More than 1,500 spectators were at Bridgend Ravens’ Brewery Field ground on Saturday afternoon for their derby fixture against Pontypridd in scenes reminiscent of the seventies as many turned out to pay tribute to club hero JPR Williams following his death earlier this month. Followers of the club said they’d never seen a day like it and JPR’s son Peter said it would have made his father “very proud”.

Ex-players, many of whom played alongside Bridgend, Wales and Lions legend JPR, including Steve Fenwick, Gerald Davies and Rob Howley, attended the game which Bridgend won 15-13, grinding out victory thanks to four penalty kicks and a decisive missed kick in the final seconds.

JPR’s number 15 shirt was laid on the pitch by Peter before a minute’s silence pre-kick off, which was followed by raucous applause. Ex-players lined up beside each other on the pitch with the two teams in tribute. JPR’s grandsons presented referee Rhys Jones with the match ball, and at half time spectators stayed pitchside to watch the Bois Goetre-Hen male voice choir sing hymns including I Bob Un Sydd Ffyddlon and Calon Lân. JPR, an orthopedic surgeon, was a gifted chorister himself for his local church in the Vale of Glamorgan.

READ MORE: The life of JPR Williams, the courageous Welsh rugby hero who was different from the rest

Former players, including Tommy David and Gerald Davies, before kick off
Ex-players gather on the field to pay tribute to JPR before kick off

Peter told WalesOnline his father was a “proud man, a competitor of all competitors, but above all a great family man”. “Dad would have been very proud of the way the team played today, he really would,” he said. “But beyond the game, I saw the kids playing behind the posts before the match and it reminded me of myself doing exactly that with dad when I was a kid. It was lovely to see and took me right back. Dad loved watching kids down here enjoying themselves and getting into it.”

As Bridgend stayed resolute in a second half where Ponty threw caution to the wind, every decision called in the home side’s favour was cheered like a try. Stadium announcer Alun Wylde spent much of the final few minutes with his head in his hands, while media officer Aled Thomas kicked every ball from the stand on what was undoubtedly the most significant game in Bridgend’s season so far. The final whistle, which sounded the moment Ponty’s kick sailed wide, was met with relief and jubilation.

JPR’s grandsons deliver the match ball

In a moment of calm on what club secretary Tony Williams described as a “very emotional day”, he added: “Quite fitting I suppose that we’ve fought for a 15-point win in that way. I’m very proud of what we’ve shown this club is about today, for JPR and his family, and to see so many people turn out.

“Usually we have 700-750 here, so to have double that is just brilliant. I suppose people are pretty disillusioned in some ways with Welsh rugby and that is reflected in the crowds often, but today felt back to the good old days. You walk in the bar today and it’s like it was when I was growing up. It’s all for JPR - a quiet man, a shy man in many ways. When you saw him on the pitch you would see this guy 100% in it and yet off the pitch that confidence didn’t always come through as much. Maybe you wouldn’t expect that from a man of his achievements. He didn’t shout about it. He was just comfortable here and he enjoyed coming here. Just a genuine man.

“This club’s popularity throughout Wales and further afield is only because of the likes of JPR. When he came and played for us and we won the cup a couple of times and he made those unbelievable performances against New Zealand and so on, it actually put Bridgend on the map.”

The ground was packed throughout - with an attendance of more than 1,500 - at least double the usual figures
Glen Webbe was in attendance at the game

Undoubtedly the overriding memory for many of JPR is that famous Bridgend fixture in 1978 against the All Blacks when he jogged back onto the field with 30 stitches in his face after losing two pints of blood when he was stamped on at the bottom of a ruck. Vice president Meredydd James, who played alongside JPR that day, said: “We actually conceded a try while JPR was off the field getting treatment that day, and I remember him saying we wouldn’t have conceded if he’d have been allowed to stay on. That was JPR all over. Ultra-competitive.

“His performances on the field wouldn’t relate to being a human being - more like a raging bull. He had special qualities and skill, but mental tenacity above all. Nothing beat him. He had this aspiration that he wanted to influence other people, and he did all of the time.”

Bridgend, Wales and Lions legend JPR Williams
JPR Williams with the injury to his face during that famous game against New Zealand in 1978

Ed Griffith, team manager, attended the Brewery Field that day for the first time. “I was at school and we came here on a trip for that game against New Zealand,” he recalled, speaking before the game. “I’d have been nine at the time. I was completely sold on the place from that day. I thought it was a miracle how he came back on after that injury. He was my hero from then on.

“There is extra motivation today, definitely. We’ve spoken about that in the dressing room. We’ve reminded the boys of the team ethos and what JPR stood for and what he brought to the game. Hopefully we can put in a performance which will make him proud on what is a sad but proud day for this club.”

Steve Fenwick, who played with JPR for Bridgend and Wales, remembered how JPR would often inspire the team with his demeanour. “You wouldn’t believe how he roused us,” he said. “He could inspire a dressing room with his performances and his personality alone. He wasn’t always much of a talker, but we all followed him. That’s not something you can teach. He had something others didn’t have. He was special.”

Meredydd James and Clive Norling
(L-R) Tommy David, Gareth Davies and Steve Fenwick
Wayne Barrington

It’s telling of Bridgend as a club and the people within the club that long-time supporter Wayne Barrington, who even came here to watch training sessions in the seventies because he idolised the players so much, is having a drink in the same bar as his childhood heroes. He still stands in the same place where he watched JPR, Fenwick and co in the seventies.

“I’d have been nine or ten coming down here in the seventies, and the crowds were immense like today,” he said, while collecting subs from members. “I remember being in awe of all of them - Steve, Rob Howley, JPR of course. There was this endless stream of sporting talent on my doorstep and I couldn’t get enough of it, and I’m still here today. I’m fantastically proud of Bridgend today. I’m always proud of Bridgend.”

JPR’s younger brother Chris said he felt “heartened” by the turnout. “It’s heartening seeing so many players who played with and against John over the years come today. I thought the whole day was very sensitively carried out and I’m sure his immediate family would have been very proud. John was an uncompromising, competitive sportsman, and was always looking for the next challenge. I’ll remember him mostly as a very kind big brother.”