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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 10:49 GMT
How rugby beat the 1963 Big Freeze
Tractors clearing the hay and snow
Groundsmen used tractors to clear the pitch
After last week's defeat in Italy, Welsh rugby supporters might be praying for heavy snow and freezing conditions so that this weekend's game against England is called off.

But 40 years ago, 1963's match against the old enemy at Cardiff Arms Park was in real danger of being put on ice.

We used the tractor and trailer to take the straw and snow out the back of the stadium before tipping it into the river Taff

Bill Hardiman, groundsman

That winter, sport had been brought to a standstill by the heavy snow that engulfed the whole country during what was known as "The Big Freeze".

It was only a rag-tag team of tractor drivers, grounds men and volunteers working through the morning of the match that made sure the game went ahead.

Their task was to remove 30 tons of straw that protected the pitch to ensure it was playable.

"I helped by using a tractor and trailer to shift the straw off the ground," said assistant groundsman Bill Hardiman, who is now 83.

Bill Hardiman and Albert Francis
Bill Hardiman and Albert Francis made sure the game went ahead

He explained the straw had been laid over the pitch to keep the frost out, but heavy snowfall made it difficult to move the straw from the pitch.

"We used the tractor and trailer to take the straw and snow out the back of the stadium before tipping it into the river Taff.

"Of course we would more than likely be prosecuted for doing that today," added Mr Hardiman.

One of the workmen who took part in the massive operation is still involved with the hallowed turf of Welsh rugby.

It was so hard the players sounded like a herd of cattle coming towards you

Clive Rowlands, former Welsh captain

In 1963, Ted Hopkins, now 72, was the service manager for a company that removed most of the 30 tons of straw from the pitch.

His company supplies the machinery that maintains, lifts and moves the pallets of turf that form the Millennium Stadium pitch from stores at nearby St Athan.

"There was no system to get the straw and snow off so we used a baler to get some of the straw into square bales," he said.

Despite everyone's Herculean efforts, the grass still froze during the game, causing players to slip and slide.

And England won the match 13-6.

Roof advantage

The Welsh captain that day was Pontypool scrum-half Clive Rowlands, who believes the game should not have gone ahead.

"It was awful underfoot. Someone could have been seriously injured," he said.

Ted Hopkins
Ted Hopkins helped with the clearing operation

"It was so hard the players sounded like a herd of cattle coming towards you.

"I was happy to play at the time because that was my first cap for Wales.

"I remember it well because it was the last time Wales lost to England at Cardiff until 1991," he added.

Tony Horne, the Millennium Stadium's groundsman, will not have to face the problems if it freezes before the weekend.

"I have the advantage of being able to close the roof to keep the frost out," he said.


More from south east Wales
See also:

13 Feb 03 | Wales
18 Feb 03 | International
16 Feb 03 | International
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