Thursday, 29 August 2013

THEN BACK TO TREBANOG


Cliff Morgan OBE, the mercurial rugby international and broadcaster who died today aged 83, was a proper Welshman. Low-level charming and quietly passionate, he was blessed with deep modesty and a voice that resonated. Once heard, it was never forgotten. He'd be the loudest person in any room, without opening his mouth.

He hailed from Trebanog in the Rhondda Valley, all but an ember's throw from Merthyr Tydfil, my father Ken Jones's birthplace. Both were sons of coalminers, and neither ever forgot it: when life has literally been the pits, getting paid to play sport is the dream from which no one awakes. Cliff turned down an offer to sign as a soccer player for Tottenham Hotspurs, and legged it instead onto the rugby pitch. My father opted for football, becoming a marginal pro, and later watched from the stand as another talented Jones, also a Cliff (and the one we know as 'Uncle'), made soccer history on a world-record transfer deal to Spurs.

In 1951, aged only 19, Cliff Morgan was selected for Cardiff; he was part of the Grand Slam-winning team of 1952, and the following year showed his colours against New Zealand's fearsome All Blacks. In '55 he was the star Lion during the team's tour of South Africa, scoring a momentous try against the Springboks in Johannesburg. Their 23-22 victory before a crowd of 96,000 down in the Transvaal was, Cliff always said, the greatest moment of his sporting life.

Retiring at 28, he took to broadcasting with BBC Wales. He soared within the Corporation, becoming editor of Grandstand, and then head of outside broadcasting. He revolutionised the way the BBC covered sport. He later knocked wind from the sails of the lot of them by moving to ITV to edit current affairs show This Week.

Cliff suffered a stroke in 1972, which left him partially paralysed and unable to speak. Astonishingly, he recovered sufficiently to commentate on the legendary match between the Barbarians and the All Blacks at Cardiff Arms park the following year. He went on to star on A Question Of Sport alongside his buddy Henry Cooper, and, unforgettably, to BBC Radio 4, where he became a legend.

The cruellest blow was the more recent and terrible illness that silenced him. Even so, he insisted on giving a speech at his own special birthday party on the Isle of Wight.  That was humbling to behold, and will stay with me forever.

RIP dear Cliff. What an honour to have known you. Carpe diem, as you always said, and onwards.


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