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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 November 2007, 16:30 GMT
A farewell fit for a Welsh legend
Nick Parry
BBC Wales news website

A mourner at the funeral
Full but silent - the atmosphere at Stradey Park
The roads leading to Ray Gravell's beloved Stradey Park thronged like a match day, only far more subdued.

The rugby legend had always wanted his funeral at Stradey Park but could not possibly have imagined so many would attend.

Many wore black, even more had dressed in scarlet, while others wore Welsh and British Lions rugby shirts in tribute to the centre.

By the time the massed voices of Llanelli's Cor Meibion took their place at the centre of the pitch, the north and south stands were full, while hundreds of schoolchildren packed the Pwll End.

A who's who of Welsh rugby from the last 40 years, including Barry John, JPR and JJ Williams, sat side by side with familiar faces from all walks of Welsh life.

MPs, AMs, councillors, broadcasters and actors were among the many thousands who braved the cold, crisp weather to say goodbye to a man universally known as Grav. Never can Stradey Park have been so full yet so silent.

Thousands attended the open-air service at Stradey Park

Entering the ground, Falklands war hero Simon Weston summed up the mood when he said: "It's one of those bitter-sweet days. It's a beautiful day and so many people are here to say goodbye to Grav."

Welcoming people the Scarlets' chaplain Reverend Eldon Phillips said: "Ray Gravell was a Scarlets supporter, player and president.

"Throughout his all too short life, this field, this place was his other home."

As the pallbearers emerged from the players' tunnel carrying the coffin draped in the Welsh flag, Stradey rose as one.

The service that followed - like Stradey with its corrugated stands, concrete terraces and flood-lit pylons - was traditional and uniquely Welsh.

Mourner singing at funeral
The service included traditional music and tributes

Little had changed since Grav made his first appearance there almost 40 years ago.

The famous scoreboard at the Town End read simply 'Llanelli 9 Seland Newydd 3' in reference to Llanelli's famous 1972 defeat of the All Blacks, in which Grav proudly played a key part.

"A tidal wave of emotion", "a force of nature", "dazzling", "humble" and "a man with a heart of gold he was happy to share with the world", were just some of the tributes paid to him.

Inevitably there were lighter moments as anecdotes were told of his enthusiasm, occasional self-doubt but overwhelming friendship and humour.

The respect shown by the crowd was only matched by the pitch-perfect choreography of the occasion and the tributes with not a word out of place.

The silence shown by the crowd was only broken by spontaneous and sustained applause as his coffin was carried away.

As people filed out past the dozens of floral tributes that have adorned Stradey's entrance gate since news of Grav's death, rarely can they have experienced 80 minutes of such mixed emotion at the famous ground.

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