It was a mixture of things that prompted me to drive over to Senghenydd the other day – a desire to discover more about an utterly shameful episode in our local history, a chance to share a rare moment from the past, a way to express a lingering solidarity with the lost political cause of the miners …
But there was one other thing that prompted me – a bizarre feeling of connection, especially strange given that, even though I was brought up in north Cardiff and used Caerphilly mountain as a sort of backyard playground as a child, I’d never actually set foot in the place.
Connection? Well, there’s the unique song we Cardiff City fans sing for starters – “with my little pick and shovel I’ll be there ” – a historic symbol of the fact that the roots of CCFC lie in the heyday of the South Wales coalfield.
More to the point, there’s the fact that (as was said in the oration at the ceremony) “men and boys coursed their life’s blood to carve the coal seamed Klondikes into new communities, vibrant of spirit and searching of soul, they set up, from wage contributions, the cornerstones of society in their clubs, institutes, halls, libraries, hospitals and chapels.” The very fabric of South Wales society and culture – the fabric of which CCFC is a vital part – was created out of the boom years of the coal industry.
But there was one more thing that drew me. Somehow, in an impertinent way, I felt that the memorial event mirrored what’s been happening to my club recently. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to suggest that the needless sacrifice of 440 men and boys in any way is equivalent to the fortunes of a football team. But somehow there are parallels: ordinary working people being treated as with contempt by those with more wealth and power than them; those same ordinary people rediscovering a belief in their own worth, their own past, their own future; an attempt by ordinary people to set the record straight and build for the future by learning from the past.
As I reflect on it now, although superficially it seems trite, it nevertheless seems true – both Senghenydd and CCFC’s recent past are about the same things: history, pride and identity.
I respectfully attended the ceremony, learned a little more about the terrible events of 100 years ago, found the ceremony moving in parts, was impressed by how close-knit a community Senghenydd seemed to be, even now, sang along to a lusty rendition of Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (impressively, nobody bar the choir joined in the English one! ) and then drove home again.
The final paradox of the day dawned on me later. As I trawled the net looking for crumbs of information about whether Malky, our manager, had been sacked or what had gone on during the day’s 5-hour board meeting (gradually discovering that we were again being told absolutely nothing), I felt a strange growing sense of solidarity with the ordinary people of Senghenydd. During the day they had waited patiently and with dignity outside the railings of the memorial park, watching those inside the enclosure – the dignitaries, politicians, priests, the wealthy and powerful – dominate the event and then linger before going off to free refreshments in the VIP marquee. Only then were the gates opened for ordinary members of the public to get inside, lay their flowers and pay their respects. Some things, it seems, never change, but the memorial remains as a testament to the success of a local community in rediscovering their history and taking pride in their identity.
Now that’s something –especially in these dark days of the club’s history – that all CCFC fans could take heart from.
- Senghenydd Colliery disaster (bbc.co.uk)