Prison team’s delight at reinstatement into Gwent Football League
“A team effort” is how Jamie Grundy describes the successful campaign to get Prescoed FC – the only prison football team in Wales – reinstated into the Gwent League.
The football team has been a source of great pride to the residents of the category D prison in Pontypool for over 20 years. They consistently finished top of the Gwent League Division Two, although league rules barred them from promotion to the top tier.
Last year a change of administrative staff at the prison and the Football Association of Wales upgrading their player registration system saw Prescoed’s routine application to renew their league membership submitted too late.
They were absent from the Gwent League in 2019/20 but kept ticking over with some friendlies and re-applied to enter in 2020/21. But ‘new’ teams joining the league had to be approved by existing member clubs and nine clubs voted against their reinstatement.
Jamie, a writer and researcher on sport and criminal justice had a special fondness for Prescoed FC. He’d written a book, 90 Minutes of Freedom, which over the course of the 2018/19 season detailed the team’s fortunes and the importance of football to each player’s wellbeing and rehabilitation process.
When they were initially blocked from re-entering the Gwent League, the PE Officer at Prescoed contacted Jamie to ask for help.
He started a petition on change.org, put together challenges to each of the points raised against the team’s return and drummed up publicity from local newspapers, radio and BBC Wales. Everton and Wales legend Neville Southall also joined the cause and the Twinning Project also offered support.
“I was careful to make my arguments factual and balanced,” said Jamie. “One of the official reasons for objection was concerns over safeguarding with opposition players under-18 coming into the prison, plus the issue of “sporting integrity”. They mentioned that ‘Prescoed always win!’ If that’s an issue then Liverpool and Bayern Munich need chucking out of their league as well!
“Injuries were mentioned, but there has never been an injury serious enough to warrant an ambulance in over 20 years of league football at Prescoed. Trust me, there are far more intimidating places to play in the Gwent League! The atmosphere isn’t intimidating and the pitch is second to none.”
After several weeks of Jamie being “a constructive pain in the a**e” for the league, their verdict was returned on October 15. The appeal, presented by prison staff and residents, had been upheld.
One compromise had to be made: for obvious reasons, the team are unable to play away fixtures. Although these will still be played behind the prison walls, the ‘away’ results will be recorded as 3-0 defeats, but the ‘home’ results will count. Promotion (which obviously becomes all-but impossible anyway) will still be prohibited.
The players were happy to make these concessions, as long as they could keep playing competitively. Over the years, the football team has become vital; helping the players control their behaviour, learn about teamwork and giving them a weekly glimpse of freedom and normality.
“Sometimes it’s not always just about three points,” reflects Jamie. “This is an example of victory taking place off the pitch. They are absolutely and utterly delighted.
“Prescoed have done a lot of work inside the prison to make sure any concerns the league had have been addressed – and they’re the ones who presented to the appeals panel. I just created the campaign and quantified the support. I must thank everyone who supported the campaign and signed the petition, the prison staff, the Twinning Project and Neville Southall. I was truly a team effort.”
Pic: Jamie Grundy (rear) with former Prescoed FC players Gavin Etchell and Chris Leslie (front)