Traditionally, the Welsh national football team are seen as ‘also-rans’ on the international stage. The rest of the world see them as a couple of fixtures that can be tricky, but really should lead to a moral boosting victory. The problem lies not in the wrong choice of tactics, of lack of enthusiasm / determination, it’s the basic premise Association Football will forever be playing second fiddle to that other form of football, you know, the one played with odd shape balls. That game named after a small town in the Midlands with public school, when some bloke committed such blatent handball in a footie match that made Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand Of God’ seem like a forgivable faux pas, and there and then invented a whole new sport.
That said, the land of the Red Dragon has a penchant for creating some very useful football players over the years. Throughout my teenage years and into my early twenties, the Welsh fielded greats of Neville Southall, Kevin Ratcliffe, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush and Ryan Giggs. These players were (and still are in the case of the still active Giggs) of such class and skill, they’d have easily walked in the national sides of other more potentially successful countries. Even the slightly lesser players around the late eighties / early nineties were no slouches – Pat Van De Hauwe, Dean Saunders, Gary Speed (R.I.P.) and John Hartson. The down side was though, in order to field an entire eleven some complete hoofers of the same playing ability as myself have represented Wales (Yes, the Welsh FA have been more desperate for players on occasions than those girls you see on that cringe worthy dating televisual feast, ‘Take Me Out’), and does go some way to explain how come Vinnie Jones and Robbie Savage managed to ‘play’ (used in its broadest possible sense and meaning) international football.
Currently, the Welsh have two diamonds in their side I wish with every fibre in my being were English – Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale. It must be infuriatingly frustrating for them to know it’s extremely unlikely they’ll ever play in a World Cup Finals, while that carthorse John Terry has played in several. Justice? Well, the same can be said for George Best. He never graced the World Cup Finals due to his Ulster roots. How the whole world ached to see him on the ultimate stage. However, if you wait long enough, have a huge slice of luck during qualifying, the minnows can get there. When Northern Ireland booked their tickets to the 1982 finals in Spain, it was to everyone’s amazement. Their legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings and the very useful Sammy McIlroy no doubt thought this would be their one and only chance to play at the highest heights, but four years later, there they were there again in Mexico.
Fingers crossed, the same slice of luck will fall Wales’ way, and they qualify for their first finals since 1958. Initial signs are looking good. They have a very asute manager in Chris Coleman, plus rising through the ranks some young players with immense potential to compliment the afore-mentioned Hughes and Bale. They don’t require a team of stars, as Northern Ireland proved in 1986, with Jennings, McIlroy and Norman Whiteside the three who stood out head and shoulders above the rest talent-wise. If Coleman can manage to convince a few more schools in the principality to push more boys into kicking the ball, as to carrying it, with their undying sporting spirit that’s shown every Six Nations and British Lions game, they’ll achieve the dream that’s become a millstone around their necks.
Just out of interest, does anyone know why the rugby union ball is the shape it is? I bet you’re thinking, “Easy!! It’s so it’s you can tuck it under your arm and run with it there!” Well, I can reveal the rugby ball is the strange ‘egg’ shape it is in homage to the game’s founder, William Webb-Ellis. That was the shape of his head after his team-mates caught up with him after he picked up the ball and ran.