THE English language version of Alun Gibbard’s biography of the late and great Carwyn James was launched at the Llandovery College library last week, writes Huw S Thomas.
The Welsh language edition of Y Cymro Cyflawn – Erbyn Y Gwynt (the Complete Welshman – Against the Wind) appeared in the bookshops some six months ago but the restructured rewrite of the book Into the Wind: the Life of Carwyn James will allow a new and interested audience to learn more of one of the great Welshmen of his time.
Author Alun Gibbard has written some 30 books on Wales and particularly Welsh rugby, including biographies of Jonathan Davies, Delme Thomas and George North as well as a memorable account of Llanelli’s famous 9-3 win over the 1972 All Blacks ‘Who beat the All Blacks?’
But his latest work offers a fascinating new picture of the career, life and times of not only a great rugby man but of a scholar, patriot, intellectual who has left an indelible mark on the Welsh landscape.
Gibbard writes with an obvious fascination for his subject, spending three years interviewing over 100 people from Carwyn’s four main interests: literature, broadcasting, politics and rugby.
“I set out to write 200 or so pages but such was the volume of information and photos gleaned from all those who knew Carwyn that I ended up with a 400-page biography.”
In his preface Gibbard stresses his view of a man who was “unique, fascinating, stimulating, incisive and a visionary”.
And it was fitting that it was at Llandovery College where the book was launched to remind everyone that it was at the school that he spent
13 hugely satisfying years as an inspirational Welsh master, housemaster and rugby coach without equal.
Carwyn followed in the footsteps of the great TP Williams, whose Llandovery philosophy of “getting the ball to the wings like lightning” was to have a major influence on Carwyn’s attacking approach to the game.
Carwyn’s greatest achievement was to coach the 1971 British Lions to victory in the series against the mighty All Blacks, the only British side to win a series in New Zealand, winning for two of the tests, drawing one and losing one.
It was his man-management skills as well as a deep knowledge of the game that players like Gareth Edwards, Barry John and Gerald Davies remember and which comes out clearly in this excellent book.
But from the high of victory over the All Blacks came the low of his rejection by the WRU whose close-knit and inward-looking conservatism was at variance with the romantic and innovative ideas of a singular man.
In 1983 Carwyn died of a heart attack in Amsterdam where he had gone on a short holiday.
Gibbard lists some of the tributes that flooded in – Delme Thomas, captain of the Scarlets back in 1972 – “I’ve never ever met anyone like him,” and records the words of Gwynfor Evans at Carwyn’s memorial service.
“He was a Welshman, solid as a rock. He wasn’t a sentimental playing-field Welshman but a Welshman who would stick to Wales with loyalty and steadfastness.”
Gibbard paints a picture that reflects the words of Gwynfor Evans, yet there is an underlying deep sense of sadness in the book
The Welsh title of the book – Erbyn y Wynd – “more against than into the wind” is a reminder of the struggles that he faced through his life – his country’s rejection of him as a genius of a coach, his chronic skin disease, his sexuality.
Gibbard’s shrewd handling of Carwyn’s army of talents is a clear reminder in the words of the gospel that no man is a prophet in his own land but this book will serve as a firm reminder and proof that Carwyn James’s place in the history of Wales is indelible.
Into The Wind: The Life of Carwyn James, published by Y Lolfa and priced at £14.99 is available in all good bookshops.