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Stradey Park mourns Grav, our humble Welsh icon.

Byline: By Steffan Rhys Western Mail

Ten thousand people turned out yesterday to say goodbye to Ray Gravell. Steffan Rhys joined the mourners at Stradey Park FOR much of Ray Gravell's life, he sought assurance about his ability in the fields in which he excelled, often unable to understand the esteem in which he was unanimously held.

Rugby legends and broadcasting colleagues have recounted in the days since his death how his exceptional talent, his boundless enthusiasm and his unbridled pride were accompanied throughout his life by his inability to fully accept the extent of the regard in which he was held.

Hard, then, to tell whether the thousands of people that filled the stands at Stradey Park for his funeral yesterday would have been another mystery to him, or would finally have convinced him of his true status as one of Wales' favourite sons.

Although the reason for being there was at the forefront of everyone's minds as the crowds gathered yesterday morning, the streets around Stradey Park looked under a cloudless sky as they might have on any match day.

A steady stream of people walked, alone and in groups, down Sandy Road and Denham Avenue, trickling into the stadium where the ground's north and south stands were filled well before the funeral began.

But the famous ground will rarely have seen such prolonged and perfect silence among those who, despite a desire to celebrate the influence that Grav had on them in one way or another, made barely a sound before they applauded his coffin as it was carried from the field.

Stradey's red gates were strewn with flowers, scarves and flags, with one Welsh flag reading, "You were the greatest Welshman, the greatest role model, the greatest man, my inspiration, but most importantly, you were you."

Worn jerseys, their sleeves tied to the railings, had come from Nantgaredig, Ysgol Gyfun y Strade, and Mynydd-y-Garreg, the hilltop village where he had lived all his life. Generations of people stood in a queue which stretched most of the way around Stradey's south stand, with schoolchildren bearing the crests of schools across Carmarthenshire, mingling with people seven times their age and families in jerseys with "Grav" emblazoned across the back.

Ray's family had said people should feel free to wear their replica jerseys, and many did. Those who didn't, wore a red scarf, red hat, red gloves, or even red high heels instead.

Inside, crowds streamed in from Stradey Park's four corners. Llanelli Male Voice Choir opened proceedings from the pitch's centre with hymns including Mi Glywaf Dyner Lais.

Tied to the newer north stand's central stairs, directly below the name Clwb Rygbi Llanelli Rugby Club was a banner reading "Diolch am Bopeth, Grav, Yma o Hyd". Translated, it said "Thank you, Grav, Still Here."

Stradey Park will not be there much longer, of course, but as the club looks to a modern future in their new stadium across town, set to be in place within a year, there was a glimpse back to the ground's robust tradition, with the battered but iconic scoreboard detailing perhaps its greatest ever victory.

Llanelli 9, Seland Newydd 3, it read, in reference to the Scarlets' famous triumph over the All Blacks on October 31, 1972, in which Gravell played, 35 years to the day before he died.

The Rev Eldon Phillips, the club's chaplain, said, "I wish this heartfelt welcome could be made in very different circumstances but I'm very pleased and honoured to do so as we await a favourite son of Stradey.

"Ray Gravell was a Scarlets supporter, player and president. Throughout his all too short life, this field, this place, was his other home.

"It's only fitting, therefore, that we gather here today at the scene of many of his famous triumphs to bid farewell."

As the Burry Port Brass Band played on the touchline along which Grav would characteristically seek interviews with coaches in his later days as a broadcaster, former teammates including Phil Bennett and JJ Williams formed a guard of honour and his coffin, draped with a Welsh flag and three roses from his wife Mari and daughters Manon, 11, and Gwenan, eight, was carried out.

It was shouldered by former Wales coach Gareth Jenkins, Scarlets captain Simon Easterby, players Dwayne Peel and Stephen Jones, who had grown up under his guidance, and his former teammates, Derek Quinnell and Delme Thomas, the former Scarlets captain who once put an arm around a nervous young Gravell before the 1972 triumph and said, "Don't worry, Grav. It'll be all right."

Carrying the Eisteddfod's ceremonial sword, which was being used for the first time without the Gorsedd of the Bards, was ex-Scarlet and current keeper of the sword, Robin McBryde, who took over sword-bearing duties to Ray's delight this year when illness prevented him from doing so.

Behind the coffin, Ray's widow Mari walked with her arms around her daughters, who both wore jerseys with Ray's number 13 on the back.

Speakers, including First Minister Rhodri Morgan, Gerald Davies and historian Hywel Teifi Edwards, in turn paid tribute to their friend. Dafydd Iwan sang Duw, Mi Wn y Daw (My God, I Know You Will Come) and Gwyneth Glyn captured one of Ray's firmly held sentiments, that "nowhere is like home".

Iwan told the crowd that Ray had requested the song be sung at his funeral and Gerald Davies, quoting Stephen Spender, said Grav belonged among "the names of those who in their lives fought for life, who wore at their hearts the fire's centre, born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun, and left the vivid air signed with their honour". Grav played 485 times for Llanelli between 1969 and 1985, scoring 120 tries and captaining the side from 1980 to 1982. He was capped 23 times between 1975 and 1982 in the Welsh side which dominated the Five Nations, winning two Grand Slams, four titles and four Triple Crowns, and also toured South Africa with the British Lions in 1980, playing in all four Tests. But despite his sporting prowess, physical attributes that have seen him described as, among other things, a "mountain man" and "celtic warrior", and his popularity as a broadcaster, most of those who paid tribute to him yesterday spoke of his vulnerability and an apparent unwillingness to accept the full magnitude of his ability. He died, aged 56, while on holiday with his family in Majorca last month. As the funeral cortege left Stradey Park yesterday, the crowds of mourners who had sat silently inside the stadium lined the streets outside and applauded a great man who was leaving his beloved club for the final time.: FROM PAGE 5: Great communicator's humanity touched the soul:Describing Grav as a "Cymro i'r carn" (Welshman to the hilt), First Minister Rhodri Morgan said, "Why was Grav's appeal so universal? Why was he regarded with such huge respect and affection all over the rugby and broadcasting worlds? "It was a combination of his common humanity and his almost Bambi-like vulnerability. "That is why he touched everybody. It is what made him such a great communicator. "We politicians rate communicators but few of us ever touch people's souls like Grav did.

"That is why there are so many people here today or watching on television. "He had huge talents but didn't realise he had them, so every achievement, like rooming with Clive Woodward on the 1980 Lions tour, was to him a huge pleasure." "Like Albert Jenkins before him, Llanelli, Mynydd-y-Garreg, Carmarthenshire and Wales will never forget him.": A vitamin C of a Welshman for whom stories were created centuries ago:Historian Hywel Teifi Edwards said, "Loving Wales and revelling in its people were as natural to him as breathing. If you asked him where his gwladgarwch (patriotism) came from, he would look at you and tell you nobody asks why snow is white.

"I remember him in the national library in Aberystwyth celebrating S4C's 20th anniversary. There was Grav as apologetic as ever about his presence and worried he would have nothing to say.

"But he spoke, as always, truthfully and from the heart and everyone knew he had the right to be there.

"We always knew he was special. A Vitamin C of a Welshman. "He was a rarity, a begetter of stories about himself in his own lifetime. There was a distinct touch of the Mabinogion about him. "Stories will be told about him with gusto in years to come by people who never met him, and I'm quite convinced that stories were fashioned with Grav in mind centuries ago.": 'Let his gentle heart be the standard for us all':Gerald Davies, right, said, "Whereas Ray was a consoling presence for us all he was always seeking consolation himself - 'How well am I doing? I'm doing all right, aren't I?'. "He never believed us when we told him how good a game he was having, he never believed how good he was. "Today is a remarkable testament to this remarkable Welshman's benevolent heart. Whatever happens here in future, Gravs will surely be remembered.

"I shall not say, though, that we will never see his like again for I hope we do.

"There could be no poorer way to honour Gravs than to assume his spirit is perished, never more to arise. "Should not his generosity, his kind and gentle heart remain the standard with which we measure ourselves? "Should this not be the inheritance he bequeaths to us all? It was a privilege to have known you, Gravs. We all loved you because you have touched and enriched our lives.": Mountain man was too big for just one name:The Rev Meirion Evans, presiding, said, On this difficult afternoon, our Stradey stadium will be a comfort. It will be a temple.

We have gathered to worship God and to pay tribute to our brother Raymond Gravell, Ray, Ray or Mynydd, Grav. He was so big no one name was big enough for him and in one way or another he has touched the lives of everyone here today, and thousands of others throughout his beloved Wales.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 16, 2007
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