A new, comprehensive and revelatory biography of Maestro Carwyn James is published just as Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions take on the All Blacks in the latest test series. As Gatland’s Lions take on the mighty New Zealanders, thoughts inevitably go back to the one and only time that the Lions have beaten them in a Test series, under the leadership of the inimitable Carwyn James. Under his coaching, they secured a historical 3-1 victory in 1971.
Into the Wind: the life of Carwyn James by Alun Gibbard, is a thoroughly researched, comprehensive look at the life of a man who influenced rugby throughout the world. It contains new material relating to various aspects of his life, such as his time working for the Secret Services and his life in Italy. It also contains photographs and documents not seen before.
‘He was, say many, the greatest coach rugby has known. Not only did he mastermind the Lions first ever series victory on New Zealand soil, he then went on to coach his club side, Llanelli, to beat the All Blacks at Stradey Park Llanelli’ said biographer Alun Gibbard.
‘And, as this book confirms, he was also unofficially asked to prepare the Barbarians to face the All Blacks, as traditionally the Barbarians are not supposed to be coached. He therefore guided three teams to victory over the All Blacks’ added Alun.
The book has already recieved praise from the likes of Professor Dai Smith who praised it as being ‘Revelatory in its fresh information and sensitive in its interpretation, so that now, at last, we can see Carwyn whole. A triumph of a book.’
This book looks at the way his rugby acumen and insight developed from his wartime Primary School days, through Grammar and University education, National Service and teaching at Llandovery College, to the time he then became the coach of Llanelli, one of the first first class coaches in Wales. In doing so, it sheds light on rugby in three different decades in Wales and beyond, before we get to the decade the whole rugby world got to know of his genius, the Seventies.
But this biography argues that rugby was not the only drive in Carwyn’s life, in fact, Alun Gibbard argues that rugby wasn’t indeed the main love of his life.
‘He was, at heart, a man or literature with a poet’s spirit. He loved the literature of his native tongue, Welsh, but also the English classics’ explained Alun, ‘When he learned Russian in the Navy, he fell in love with Russian literature and when he coached Rovigo in Italy, he turned to the written word in that country’s language. He was also a prolific broadcaster from the late Fifties onwards and he stood as a Welsh nationalist candidate in a General Election.’
Into the Wind deals with the episode in his life when he was rejected as coach of Wales, making the point that he actually wasn’t rejected because he withdrew his own application. It then goes on to argue however that this does nor excuse the WRU for not utilising the rugby talent that Carwyn had more than others. It argues that he was let down by this Welsh organisation.
Into the Wind also argues that he was let down by another Welsh establishment, the BBC. This leading sporting figure and academic was employed to present sports bulletins are every hour of the day by the BBC, in a way that abused his obvious talents.
On a personal level, Into the Wind looks in depth at the popular, sometimes sensationalist claim that Carwyn James was gay. Alun Gibbard rejects any pressure to conclusively prove that he actually was gay, saying that it is not the biographers duty to come to a conclusion that the person himself had not come to.
Into the Wind doesn’t hold back however. It honestly analyses the battle with sexuality that raged inside Carwyn and which caused him such painful turmoil towards the end of his life. It states that Carwyn was facing a struggle to understand what he could feel happening to him, both rejecting and accepting sexual tensions that were raging inside. He never got to the point where he could resolve such tensions. His death in a bath in Amsterdam happened before he could reach such a resolution.
‘He was a genius but also a tortured soul’ added Alun, ‘Into the Wind brings Carwyn James to life once again, in all his genius and complexities.’
Alun Gibbard is a full time author from Llanelli who has published almost thirty non-fiction titles and one novel. He contributes weekly to the Welsh magazine Golwg. A broadcaster for over 25 years before he began his writing career, he still contributes to radio and television.
Into the Wind – The Life of Carwyn James by Alun Gibbard (£14.99, Y Lolfa) is available now.