1878-9. P.20, WIG, L.4.
SOUTH WALES CHALLENGE CUP
CARDIFF v. NEWPORT AT SOPHIA GARDENS
Twenty-seven matches had been arranged. One with Aberdare was abandoned owing to floods, and six, with Newport (Electric Light), Pontypridd and Bristol Medicals in December, and Bridgend, Swansea and Aberdare in January were cancelled owing to frost. R. H. Foa was captain in this quite successful season and took part in sixteen matches. Although he kicked a couple of penalty goals he was not among the try scorers, chief of whom was Percy Heard with seventeen, next followed by A. W. Watts with seven.
The season was notable for the fact that Heard created a try scoring record for the First XV which stands to this day, that of scoring seven in one match, against Blaenavon at home on 24th October 1878. The record has been equalled only twice for reserve team matches, by J. Williams for Cardiff Reserves against Penarth seconds in 1896-7, and Terry Stephenson for Cardiff Athletic at home against Cilfynydd in 1968-9.
According to an old membership card the club ground was printed as Sophia Gardens and three fixtures for Cardiff 2nd XV are shown, against Monkton House won by 3 tries to nil, Newport 2nds in December—cancelled owing to frost, and Newport 2nd, again, on the 29th of March which Newport won by 1 goal to 1 try. It was in 1879-80 that Cardiff’s 2nd XV was officially formed and its first captain was A. R. Macdonald.
Season 1878-9 was most memorable for the fact that the two greatest rivals of the Rugby football world, Newport and Cardiff, met in the final of the South Wales Football Challenge Cup tie at Sophia Gardens on 8th March 1879. The match had aroused much public interest – it had been extensively advertised in the town and neighbourhood – and thousands of spectators, including at least a thousand from Newport, stood several rows deep around the ropes, and also lined the bank which runs along the eastern side of the field. The top of this bank is to this day a most pleasant walk alongside of the river Taff through Sophia Gardens from Cardiff Bridge northwards.
It was a very spirited game and played with the utmost good feeling between both sides “Gate money” was charged by the club for the first time, which caused some resentment and some of the spectators wrote to the Press about it. The gate realised £72 odd and little remained to be divided between the clubs after all expenses had been paid.
Newport won the match by 1 goal, 2 tries and 4 touches-down to nil — our rivals were unbeaten in their first four seasons of their rugby history. For Cardiff, P. K. Heard, A. W. Watts, B. Godfrey, W. D. Phillips and Fleming Thomas played well, and for Newport whose pack was much the heavier, T. Spittle, G. Rosser and C. H. Newman shone. Horace S. Lyne another member of their side was later to become President of the Welsh Rugby Union, 1906-47.
In the evening a dinner to the two teams was given in the Cardiff Arms Hotel and the chair for the after proceedings was taken by one Dominic Watson. The first toast was “The Queen, The Prince and Princess of Wales and the rest of the Royal Family “, a reflection of the patriotism of rugby men of the time. Cardiff’s captain. R. H. Foa proposed the health of the winning team generously admitting the Club’s defeat and his health was proposed by Newport’s captain W. Phillips. Mr. Lascelles Carr of the “Western Mail’ proposed the health of the chairman whom he described as “a keen sportsman and a jolly good fellow “, to which no doubt the diners acquiesced in chorus, ‘and so say all of us”.
The Newport team returned home on the mail train to be received by a large crowd and a band which played ‘See the conquering hero comes “, proof of the growing enthusiasm for Rugby football In South Wales. It is recorded that the Cardiff players always paid their own rail and other expenses which was quite considerable with plenty of away matches, there being no funds available, there was not yet a treasurer, the hon. secretary having to take care of what money there was. There was a team in Ely this season but there was no fixture with Cardiff, but several of the Cardiff players turned out for Ely when not engaged for their own club. The transfer laws of today were many many seasons away.