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Sunday, October 26, 2008

A fitting farewell to Stradey Park

A fitting farewell to Stradey Park

Emotions ran high on Friday night as players, fans, and dignitaries bid farewell to a rugby stadium that was more than just a venue to Llanelli fans, it was a home. Stradey Park first opened 129 years ago, but will now be pulled down as the Scarlets will move to a new, modernized stadium. Friday night was the last ever game there as they took on Bristol in the EDF Energy Cup.

It was a fitting sendoff to the legendary theatre of Welsh rugby as the Scarlets won 27-0, adding to the sense of occasion on this most historic of nights.

Stradey Park has played host to some of the finest games ever seen, and been home to some of the games greatest players. Welsh legends such as Phil Bennett, Gareth Jenkins, Ray Gravell, JJ Williams, the Quinnell family, Phil Davies, Ieun Evans, and Stephen Jones, to name a few, have all graced the field at Stradey.

The stadium will now be demolished and a high density housing development will be built over it. A small garden of remembrance will be preserved at the site to acknowledge the legends that played there, and the fans whose ashes have been scattered on the pitch over the years.

The move to the new Parc y Scarlets stadium is much needed, but it didnt make it any easier on the faithful fans and ex-players to whom Stradey was so much a part of their lives.

Maybe Im old-fashioned and should move with the times but it will be a sad day for me, said Delme Thomas, captain of the team which beat the All Blacks in 1972.

Yes, you have to move with the times; I understand that. But Stradey has so much history attached to it and to think theyre going to build houses there, I cant grasp it.

Legendary fly-half Phil Bennett said: "I was privileged to have changed in that dressing room and run on to that field with some of the greatest players in world rugby history and that will make me a very satisfied man.

"I played in a game in 1972 and beat the All Blacks 9-3. That's gone down in folklore and for me that eclipses Grand Slams and Triple Crowns - for me that's the greatest ever game at Stradey Park."

Not too long ago, a player would only play for one club, and that is where his heart was. As a neutral, you cant help but respect the legacy that is Stradey Park, and can only hope that with the new move we see the old traditions, family atmosphere, and spirit of the old ground carried over, and live on forever.

This short clip features stirring footage of the great moments of the past, including victories over the All Blacks and Australia, and leads up to and includes Friday night. The final voice heard on the clip is that of Carwyn James, former Welsh player, Llanelli coach and the man who famously coached the 1971 British and Irish Lions to a series victory in New Zealand.

Time: 02:57
Further reading and footage available here

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