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19th February 2020

Old Penarthians RFC pay tribute to Bill Whitaker

BY: Nathan Spackman

Unfortunately, Storm Dennis forced the cancellation of the Old Penarthians home fixture against Wattstown last weekend due to an unplayable surface at Cwrt-y-vil.  It is hoped that before the next home game in Division 3 South East Central (B) against Llandaff on 21st March the ground will have dried out sufficiently to allow matches to resume.

In the meantime, it is an opportunity to follow up last week’s focus on the more recent history of Old Penarthians RFC with a glimpse back in time to a period following the cessation of the Second World War.

At that time the Club, in its’ present form of Old Penarthians RFC, was in its’ relative infancy having been named in only 1938. Previously rugby had been played by the club as part of the Penarth County School Old Boys Association which had been established in 1923.

But it was in the post war years that the Club developed under the watchful guidance of a man later destined to make the greatest individual contribution to the future of the Club. Bill Whitaker captained the side from prop in the two seasons prior to hostilities and returned from active service to dedicate himself to establishing the Penarthian name as one that is respected in Welsh rugby circles.

In his capacity as Secretary during the period 1949 to 1961, the energetic solicitor elevated the fixture list over and above the previous limitations of Cardiff and District involvement and these wider horizons attracted the interest of the steady stream of players and officials that enabled the Club to go from strength to strength.

Indeed, Whitaker's powers of persuasion saw Penarthians in a position to field three and later four sides as a "norm" that was matched only by Glamorgan Wanderers in Wales at the time whilst he still found time to instigate, in company with John Westlake-Hill of Llandaff RFC, the South East Glamorgan coaching structure that is so admired throughout the rugby world.

The most tangible evidence of Bill's industry, however, is still to be found in the annual Sevens tournament that is staged by Old Penarthians at the end of the regular fifteen-a-side season. Introduced in 1950, the event is not only the longest running but probably the most popular of its’ kind in the Principality.

It is a date set down in many an enthusiast's diary as the day on which international and other leading players - both past and present - rub shoulders at the Clubs Cwrt-y-vil headquarters in an atmosphere of keen competition and social camaraderie that is quite unique. The event this year is to be held on Saturday 13th June.

Bill went on to serve as Chairman from 1961 to 1963 and was the Club’s inaugural President in 1967 serving until his untimely death in 1977 at the age of fifty-nine.

In commemoration of his efforts a portrait was commissioned by the Club and it has hung proudly in the lounge as a reminder of his contribution to Old Penarthians.  The clubhouse has however recently been refurbished and modernised and it has meant that Bill, “Our Mentor” was sadly taken down and put in storage whilst a new home could be found for him.

There is however a happy ending to this story in that Bill’s daughter Sarah Burgess-Parker visited the clubhouse over the Christmas period from her home in the Peak District and offered to take her father’s portrait home.  Sarah discussed the situation with her brother John and sister Jane and the family have decided that eventually Bill’s portrait will be reunited with a portrait of his wife, Mary, painted by his eldest granddaughter, Charlie Davies, who still remembers him.

The committees of the Old Penarthians did not however wish to forget Bill’s part in their history and in a recent ceremony Sarah, accompanied by her husband and two of her grandchildren, unveiled a specially commissioned plaque in memory of her father. 

Eventually the plaque will be located in the lounge and once again the name of Bill Whitaker will be displayed proudly in the club that he helped to establish and grow to what it has become today.

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