Roy Francis Memorial to be unveiled in Brynmawr

Roy Francis, one of Wales Rugby League’s greatest head coaches of all time, will be immortalised in Brynmawr on Saturday 21 October.

The ceremony, organised by the Brynmawr Museum, will take place on the square in Brynmawr at 12 noon and the memorial will be unveiled by Jonathan Davies OBE along with WRL President Mike Nicholas at 1pm. All are invited to attend.

Roy was born in 1919 and raised in Brynmawr. At the age of 17, he switched codes and signed for Wigan where his rugby league career began. He won five caps for Wales between 1946 and 1948, but that’s just part of his story. He scored 225 tries in 346 club games, which also included spells with Barrow, Warrington, Hull FC and Dewsbury, but won just the one Great Britain cap, against New Zealand at Odsal where he scored two tries. It was thought that it was the colour of his skin that prevented him from ever being a Lions tourist due to a “White Australia” policy at the time.

The first-ever black professional head coach in Great Britain and often uttered in the same breath by rugby league fans that Carwyn James is thought of by those from rugby union, Roy was one of the most innovative coaches ever. His man-management, coaching methods, which included gymnasium work and video analysis, both a rarity for that period, and use of psychological techniques were considered years ahead of their time. He was also the first coach to embrace players’ families and offer them transport to games.

He coached Hull FC from 1955-63, Leeds from 1963-68, North Sydney Bears from 1969-70, Leeds again from 1974-75 and Bradford Northern from 1975-77. He also spent three years as team manager of Hull FC from 1970-73.

When coaching Hull, he led them to the League Championship in 1956 and 1958, and at Leeds to the title in 1974 and a Challenge Cup win in 1968 in the match commonly known as “The Watersplash Final”. Sadly, his spell in charge at North Sydney was less of a happy one due to the racism he encountered.

He died on April 6 1989 in Leeds, aged 70.

Ian Haywood, founder of the Roy Francis monument, said: “Robert Gate, author of ‘Gone North, Volumes 1 and 2’, stated that over 900 players left Wales to play Rugby League in the north. They wouldn’t get a warm reception if they returned. Things are different now and we’re able to celebrate his life and learn from the legacy that he left behind.”

John Hill, Director and Treasurer of the Brynmawr and District Museum, said: “We are delighted that this project is finally coming to fruition and that Brynmawr will now have a fitting memorial to the life and achievements of this remarkable man.”

Mike Nicholas, president of Wales Rugby League, said: “I’m delighted to be part of this unveiling. Roy was an innovative visionary and had a pastoral outlook to the sport. Others followed but he was the start of modern coaching methods.”