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Pontypool RFC awarded Freedom of Torfaen

three men in a council chamger
Council leader Anthony Hunt, left, with Pontypool RFC executive chairman Peter Jefferies and coach Leighton Jones in the council chamber after it was agreed to grant (Photo: Torfaen Council)

PONTYPOOL Rugby club is to be awarded the freedom of Torfaen following a promotion-winning season that has seen it return to Welsh rugby’s premiership. 

The award is a recognition of the famous club’s “importance to the borough” and also as a mark of Torfaen council’s “respect” for the local rugby community. 

Head coach Leighton Jones and the club’s financial savior, multi-millionaire businessman Peter Jefferies, were congratulated at Torfaen Civic Centre, in Pontypool, after the full council unanimously agreed to grant the honour. 

It had been proposed by council leader – and Pooler fan – Anthony Hunt who told colleagues there was no potential conflict in him putting the club forward for civic recognition. 

He said: “In my view it is the best rugby club in the world and I do not have to declare an interest as I pay for my season ticket myself.” 

This season Pontypool won 26 out of 26 games which clinched them the WRU National Championship and promotion to the Premiership – the top tier of Welsh semi-professional rugby – and also defeated Ystrad Rhondda to lift the Championship Cup at the Principality Stadium. 

The club’s promotion marks a return to the Premiership following relegation in 2012, when the Welsh Rugby Union restructured the division, and Pontypool lost a legal challenge to the overhaul which almost bankrupted the club before Mr Jefferies stepped in and began a rebuild. 

Despite league success over repeated seasons Pontypool missed out on promotion either through the premiership being ring fenced, play off defeats and league disruption due to the Covid pandemic. 

Cllr Hunt, who represents Panteg, welcomed former player Mr Jones, who took charge of the club in 2016, and Mr Jefferies to the council chamber to applause and told them: “I would like to thank you for your hard work. To just about win every game for six years is a huge achievement to keep that high level up despite pandemics, play offs that we won’t mention, and other things getting in the way of promotion. 

“Peter, I remember before I was a councillor, having to do whip-rounds to pay players. You’ve made a huge contribution to the club and professionalised it on and off the pitch.” 

The council leader, who in May joked on Twitter that he had redesignated the Coronation Bank Holiday to mark Pontypool’s promotion, suggested a larger scale event could be held in recognition of the award. 

He said: “I suggest setting up a proper ceremony, perhaps at the Park, in recognition of the freedom of the borough and we have to present you with a scroll you will perhaps be able to hang on a wall.” 

Cllr Hunt, who also volunteers as a youth football coach with Griffithstown FC, said the council also wanted to recognise the success of “all the teams in the Eastern Valley” and he also praised the efforts of volunteers across all sports who contribute to the community and opportunities for youngsters. 

As well as granting the freedom of the borough the council has committed to exploring the best way of publishing and marking Torfaen individual and collective sporting achievements online. 

The Royal British Legion and the Royal Welsh Regiment have previously been granted the freedom of the borough. In ancient times the tradition meant those given the status had privileges such as the right to vote, own property and raise taxes. 

Cllr Hunt told the council: “Conferring the freedom of the borough goes back to ancient times there are now no particular special rights but it is a means of recognition given to individuals and collections of individuals and a reflection of the high esteem they are held in by the council and the borough. 

“Pontypool RFC are special to the borough and recognised around the rugby world and we should be proud of them.” 

The club was one of the most successful in rugby union’s amateur era and enjoyed a “golden age” under the guidance of legendary coach Ray Prosser in the 1970s and 80s while the club’s feared front three of Graham Price, Bobby Windsor and Charlie Faulkner were immortalised in song, the ‘Pontypool Front Row’, by folk singer Max Boyce. 

The club has also hosted Australia, New Zealand and Fiji’s national sides at its Pontypool Park home though it has never defeated an international touring side. 

Cllr Hunt’s report to the council also noted that Blaenavon, Pontypool United and Talywain will all play in League One East next season with Croesyceiliog, Cwmbran and Garndiffaith in League Two East while New Panteg will compete in League Four East “after a resurgent season” and that Forgeside, Abersychan and West Mon will compete in League Five East and Cwmbran side Girling in League Six. The report said the The Arrows “lead the way in our region” in the women’s game.

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Pontypool RFC awarded Freedom of Torfaen