The occasion was brought to light by Welsh rugby historian John Griffiths in his book ‘Rugby’s Strangest matches’. One of many great rugby tales expertly researched and recounted by Griffiths was of a game in 1909 between two sets of seven brothers.
The unique seven-a-side fixture took place in west Wales at Easter in 1909 and was played between a family of seven Williams brothers from Haverfordwest took on the seven Randall brothers from Llanelli.
The match was staged on neutral ground at Carmarthen, roughly halfway between the two towns, where more than a thousand of the brothers’ travelling supporters turned up to see the ‘Family Championship of the United Kingdom’. There was a £100 prize at stake and both sides employed their own trainers to assist with their preparations for a match that was refereed by the ex-Welsh international full back, Billy Bancroft of Swansea. The Randalls were brawny steel workers and millmen typical of the working population of Llanelli at the turn of the century. The Haverfordwest boys were sons of the local police superintendent, though none followed their father into the Constabulary. Three were hairdressers, three worked as commission agents and the seventh brother was a clerk. The match itself was a scrappy, ill-tempered affair according to several local press reports. The Williamses lost one of their brothers through injury early on and Mr Bancroft had to intervene several times as the contest frequently threatened to degenerate into a glorified fight.
‘It was more like a wrestling match,’ Bancroft commented after the Williamses ran out 8-0 winners.
Initially, the brothers wanted a referee from outside Wales to take charge of the contest, but they ended up with one of the greatest Welsh sportsmen of all-time in Bancroft. They trained hard prior to the match and the Randalls, who played for a number of local clubs in the Llanelli area, had an eighth brother in reserve in 40-year-old Tom.
The Evening Express made the suggestion that as the teams were only playing seven-a-side that the pitch might be shortened. This suggests that the concept of seven-a-side rugby may not have reached south Wales even though Ned Haigh had organised the first tournament in the Borders of Scotland in 1883.
Quite what the WFU, as was then, would have made of a £200 fee for the winners’ is another thing. Amateur regulations were strict in those days, although the amount was openly written about at the time.
There were about 1,000 fans at Carmarthen Park and the proceeds from the gate went to the Llanelly Hospital. A supporter of the Randall family climbed the upright and put a ‘sospan’ on the top of the post.
THE PEMBROKE COUNTY GUARDIAN AND CARDIGAN REPORTER, 9 APRIL, 1909
NOTES AND COMMENTS
A lot of interest is being taken by Pembroke Dock folk in the match at Carmarthen next Saturday, between the seven Williams brothers and the seven Randall brothers, of Llanelly. Two of the Williams’s reside at Pembroke Dock and doubtless a good many people will avail themselves of the cheap excursion to see this novel contest. In Pembroke Dock the chances of the Williams’s are fancied, as their speed is well-known, and, of course, very little is known of the Randall septette. Should the Williams’s prove victors we hear that they will be challenged by several other teams of brothers from various parts of the country. They have been training hard and should go to Carmarthen on Saturday fit and in good trim. We wish them success, and feel sure that they will worthily uphold the honour of the Premier county.
It was one try to nil in favour of the Williams’, wearing white shirts, at half-time thanks to a run by Sidney. Even the fact they lost one of their team to injury didn’t stop them from going on to win against the scarlet clad Randalls.
The Davies brothers of Llandeilo lay in wait for the victors, although we aren’t sure if they ever met. Among their cast was the former Swansea international George Davies, who won nine Welsh caps.
Another set of Williams brothers from Ammanford were also interested in getting involved, while the Phillips’s of Maesycwmmer pushed their claim for a game via the Pembroke County Guardian.
John Phillips was the eldest brighter and stated he was prepared to meet the Williams’s “on any ground”. The 32-year-old collier started his rugby career at Ynysddu before playing as a forward at Maesycwmmer for five seasons and then acting as club secretary for three years.
Like five other of his brothers he lived in “Maesy”, while the 30-year-old Evan, a WRU referee, moved to Ynysddu. Evan played for 12 seasons at Ynysddu and Cross Keys.
The other five were all younger and still playing at Maesycwmmer – Llewellyn (17), Tom (18), Will (20), Phil (22) and Wyndham (26). Wyndham had played in the Maesycwmmer team that won three cup finals.