Our History

Neath Athletic Rugby Football Club was born in 1947 !

But, in attempting to place Neath Athletic in its historical context, it must be noted that many junior sides had existed in the town of Neath – Wales’ rugby capital – since the Game’s introduction. Names like Neath Harlequins, Neath Barbarians, Neath Abbey, Gnoll Athletic, Castle Stars, Neath Allied Traders (the ‘Shoppoes’ who played between the wars on half-day Thursdays), Melyn Barbarians and Melyn Harlequins spring readily to mind from the past.

Probably the best known team to emerge was Albert Freethy's ‘ex-Schoolboys’ XV of Neath Wanderers who were most successful and attracted huge crowds during the 1920’s.

Comparisons are invidious but they too played at Court Herbert, they were the ‘brainchild’ of a great rugby leader in the town, they adopted the running game, their fixture-list embraced games against 2nd XV’s of first-class clubs and they produced numerous players for Neath and a Welsh international in Tom Day of Swansea. So there are sufficient similarities to venture that Neath Athletic might be the true heirs of Freethy’s famous Wanderers.

Another earlier exponent of the oval ball game was the Neath YMCA who operated a team in the late 19th Century. In 1896, Neath 2nds played the YMCA and it was noted that a fellow called Brailey, formerly of Cheltenham College and a teacher at Alderman Davies’ School, so impressed that Neath snapped him up to play on the wing for the 1sts. Charlie Powell, Neath’s star half-back of the Victorian Era, also graduated from the YMCA – given that 50 years later, Neath Athletic would arise from the YMCA, it is pertinent to point out that such flimsy evidence of early beginnings would be ample excuse for many clubs to name that as their birth-date.

Before the Great War in 1913/14, "Hotspur" of the South Wales Daily Post advanced the claims of ‘the young YMCA halfback W. E. Allin’ and Billy Allin played for Neath and later became a leading sportsmaster at the County (Grammar) school where he established a rugby tradition which continues to serve the Town well.

By the end of the Hitler War, the time was ripe for the YMCA to once again play a role. The word ‘teenager’ had yet to find common usage but Neath’s youngsters sought social education at the YMCA which preached Christian fellowship. Sport was high on the YMCA’s agenda and a wartime rugby competition had been contested under the auspices of the Boys’ Clubs of Wales.

The demand for a rapid return to peacetime pursuits attracted huge crowds to sport. In Neath, sport meant rugby football and the Gnoll club’s rising star was Rees Stephens, a member of the YMCA. Already a regular in the Welsh XV, here was the catalyst who would relaunch rugby for youngsters in the town.

‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ – Rees (whose father Glyn was a former Welsh international too) had been steeped in Neath’s rugby ancestry and was thus aware of the latent rugby talent not yet ready or not quite good enough to play for Neath.

All too many were lost to playing on leaving school and, if towns like Bridgend (Sports), Llanelly (Wanderers) and Pontypool (United) could support more than one team, why not Neath?  It was Rees’ appreciation of the potential under the YMCA’s umbrella which paved the way for the modern day Neath Athletic.

Unlike the relatively short-lived pre-war teams, Neath Athletic - driven by the dynamism of Rees Stephens and supported by the YMCA and Neath RFC - achieved ‘lift off into self-sustained growth’ as one economist would have it. That it did so is to the eternal credit of what Rees always called ‘the hard core’ of early workers who saw to it that the crucial formative years were safely negotiated and thus paved the way for future generations.

For the secretary son of a former secretary, tracing the club’s development was none too onerous a task. I have tactfully avoided reference to one or two of the more colourful off-field episodes not so much to avoid embarrassing the individuals concerned but in expectation of the large bribes they have promised.

It has been a rare privilege to record the club’s advance from humble beginnings in 1947 to full maturity in the "Golden Era" of the l980’s and, if things have gone into reverse since, prosperity will surely return if the club can rediscover its ambition, its drive, its energy and, above all, its determination to better itself and broaden its horizons-for parochialism has never suited Neath Athletic.

With hard work, great ambition leads to great achievement and Neath Athletic has achieved so much – the past is gone, now it is for the current generation to move things forward.

Mike Price