Rugby Groundsman Honoured

Rugby Groundsman Honoured: The great Bard of Welsh rugby, Max Boyce, was recently honoured at the Rugby Union Writers’ Club in London for his services to rugby.

The Glynneath RFC president joined Owen Farrell, Doddie Weir and Wharfedale RFC veteran Michael Harrison in being singled out in front of an audience that included World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont, CEO Brett Gosper, WRU chairman Gareth Davies and CEO Martyn Phillips and British & Irish Lions legends Sir Ian McGeechan and Roger Uttley.

Rugby Groundsman Honoured
Farrell beat off the challenges of fellow Lions Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Jonathan Davies, as well as Exeter coach Rob Baxter, to carry off the RUWC Pat Marshall award for the rugby personality of the year. Ex-Scotland and Lions lock Weir, currently battling Motor Neurone Disease, won the RUWC Special Award, while Boyce and Harrison picked up tankards for their ‘Services to Rugby’.

Harrison played 655 games for Wharfedale and has spent 40 years on the club committee. Boyce can claim 30 years as president at Glynneath and has been the club groundsman for the past dozen or more years. He recently told Peter Jackson, of the Rugby Paper, about his life-long association with his home town team.

”I played a bit at scrum half for the youth team. I was very small and not very good. I also played at openside. Full of heart but not much pace,” recalled Max, of an era when Glynneath were the powerhouse in second class rugby in Wales and Bas Thomas’ ‘Invincibles’ were in the process of reeling off 55 consecutive wins.

A young Dai Morris was learning his trade at the club at the time and while a young Max dreamt of playing in the 1st XV, he is the first to admit he didn’t get very close. ”I didn’t get very close to a first team game, in fact, I was a long, long way away!”

But, as Peter Jackson put it: “There would be no limit to his talent in other directions as a troubadour par excellence with the gold discs and million album sales to prove it. Unable to change the shape of Welsh rugby, he changed the sound instead with his Hymns and Arias brought to a whole new continental audience by the success of the Wales football team at the Euros in France last summer.

“Unlike his constricted playing days, there has never been any limit on Boyce the entertainer, nor on his ability to sharpen new skills in the unlikeliest spheres of expertise. As well as Boyce the bit-part player, miner, musician, comedian, lyricist and perceptive recorder of social history in song, another string has to be added to a very long bow: Boyce the Agronomist.

“His knowledge of grass passes all understanding. His role of honorary groundsman makes him arguably the ultimate one-club man, not that Boyce himself would dare lay claim to such a title. But how many at his age – 74 earlier this season – undertake a job which entails rolled up sleeves and muddied hands?

“Most settle for the less perspiring role as presidential figurehead. The Bard combines his club presidency with the challenging position of groundsman, tackling it with an enthusiasm generated by a lifelong passion for Glynneath and its rugby club.

Max explained where his ‘green fingers’ came from. “A long time ago when I was captain of the local golf club, the committee decided to dig up six greens. I got in touch with the British Turf people and their head agronomist. I didn’t know then what an agronomist was.

“I applied their professional advice to what little knowledge I had at the time to the rugby pitch. It was in a dire state, full of weeds and terrible drainage problems. Often the bottom 20 yards would be under a foot of water.
“Everyone piled in, all twelve of us from all walks of life in a great team effort. We’ve been looking after it now for 20 years. It’s my little hobby and I have to say the standard of pitches in the Championship is pretty good – but not as good as ours. It’s in great nick.”

So, for once, it was Max Boyce the Welsh rugby devotee, rather than Max the great entertainer, who was rewarded for efforts this week. He followed in the footsteps of Treorchy RFC stalwart Bryan James, who was honoured in a similar fashion last year, and received his award from Wale and Lions assistant coach Rob Howley.

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