As we all become accustomed to a new and changing regime of life, Swansea RFC would like to encourage all sporting fans to join in and enjoy the UK’s ANNUAL SPORTING HERITAGE DAY. It’s today!
Get on social media and share your own sporting memories. Talk to your friends and neighbours (socially distanced of course) and raise a smile with shared sporting memories. Blow the clouds away and let the sun of sporting joy shine through. Let’s kick off right now…
Supporters will be aware that much work is underway to help protect and enhance the incomparable collection of cricket and rugby memorabilia at St Helen’s. The Swansea RFC Memorabilia Community Interest Company (CIC) was set up in 2013 for this purpose and is engaged in various activities and projects to that end. We hope to bring you more regular news in the coming months of the progress made by the CIC to YOUR collection.
As part of the ongoing project we’d like to ‘open the doors’ for supporters to find out more about the collection and its relevance to the game, the sport and the city. So we have decided to use the ANNUAL SPORTING HERITAGE DAY to feature an object not always on display, to give you a taste of what treasures are held within the collection of our club.
Title CP00001. Type:- Swansea Cap awarded to Tom Clark in 1880, “cardinal” red. ‘SFC’ monogramme and ‘1880’ on front. Silver tassels.
Today I have chosen as an object of special interest, the oldest club cap in the St Helen’s archives. Tom Clark was a Swansea forward from 1877 to 1881, during the formative period of the club’s development. He was awarded this Swansea cap in 1880, the first of two occasions in which Swansea won the South Wales Challenge Cup. His 1880 Swansea cap is also the oldest object in the archives at St Helen’s and its significance, apart from its age and its belonging to a cup winner is enhanced by the fact that it is red – cardinal red to be precise, for these were the colours of the Swansea club in its early days. Contemporary reports confirm that they stayed red from 1872 until 1884. Although the front of the cap has faded over the years, the back still shows its original colour, bright as the day Tom wore it in the cup final win over Lampeter College. It is seldom on display nowadays and unlikely to go back out until the planned UV protection has been installed at the club. But it links us to the very early days of rugby in Wales, even before Llanelli or the Welsh team donned the red.
Player Profile: Tom Clark.
Clubs: Swansea Workingmen’s Club, Swansea RFC.
Representative: South Wales, Welsh trial 1880.
Born in 1853 and a clerk by profession, T H J (Tom) Clark was a forward who played in the early seasons for Swansea RFC while the club was establishing itself in South Wales rugby. His playing career with Swansea spanned six seasons, though he only played at the start of the last one. He had played for the Swansea Workingmen’s Club and as it was the unofficial home of Swansea Rugby Club at that time, he was noticed as a good running forward and asked to play for Swansea. His first known match was as a forward in a drawn match against South Wales Rovers at the St Helens ground on 6th January 1877. Records indicate he may only have played 2 of the 11 games in the 1876-77 season, under the captaincy of Fred Meager.
He was however, heavily involved in the 1877-78 campaign where Meager led his team to a runners up position in the inaugural South Wales Challenge Cup competition, losing to Newport in the final (2nd March 1878). Tom Clark played in 9 of the 11 matches that season, showing his versatility by playing as a quarter-back twice and even as a half-back in a match against Llandovery College. During 1877-78 he also played for Swansea Workingmen’s Club against the Swansea 2nd XV, a game which the Workingmen’s Club won and Clark scored three tries!
Clark continued to play under Fred Meager’s leadership in the 1878-79 campaign (as a forward and on one occasion as a
quarter-back). In 1879-80 under A H Richardson’s captaincy, the Swansea club developed into a force in Welsh rugby, culminating in the club winning the South Wales Challenge Cup in 1880. Tom Clark played in this final and his name appears on the engraved shield marking the victory over Lampeter College on 6th March 1880. The season was Swansea’s most successful to date, the club winning 10 of the 12 matches played and securing their first piece of silverware. Tom had also played for South Wales against Gloucestershire in February 1880.
Tom played again under Fred Meager in the latter’s last term as captain during 1880-81 when the club took a leading role in the formation of the Welsh Football Union. Tom played in the Welsh trial match at St Helen’s on 29th December 1880, a match arranged to help select the first Welsh representative side to play England in 1881. But he did not make the Welsh team selection.
Tom Clark’s final campaign was in 1881-82 as Vice-captain to George Lockwood Morris who became Swansea’s first Welsh cap that season. Clark’s season was shortened when he broke his hand in a game lost to Newport at Rodney Parade on 29th October 1881. He didn’t play again until Christmas Eve when Aberavon came to St Helen’s and were beaten by two goals and nine tries to nil. Clark captained the Swansea side in Morris’ absence. The year ended with Neath being beaten at St Helen’s on 31st December by two goals and a try to a late Neath try. It was Tom Clark’s last appearance for Swansea.
But his career with the club had seen it pass from a fledgling club with few fixtures, to a power in Welsh rugby, represented at international level and anticipating the first international match to be held at St Helens the following season. He was a member of the first side to win silverware for the club and his red Swansea cap (later Swansea caps were blue) from 1879-80 is still at Swansea RFC, the oldest cap in its possession.
By Dave Dow (Archives: Swansea RFC).