Cynon Valley’s Great Sports People
By John Penri Hillman, Abercwmboi
Sport in general springs invariably from a multitude of sources and usually derives from someone’s passing acquaintance with, or, if not one’s participating in, hearing about or seeing elsewhere before introducing to one’s own area of being. The clergy were another source by them being so close to the people and having moved around some. They introduced games, etc that were uncommon to specific areas. These soon became part and parcel of the people and a way of life.
The sign swinging back and forth outside the Capcoch Inn, Abercwmboi shows a late 18th century or early 19th-century gentleman wearing a red cap not dissimilar to today’s baseball caps. The significance of this wearing apparel is the realisation that it reflects an earlier period when this red-capped gentleman wore his headgear whilst officiating at a mountain bare fist fight and/or a cock fighting episode that took place.
Visualise it – on a secret pitch of ground in the vicinity of Abercwmboi and/or other such sites along the Valleys area of land, mountain side or hidden dale. Mountain Fighting became part and parcel of Welsh lore and these brutally hard men walked many a mountainous track to engage in bare fist fights that left them bloody and broken.
George Jones, a blacksmith who resided in Abercwmboi often walked over to the Rhondda to engage in such combats. One of the ploys of hardening the skin was to pickle the fists in brine and also to wash/soak other parts, especially one’s face, in order to toughen the skin. A round would conclude when one of the fighters fell to the ground. One might witness a situation where a round would last a few seconds or a minute or several minutes into 10 or more. Usually hidden away from the law-word got around as to when a fight was to take place, but the various secrecy alone helped to make sure the fight took place.
The ring consisted of 4 railway sleepers for corner posts and coiled wire used in colliery workings for the ropes. Many a fighter had his back cut open because of the very nature of the “ring” structure, especially the “ropes”.
Later boxing halls appeared and boxing was governed by a set of rules that at least gave some protection to those involved. Each valley had its venue of note and the populace frequented these arenas with vigour only surpassed by the activities taking place inside the boxing rings.