This month, our good friend John Morris takes a look at a book tracing the history of Welsh football.
I would like to draw Love Wrexham readers’ attention to an outstanding book by Phil Stead: “Red Dragons: The Story of Welsh Football – Y Lolfa”. This is an in-depth text which mirrors the author’s knowledge and passion for football and the exploits of the national team.
The book is full of interesting facts and anecdotes underlining why Wales have failed to fulfil their potential as a football nation. The author notes the contribution of great players who will revive many memories for the reader, such as Ivor Allchurch, Trevor Ford, Alf Sherwood, Jack Kelsey, John Charles, Roy Paul, Cliff Jones, Wyn Davies, Joey Jones, John Toshack, George Berry, Brian Flynn, John Mahoney, Mickey Thomas, Leighton James, John Hartson, Ryan Giggs, Mike England, Terry Yorath, Dai Davies, Ian Rush, Gary Speed, Craig Bellamy and Mark Hughes to name but a few.
The Injustice of Anfield
I am bitterly reminded of the games that Wales only just lost, for example the injustices in the World Cup play-off against Scotland in 1977 (played at Anfield!). He also notes the contribution of children from the North Wales Polish communities to the national teams of the 70s, including Ray Mielzarek from Caernarfon and Eddie Niedzviecki and Ryszard Krzywicki from Wrexham.
We eagerly await the new batch of talented children of Polish parents in Wrexham to wear the “Cymru” shirt with passion and pride. There was no love lost, however, when Wales played Poland before a crowd of 120,000 spectators in Katowice in September, 1973. The eminent Welsh journalist described the game as “the vilest, most brutal international I have seen in years”.
One of the players who received rough treatment that day was John Mahoney who played for Crewe Alexander. He became the “Ray Gravell” of the Welsh football team, learning to speak Welsh and playing tapes of Welsh choirs singing Welsh hymns on the way to internationals. He said, “I feel deeply about playing for Wales and, as a person, I care about Welsh causes and the Welsh language”. Readers should note the protest by Mahoney, Yorath and others when the FA refused to play “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” at Wembley in 1977 the day Wales went on to beat England.
A Coach to Forget
The author also notes the positive contribution of managers such as Jimmy Murphy, Dave Bowen, Mike England, Terry Yorath, Mark Hughes and Garry Speed. He pulls no punches when he speaks in disparaging terms about the negative contribution of Bobby Gould as Wales coach. In particular, he highlights the lack of direction in his coaching and man-management and the negative impact this had on the success of the national team.
Phil Stead takes the reader on a journey of many lows and some highs. It is to be hoped that the pride of being Welsh and playing for Wales displayed by Trefor Ford, John Mahoney, Joey Jones, Terry Yorath, Gary Speed, Dai Davies and latterly by Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsay and team-mates can reignite the passion and desire of the team in 2020.
Front-cover photo courtesy of Y Lolfa.