Fans were back on the terrace at Bonymaen's Parc Mawr for the top of the table clash with Nantyfyllon on Saturday. Pic: Owen Morgan.

Bonymaen RFC . . . The Biggest Sporting Draw In Swansea As Fans Flock To The Old Windy Hilltop

The fans are back in Welsh sport – sort of. A host of smaller football and rugby clubs were able to welcome up to 500 supporters through their gates this weekend and it’s doors fully open everywhere next weekend. It meant some strange comparisons on Saturday, as Owen Morgan discovered when he went to watch Bonymaen RFC.

 Strange sporting anomalies have become the norm across the globe over the past two years due to Covid regulations.

Grand Slam tennis champions deported, fanless FA Cup finals, and an Olympic Games stadium where the only noise was the pounding of the sprinters’ running shoes.

But there can have been few more peculiar than the one played out in Swansea on Saturday afternoon.

In the Champions Cup – the northern hemisphere’s premier club competition – the Ospreys hosted star-studded Racing 92 at the Stadium.

However, when the likes of global rugby stars Kurtley Beale, Gael Fickou and Finn Russell et al, ran out onto the pitch they were welcomed by a stadium completely empty of paying fans.

Meanwhile, on a hill overlooking the Stadium – less than 10 minutes drive away – Bonymaen RFC were hosting Nantyffyllon in the Admiral National League One West Central.

When the visitors from the village near Maesteg ran out at Parc Mawr, they were greeted by the sight of around 300 spectators populating the small terrace running along one side of the pitch.

Bonymaen on the attack in front of their fans at Parc Mawr on Saturday.

The strange situation where a local community match attracted a larger attendance than a European Cup tie arose following the Welsh Government’s announcement on Friday that restrictions on the numbers of spectators allowed at sporting events were to be eased over the coming weeks.

From Saturday, the number of people allowed to attend outdoor events was raised from 50 to 500.

From January 21, there will be no limits on the amount of people taking part in outdoor activities.

Whatever the public’s views on the restrictions – and they have been many and varied – community sporting club’s like Bonymaen and Nantyffyllon up and down the country were delighted to see them raised.

While the announcement came too late for the Ospreys to arrange for any paying spectators to attend their high profile European tie, Bonymaen welcomed fans with open arms and their traditional warm hospitality, which includes offering fans a free tot of whisky.

Manning Parc Mawr’s solitary turnstile on Saturday, Bonymaen vice-chairman Colin Warlow said of the return of fans:  “It’s fantastic!

“We were a bit unprepared because we didn’t have any programmes for the game. But it wasn’t until midday yesterday that they made the announcement that we could take the crowds up to 500.

“So yeah, it’s brilliant. And Nantyffyllon have fetched a few, so it’s a good crowd and hopefully they’ll be very sociable in the club after the game.

The Ospreys played in front of empty stands while neighbours Bonymaen welcomed back fans.

“I would say we’ve had about 300 in here today. Under the old regulations it would have been 50.”

Warlow said the lifting of the restrictions was vital for the existence of clubs like Bonymaen.

Asked how long the club could have continued with a maximum of 50 spectators, Warlow said: “Not very long.

“Clubs were haemorrhaging money because you still have to pay the insurance, you’ve got to keep and maintain the grounds. It’s not easy running a community rugby club. It’s a hard graft to be honest. It’s difficult.

“For the community clubs this has been vital, totally vital.

“I’m just counting the gate now. But I think it’s about 400 quid, something like that, which we wouldn’t have had, if there’d only been 50 people allowed here.

“The club chairman will be happy when I count up this lot!”

Happy Bonymaen vice-chairman Colin Warlow counts up the takings at the turnstile on Saturday.

Warlow says the lifting of restrictions – which will see crowds allowed to attend Wales’ three home Six Nations matches in Cardiff – is hugely important for the whole of Welsh rugby and the wider economy.

“It would have been criminal if they had taken the Six Nations games to England,” he said.

“It would have had an effect on everyone, especially the centre of Cardiff. We all like to go to Cardiff for the games.”

And the Bonymaen fans certainly liked being back at Parc Mawr on Saturday as the league leaders eventually overcame the challenge of second placed Nantyffyllon.

In the early stages, the visitors had the upper hand and the whole crowd broke into appreciative applause as Nantyffyllon full-back Tadhg McGuckin brilliantly picked a pass from his bootlaces 40 metres out before dancing through the home defence to score.

It was a try which deserved to be enjoyed by an even bigger attendance and would certainly have been appreciated by his fellow full-back Beale, a genuine rugby superstar who was plying his trade in front of empty stands a couple of miles away.

Bonymaen’s pack surges towards the tryline during Saturday’s win over Nantyffyllon.

But the home side eventually exerted their superior forward power to earn a hard fought 22-13 victory which further strengthened their position at the top of the table and sent their supporters into clubhouse to start their celebrations – much to the delight of the Bonymaen committee.

Meanwhile, at the Swansea.Com Stadium, the Ospreys’ Champions Cup ambitions were disappearing into the night air like the players’ shouts echoing around the eerily empty stadium.

The 25-10 defeat at the hands of Racing means the Ospreys have no chance of progressing in the tournament, but the region can at least look forward to welcoming back fans to the stadium for the United Rugby Championship clash with Edinburgh on January 29.



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