Wales National Football Team


Introduction

The Wales National Football Team is controlled by the Football Association of Wales, and is one of the oldest national football teams in the world. Nicknamed “The Dragons”, and kitted out in red strips, Wales have played their home matches at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium since 1999. Prior to this, the side used Cardiff’s Arms Park, and before 1989 Wales had no fixed home ground, playing games at Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham.

The national side in Wales is unlikely ever to have a following to rival that of the England team. This is predominantly a rugby nation, with a population of under 3 million and consequently it’s unlikely that Wales will ever be more than an international minnow. In recent years, the Wales youth team has finally begun to nurture young Welsh talent, which bodes well for the future. A keen sense of rivalry between Wales and England may also benefit the team – England’s Euro 2008 qualification debacle may provide Wales with the motivation to do well in the years ahead!


The Beginning

The Home Championship was established in 1884, a competition between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The Championship continued for 100 years and Wales’ first international match took place on 25 March 1876 at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground, Glasgow. They lost heavily (4-0) to Scotland, and were on the receiving end of 2-0, 9-0 and 3-0 defeats in subsequent years (1877-1879). The first Wales-England match took place in 1879 – a 2–1 defeat for Wales. The fledgling national team might have been forgiven for hanging up its boots at this point, but fortunes improved in the 1880s. They won eight games, drew three and lost 17, recording an impressive 11-0 victory over Ireland on 3 March 1888 in Wrexham.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) joined FIFA in 1906, but withdrew in 1928 in common with all the British nations as a result of a disagreement over wages for amateur players. The first Football World Cup was held in 1930 but as a result of these strained relations, The Dragons did not enter this or the next two competitions.

In the Home Championship, results continued to disappoint, with just over 25 wins out of 107 matches played between 1900 and 1939. In 1932 Wales played a side from outside the UK for the first time, beating the Republic of Ireland 4-1. In May 1933, Wales travelled to Paris to play France, a match which was drawn 1-1.


Post-war promise

The Second World War naturally interrupted Wales’ international play, and the team enjoyed little success in the 1940s. In 1946 Wales rejoined FIFA and took part in World Cup qualification for the 1950 Finals. The Home Championship determined which British teams would go through and sadly Wales failed to qualify, losing to England and Scotland and being held to a miserable 0-0 draw by Northern Ireland.

By the early fifties things were looking up for The Dragons. The team secured wins against Portugal, Switzerland, Northern Ireland and England between 1951 and 1955 as some talented youngsters entered the squad. In fact the 1950s could be described as the Wales Football Team’s “golden age”. Wales players Ivor Allchurch, Alf Sherwood and John Charles became household names throughout the UK and helped their team qualify for the World Cup in 1958.

Their qualification was, at least in part, down to good fortune as well as skilful play! Middle East politics was the unlikely saviour of Wales. Egypt, Sudan and Indonesia were scheduled to play Israel but the first two nations boycotted their games and Indonesia would only face Israel on neutral territory. Israel were pronounced group winners, but FIFA would not allow a side to attend the World Cup without actually playing a match. It was decided Israel should face a play-off with a team drawn at random from the teams occupying second place in the UEFA qualifying groups. Wales were drawn and beat the Israelis in the play-off, earning themselves a place at the Finals.

At the Finals in Sweden, Wales’ players acquitted themselves well. In the group stages they secured draws against Hungary, Mexico and Sweden, and went through to the next round after beating Hungary 2-1 in a play-off match. But Wales’ luck ran out when they faced Brazil in the Quarter Finals. The South Americans won 1-0 and eventually went on to win the competition.


The less-than-swinging sixties

After the promising performance in the ’59 World Cup, Wales seemed to go underground in the 1960’s. They consistently lost or drew their matches against the home nations, the only positive results in the early sixties being wins over Northern Ireland in 1962 (4-0) and 1963 (4-1). The presence of Ivor Allchurch in the squad was, in itself, not enough to guarantee success, although the “Golden Boy” of Welsh football certainly contributed hugely.

Having made his international debut against England in 1951, Allchurch made 68 appearances in a red shirt, scoring 23 goals for his country (a tally which remained a record until 1986). Allchurch was playing his club football for Newcastle United in the early 60s but moved back to his homeland to play for Cardiff FC and then Swansea FC, before moving to Worcester City in 1968. There were few other players of Allchurch’s calibre in the Wales squad and the team failed to qualify for the World Cup or the European Championship during this decade.


Troubled Times: The 1970s

Wales had a better spell of play in the 70s, ironically enough following the appointment of Mike Smith, who became the first English manager of Wales. He took over from Welshman Dave Bowen in 1974 and steered Wales into the last eight in the 1976 European Championship. To qualify for the finals, Wales had to beat Yugoslavia. The team lost the first leg in Zagreb, conceding two goals, and only managed a 1-1 draw when Yugoslavia played them at home in the return match. The game was to be remembered for reasons other than sporting prowess, however.

It was played at Ninian Park in Cardiff, which had become one of the first grounds in the UK to install perimeter fencing, in response to a rising tide of football hooliganism. Throughout the game, the East German referee, Rudi Glockner, made some apparently dubious decisions which enraged the Welsh fans. He awarded the Yugoslavs a penalty after a dive, and then ruled out a goal scored by Ian Evans, having judged the bicycle kick pass which preceded it to be dangerous. Instead of being level, Wales had a free kick awarded against them!

Minutes later another Wales goal was disallowed, Glockner judging the player to have been off-side. The crowd went mad, scaling the fence and throwing missiles, including full beer cans, at the hapless official. Wales missed a late penalty and were out. The fans directed their anger and disappointment at Glockner who had to be escorted from the field with a guard of 16 policemen, one of whom was badly injured when a corner flag was aimed, javelin-style, at the referee’s head. The press had a field day and photos of the bloody rioting were seen around the world. Welsh football had reached a new low.

In the late 70s Wales managed to defeat England, despite playing away at Wembley. It was the first time in 42 years of international competition that Wales had beaten England, and remains the only Welsh victory on English soil.


Promising Performances: The 1980s

In 1980 Wales triumphed over England again, scoring three goals of their own, with England adding an own goal to make the full-time score 4-1. It was one of the most outstanding performances ever by Wales, and all the more impressive as England had beaten World Champions Argentina only four days previously. Wales’ fortunes continued to rise, with the team narrowly missing out on World Cup qualification for the 1982 competition. Only goal difference kept them out of the tournament.

The run of form against England continued into the mid-80s. In 1984 a talented youngster called Mark Hughes single-handedly secured a victory over England, scoring the only goal of the game on his international debut. He would go on to net 15 more goals for Wales in a career spanning 15 years. He was named PFA Young Player of the Year in 1985.

The success was also due to a new Wales coach. Despite his unenviable surname, Mike England became one of the most successful managers Wales had ever had. He was in charge from 1979 to 1987, guiding the team to victory over England on several occasions and overseeing a run of impressive form in the mid-80s.

Under England’s management, Wales came closer than ever before to qualifying for international tournaments, including the 1986 World Cup Finals. The side faced Scotland in the qualifying stages, and needed a win to keep World Cup hopes alive. In a tense match on 10 September 1985, they could only manage a 1-1 draw and so were knocked out. The disappointment of the Wales fans paled, though, in comparison with the real tragedy of that night at Ninian Park.

Scotland’s widely respected manager, Jock Stein, suffered a heart attack at the end of the match and died in the dugout beside Mike England. The Wales coach seemed never to recover from the shock. He resigned the following year and retired to North Wales.


1990s onwards

From the 1990s onwards, Wales’ performance and prospects could best be summed up by the phrase “highs and lows”. In August 1993 the team was ranked 27th in the FIFA World Rankings, the highest place ever attained by a Welsh side. They beat Belgium, the Faroe Islands and drew with The Republic of Czechs & Slovaks in the World Cup Qualifiers. Although Wales once again failed to qualify for the Finals in 1994, they came very close and the squad was one of the strongest they had ever fielded. With top-quality players including Ryan Giggs (voted PFA Young Player of the Year in 1992 and 1993), Ian Rush and Mark Hughes, they were a side to be reckoned with.

With the loss of some of these star players in the late 90s and little young talent coming in to replace them, Wales were once again left in the doldrums. In 2000, the side won just one game out of a total of seven international friendlies and World Cup qualifying matches, and even that was an unimpressive 1-0 victory over the tiny Gulf state of Qatar.

Following Mike England’s departure, no manager had stayed with Wales for more than a few seasons. John Toshack stayed hardly any time at all, resigning in 1994 after a single game in charge. The match against Norway had ended in a 3-1 defeat, and Toshack was booed off the field. Four coaches came and went throughout the 1990s and the team suffered from the constantly changing managerial styles. The side failed to qualify for Euro 2006, beaten by ex Soviet-block minnows Georgia and Moldova during qualification. Things only got worse in 1996, as the team suffered a humiliating 7-1 defeat at the hands of Holland. They also lost to a club side, Leyton Orient.

Hopes of a revival were high when, in 1999, former Wales star, Mark Hughes, took on the challenge of managing Wales. He had little positive impact initially. In fact, in September 2000 Wales were languishing in the lower echelons of the FIFA Ranking. Placed 113th, it was the worst position they had ever occupied. Gradually Hughes began to turn things around, and Wales narrowly missed out in the qualifying rounds of Euro 2004. In 2004, Wales played nine international matches, winning four and drawing three. Things were looking up, but again, a change of manager was imminent, with Hughes leaving in 2004. John Toshack was invited to return as Wales manager, and this time he stayed for more than a day!

Toshack has enjoyed reasonable success, and has at last brought some managerial stability to the national side. He presided over a narrow defeat to England in 2005, and several draws with well-regarded sides. That said, the side was beaten 2-0 by Brazil in 2006, and has failed to record many convincing wins since 2004, even against lower-ranked teams.

More recently the side performed poorly in the qualifying rounds for Euro 2008. Their form was inconsistent, with a 5-1 loss at home to Slovakia but a 5-2 win on the return leg and a draw away to Germany. But the side can take something positive from these games. In some matches, five of Wales’ players were eligible for the Under-21 squad. Their selection for the A team is a strong signal that a body of talented young players may lead Wales to victory in the future, supporting established Premiership players like Craig Bellamy and Jason Brown. In October 2007, Wales were ranked 58th in the world by FIFA, an encouraging 19 places above the 2010 World Cup hosts, South Africa, although still well below their old rivals England, who were ranked 12th.


Wales player statistics

Most capped Wales players
Player Caps Goals
Neville Southall 92 0
Gary Speed 85 7
Dean Saunders 75 22
Peter Nicholas 73 2
Ian Rush 73 28
Wales top goalscorers
Player Goals Caps
Ian Rush 28 73
Trevor Ford 23 38
Ivor Allchurch 23 68
Dean Saunders 22 75
Mark Hughes 16 72