The King And I The Tale Of Two Photos Forty Five Years Apart


In 1971 I was just thirteen years old, the Lions had just beaten New Zealand in a series win, and to be British, and specifically to be Welsh, was to be on top of the rugby world, emotionally as well as statistically.

Before social media, e mails, selfies, Twitter and Instagram, in order to communicate with people over any sort of distance, you had to write what we called letters.

I sent my letter to Barry addressed “Barry John, Fly Half, Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff” I asked him, in my best handwriting if I could somehow get an autographed photo.

Two weeks later, a letter arrived on my doorstep, sent by Barry, which included a signed autographed photo.

I cannot tell you what a thrill it was to have the great man’s signature, sadly he retired from the game a few months later, at the height of his fame and talents, at the tender age of twenty-seven.

To describe his career in caps and statistics seems somewhat cold and soulless, and tends to devalue the magical qualities, and the almost ethereal presence that he possessed.

Dr Dai Smith described him as The dragonfly on the anvil of destruction, Barry John ran in another dimension of time of space.

His opponents ran into glass walls which covered his escape routes from their bewildered clutches.

He left mouths, and back rows agape”.

Every time I saw Barry play he gave off a cool superiority which spread to those playing alongside him.

Whilst the hustle and bustle went on around him, he could distance himself from all the frantic action and keep a cool and almost distant control of proceedings.

Everyone else on the field played the game on Barry’s terms.

Forty five years later on November 5th 2016, I found myself in the media room at the principality stadium whilst covering the Wales v Australia international.

Heading toward the most popular area of the this centre, the food counter, I spot a stocky, but somewhat frail looking  dark-haired man, the slight frame and the chiselled cheek bones have gone, but there is no mistaking a “King” or in this case THE King.

Barry smiles humbly as I offer my apologies for the fact that it has taken forty-five years for to deliver my “Thank You”, and as we headed  pitch side it seemed only apt to get another photo, this time of the two of us together.

We sat next to each other in the press box, a bigger thrill for me than for him that’s for sure, and as we stood for the Welsh national anthem  I could see his dark eyes sharpen and moisten he was back there, where he strutted his stuff on the field of dreams, and I was back there with him, in my daydream watching him.

For me he will always be the greatest, it was Barry John scoring a mesmerising try, against England, in 1969 that first ignited my love of rugby, for that, I cannot thank him enough.

Now in his seventies, his side step and swerve are naturally not what they were in those now distant glorious years, but he still must be pretty quick, he managed to blur the photo.


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