Extract from my book, ‘Red Dragons: The story of Welsh football’ published by Lolfa and available to pre-order now as a limited edition hardback. People who pre-order will have their name printed in the book along with a short message of their choice.
…This growing independent streak was illustrated in controversial fashion before the visit of Austria in November 1975, billed as the most crucial in the history of Welsh international football. If Wales avoided defeat, they would reach the last eight of the European Championship – probably the greatest achievement in their history. For once, there would be no ‘God Save the Queen’ before the game and only the Welsh anthem was sung by the 29,000 fans packed into Wrexham’s Racecourse. There were diplomatic plans that “The Queen” be played after the match, though it is difficult to imagine anybody took much notice as Wales celebrated a famous win.
Toshack was suspended and Welsh resources were stretched. The Wrexham goalkeeper Brian Lloyd was given his debut, and it was he who designed the cover of the match programme. Lloyd was one of two third division players making their debut, the other being Crystal Palace’s Surrey born Ian ‘Twiggy’ Evans. Another newcomer was Joey Jones of Liverpool, delighted to be making his debut on the pitch he and his friend Mickey Thomas had tended as part of their Wrexham youth team duties.
Welsh preparations were further disrupted when the hourly chimes of the bell in Llangollen’s main square disturbed players throughout the night, with several requiring sleeping tablets. A thousand Austrian supporters had travelled to Wrexham and 140 international pressmen were accommodated. “You don’t need to build this one up,” said Cyril Lea, “it could be the biggest ever night for Welsh football.”
Gerry Harrison writing in the Times was drawn into the emotion of the occasion. “What stood out like Snowdon in the Sahara is the Welsh fire and pride, the family spirit within the team, and the consistency with which good professionals play above themselves and the young and old performers put a new dimension into their game with such relish.”
Wales only needed a draw but won 1–0 in front of a sellout crowd. At the end of the game, the weary Welsh players were trooping into the tunnel when Mike Smith ushered them back to the centre of the field to receive the adulation of the Welsh public. Those minutes of fervent acclaim remain one of the most treasured memories in the history of the national team and afterwards celebrations lasted long into the night as the team drank warm ale and sang along to Max Boyce records.
The performance even drew plaudits from the opposition. “Wales are the greatest fighters I have ever seen or played against,” insisted Austrian coach Branko Elsner. Yorath added: “Once a Welshman puts on the red shirt he would virtually lay down his life for his country. I wouldn’t swap that kind of spirit for anything.” These were patriotic times. Welsh football had found its voice.