Mike recalls his sporting days in a ‘Walk Down Memory Lane’

Mike recalls his sporting days in a ‘Walk Down Memory Lane’

Michael Holding with faithful dog Barley


Michael Holding has been a social worker in Swansea for two decades but prior to that he was one of the best known rugby and cricket players in our county to come out of his home town of Whitland.
He played rugby for the Borderers, earned Welsh Youth caps in a ‘Grand-Slam’ winning rugby team, represented Pembrokeshire as they beat the Japanese tourists and played at the top level in Wales – and was regarded as one of the top all-rounders in cricket too!

High praise from Paul . . .

We caught up with Mike recently and it was nice to take a walk down ‘Memory Lane’ with someone who is always eager to play down his success but played for Bridgend, where he once scored two tries in a rare victory over Pontypool at Pontypool Park, as well as Llanelli and Swansea to a lesser degree.
In cricket he was as pacy as anyone in his era and had then-skipper Paul Webb saying,
“He was a great man to have in the team because not only did he claim plenty of wickets but he was a more than useful batsman and as good as most in the field.”

. . . And Trefor recalls Mike’s early school days

He showed his prowess in both sports, and athletics, from the time he attended Whitland Junior School, where Trefor Evans, now well-known in cricketing circles but a teacher then, told us,
“Mike was an excellent all-round sportsman and we knew at that early age he had something special in sport, as well as being a pleasure to have in class!” High praise indeed!
In athletics he excelled at 100 and 200 races and competed for Whitland Grammar School at county level, using the speed that marked him as a very good winger in rugby.

Ups and downs of Youth trials

He played there for Whitland Grammar School in a useful side that included flanker Max Howells but it was at under 18 Schools’ level that he received his biggest accolade because he was selected to play for Wales after attending a series of trials.
All went well at the outset but Mike thought he had missed out after one match where he didn’t receive a single pass and was left out for the next stage. He was understandably very disappointed but the following week he played for Carmarthenshire at Stradey Park, where Roy Bergiers was a spectator.
Mike must have impressed the Welsh international centre because he was later told he had been reinstated for the final trial against East Wales, played well and was over the moon when he was told he was in the team to play England at Pontypridd!

Great days as Wales beat the rest

Will Carling was in the England team but a very strong Wales team that included eventual British Lion Rob Jones and Steff Jones at half back, eased home by 13-12.
Also playing for Wales that day were others who went on to be senior internationals, like Glyn Llewellyn and Rowland Phillips, who was outstanding in the back row alongside Alan Carter and Andrew Coughlin.
This success was followed by a win over Scotland (at Stradey Park), plus victories in France and Ireland to secure the coveted ‘Grand Slam’ Michael and Co were thrilled, especially when they were awarded their caps for the season. Mike’s is resident at the home of his parents, as her some of his jerseys, with the rest amongst the many photographs at Whitland RFC.

Japan jolted by Mike and Co

One of Mike’s other major highlights in rugby came when he represented Pembrokeshire against Japan on the 12th October, 1983, where the county caused something of an upset by winning 28-15.
“Geraint Bowen was at full back and I joined Huw Forster, Wayne and Kevin Morgan in the three-quarter line, with Eric Phillips and Geraint John at half back.
“The front row comprised Brian Williams, John Griffiths and Gethin Evans, whilst Dai Bennett and Andrew Rose occupied the second row places, followed by Roger Price, Nigel Merroney and skipper Ninian Davies in the back row.
“I still have the programme and the memories of training to ‘Zorba the Greek’ music, which was something of a revelation from coach Trevor James, as were the high intensity sessions over short periods, and it was a great time to be involved.”
Top class rugby recalled – including a rare try double at Pontypool Park
Mike also played in University and went on to play first-class rugby with Bridgend, where John Devereux and Colin Laity played alongside him in a strong back division.
“Brian Nicholas was our coach and I enjoyed 60 games there over a three-year period, with an undoubted highlight being a two-try performance in a rare win against Pontypool at Pontypool Park.
“Glenn Webbe, John Apsee, Gareth Williams and Wayne hall were key players and we were kept fit as Brian used to make us train hard and then run the 1.5 miles back to the changing rooms!”

Back to basics – and great family support

He also had a few games for Llanelli and Swansea before returning to Whitland, where the top men were Tony Bowen, Jeff Evans, Dai Hughes, Paul and Dai Kirk, Domenic and Frank Setaro, before rounding off his playing days at New Dock Stars when work took him to Swansea and he was living in Penclawdd.
Mike has always been lucky to have total support from wife Veronica and children Jonathan (21), who is in the final year of a ‘Police Sciences’ course at the University of South Wales , and Emily (19), who is starting out on a Pharmacy degree course at the University of Bath, plus parents Malcolm and Pearl.

Great days in cricket

Mike played cricket for Whitland alongside characters like Colin and Dai John, Paul Webb and Trefor Evans, plus Mark and Dai Lee, James Owen and Mike Tremellen, who was an outstanding batsman.
“We had a few seasons in division one and I enjoyed it so much that even when I was at South Glamorgan for my degree I travelled home to play every weekend.
“I had a couple of seven and eight-wicket hauls and plenty of five-wicket figures but although I was regarded as a fast bowler I preferred batting and scored a couple of centuries during my time.
“We did manage a couple of Harrison-Allen Bowl semis but never made it to the big day at Cresselly, which was a bit of a disappointment.”

And finally . . .

When work took him out of the county he played for Ffynnone and then Swansea Civil Service, where he played up until three years ago and helped coach the junior team for a while.
But now he is studying for his PhD in Social Work and so Mike doesn’t play cricket – but he does keep a weather eye on local results in both cricket and rugby, and watching internationals involving Wales.
It was a pleasure to chat to Mike as part of our ‘Where Are They Now?’ series and we wish him every success for the future!