The Mid is an integral part of my life after 21 years of living directly in front of it and fraternising its hallowed turf on countless occasions during that period and for the many decades since.
My home as a youngster stood on Kenry Street and through the back entrance the lane met face to face with the changing rooms for an area that was affectionately known as ‘the track’.
The track a.k.a. The Mid was a haven of happiness whether alone or with my mates in those all important formative years. It was my first port of call when getting in from school and I would be there as often as I could – and I would absorb any chance to escape home life and head to my outside space. Then there were also lots of visits via my days at Tonypandy Primary and later Grammar schools. There was football, rugby, cricket and sports that even led to the distinction of a third place certificate for the non-Olympic discipline that was ‘the despatch’ a.k.a. ‘the bucket race’.
In my teens the legendary Sunday soccer sessions with local icon Ralph Cody were truly amazing spectacles when sides of upwards of 20 in number of ages from 10 to 50 met for an afternoon of activity. It did not make any difference if you had played for a team the day before, or even that morning – whether it was sun, sleet, snow or soaking – nobody missed this sabbath soccer spectacular.
Over the years I was also involved with training sessions through a variety of teams such as Penygraig Boys Club, Kensington FC and Cambrian as well as many games for Tonypandy Primary or Grammar whether it was the round, oval or cricket ball. There were highlights – scoring a first hat-trick as Pandy Juniors romped home to a 6-1 win against Gelli Primary but then there was that 8-0 defeat to Williamstown as well as other setbacks! We would use the rugby posts as football goals and a piece of string would be put in place as the crossbar as obviously the rugby bar was too high. It was not what we wanted but had to do, because what was once a football field was now the domain of rugby and also later on – one end of the field also incorporated hockey. The chosen focussed winter sports of the Grammar School who used The Mid were rugby and hockey and sadly not football. The hockey pitch when it arrived was a godsend as smaller goals resembling soccer ones were the greatest gift we could have hoped for in order to while away our hours playing soccer in climates that even Scott of the Antarctic would frown upon.
Out Junior School teacher Mr Ryan was a great guy who has my utmost respect but when it came to sports he was akin to Brain Glover in the movie ‘Kes’ with his dark grey tracksuit, a whistle around his neck plus an old style pair of football boots. His desire to win was second to none as he joined in our games rifling his rather hard shots from all angles. You certainly did not want to get on the wrong end of one of these bullets! I cannot think about The Mid without Mr Ryan appearing and I will always be so grateful that this fine man taught me – and for many years until his sad demise I would always have a chat to him when I saw him around Tonypandy. Many years on I worked with his daughter Marilyn at Tonyrefail Primary and when she had to sadly say farewell to dad I wrote her a letter explaining his positive influence upon me.
Boys played football until 11 and then when it was on to the next stage of education the Grammar only allowed for rugby?
The Grammar also had one cricket match (yes, just one – says it all about the ability we displayed!). After many lunchtime training sessions we played Blaenclydach Secondary – our local rivals in an afternoon derby. I was opening the bat and immediately showed off my skills as I was dismissed for a duck! Our team were out for a phenomenal 27 and that included two sixes from a player neither regarded as a batter or bowler!?! He was just making up the numbers but was the star man because even though we were out for a pitiful score, we claimed victory as Blaen failed to reach 27! What an immense testament to cricket, one that was never to be repeated!!!
As a lad it was out through our garage door into the lane, up by a hump near a wooden telegraph pole to the side of ‘the showers’ (as we labelled a building that was the changing rooms), scale a wall and then up onto the roof before jumping into The Mid grounds. Sometimes on a warm day it was the delight of enjoying a ‘Tip Top’ lying on that roof talking childish nonsense or being a daredevil launching oneself off that corrugated surface onto the banking opposite or even flying through the air to land on the steps which led into the showering facility.
Then there was the sandpit and the hours of fun shattering personal bests (really?
The grandstand or ‘the stand’ to us was opposite the showers at The Mid. The ‘grand’ in grandstand could be removed for by the late 60’s there was a floor of hard, bumpy, unruly earth which was covered in sheep mess. The woolly backs were the property of a local ‘living outside of the law’ farmer (and there are plenty of other stories there!?!). These animals wandered the streets causing mayhem, knocking bins over as well as other misdemeanours and ‘the stand’ was a favoured latrine (NB that smell returns even thinking about their presence).
The main attraction of ‘the stand’ wasn’t the poo, it was a rope swing with a dodgy piece of wood amateurishly attached as a seat. This device dangled from the rusty roof and it was a tad dangerous but for a foolish youth it offered an essential rites of passage challenge. To the right was a wall daubed with graffiti and long live ‘The Lux Bar Kid’ remains in the grey matter – and, the grass bank in front was a place to chase and be chased.
Nearby was the groundsman shed, a.k.a. ‘the parkey’ or Jack. This affable guy would allow us to take a swig of the horrible copper saturated water that came from the sink tap of this stone floored, rickety structure. However, we needed a drink and it was not the snowflake generation – water from a tap was a luxury when compared to the mountain streams we also feasted upon.
Jack was pretty laid back and resembled a Glenn Ford type cowboy type in Casey Jones attire (era references there kids!). However, his replacement Ken was a far more fiery character who would man The Mid – both day and night with a military precision that frightened one and all. This guy was even known to leave his Ely Street home and take control of his manor, even chasing people off the grounds well into the evening and nobody stood up to him, because he was feared. If he detected your scent, you ran – and at speed!
From here it was around to the main gate, where there were remnants of the old hut that was obviously a ticket office in the days of major events on the site – and, there were many of these large crowd attractions across a range of sports around in years past. This dilapidated building had no roof from my first experiences at this base dating back to the 60’s, but we spent a lot of time climbing through its arch shaped windows. The area down below was a weed festival but now and again a ball would veer in this direction and our skinny pale legs would be in tatters rescuing our treasured possession. That ball at one stage would be a badly faded red leather with a yellow lace and a pink bladder with an adaptor poking out that guaranteed lots of dots on the forehead with every header made over mammoth kickabouts.
There was an entrance to The Mid before the bottom block of Kenry Street, but why go through there when you could climb up the hump? No competition! Also, this end of the track was the Penygraig Juniors end as although still in Pandy it overlooked the school on Hendrecafn which attracted Graig kids to The Mid. So it was Pandy up one end and Penygraig to the other and when the two met accidentally crossing over their borders (about the half way line on the rugby pitch) the odd skirmish was known to occur, but on the whole people kept their distance and hostilities were minimal. Penygraig Juniors were the Rhondda football force and in Standard 4 they slammed us 4-0, and I had left my boots in school so had to retreat and get them before coming on as a substitute in a backs to the wall battering!
However, there would be the odd in house squabble and my longest friend landed a blow on me and out flew a tooth. A circle forming and two lads fighting was not an irregular encounter but all of that testosterone in close confines was bound to spark some aggression. There were also the older boys who would bully their younger targets, and the odd tear was shed in the pecking order – but all of that cannot deter from the joy of The Mid, but it was also part of the tale.
The bars which surround the pitch are about three feet high and were also a focus for would be gymnasts, mostly the girls to do twirls and other showy twists but I will always remember a pal running at them and not ducking deep enough to get under and he was out cold on the deck, unconscious! He did come around but there was a drop of blood to come with the package. Meanwhile, the railings that surrounded the lower section of The Mid high above the partition wall to Kenry Street were also a source of despair as one day I got my head caught in between them and the fire brigade had to come out and release my expanding cranium (which was empty inside!) and free me. Embarrassing!
We had so many laughs when at The Mid but there was none better than the annual sports affair at Pandy Grammar when the first boys side played the staff at rugby and likewise with the girls and hockey. A crowd of lads stood on the banking watching the events down below on the pitches and in came a teacher who was not the most respected. As he walked on the field outskirts the boys above hummed the Laurel & Hardy theme tune (check it out if you do not know it) and this music was always seen as a bit of a mickey take when uttered in another’s direction. The teacher turned around and looked up at the gang – but, without a queue they instantly stopped their mimicking. As soon as he turned and walked on, the mimic returned and he spun around and once again the youths stopped as if they had rehearsed their actions on multiple occasions. That schedule went on about a handful of times before he gave up and the juveniles’ sides had split!
The odd teen romance ensued and not through the un-PC game of ‘kiss, kick or torture’ that had ensued. This activity would now be frowned upon as its title suggests but as youngsters it was there and the world was not right on – and, there was also more chance of the ‘kick and torture than the kiss!!
Although, many a date was arranged for a prepubescent teen having their debut experience of ‘courting’. The Mid was the direction when money was tight and the scenic settings of the track was all that one needed to tick so many boxes with sport and socialising to the fore. Lying in the sun on a summer afternoon or charging around like a banshee to stay warm on a winter’s day. The Mid was your destiny.
As a 17 year old I left school and many of my pals were still in education. My initial day in work was a hot June day in 1979 and I headed to the track that evening. In a moment of reflection I leaned against a set of rugby posts and took stock of all around me – sport everywhere you looked and a banking full of chases with the air full of the youthful noise of a schoolyard at playtime. It was a defining moment as I was no longer a pupil but an employer and a part of my life had closed. 14 years of school were no longer and I was now an adult. There was a new dawn and it was time to change one’s behaviour – but it was not the call to give up on The Mid – The Mid is for life.
Yes, it was a time and a place for so much of this story documented here but be it right or wrong or good or bad, it happened and so much of that growing up process was staged at The Mid. So, please let The Mid live on. The hut, showers, shed and grandstand have been demolished but the propensity for fresh experiences on this treasure site is still there. I have many points of recall as have many others – so let’s take the past into the future.
I have probably forgotten more than I have catalogued because I have spent so much time on The Mid and want this valued green area to be a part of my days ahead. From walking, running and cycling through to competitive sports. From picking blackberries, chilling out and chatting. From bright days to dark nights. From the sixties to the now and onward. Yes, The Mid has always been there, playing a role in my existence and as crowds of characters have also expressed there are strong sentiments across the community and also from those who have departed for fresh pastures. The Mid is there for locals and also there for visitors and in a town where every spare inch is seemingly vanishing for the advent of housing – the golden green acres of The Mid Rhondda Ground are precious. Pandy Grammar and Primary have gone as has Penygraig Juniors, no more culling please. The social, political, sporting and cultural values of The Mid are well documented and hopefully the aims to place signage illustrating this history are forthcoming. However, looking back is a treat and the source of a great deal of lively conversation, but for the many tomorrows and the pressures of modern life we need a place to get away from it all. As one stands up on high and scans the valley it is evident how The Mid is a jewel in the crown of our region. Use it, savour it, enjoy it. Get on board with www.friendsofthemid.comand join the quest to maintain the momentum of The Mid. Viva The Mid!