They don’t quite make them like him anymore.

At 69, life is that little bit harder for Dai ‘Nobby’ Howells. Both knee cartilages have diminished, jogging is no longer possible, and shifting heavy weight about isn’t as simplistic as it used to be.

And yet, unsurprisingly for a man who graduated from the school of hard knocks, the notion of shirking his responsibilities as a full time builder is an inconceivable one.

“Overall I feel pretty good,” he told me during a rare work break this week.

“It is getting harder with the building – I’m not 16 anymore but the blocks still weigh the same.

“But the thought of sitting at home and doing nothing? I’ve never been that way. I’m one for being up early and am well driven in that sense. I take the same attitude to work as I did to sport.”

Which inadvertently touched on what this interview was all about.

Indeed, a younger Howells would be seen as a rare commodity in modern times. His dedication to local football was unwavering. He was a one club man. He was very hard but fair. And growing up, a round ball was all that was needed to enrich his childhood.

“I grew up in Bro Dawel in Solva and all we did was play football.

“One of us would get a ball for Christmas and we’d be out with it all the time – by the road or on the grass verge.

“Then in 1963 Solva started up a team. I was 12 and played in the under 15s league.”

And from that moment onwards, there’s barely a kick that he can’t recall.

“We were runners up two seasons on the trot while our under 18s won the Wiltshire Cup in 64, 65, and 66. I played in the last one against Kilgetty and they were a hell of a side.

“It was at the old St Mary’s Field in Fishguard and it was 1-1 before we scored in extra time. Eddie Oliver was the referee and I remember it was dark when he blew the final whistle.

“My father (Ben) had no interest in football. My mother (Mair) was more of an inspiration on that front. But that night was the one game they both came to watch.”

It’s memories like these that make it a travesty the same competition now ceases to exist.

“The Wiltshire Cup was massive when I was growing up. Some years the crowd would be bigger for that than the Senior Cup final.”

For Howells, playing with older teenagers was a common theme. Prior to that night in Fishguard, aged 13, he’d represented Pembrokeshire Schools’ Under 15s against Swansea Schoolboys at the Vetch Field. Just a year later he made his senior debut for Solva.

“I was only 14 but there were no age restrictions in those days. I was stuck out on the wing for my debut but soon moved to full back and then to centre back. I loved the physicality of it.”

And it was the positional switch that prompted a nickname that has stuck to this day. In fact, very few can confidently tell you his first name.

“Obviously there was an England defender called Nobby Styles and like him, I started to get a bit of a reputation for getting stuck in. Ken Jenkins was the Solva Chairman at the time and he gave me the name ‘Nobby’ and it stuck.

“I’ve always been called it since.”

There was a quick delve into other sports. At 16, work colleagues persuaded him to try rugby for St Davids but after three months of not arriving home until 5am on a Sunday morning, his father put a stop to that. He also had three seasons of cricket with Llanrhian and was Player of the Year there in 1970.

Not bad for man who claimed fielding was his forte as he couldn’t really bat or bowl.

But it was football that would define him. And he started out with an ethos he maintains to this very day.

“When I first started kicking a ball about at nine-years-old I was with boys who were 15 or 16. Yes there was a physical difference but I had to have the tenacity to try and tackle them.

“That gave me willpower and growing up my attitude was always that it didn’t matter who I played against or what their reputation was. They all had two legs, the same as me.

“So why should any of them be better?

“I enjoyed the physical side of it but it wasn’t about winning or losing – it was just about playing the game.”

I could sense angst building.

“It didn’t matter if pitch was frozen or waterlogged, you encouraged the referee to get the game on. In those times we’d often play with mud up to the ankles.

“We once played in Pen-Ffordd and they were taking the cows off the pitch as we got there - and we changed in the shed.

“And you didn’t have the have washing facilities then like you do today. You just got on with it. Players are spoiled by things these days.”

Inevitably, Howells would be made captain of Solva and keep the armband for a decade. There was no secret to his leadership – he gave everything and expected others to follow.

If the rain was torrential, he’d still turn up training. If no one else was at training, he’d still run alone.

In fact, an abiding memory of my childhood was stumbling home after sunrise on New Year’s Day only for Howells to pass me on an intense 12 mile road run. Thankfully, he was too focused to realise the identity of the mess that dived into a nearby hedge to avoid collision.

And yet for an individual so fiercely competitive, he retained a remarkable sense of sportsmanship. My generation grew up on stories of how ‘Nobby’ took no prisoners on the field, with many centre forwards still bearing the scars of 50-50 tackles.

With that in mind, I didn’t expect this next bit.

“When I was captain we won the Margaret Davies Cup for fair play four years on the trot. That meant as much to me as anything and it was big thing for the club to be known to be playing the game properly.”

And I certainly didn’t expect this follow up.

“I was never a dirty player.

“All the years I played football I was only booked once - and that was for handball when I stopped it going into the net against Camrose.

“They missed the penalty thankfully. Later on the rules changed and I’d have been sent off for doing it now.

“But I always believed in sportsmanship. Playing hard but also in the right way.”

During his tenure the club would fluctuate between the First and Second Division, and ironically they were in the second tier for the 1984/85 campaign when Howells would lead the Greens out for their biggest ever day.

Namely, the club’s only appearance in a Senior Cup final.

It would end in a 3-0 defeat against a strong Johnston line-up, but Howells hasn’t forgotten the occasion or indeed, how his side got there.

“The semi final against New Hedges Saundersfoot is the one I remember best,” he recalled, as if it were yesterday.

“They were the team of the moment – top of Division 1 having not lost a game. We played them in London Road at Pembroke Borough and beat them 1-0 with Nigel James scoring.

“They were absolutely gutted.”

The final would prove a step too far however for a side that fielded five 17-year-olds, including a certain David Gray.

“That day was a fantastic one with great memories – but they were too experienced for us,” admitted Howells.

“I actually missed a penalty late on but thankfully it didn’t affect the result. But to be out there on the Meadow with Solva for an occasion like that was amazing.”

As for the missed spot kick, redemption would come a year later.

“The next season we won the Second Division Cup, beating Milford Athletic 3-2 and I scored the winner. That was a great feeling.

“I have so many memories from playing for Solva and we had a great social side as well which was a big part of it all. It’s sad that it’s completely different today – a lot of boys just wander off after games.”

One such memory came in 1993 after he passed 1000 games in a green shirt. To commemorate it, teammates organised a special testimonial match for him, again on The Meadow.

Howells would play for the club until the year 2000 when he was 49, and then six further seasons followed with the Pembrokeshire Veterans’ side. Retirement was then enforced when his left knee effectively blew out of him during one of his frequent road runs.

And he went out with few regrets. Highly rated at local level, he always valued loyalty above personal prestige or silverware.

“I was asked to go and play for Fishguard in 1973 and actually agreed to it – but changed my mind before I’d played or even trained with them. The temptation was there but as good as they were, I’m glad I didn’t go.

“Solva was my team and I think now that side of the game has gone. Boys move clubs too easily.”

In fact, by the time his own playing days became numbered, Howells had noted a shift in mentality among young players. It was a topic that had clearly been simmering beneath the surface throughout our conversation.

“Things in local football were starting to change.

“Don’t get me wrong there were some great players about when I finished and there still are great players in Pembrokeshire now. But many didn’t have the mental attitude my generation had.

“When the chips were down we rolled our sleeves up, knuckled down and got on with it. But to us football was the be all and end all.

“I always remember 1978 when the Pembrokeshire League won the Inter Counties’ Cup for the first time, beating Swansea in Ammanford. We were 3-0 down after 20 minutes but fought back to win 6-3 after extra time.

“That was a great team. You had the likes of Geraint Phillips in goal, Brian Cutler, Gerald Hicks, Jerome Merry, Stuart Wilson and so on. But that fightback showed the attitude of the boys more than anything.

“I don’t think that would have happened today. So in regards to Pembrokeshire football I’m glad I played in the era I did.”

These aren’t hollow words. The current concerns with participation numbers have been well documented.

The reasons behind it?

“I just think it’s the world we live in now. There’s more distractions for youngsters and society has changed. There isn’t much by way of jobs around here and many feel they have to move away.

“And when it comes to sport if boys think they are going to have a hiding they won’t show up.

“I played in many matches when as a team we knew we could be badly beaten but still went out and did our best. That’s why I admire St Davids Rugby Club immensely - they always turn out a team no matter what.”

His son Rob had similar values – a workhorse of a rugby player in a team so often on the back foot. It’s a family trend that Howells now hopes his sports mad grandsons Max and George, aged 7 and 10, will continue.

And his advice to them, is the same as it would be to any youngster starting out in the game they choose.

“I’d tell any child playing now to believe in themselves. We’re all born equal so believe you can be as good as anybody.

“I never went on a football pitch thinking my opposite number was better than me. It wouldn’t have mattered if it was George Best.

“But also you have to try - put the effort in and work hard. Everyone should enjoy sport but if you’re not going to give it 100% then you shouldn’t be there.”

Applying that attitude to his own career is what has cemented a local legacy for Howells. And when you ask him what he got out of the game, the response is telling.

“I loved my football.

“I made so many friends through it and not just from Solva – and played against great players too. You had Graham Jenkins from Kilgetty, Alan Brindley from New Hedges, Brian Morris from Goodwick, while Fishguard had the likes of Eddie Merry, Ken Harries, Stuart Wilson.

“With us we had players like Nigel Phillips and Ian Walsh who were exceptional.

“There’s so many more I could mention. And they weren’t just great players but great people as well.

“Even now guys who I don’t recognise me will come up and talk about our times in football which is nice. I had a reputation and I stuck to it.

“That means so much more to me than any medals I won.”

That very reputation continues to this day. One that encapsulates honesty, hard work, loyalty, and prioritises team ethos over accolades and personal glory.

Like I said, they don’t quite make them like him anymore.