An exclusive extract from Terry Davies’ autobiography, Terry Davies: Wales’s First Superstar Fullback by Terry Davies with Geraint Thomas.
The rivarly between Swansea and Llanelli on the rugby field is right up there with the most bitter grudge matches in the world of sport; never mind Celtic and Rangers, the Jacks and the Turks truly hate each other.
There are many versions of how Swansea came to be labelled the Jacks and Llanelli became known as the Turks.
I like to believe that the true answer was related to me as a boy by my grandfather. Some say the term Jacks derived from the famous dog, Swansea Jack, who saved 20-odd people from drowning in the docks in the 1920s, but my grandfather disagreed.
‘You know that the Jacks name didn’t originally come from the dog, it came from the fact that old Jack Crow would eat all the bread but leave the crumbs!’ he said.
That’s how the Port Talbot and Llanelli dockers used to view the Swansea Jacks.
He told me a story of a time when two ships carrying pig iron from Turkey arrived at Swansea Docks. Now Swansea dockers were notorious for not wanting any heavy work, only doing the light, easy tasks and getting well paid for it. The pig iron would have to be manhandled several times, and it was very heavy work indeed, so the dockers approached the ships’ captains and demanded more money before carrying out the work. They were rebuffed and a stand-off occurred. The ships sat in the docks with their cargo on board until somebody from Llanelli heard of the problem and managed to convince the Turkish captains that they would be better off coming to Llanelli, which they did. Now the Swansea dockers thought that they had been double-crossed and from that day on they called the Llanelli people Turks, out of a grudge.
My grandfather added, ‘When the Jacks got rich from eating up all the best work, they got a bit toffee-nosed and wanted to change the name of the bird, so they decided to call themselves the Swans, or the lily-whites, because that made them feel better!’
‘For a Llanelli boy to go and play for Swansea in those days was virtually treason; you were branded a traitor.’
I mention this rivalry because I found myself in the middle of it at the start of my second season of senior rugby when, at the age of 17, I was invited to play for Swansea. Apparently, with my name cropping up in the sports pages of the newspapers, and my performance in that game against Neath for the west Wales XV, I had come to the attention of the St Helen’s side’s selectors.
When I said yes, uproar ensued. For a Llanelli boy to go and play for Swansea in those days was virtually treason; you were branded a traitor. Very few players from this side of the Loughor Bridge ever went to play for the Jacks and I took some stick I must admit.
However there was sound logic to my decision because Gerwyn Williams, the incumbent Welsh fullback at that time, was playing for Llanelli, so there was no opportunity for me at Stradey Park. Swansea were a very good side with some great internationals playing for them and, along with Cardiff and Newport, I suppose they were one of the top teams in Wales. I had to take the opportunity and I accepted it gratefully. Incidentally, I received an offer to play for Neath on the same day but, as history testifies, I turned them down.
My first game for the Whites was up in Ebbw Vale which is not an easy place to get to today let alone in the 1940s! Being so young my father came along with me. We set off early on the Saturday morning, caught the service bus from Bynea to Swansea and made our way to the old police station, on Orchard Street in the town centre, to board the team bus.
When I arrived there was a gentleman who was in charge of getting everybody on to the bus.
I asked, ‘Is this the Swansea bus?’
‘It’s the players’ bus, the supporters’ bus is the next one over there,’ he replied pointing to another bus behind.
I said, ‘I’m not a supporter, I’m playing for Swansea.’ He looked at me and I could see in his eyes that he was thinking, ‘What the hell have we got here?’
That bus journey was a little bit embarrassing because I was a bad traveller – I only had to look at a bus and I felt sick. I had to stop the bus twice before we had even reached the heads of the valley. I could see the apprehension of some of the Swansea selectors and could imagine them thinking, ‘We’ve picked a schoolboy and now he’s bloody sick again.’
But I managed to survive until we finally arrived in Ebbw Vale. After sucking in a bit of fresh air I changed and went out onto the field. Ebbw Vale had an impressive unbeaten home ground record stretching back for almost a year, and it was typical valley weather, quite misty with lots of rain, but, lo and behold, we won the game 6–0.
The selectors needn’t have worried as the headlines in the newspaper the next day proclaimed:
Swansea has found the next international fullback.
Davies even surprised veteran watchers by coolness under pressure, faultless fielding and lengthy touch-finding. He did not put a foot wrong throughout a fierce game.
I was very much in favour after that debut and shortly afterwards found myself playing against a Cardiff side packed full of internationals at the Arms Park. There was Haydn Morris on the wing, the centres were Bleddyn Williams and Jack Matthews, Gareth Griffiths on the other wing, with Frank Trott at fullback, then you had Cliff Morgan at outside-half with Rex Willis at inside half; what a team. It was no surprise when we lost by around 28 points to 12, as we were slightly overwhelmed. Bleddyn Williams had a field day. I remember on one occasion Cliff Morgan had kicked a ball into no man’s land just behind our defence, I attacked it, managed to gather and shot up the field. That was the last thing I remember because I was hit by the great Jack Matthews. It was a hell of a tackle and was like being hit by an Exocet missile. I was flattened and couldn’t get my breath back. I was feeling sick and shaking all over. It took me several minutes to come round from it. It’s funny because I referred to it years later and I said to Jack,
‘Why didn’t you show me mercy when I played in that game for Swansea? I was only 17 and you should have taken pity on me.’
He replied to me, ‘My dear chap, I never recognise faces, only the colours of their jerseys.’
When you look at the money players are earning today,and how pampered they appear to be, I think back to a wing playing for us that season, a chap called Perris James from Caio near Lampeter. We used to train twice a week and he would get on his bike and ride from Caio to Lampeter, then come to Carmarthen by train and then from Carmarthen to Swansea. It used to take him around three hours. Then, after we’d finish training at about 8 o’clock, he would catch the 9 o’clock train back to Carmarthen and then back to Lampeter and cycle home. He wouldn’t get back til about midnight. That was some journey and he used to do it twice a week and then again on the Saturday when we used to play. And that was all for 50p to buy drinks after the game. Now that’s commitment for you.
Playing for the Whites was a real education in life. I was a naïve young lad coming from a small village, a closed village really, who knew nothing about life. I knew nothing about anything really. I came to Swansea and I really grew up because you had people who had fought in the war and had come back and started their careers again. Between their stories and their escapades, it was a pleasure to sit in a bus for about eight hours, going to Leicester or one of the other English teams, and you would sit there and listen. It was a huge thrill for me to just be there. Now one of our players – who shall remain nameless – had the largest lunchbox you had ever seen in your life. It was so big his wife had knitted him this home-made jockstrap – she only had pink wool! − to accommodate him and even then he used to have to reel it up like a fireman’s hose to get it inside.
We were playing against Cardiff, with 40,000 people packed into the St Helen’s ground, when half-time arrived, in what was a very tough game. The trainer came on with a plate of sliced oranges, which was the norm in those days, and we gathered around in a circle. You had to be quick because if you didn’t get to the oranges before the front five forwards there wouldn’t be any left. As we were standing around in a circle discussing the game, I felt a nudge with an elbow to my side and this gentleman shook his leg and said to me,
‘What do you think of this?’ and his lunchbox was peeping out of his very long shorts down by his knees. He added, ‘You know, I give it an airing in every game.’
I think that must be some kind of record that is never going to be broken with all the television close-ups you see today! Almost all the players liked to joke around and, still being a kid of 17, I was quite a menace myself. I would do silly things like putting Vaseline on doorknobs in the hotel so that when players went up to their rooms they couldn’t get in and would have this wallop of Vaseline on their hands. However, my teammates eventually became fed up with my games and decided to teach me a lesson. We were playing down in Plymouth on the end-of-season tour, and I must have done something really naughty because I felt hands grabbing me, taking every bit of clothing off me and seeing black boot polish and brushes.
I was black polished all over and, the worse thing of the lot, I was thrown into the restaurant of the hotel, which was full of people having their dinner at the time, and the door was shut tightly so that I couldn’t get out. That caused quite a stir actually and it certainly stopped my messing about, well almost!
I was a bit of a joker with my friends from the village as well and one story, concerning a chap called Ken Lloyd, who was a great character and weighed around 17 stone, comes to mind. I was persuaded to join Ken and some other Bynea boys on a first proper holiday to Jersey. I remember sending a postcard home to my mother telling her that we were enjoying ourselves and Ken, who wasn’t that good at writing, said.
‘Can you send a postcard for me?’
It was one of those things that you become sorry for afterwards. I sent the postcard to Ken’s mother and said that he’d met a lovely girl on holiday and would be bringing her home to meet them all. I just thought it was a bit funny. Of course, the day after we came back from our holidays, Ken came up to the house and said,
‘What the hell did you do? My mother papered the whole bloody house thinking that I was bringing a girl home!’
My debut season in first-class rugby also saw me play against an international team for the first time, when the Springboks arrived in town in December 1951. As with all South African teams, they were really big and brutal. For a long period of time the 1951/52 Boks were rated one of the best touring teams ever to come to Great Britain. They only lost one match, out of 31, on the tour, with a weakened side against a London Counties team. Basil Kenyon, their captain, had picked up an eye injury so the captaincy had been passed on to Hennie Muller, who was a big Number 8, much larger than any of our players, as was the whole team. Their front row was massive and one of them, Okey Geffin, who was about 18 stone, was their goal kicker. He had spent his time during the Second World War in a German prisoner of war camp. All he did during his internment was practice goal kicking for the whole period he was there; he could kick the ball from anywhere and was a top-class goal kicker.
‘After the game everybody wondered who this small Welsh player starring for the Engineers was; nobody had heard of him!’
Despite the disparity in size, and the fact we had three 18 year olds in our team, we gave them one hell of a game. We really took them to the wire and the scores were locked at 3–3 before it slipped away in the last eight minutes of the game. Their Number 8 Muller broke from behind the scrum and came down into our 25. As the last line of defence, I upended him but he managed to get the ball to their very good winger, a guy by the name of Chum Ochse who, despite his name, was no friend to us as he shot over in the corner. Geffin promptly put the conversion over. We eventually lost by 11 points to 3 but it had certainly been one of the hardest games they had had on tour.
The game is also memorable on a personal level because I learnt a very important lesson. Just before half-time they were attacking into our 25 (it was all yards in my day but is the 22-metre line now) when the ball was kicked ahead. I easily marked the ball and, in my naivety, I stood there and looked at an approaching forward, who was their hooker. I looked at him and thought,
‘Oh well, the referee has blown his whistle so he’s going to stop.’
Well he didn’t!
I ended up about five yards away flat on my back. We had a penalty but it certainly knocked the stuffing out of me. After that I always remembered never to leave myself open after marking the ball; put your elbows up, put your foot up, put your studs in his face, it doesn’t matter, just keep yourself well protected.
That was a major lesson. Around this time my brother Len was coming to the end of his National Service – he was with the Sappers in Chatham – and being an excellent rugby player himself he had been playing for various teams in the army. It so happened that he was back in south Wales on tour with his regimental side and, having picked up a few injuries, they were short of players, so my brother asked me if I would help out. I loved my brother, so there was no way that I would have said no. They were playing against Glamorgan Wanderers and had lost every game until then but, of course, we managed to beat them by 3 points to nil; I dropped a goal. After the game everybody wondered who this small Welsh player starring for the Engineers was; nobody had heard of him! Glamorgan Wanderers approached me and asked if I would join them when I left the army. Of course, I didn’t tell them that I was already a Swansea player. That was my first experience of playing for a military team but it wouldn’t be my last. In fact, it was soon to become a regular occurrence.
Terry Davies: Wales’s First Superstar Fullback by Terry Davies with Geraint Thomas has been shortlisted for the Rugby Book of the Year at the Cross Sports Book Awards and is available now (£9.99, Y Lolfa).