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RDM Garrett


1892 Welsh team (captained by Arthur Gould) with Garrett (2nd from the left middle row) & Rowles (1st on the left, sitting on the ground)

Richard ‘Dickie’ Marks Garrett was the most influential and, unquestionably, the most successful player during the club’s maturation period. Garrett was a key asset in the Penarth FC’s ambitious plan to join the elite of Welsh rugby. A highly accomplished back three-quarter, he was born in Dinas Powys to a family that originally hailed from Somerset . He was one of four brothers, all of who played for the club. By 1885, when he was 21, his impact became more visible and inevitably attracted the attention of District, County and Welsh selectors as the Penarth club grew in stature.

Despite his comparatively small size – he was only 5ft 6in tall and weighed 12st 2lb – he was a pocket-battleship on the field of play. His perceived lack of pace did nothing to stop his blockbusting exploits. He was renowned for breaking tackles in attack and for his deadly tackling in defence. These qualities brought him to the fore on the Welsh rugby circuit and placed him alongside the big names of the era such as Newport ’s Arthur ‘Monkey’ Gould and Swansea ’s Billy Bancroft. To his eternal credit, he must have been the first Penarth player to turn down the overtures of Cardiff Football Club, who had been trying to turn him into a Blue and Black for many years.

His first significant representative honour came in March, 1888, when, as the newly-installed Penarth FC captain, he played for South Wales against United Hospitals. The opposition were, at the time, one of the leading teams in England . This honour came during a season in which England didn’t play in the Home Union Championship because of a dispute over representation in the newly-created International Rugby Football Board. Playing for South Wales, therefore, against such a strong English side was a considerable honour given that Wales had only faced Scotland and Ireland that season. Dickie Garrett’s rivals for a Wales team berth that season were the incomparable Arthur Gould, London Welsh’s Tom Pryce-Jenkins, Newport ’s Jim Webb and Cardiff ’s Billy Douglas.

During the first year of his captaincy, 1888/89, the club fixture list was considerably strengthened with the inclusion of Swansea and Llanelli. A team photograph of that season shows Garrett proudly wearing his club cap among a team group that also includes his brother Jim, his great friend and future Wales international, George Rowles, and one of the Sweet- Escott brothers, Selwyn. The following season, Selwyn Sweet-Escott followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Ralph, and joined the Cardiff club.

Garrett’s first season as captain proved to be another good one for Penarth, with triple victories over Penygraig and Cardiff Harlequins and doubles over Neath and Pontypridd. Old Stager, one of the leading rugby writers of this era, noted “the much improved status of Penarth”. The club retained the Cardiff District Cup by winning it for the third consecutive year, when they beat Llandaff 39-1 in the final. After the match played at the Arms Park, Garrett was carried shoulder high by supporters to the Angel Hotel, which at the time provided the dressing rooms for teams. The silver cup is now in the club archives, arguably the most precious trophy in the history of the club.

With a very strong and talented three-quarter line, Penarth’s fame as a purveyor of an open, attractive style of rugby spread far and wide. Against Llanelli, the combination of the backs was noticeably superior, whilst at Swansea they were described as “expert at the running and passing game”. Given the quality of his displays and the club’s playing record, it was no surprise when Garrett was selected for East Wales in the Welsh trial. A fine performance in that match resulted in his selection for the international against the New Zealand Natives team – the first major overseas team to tour the British Isles in 1888

Without the injured Arthur Gould, Garrett played at centre alongside Cardiff ’s Charles Arthur. The Welsh side, captained by Cardiff ’s Frank Hill, used the absence of Gould, who strongly opposed the Cardiff four three-quarter system, to reinstate it after a two-year gap. The fact that Penarth were highly successful exponents of the four three-quarter system, enabled Garrett to slot into the Welsh side with ease.

Wales eventually won 5-0, scoring three tries and Garrett’s Welsh career was off to a winning start. Originally, the Welsh Football Union did not award caps for the match, although this was subsequently rectified to allow Penarth FC to claim their first home-grown international player. It would be 18 months before he would wear the Welsh jersey again, missing out on the 1889 matches against Scotland and Ireland .

With Garrett at the helm, the status of the Penarth club was on the rise and towards the end of the season the club secretary, ‘Jack’ Hayes, wrote to the South Wales Daily News with a league table of the results. This amounted to a second tier of clubs, below the traditional 'big four’, and referred to matches between Penarth, Neath, Cardiff Quins and Penygraig. What his table showed was that Penarth were at the top of the chasing pack, winning eight and losing only one of the nine matches played by then. The one defeat came against Penygraig, a team who in 1887/88 had beaten Cardiff , Newport and Llanelli and who in 1889 won the South Wales Championship Cup.

Garrett’s third consecutive season as captain, in 1889/90, proved to be one of the most successful of the Victorian period and consolidated Penarth’s position as one of the leading clubs in the Principality. Even though the quality of the clubs across South Wales was rising, Garrett’s men won 26 of their 38 matches and drew six more. The 1889/90 season opened with a sensational win against Newport at Rodney Parade in the first encounter between the first teams of the two clubs.

It was a performance that inspired Old Stager to comment: “When R Lewis became Penarth secretary he did so with the promise not to give up until Penarth was numbered among the first-class teams”. He added that Lewis would not have to wait too long. To the great surprise of both the press and public, Penarth proved their success was no flash in the pan by winning the home game as well. Those defeats severely dented Newport ’s hopes of winning the unofficial Welsh championship that season.

The double over Newport was repeated by similar success against Bristol and Cardiff Quins, followed by victories over Neath, Bridgend, London Welsh and a 15-try demolition of Taibach, a very strong club at the time. There were also draws with Cardiff , Llanelli and Neath. Old Stager added: “Last week I ventured to say that Penarth must rank now as a first-class team. To beat Newport , barely be defeated by Llanelli, and now draw with Cardiff , is a record that clubs of far higher pretensions might sigh in vain to compile.” The reverse at the hands of Llanelli was among the six defeats of the season which also included Cardiff (twice), Swansea , Penygraig and Spen Valley , a select XV in the north of England .

The home and away fixtures against Bristol were discontinued after a severe 33-3 mauling towards the end of the 1890s decade. Penarth briefly reappeared on the Bristol fixture list during the 1910/11 season, when they achieved the double again with an 8-3 win in Bristol and an eight-try, 26-0 mauling at home. After this, the regular exchanges between the two clubs ended for good and it has been difficult to discover who dropped whom and, of course, why?

On 1 February, 1890, with the fixtures against England reinstated, Garrett was selected again at centre for the match against Scotland . This was to be the second of his eight caps and this time he got the chance to partner Gould in the Welsh midfield. In trying to understand just how good a player Garrett must have been, it is perhaps enough to point out he was the only player in the Welsh team to have been selected from a club outside the big four – Cardiff , Swansea , Llanelli and Newport . No little achievement for a player in those days – and even up to the advent of professionalism in 1995.  Garrett’s second cap against the in-form Scots in 1890 ended in defeat at Cardiff Arms Park , but both he and Gould emerged with credit from the 5-1 reverse. The Scots were led by the London Scottish three-quarter Bill MacLagan, who a year later would lead the British & Irish Lions to South Africa . “Garrett played a grand game, running through the thick of his opponents in a marvellous manner,” wrote the Western Mail, while Athletic News observed: “Of the three-quarters, Garrett comes first and foremost. The Penarth skipper excelled himself, his tricky runs and splendid defensive play being inestimable. He ran Stevenson ( Scotland ) very close for being the best back on the field.”

Gould scored Wales ’ only try and both he and Garrett were retained for the clash two weeks later with England . Universally regarded as the underdogs, Wales travelled to Dewsbury to meet a country they had failed to beat in six previous attempts. On a rainy day, the merits of two distinctive styles of play came under close scrutiny – Wales ’ eight forwards and four three-quarter system against England ’s nine forwards and three three-quarters.

There was also the fascinating clash between two of the great icons of Victorian sport in the two countries, Newport and Wales star Gould and England ’s rugby and cricket international Andrew Stoddart. In the end, it was Garrett’s “blotting out of the dangerous Stoddard” that helped to pave the way for one of the most significant victories in the history of Welsh rugby. Wales ’ four three-quarters style proved its superiority in the sleet and mud at Crown Flat and ‘Buller’ Stadden’s cheeky try two minutes into the second half became the clincher in a famous 1-0 victory.

Not long after this defeat England decided to adopt the four three-quarter system, while Gould’s victorious Welsh side returned home as heroes. Not surprisingly, the names of Dickie Garrett, as well as that of his club Penarth, were on everybody’s lips. For the record, this was the Welsh team that achieved the significant feat: William Bancroft (Swansea); Percy Lloyd (Llanelli), Arthur Gould (Newport, captain), Richard Garrett (Penarth), David Gwynn (Swansea); Charles Thomas (Newport), William Stadden (Cardiff); William Williams (Cardiff), Alec Bland (Cardiff), David Evans (Cardiff), Jim Hannan (Newport), William Thomas (London Welsh), Steve Thomas (Llanelli), William Bowen (Llanelli), John Meredith (Swansea).

© Chris Thau, 2012
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