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Play It Again - Sport in the Rhondda

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Play It Again - Sport in the Rhondda

The Rhondda is a former coal mining area in south Wales. It embraces two valleys, the larger Rhonnda Fawr and smaller Rhondda Fach, both of which wrap around parallel tributaries of the River Rhondda.

We’re situated on top of the South Wales coalfield, the largest continuous coalfield in Britain, with the Rhondda producing coal commercially from around 1812. As the population grew and communities formed, sport has been a significant part of the Rhondda’s history, but always tied to the economic success of the valley – a challenge which creates barriers even now and COVID has made even worse. 

Rhondda has created many iconic athletes, with Rugby Union stars chief among them. The heavy built industrial worker and multiple colliery and pub teams created one of the toughest proving grounds, and the “Rhondda Forward” became part of many an international Welsh pack. In the early days, teams would have to regularly travel for fixtures or make do with inappropriate sloping pitches.

In time, investment in sport increased, and scooped directly from the mountain side, even now the Mid Rhondda Athletic Ground easily lays claim to being one of the most iconic sports fields in Wales. In 1908, the first rugby league international between Wales and England took place at the grounds, in front of 15,000 paying spectators (a 35-18 win to Wales) and in the same year the local team took on a touring Australian side.

However, Rugby League didn’t settle in the area, and spectators quickly adopted association football and support for the recently formed Mid Rhondda F.C began to grow. Because of the close community support, the team’s successes continued, culminating in a 1919-1920 season high of winning the Welsh League cup, beating Cardiff City into second place. Their journey to winning the title included a win over local rivals Ton Pentre, in front of 20,000 fans who packed the stadium and spilled out over the surrounding mountain side to watch the game.

Because of the financial success of the club they were able to offer incentives to English Football League clubs to travel to Tonypandy to play ‘challenge matches’, enticing clubs which had fixtures in Bristol on the Saturday to journey to the Rhondda for a Monday night show game. However, with crowds regularly in excess of 15,000 and significant winners’ bonuses on offer, these games were elevated above mere friendlies.

However, the pinnacle of Mid Rhondda F.C was short lived. The 1921 miners’ strike forced the Football Association of Wales to suspend the club for non-payment of debts. Although reprieved through donations by the mining community, real economic poverty entered the Rhondda as the depression continued throughout the 20s which lead the club to finally fold in 1928.

Play It Again Sport

Today, the Rhondda still experiences difficulties, with weekly pay in the area substantially lower than that for Great Britain and Wales. This disparity continues to directly impact the community’s ability to participate in and enjoy sport. Steffan Rees, a karate instructor from Ynyshir noticed that many children were unable to attend his lessons because their parents could not afford the equipment for them to join. He also knew that many people had unwanted or unused sports clothing and equipment in wardrobes not being used.  

Play It Again Sport was founded to serve three purposes: to provide sports kit and equipment for those who might not otherwise be able to access it, to divert those items from landfill and to provide sporting activities in the Rhondda.

In a climate where we all need to consume less and recycle more, Play It Again Sport takes the items that people no longer need and sells them affordably to our community so that everyone can participate in sport – not only those who can afford to buy new items. Clothes and equipment which we don’t sell locally we sell online and invest these profits into providing new sporting opportunities into our community. We know from our history how important it is to encourage everyone to be able to access the benefits of sport and how communities can form around our teams and clubs.

Because of our experience of living within an area steeped in industrial tradition, we know the impact these processes can have on the land around us – and producing new clothes is no different. Textile production puts a huge strain on our environment, while the water and energy required to manufacture clothing can divert resources away from other areas in need. Pollution from the manufacturing processes can leach chemicals into the earth and waterways, which can remain there indefinitely.

We all know there are many items of clothing sitting in wardrobes, unworn, or worn just once or twice - easily purchased and forgotten about because of their cheap prices. WRAP calculates that even in a normal year - full of activity and going out - across UK households, £30 billion of clothing resides unused.

To fully appreciate the impact of the production of new clothing we believe that prices should be higher – where fair pay and a safe working environment for those that make them and the actual effect on the environment is accounted for.

Our over-consumption of items we don’t need must stop but changing our habits won’t happen overnight.  There needs to be a massive shift in attitudes and responsibility, consumers need to demand it from the producers; they are the ones who have the power to effect significant change in the long term.

However, until this happens, Play It Again Sport strives to bridge this gap and to make available the items that are needed in our community right now, at low cost to ensure that everyone benefits from participating in physical activity. Now, more than ever, no-one should face a barrier to access the health benefits of exercise, or mental health benefits of being able to play.

‘recycling is a great place to start, but a bad place to stop’

Whilst we, as a society, continues to buy clothing in a disposable manner, we need to make sure that we discard them responsibly – to organisations that will re-use or re-purpose it and not simply sell it off and move the problem elsewhere.  ‘Out of sight out of mind’ no longer applies in a world that we have made so small. Being conscientious of what we do with our waste – clothing or otherwise – is the first step on a sustainable journey.  

This year has been challenging for all businesses, and as a social enterprise we have really struggled, and while our sports teams and facilities are currently empty, we will continue to do what we have always done to support our community and hopefully when we are allowed back out again we will be ready to help everyone to be able to play once more.

If you have any sports equipment which you do not use and would like to see rehomed – please contact us through our website.

Natasha Burnell

Enterprise Manager, Play It Again Sport

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