Just over three years ago I went along to the oddest – and most depressing – rugby match I’ve ever attended. Odder even than a 0-0 draw I witnessed years ago.
It was Cardiff Blues versus Edinburgh in the last match of the 08-09 season. It had been pencilled in as the final match at the Arms Park. A crowd of 11,000 turned up, the team had just come off a successful season and half a dozen of the squad were about to head to South Africa with the Lions. It should have been a celebration – and they tried hard to make it one with an after match ceremony acknowledging the past.
But the game was played out in a gloomy, down in the dumps atmosphere. This was it. It was the last time top flight rugby would be played at the ground and it seemed completely unreal. The rumours of what was being planned for the Arms Park didn’t help much.
When the South Terrace began booing Gareth Edwards I knew it was time to head out for a stiff drink and a lie down. I walked back down Westgate Street thinking, “God, so that’s it? It ends like that?”
When we went back – briefly – last season I had that day on my mind. The game against Connacht was pretty dire – and a smaller crowd of 8,000 or so packed into the Arms Park – but it was a mile away from the atmosphere at that Edinburgh game. We had 8,000 people pleased to be home, and a group of players feeding off their energy. As the crowd picked up, the tackles went in harder, opposition line out balls were stolen. No one could be any doubt that this was the team’s home.
When the whole Back to CAP thing built up a head of steam last season, some people – quite possibly sick of the 240,000,000 Arms Park threads on Gwlad – pointed out that going back to the Arms Park wouldn’t in itself be the answer to our problems. That’s perfectly true. But for a hundred reasons, being back at the Arms Park is essential if we’re going to start again and rebuild.
But the nay sayers were quite right about one thing: we’re not going to get anywhere with just misty eyed romanticism to keep things trundling on.
(Now, for some misty eyed romanticism…)
We’ve all got stories about players and matches we’ve seen at the Arms Park over the years. And until recently when we talked fondly about the Arms Park – that’s what we’d be talking about – the past.
The best thing about going back is that now we won’t have to talk about what Mike, Terry, Gareth, Gerald, Barry, Bleddyn or Dr Jack did. Its about what Harry Robinson, Cory Allen, Rhys Patchell and Ellis Jenkins can do. Its not about 1953, 1984 or 1998. Its about this season and fifteen, twenty, thirty seasons down the line. Its not about going back to what was, its about passing the torch. More than that, its about when this new generation are 35 years old, retiring and passing that torch on to their own successors. We’re not looking back, we’re kick starting something new. It’d be nice if it can stand proudly alongside what went before. It’d be even better if it blows apart what went before and surpasses it in every possible way. Its not a strip of turf with history, its a strip of turf that has yet to see its greatest days.
You might have a cherished memory of going to the Arms Park for the first time and seeing some great players who caught your imagination. Ringo, Rayer, TGR, Scotty, Holmesy, GOE, Simon Hill….
Friday night there’ll be 8 and 10 year old kids in that position. They might not know it yet but they’re about to get acquainted with heroes of their own. Its time for the old to move aside. I can’t wait.
It might not have occurred to anyone at CAP, but wouldn’t it be nice if Gareth Edwards makes a speech at half time? He might get a different response this time.