Growing up on a council estate in Llanelli there were not that many chances. There were success stories. That usually involved winning the pools or sport. We lived across the road from Byron Stevenson who had been selected to play for Leeds Utd. At that time leeds was full of the greats like Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Alan Clarke and another local guy Glan Letheren was also taken into their ranks. At that time football was the main game for kids although The Scarlets were in their prime football was played on the streets and on the waste ground. At school we did cross country, cricket, football and gymnastics. We grudgingly played rugby, that was the kids who really didn’t have the physique for the game. We had some great sports teachers and some nifty rugby players like Gareth Jones of New Dock Stars, Lyn Davies and Terry Davies.
The only unofficial – official days off we had were when The Scarlets were playing New Zealand , Australia or South Africa at Stradey. My attentions turned to those other men in red in the town, Llanelli Town AFC (The Reds). As a kid I joined the Llanelli under 11’s team and trained at Stebonheath each week. The pitch seemed huge to us and the senior players were like giants. Sometimes they would train at the same time and offer encouragement to us. There were other big men at the club like Gwyn Grant and Jock Stein. They looked like the real deal to us, proper managers.
We had a slight advantage over the other kids. We had trained on this enormous pitch, been made to run around it a few times, sprint up and down it a few times and taught how to utilise the width to our advantage. It usually paid off and the young sides usually cleaned up at competitions. That feeling of walking up the steps at Stebonheath to receive a medal is something that stays with you. The celebrations afterwards at the Stebo clubhouse where a big name footballer would hand you an award was something else.
It would be many, many years before I would return to the club but as a journalist- photographer. The ground looked much the same and the pitch just as large. The communal bath had gone but the atmosphere, the smell, the anticipation was still there. The stand looked ready to hold the hundreds that used to go down on match days. The parents of the kids playing, the grandparents. Covering the first game brought it all back and i found myself looking to runs down the wing, just as I had and hoping he ball would catch one of my team mates who would head it powerfully into the net for a goal so we could celebrate. This time it was through a camera lens and my aim was to capture the moment. Little did I know that there would be so many moments as The Reds stormed to an unbeaten run and top of the table six points clear of their rivals.
We all love a success story, a Billy Elliot, a Leicester City story. Too often we look elsewhere for this rush, this excitement and passion and too often we share from a distance or via our TV screens. Young footballers in Llanelli have an opportunity to experience this at close quarters. The Reds are on an amazing unbeaten run and they are six points clear of their rivals. The level of football being played is fantastic. The skill and expertise of the coaches and manager and even down to the groundsman is a joy to experience. We have our own Billy Elliot, our own Leicester City right here in llanelli. All it needs is the support, the investment and the acknowledgement of the people of Llanelli. The Mum’s and the Dad’s of those kids who play each Saturday. How I would love to see those children bused or taken down to Stebonheath to watch the game. To see as I did, the Mighty Reds emerging from the stand and despatching the opposition with some great football and great goals. ‘Dewch Mewn’, Come Down to Stebonheath and see for yourself. Get behind the club. It is good for football in Llanelli and it is good for sport in Llanelli no matter what game you play.