There were very few of Sam Hammam’s initiatives that I approved of during his time as owner of Cardiff City, but the one that intrigued and amused me was his vision of an all-Welsh team. Many of us who have played Football Manager have toyed with the idea of an all-Welsh club team, but Sam Hammam came very close to making that a reality.
During the 2000-01 season, Hammam made it his stated policy to bring in young Welsh international players, as part of his madcap plan to make Cardiff City the Barcelona of Wales. He thought that he could unite the nation behind the Bluebirds as a national club side representing Wales in the English League. This massive assumption took no account of historic Welsh tribalism, or the general anomosity towards the wealthy, priveliged capital in other parts of Wales. Nonetheless, he ploughed on, and in March 2001, we very nearly saw an all-Welsh team at Ninian Park.
In goal for that match against Hull was Mark Walton, a very popular bloke from Merthyr. After a journeyman career at several League clubs, Walton left for Australia in 2004, and hasn’t been seen since.
At right wing-back, we had Rhys Weston, a much maligned Welsh international, given his debut by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. He wasn’t really a Wenger type player and Hammam signed him for £300,000 in 2000. He soon became the scapegoat for any poor performances and his confidence was ruined. He recovered his form for a spell and looked to be winning over the critics, but struggled with injury, and lasted just 12 minutes with his new club, FC Viking in Norway. He won 7 Welsh caps, and is currently with crisi-club Dundee in Scotland. He still looks more like a student than a footballer. Because he wears glasses. Like a student.
At left wing-back was Andy Legg. A former Swansea City hero, he proved that it’s possible to win round your nearest rivals with committed performance and a bit of badge-kissing. I once saw a fascinating lecture by Lennie Lawrence who pointed out how Andy Legg’s all-action charge-forward style was detrimental to the team, and how Graham Kavanagh took on a lot of criticism for a perceived defensive attitude, when in fact he was sacrificing his own performance to cover for Legg. And the pin-up boy from Neath once asked me to design him a website where he would charge for access to an image gallery. Images of Andy Legg. He survived throat cancer six years ago and is still playing aged 42, at Llanelli AFC, where he is manager.
Centre back David Hughes was a controversial signing. A former Aston Villa trainee, he came from Shrewsbury at a cost of £450,000. It was an awful lot of money for a player who had only played 50 games in an undistinguished career, but in those days, people saw Cardiff City coming and added a nought. It seemed that Hughes was signed mainly for his nationality. He made only 14 appearances for Cardiff until injury forced his retirement. He is now Youth Development Director back at Shrewsbury.
Alongside Hughes that day was Danny Gabbidon. Still in his early days at Cardiff, he was nonetheless impressing with his composure and elegant style. After a move to West Ham and some world class performances for Wales, Gabbidon seemed to be destined for great things. A terrible series of injuries saw him close to retirement, but he is still hanging on at West Ham, even if he has deserted his country. He recently opened a restaurant and a mens grooming salon in London with Anton Ferdinand, which says it all for me.
Scott Young. That’s more like it. Mr Cardiff City. I can’t imagine Scott Young opening a Men’s Grooming Salon. After making his debut aged just 16, Scott Young was that most popular type of player at Cardiff – someone who wasn’t really very good, but made up for it with a great attitude and effort. Think Phil Dwyer and Jason Perry. His goal against Leeds in the 2002 FA Cup secured his place in Cardiff City folklore. He is now very appropriately “Football in the Community” manager with the club.
Jason Bowen started on the right side of midfield. I don’t know why, but whenever I think of Jason Bowen, I imagine him wearing slip-on shoes. He was that type of player. One of Wales’ most creative and skillfull players, if Bowen had been able to shoot with any level of power, he would have played at a much higher level. Time after time he would beat four players and pass the ball meekly into the oppostion goalkeepers arms. Now aged 38, he still plays football in the Welsh Premier with his old buddy Andy Legg at Llanelli.
Those were the seven Welshmen who started against Hull. At various stages during the game, a further three Taffs were introduced as substitues. First on was Rob Earnshaw who replaced Kyle Lightbourne early in the second half. You might say that Earnie wasn’t strictly Welsh, as he was born in Zambia and had no Welsh relatives. He learnt English when he moved to Caerphilly aged six.
Earnie is now quintessentially Welsh. He is revered in his home town and should have earned a lot more than the 50-odd caps he’s received. Earnshaw is one of those players that managers don’t like. They want to drop him but his goalscoring record means they can’t. He has over 160 goals in his career and I wouldn’t be surprised if he reaches 200 one day.
Martyn Giles, a young Cardiffian replaced Lee Brazier on the left side of midfield. Giles became the 9th Welshman on the field that day. He was that strange creature – a right-sided left back. He left Newport County last season to join Bowen and Legg at Llanelli.
It was so close. We had nine Welsh players on the pitch. Willie Boland was flagging in midfield, and Kevin Evans, another former Leeds player from Merthyr was warming up to replace him. But no. Cruelly, Earnshaw himself picked up a knock and was replaced by Kurt Nogan before the end of the game.
Nogan is a great warning to those people who think that fans are a good judge of footballers. When Cardiff fans decided to raise money to buy the centre forward that was deemed to be the final piece of the jigsaw, it was Kurt Nogan they bought with the £100,000 raffle money. He was less than successful, and can now be seen running the Powershot game at local fetes in the Cardiff area.
That left Irishman Willie Boland and the Geordie Paul Brayson as the only non-Welsh players on the pitch. Cardiff had used 10 Welsh players and still had an unused Welshman as subsitute in reserve. As Cardiff become more successful, I don’t think that record will ever be beaten. I don’t even think it will be matched by any professional Welsh club side in the future.