nancy’s cafe sausages at the way we’ve let ourselves go.


The Penallta way is the family way, and the telepathic brother partnerships have been an enormous part of our successes down the years. The search is on to find the next Dale and Curly.


Does anybody know if Terry Mental has had the snip?


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