Culture Magazine

Cardiff Arms Park - The Rich Story of Wales' Most Renowned Real Estate

By Americymru @americymru

the arms park heart of a rugby nation , bill o'keefe and emyr jones, front cover detail
It's hallowed turf. It's held warm memories for thousands and thousands of rugby fans for well over a century. The Arms Park. Now the full, colourful story of how this world famous sporting address came into being and developed over the years is told in this fascinating book, The Arms Park:Heart of a Rugby Nation. Rich rugby memories of Welsh triumphs, moments of individual genius – remember 'that try' against the All Blacks? - triumphs in other sports and more recently, large scale music events, come together in this well illustrated, well told narrative.
It is published at a time when the virtues of the ground currently bearing that illustrious name are being hotly debated, with many calling for Cardiff Blues to go back there. If your involved in that or not, there's plenty here for every rugby fan of any color and for anyone interested in the history of Cardiff generally. Countless big names have made The Arms Park a stop on their journey to fame, from Billy Meredith to Ian Rush, from Monkey Gould to George North, Tommy Farr to Lennox Lewis, David Bowie to Bryn Terfel and a myriad of other stars that make up the Arms Park galaxy. We know many by their first names only, Barry, Gareth, Gerald, Ieuan, Shane and on and on and on.
Since the century before last, the Arms Park has seen major events that take their place in the history of world sport. Some changed the game of rugby forever, such as picking Frank Hancock to play for Cardiff as a fourth three quarter because he was too talented to be left out. Until then, the game had 9 forwards, two half backs, a full back and three three quarter players. In order to include Frank Hancock, from the famous brewing family, the rules were changed and one forward was left out so that he could be an extra back. That's how Cardiff took to the Arms Park turf against Gloucester in 1884 and that's been the shape of every rugby team ever since. Also, to counter the intimidating Haka before the Welsh victory against the All Blacks in 1905, the Welsh fans started to sing Hen Wlad fy Nhadau, thus starting the world-wide tradition of singing anthems before matches.
The ground has seen three Golden Era's of Welsh rugby and who knows, might be on the verge of seeing a fourth. Touring teams have come here and epic battles have taken place not seen in the area since the days of the Romans who first settled in what is now Cardiff. The tensions of Cup rugby thrilled us from the 70's onwards. European rugby and a World Cup tournament have more recently been held on 'Wales' most renowned piece of real estate', where the first stand cost £50 to build!
But for all the world landmarks and sporting headlines, as respected Welsh journalist Carolyn Hitt says in her foreword, we've all got our own 'mental scrapbook' full of a variety of experiences from visits to the Arms Park or the National Stadium or the Millennium Stadium as it has become. But the address remains the same, The Arms Park. We've all got our own stories to tell of memorable trips to the capital. That's why this book will resonate differently with every fan who picks it up.
Built on land given by the Marquess of Bute for the exclusive development of recreation for the people of Cardiff, it's the cricketers who first used it. Then the rugby, then the football, with some other sports making occasional appearances and of course, the famous greyhounds! But it's the rugby that has made the place it's own. The Arms Park: Heart of a Rugby Nation is a good story that reads easily. A wealth of archive photographs give us a real feel of the spirit of bygone eras.
But this book is not just sporting history and nostalgia. It closes with a heart-felt call for more to be done to honor this legacy by creating a permanent home to showcase Welsh rugby memorabilia. If this book is anything to go by, that permanent home is long over due.
Notes on the Authors
Emyr Young is a professional photographer with a passion for rugby football. Before turning professional in 2002 he worked as an actor, presenter and voice artist. Between 2000 and 2010 he helped establish tours and work as a part time guide at the Millennium Stadium. You can view his work on
Bill O'Keefe is one of Wales ' most experienced tourist guides. After graduating in history from Cardiff University he gained a Masters in Tourism and qualified as an Official Wales Blue Badge Guide. Having worked in a wide variety of guiding roles, including nine years at the Millennium Stadium where he helped establish the tours, Bill now runs Planet Wales ( providing highly acclaimed tours on the history and wildlife of Wales ,  including the Official Guides Cardiff Walking Tour, the city's popular history walk.
Both authors will be at WH Smiths, Cardiff 11-1 on the 10th of March and Waterstones, Cardiff on 17 March from 11-1 to sign copies of their book.

'Few sporting names are as closely linked to a nation’s identity as that of the ‘Arms Park’ toWales, and its position right at the center of the capital reflects this relationship.' Bill O'Keefe
' the generations of men and women who have brought our citadel of sport to life since 1876 – as the Romans would say – we salute you.' Carolyn Hitt

The Arms Park - Heart of a Rugby Nation - Bill O'Keefe and Emyr Young - £9.95 – Y Lolfa

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