Penarth Athletic Club

Penarth Athletic Club president Mike Gooding pours a pint in the newly refurbished Gooding Lounge
Pictures: Ewegottalove

Walking into Penarth Athletic Club on a sunny Friday morning, it should perhaps come as no surprise to find a member of the Gooding family – in this case, Club president Mike Gooding – hoovering, cleaning and replenishing the bar supplies ready for another busy weekend of social and sporting activity.

While members of the Vale of Glamorgan Council fastidiously prepare the cricket pitches out on the old Recreation Ground – known to older locals as ‘The Rec’, or more commonly these days, The Athletic Field – Mike is hard at work in the refurbished clubhouse, like his mother, Olive, and father, Roy, before him.

In fact, most of the Gooding clan have worked behind the scenes at the Lavernock Road club at one time or another, whether organising, cooking, cleaning, pulling pints, or even turning out for the rugby team – one of two in this seaside town.

Mike is a former chairman of Penarth Rugby Club and long-serving past player, but admits it has been quite some time since there was such a buzz about the Athletic Club.

“The club has undergone a complete transformation during the coronavirus closure,” he says. “Almost everything here is new. The carpets, seating, lights, TV screens – even the toilets have been included in the huge improvements.

“Of course it was a struggle with the long closure due to covid, but members and players have worked together to make this an amazing venue during lockdown. For example, some of the rugby guys have created smart, wooden partitions between the tables to allow us to follow the reopening rules.

“Once restrictions were eased, we set up marquees outside on the grass and the social side of the club is booming now and takings have shot up.”

Penarth Athletic Club has traditionally been home to clubs in four different sports – rugby, hockey, cricket and lacrosse (currently dormant) – with participants and followers from across all four disciplines involved in a year-round social scene.

The club has used grants and available funding wisely during the pandemic period to turn it into an exciting local venue for functions and sporting occasions alike.

The changes have seen the introduction of a staff waiting service for tables and bookings have been through the roof in the aptly-named Gooding Lounge.

“I was here the other day looking out across the field and we had cricket matches going on and rugby training taking place at the same time,” says Mike. “The whole place was buzzing with activity and I thought to myself, ‘this is what a club like ours is all about’.”

The rugby section has seen a huge response in the mini and junior recruitment, with well over a hundred under-sixes alone signing up.

Speaking to Bro Radio, Sean O’Sullivan, chairman of Penarth RFC, admitted “the response has been incredible”.

He added: “The club has become such a good place so that parents want to bring their kids down there and we’ve never had a response like it. It’s been truly incredible.

“I think it’s the whole package now that we’re offering. The Athletic Club is a successful venue in Penarth. Oddly, in some ways the covid closure had a positive effect.

“We’ve adjusted the way we work, we’ve got this fantastic beer garden now and it’s an amazing place for kids to run around – it’s an enclosed beer garden the size of six rugby pitches, you couldn’t ask for more – and that success has just generated an interest and translated through to the rugby and cricket.”

Chairman of Penarth Athletic Club, Stephen Newman, explained: “We had to close, along with everybody else, which gave us time to improve the facilities.

“The Vale of Glamorgan (Council) have been fantastic in their assistance whilst we’ve been closed, it gave us time to, not gut the club, but change it dramatically – we had issues with our toilet area and now it’s the best in Penarth, people think it’s fantastic.

“The method of serving people, having to use waiting staff, has worked fantastically and I’m not sure why it’s taken us 50 years to realise the fantastic ‘beer garden’ we have where parents can watch their kids run around and play on the swings and slides whilst they sit and have a glass of cider of an evening. It’s taken the covid pandemic for us to realise that.”

Athletic Club bar manager Hayley Clare is expecting the busy times to continue throughout the summer, with many special events planned and the British Lions rugby tour of South Africa likely to see bookings at an all-time high.

“We’ve never used the outside area as a beer garden before,” says Hayley, “but we saw an opportunity because the community want to get out in a safe environment, with their children playing on the field, and have a glass of wine and relax.

“The mental health implications are huge. People need to speak with people. It’s all about that sense of normality.

“It is, of course, harder when people have a drink to keep them socially distanced, but we have covid marshals and are policing it.

“Toilets are being sanitised every 45 minutes, too, so we can keep everyone safe, and the staff are having lateral flow tests.”

It is is good to see that not everything is doom and gloom as venues like Penarth Athletic Club show the way forward in finding the positives from more than a year of coronavirus pandemic misery.

June 2021