Ben's remarkable rise
20th April 2013
One of the most amazing stories of this, or any other Premier League season, has been the spectacular emergence of young Swans full back Ben Davies.
Having played only a handful of minutes in the Premier League for the Swans, the 19-year-old stepped into the breach last September when Neil Taylor suffered his horrific injury against Sunderland.
Since then, young Ben has made the left-back spot his own, starring in the Premier League, earning his first international caps and helping the Swans win their first ever piece of major silverware in the shape of the Capital One Cup.
But the most remarkable aspect of Ben's story for me is the fact that he was a pupil at Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera.
As a fellow former pupil it fills me with enormous pride that my old school has produced a Premier League and international footballer.
But it also absolutely amazes me.
Because although I'm sure Gyfun, as it is affectionately known, has changed immeasurably since I left, it has always enjoyed a reputation for being a rugby union school.
In fact, when I was there, rugby was pretty much the only game in town.
Soccer - it was never known as football for fear of being mistaken for rugby football - wasn't so much the poor relation, it was the ugly sister who was locked in the attic and rarely spoken of.
I shouldn't really complain. I chose to go to Gyfun because it was, and still is, an excellent all round school and I knew what I was letting myself in for. I enjoy rugby, so that wasn't a problem, but my love of football had to take a back seat . . . at least during school hours.
There were some fairly obvious clues as to soccer's lowly status at Ystalyfera back then.
First of all, you weren't officially allowed to kick a ball - unless it was an oval one - until you were in the third form. You either played rugby during the winter or twiddled your thumbs on the touchline.
Any round-ball activity was limited to furtive break-time kickabouts on the old tennis courts alongside the behind-the-bike-shed smokers.
When we were eventually allowed to play organised matches, the school kit consisted of motheaten, threadbare shirts, circa 1960, which wouldn't have been so bad, but this was 1981! You had to bring along your own shorts and socks, which made us look like a poor man's Barbarians rugby side.
Meanwhile, the rugby team were turned out in new pristine green and blue hooped shirts each season, with matching socks and crisp white cotton shorts.
The school soccer pitch, if it could be described as such, doubled up as the school rugby third XV's pitch (they were only just above us soccer boys and below the school chess club in the school's sporting pecking order), and was positioned slap bang next to the town's water treatment works. In other words, the local sewage plant.
If that wasn't bad enough - and believe me it was bad when the wind blew in the wrong direction - on the other side of the pitch was a farmers' field, from where livestock would regularly escape and deposit fresh piles of what was being treated at the sewage plant. There was also something of a mole infestation, which at least sharpened our dribbling skills.
The "goals" consisted of two planks of wood nailed to the rugby posts about a foot below the rugby crossbars. Obviously, there were no nets.
Meanwhile, the rugby first XV's pitch was a carefully manicured sward of lush emerald green turf, positioned on the opposite end of the vast playing fields, in the opposite direction of the prevailing wind and the sewage farm.
While the rugby team regularly embarked on foreign tours to destinations like Holland, or were bussed around the rugby-playing elite schools of Wales and England, our most exotic away trip was a secure "reform" school, where the changing room windows had bars on them.
When we kicked off, I discovered I was being marked by a particularly menacing skinhead with two bluebirds tattooed on each side of his neck and 'CCFC' inked into his forearms. I instantly wished I hadn't worn my distinctive Patrick Swans shorts and socks! Although I do remember being complimented afterwards on the surprising and hitherto unseen turn of pace I showed that particular afternoon.
The school football team were obviously all single, as no self respecting Gyfun girl would dare to be seen dead with a soccer boy - instant social suicide within the school scene.
So anyone half decent at rugby would chance their arm at the oval ball game, even if their first love was soccer, just so they would stand a fighting chance of impressing a girl. This left the waifs, strays and die-hard soccer boys to make up the school's First, and only, XI.
I don't think we ever won a match. The closest we came was taking a 1-0 lead against arch rivals Cwmtawe.
Having endured years of having our humiliating defeats read out to derision and mocking laughter at assembly, while the rugby team were invited to parade their latest trophy on a weekly basis, we started to dream of climbing the steps of the school stage to accept our long sought after acclaim. This obviously distracted us as we conceded five goals without reply in the last 20 minutes!
The highlight of my soccer career at Gyfun was somehow winning a low-key five-a-side tournament between Swansea Valley schools.
It was played on a Saturday morning in Pontardawe and hardly any other schools turned up. Despite being given the rare chance to play in a tournament, even we were a player short, so one of our team's older rugby-playing brothers was press-ganged into the side to make up the numbers. He won Player of the Tournament as we chalked up an unprecedented success!
Such was the surprise at our victory no one remembered to pick up the cup or our medals, so when we eventually did make it up onto the assembly stage we were handed empty envelopes instead!
So, as remarkable as Ben's 'Roy of the Rovers' type feats may appear to the majority of football fans, us former Gyfun boys, who played the not-so-beautiful game there back in the Seventies and Eighties, appreciate the truly enormous scale of his achievement.
And, if in some way we helped pave the way for his success, then all those hammerings and being chased around a field by a blood-lusting, tattooed Cardiff City fan, won't have been in vain.
Da iawn Ben a Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera!
C'mon you Swans.