Tag Archives: Wales

Wales v England Stadium Row

The announcement that Millennium Stadium will host next year’s European Championship qualifying game between Wales and England has caused plenty of discussion and no little fury amongst Welsh football supporters.

Much of the discussion about the game has taken place in the Welsh Language Media and a heated debate on Radio Cymru in the past few hours perfectly illustrated the polarised viewpoints of those involved.

Gwilym Boore is one of the Welsh international team’s most ardent supporters, and hasn’t missed a home game in 20 years. Ian Gwyn Hughes is a popular Welsh language broadcaster, turned Match of the Day commentator who has latterly been appointed the FAW’s Director of Communications. This is the first time I’ve heard IGH speak publically as part of his new role and he was certainly ruffled by Gwilym’s criticism of the decision.

So what’s the problem? England played at the Stadium in 2005 with only minor problems. What’s changed?

Well things are different now. Wales’ level of support has plummeted. In 2005, the match was sold out primarily to season ticket holders; Wales supporters who had bought tickets for each match of the campaign and would be unlikely to pass on the chance of a ticket for the big one. During this campaign, ticket sales have been poor, and there would be less than 10,000 of the available 70,000 tickets guaranteed to go to genuine Wales fans. There are plenty of die-hard fans who fear that it would be impossible to stop the home support being outnumbered by our visitors and that serious disorder would follow.

There is a sporting argument here too. The previous manager John Toshack publically stated that he wanted to play against England in a smaller capacity stadium to give us as much of an advantage as possible. There is a suspicion that the FAW have announced this decision now, while we are managerless, to take that decision away from the next incumbent.

During the radio discussion, Gwilym referred to the 1977 match between Wales and Scotland which the FAW chose to play at Anfield in order to raise more money. The result was that Welsh fans were outnumber heavily by Scots on the night and Wales lost our biggest chance to qualify for the finals of a  tournament. For many people, this decision  is repeating history.

Ian Gwyn Hughes was adamant that we should stop looking back at past incidents and start afresh, looking forward to a new future for Wales. He practically accused Gwilym of scaremongering and suggested that if Cardiff and Swansea can arrange big games, and Cardiff can host FA Cup Finals, then this fixture should also be manageable. Indeed, that we need it to be manageable to prove that Wales can deal with big occasions.

Now IGH is no mug. He knows full well what the differences are here. Cardiff and Swansea deal with big games well because the opposition support is localised. Team support comes from one place, and can be monitored, and travel restrictions can be made easily. He even compared the England visit to a game against Italy after the problems in Milan.”Would you play the Italians in the Millennium Stadium” he asked? Well yes, said Gwilym (apart from the rugby stadium argument) , because they need to cross a border and there would be less than 1,000 travelling support. Totally different scenario. And I think IGH knows that full well.

When England play in Cardiff we could see an exodus of at least 20,000. They would filter into Wales without any possible border checkpoints other than the Severn Bridge. Despite his wish that Gwilym stopped looking to the past, Ian Gwyn Hughes cited previous occasions when we had played England without problems, including the famous victory for Mike England’s team in 1980. The show’s presenter Dylan Jones remembered that game well – it was kicking off all over the Wrexham Kop as he recalled.

One way of managing the game would be to sell only to people on the FAW database. Yes of course this should be a requirement, but it’s the desirability of the game itself which will cause problems. There are plenty of people on that database who have given up on Wales, and the chance to obtain tickets for English friends, or sell on the black market would be grasped. And remember that 20% of Wales’ population is English-born, so there can be no effective postcode control on ticket supply.

The potential for trouble is obvious to all. Personally I don’t feel as strongly as Gwilym, but I agree with his assessment that the match attendance is uncontrollable. The only way it can be safe is if enough Welsh people buy tickets and don’t pass them on. In the current political and sporting climate, I don’t think we can rely on that commitment.

I think the FAW don’t have much choice. They are not a rich body and the financial income from this game is too attractive to turn down. But that’s what it is. It’s a financial decision which sacrifices our sporting advantage to pay the wages of administrators and to fund the sport’s development. It isn’t a decision based on Ian Gwyn Hughes’ new-logo, new-future, fresh start for the team, nor is it about demonstrating our ability to manage events. This is all about the green stuff, and the FAW should admit that while they construe an event-control strategy that involves more than finger-crossing.

Ian Rush must not be appointed Wales manager

All the talk in Basel airport yesterday was of the stunning news that Ian Rush is likely to be appointed as the next Wales manager. There was not a single person I spoke to who thought this was a good thing. In fact, not a single person I spoke to could fathom out why he was even being considered. There is not a single person in the World who thinks this would be a good move, apart from Ian Rush, and possibly Jonathan Ford, the FAW Chief-Executive.

Firstly, let’s look at Rushie’s credentials. He’s a hero in Wales. One of the few Wales players that you can call a footballing legend with some justification. He has his badges. I actually produced the assessment video of Ian Rush’s pro licence sessions, and  can confirm that he is a proper coach. He is one of the few coaches whose speciality is attack rather than defensive organisation, and those attributes have seen him work with the forwards at Wrexham and Liverpool.

Rush’s first managerial job after sme time coaching the Wales U17 side was with Chester City in 2004. Mark Lawrenson upset his old mate by suggesting on television that the number nine wasn’t managerial material. Rush upset the Chester supporters with his physical long-ball style of play, and within 6 months , Rush had resigned in principle after Chester had sacked his “assistant” Mark Aizelwood.

I put “assistant” in inverted commas there, because there are those in the game will tell you that Aizelwood was far more than Rushie’s assistant. Aize was the brains behind Rush’s pretty face. When Stephen Vaughan sacked his right hand man in 2005, Rush knew he couldn’t carry on. It should be understood that if Ian Rush is appointed as Wales “manager”, then there will be another “brains” who would effectively be taking charge. That may well be Mark Aizelwood, it may not. Since 2007, Rush has been working as “Elite Performance Director” for the Welsh Football Trust. I am unable to tell you how much of that role is ambassadorial.

So we have a man here whose managerial qualifications is an unsuccessful six month spell at Chester City over 5 years ago. I mean, seriously, why is he even being considered? I can only offer the following supposition.

I mentioned in a recent post that the Western Mail suggested that “some people in the FAW believe that a big name manager will make the Welsh team more marketable.”

That reads to me as a clear reference to Jonathan Ford, who was appointed the FAW’s Chief Executive about a year ago.  From his FAW profile

“The 39 year old Ford has extensive marketing experience from years spent with MTV and radio station Atlantic 252 and since 2000 with Coca-Cola. During that time he project-managed their marketing strategy at the 2004 European Championships as well as campaigns at the 2000 European Championships, 2002 World Cup finals, 2002 Commonwealth Games and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Ford has obviously been appointed with the remit of making “the FAW brand” more marketable. I designed the Welsh Football Trust website some years ago, and I remember at the time that there was a concern that the brand was not being promoted effectively. Since Ford has come in , we have seen a few innovations, all aimed at maximising the income from the most loyal Wales fans. We now have a membership scheme where we pay for the right to buy tickets. In return, we have a rather fetching supporters club pack which has impressed with its quality.

We have also had a new logo foisted on us. Ford’s marketing nous will have made the quick calculation that the FAW was using an old logo which could not be copyrighted. Control is important. There is also the PR fluff about the logo symbolising a new forward-looking FAW, but we can dismiss that as PR tosh.Ford’s main achievement so far has been the appointment of Ian Gwyn Hughes as Director of Communications, a popular move with everyone.

But now it seems that Ford may be opverstepping his remit. I can just imagine the boardroom meeting where he is persuading council members that we need a more marketable manager than Brian Flynn. Wales needs a national figurehead, and the World-renowned Ian Rush is just the man. Ian Rush is possibly the only Welsh footballer that Jonathan Ford has ever heard of.

I am calling on the FAW Council to stand strong. Everyone of you knows that Ian Rush should not be appointed Wales manager. Everyone of you knows that this is marketing folly. Stand your ground, and do not give in to persuasive PR. Ian Rush must not be appointed on account of his fame alone.

Wales 0-1 Bulgaria

flynn400 Wales 0 1 Bulgaria

Brian Flynn leaves the field in dejection

In many ways, anger is easier than disappointment. Anger gives you an outlet for your misery, but the gloom of a seemingly hopeless situation lies heavy on the heart when there is nothing and nobody to blame.

But we are all answerable for Wales’ current predicament, every one of us. That national side is the pinnacle of the sport in our country. It is an indictment of our culture that Steve Morison is the best centre forward that a 3 million population can produce.

We just don’t care enough. Our playing fields are disappearing, our junior coaches prioritise results over player development, and the Welsh Football Trust is crippled by funding issues. The list of problems with our development structure is endless, but the crux is that our apathy has created a political atmosphere where sport, and football is given the lowest priority. How absurd is it that all junior football clubs are privately funded and run by volunteers? If we really care about our sport, where is the public funding for its development?

When Brian Flynn’s team ran out to a stadium that just over half-full last night, it immediately gave a boost to our opposition. We can’t even be bothered to support our side. Those that were there managed to generate an atmosphere that we haven’t experienced for a minor game since Belarus at Ninian in 1999, but there were far too many sat at home sniping and criticising.

I’ve read any number of dismissive comments. We’re “shit, we’re appalling, we’re dreadful, we’re a joke.” I mean what do people expect? I hear so many people saying that “Cardiff would beat this lot”. Well yes they would. But how does that reflect well on anybody?

Cardiff’s current ability to buy talented players is down to a combination of Malaysian money and the capital’s fortuitous economic position, not to mention a £30 million debt.On the other hand, the Welsh national side really does represent us. If you’re looking for reflected glory in your football then your national side gives you the clearest mirror. We get the team we deserve, so if we’re shit and dreadful, then that means we’re all shit and dreadful.

We have second division quality competing at international level. All that we can ask is that they give 100% effort and play to the best of their ability. Did they make the effort? Most certainly? The best of their ability? That would be difficult to argue.

I thought the first half was just all wrong. The Bulgarian defence were covering Bale so assiduously that all the space was down the right hand side where Chris Gunter was being asked to cover three roles. Who on earth was playing on the right side of midfield? The anser is nobody because Vaughan, Williams, and Ledley were all very tight in the middle with Bale operating on the left. Gunter did have the game’s best chance however, and if that had gone 6 inches inside the post, the whole outcome may well have been different.

Bale too should have scored. I really don’t know how he failed to make contact with that cross when he was only six yards out in front of goal. But I do know he didn’t try to miss it. Just bad luck that’s all.

bale400 Wales 0 1 Bulgaria

Why is Gareth Bale wearing pink ribbons under his shorts?

All throught that first half I was thinking what a difference Craig Bellamy would have made. Bale and Bellamy would have stretched the game and murdered that defence. I really think it would have been a comfortable win.

Bulgaria started the second half superbly, and took a predictable lead. I was impressed with Wales’ spirited response, and Bale’s position as central attacking midfielder was causing problems. But we just didn’t have enough quality to pass the ball into good positions. How many times over the past 5 years has it fallen to James Collins to deliver a 60 yard pass from defence?

I’m afraid that poor Ashley Williams had a night to forget. He’s no fool and he knew that his contribution as Captain was poor. By the last half hour, he had gone hiding, and it was left to Vaughan to grab the midfield by the neck, and perform the role that was intended for Williams. It was Vaughan’s best thirty minutes for Wales. People ridicule the idea of Robbie Savage returning for Wales, but his presence last night would at least have allowed Ashley Williams to replace the out of position Sam Ricketts and improve the team in two areas at once.

People will say that Savage “has lost it”. But look.. this is Wales. We don’t have anyone else at the moment. We can’t not pick somebody just because they’re not at their peak. We need to look at the positives they offer and support them when they take the field. I would take Savage to Switzerland.

king bulgaria Wales 0 1 Bulgaria

A determined Andy King

Ledley didn’t look comfortable with his role. And there is one player in the Wales side that I just don’t get. What does David Edwards offer a team? I’m not being critical of him, because he is obviously admired by some experienced managers. The failing is mine. I hope that one day I will be wise enough to see what he contributes, but for now, it passes me by.

The midfield just didn’ t get a passing game going, and the Bulgarians closed down very well. We should give some deserved credit to our opponents also for the way they defended. We pummelled their box with some decent crosses, but they were outstanding and brave.

A word too for the referee Jonas Eriksson. I thought he was immaculate. I can’t remember disagreeing with a single decision he made and he dealt well with the Bulgarian time wasting. It’s such a shame when you can’t even blame the referee for your defeat.

Lots of Wales fans are in real despair now. “To think that we once had Rush, Hughes, Saunders, Ratcliffe and Giggs all in the same team”. Well that was a different age. We’ve now got Giggs, Bellamy, Davies, Gabbidon, Collison and Ramsey. In theory.

If you took those stars out of that 1993 side we would have been relying on Gavin Maguire, Alan Davies, Glynn Hodges, Jeff Hopkins and Jason Perry. Well it’s our country’s apathy towards football which has allowed the situation to develop where players think it’s acceptable to refuse to play. I’m not going to allow them the dignity of “retirement”; they are refusing to play for their country.

Wales are desperate for some luck. Things just aren’t running for us. I’m really not looking forward to the trip to Basel, and I go there with no optimism. I just don’t think we have the quality in the team to compete. Brian Flynn has improved the spirit and is on his way to making the Welsh camp more enjoyable and less of an inconvenience for the players. But he has no hope of getting a win in Basel, and I fear that his career will be decided unfairly on two games where he has been denied his most important players.

I am concerned about comments that I read in a report that “some people in the FAW believe that a big name manager will make the Welsh team more marketable.” That sounds to me like Mr Jonathon “Coca Cola” Ford is not prioritising team development. If you combine that with the news that Ian Rush is now odds on favourite for the job with some bookmakers then unfortunately I think the writing is on the wall. Flynn deserves more time.

Gabbidon's Shameful Decision

danny gabbidon 1476754c Gabbidon's Shameful DecisionDanny Gabbidon has retired from international football. I know, because I read his press release. That’s how Brian Flynn found out too, as he wasn’t given the courtesy of a phonecall.

Danny Gabbidon was my favourite Wales player before Aaron Ramsey came along with his fancy ways. He was the only defender I ever enjoyed watching. While people were panicking at his coolness, I was marvelling at his confidence. My jaw was dropping while all around me people were screaming at him “Get rid of the bloody thing!”.

His debut against the Czech Republic in 2002 signposted his future as an unflappable international defender. And when we beat Italy 2-1 a couple of years later, Gabbidon’s contribution was just as important as that of the attacking players who scored the goals we all remember.

But now Gabbidon’s gone, Ron. He has retired, aged 31, and in doing so he joins the club of that worst sort of retiree, the “self-preservation” gang. He can now sit there, shame-facedly next to Ryan Giggs and Simon Davies, with Craig Bellamy waiting outside to come in.

By retiring in order to prolong his career, Gabbidon is insulting all of those volunteers that gave up their time to help him. His schoolteacher, the tea-lady at his junior club, the kit man at Cwmbran. Because you see Danny, those people volunteer in order to give you a chance. Without those people, you wouldn’t have your Cartier watch and your Luis Vuitton washbag. And all of us, everyone of us who gives our time every Saturday morning, putting goals up in the rain has one dream. Maybe one day, one of the kids we work with will play for Wales. It isn’t our primary motivation, but believe me, that’s the big reward that binds all of us.

Those people in Cwmbran will have celebrated on the day you were capped. Your selection would have made it all worthwhile. Not the day you received your first five figure monthly paypacket, or the day you bought your first porche, but the day you played for Wales. There would have been a second celebration, and a huge sense of pride and satisfaction the day you were made Captain.

The fact that you are a former Captain of your country shows how professional players quickly forget what it is that really drives us to play sport. It’s all about the money now, and where it was once the greatest honour in the game to wear your country’s armband, your biggest ambition now is to wear a Rolex Oyster on your wrist.

My little boys have a few Welsh international football shirts. The first one I ever bought was a shirt for my eldest boy which I gave to him on the day his young brother was born. On the back it says “Gabbidon 4″. I now have to tell him that you don’t want to play for Wales any more. Shame on you.

Wales fans sing the anthem: Montenegro,2010

I took this video at the game in podgorica in September 2010. It demonstrates the problem of keeping together in time with the band. You can’t hear the bloody band for starters and everyone just gets carried away and off at their own pace. Sometimes you can hear the band through a pause in your own singing and you realise that you are miles off. Then it’s a big decision – do you carry on with your own rendtion or do you try and drag everyone along with the band. It’s a huge responsibility. It would never happen if we had Katherine Jenkins I tell you.

Romania ’93 comes back to haunt

I woke up in a good mood this morning. But it didn’t take long to change. I read something that mentioned Wales final match in the Qualifiers for The World Cup in USA 1994.

In the book I’m reading, Tom Humphries of The Irish Times is watching the Republic get the point they needed at Windsor Road in 1993. During that game he hears that “Wales go a goal down, but now they are clawing for air”.

The Romania game that he refers to sits lodged in my memory as a traumatic experience which waits to sneak out and smother the few fond memories of my football-watching career.

There have been other disappointments. Lots of them. But for many reasons, that Romania defeat remains the most painful. Probably because it came at a time when I was investing so much of my life in football, but also because of the huge pre-game optimism (remember the Echo’s Countdown?”), the swell of public support, the missed penalty, and then finally the tragic death in the stadium which caused me to re-assess my priorities. I was never the same after that match.

I had been gutted before then of course. Joe Jordan and Rudi Glockner have a special place waiting for them in Hell. And I have since become used to defeat, like everyone else who follows Wales. When we lost to Russia in the 2003 play-offs, I was more reflective. This is what I wrote to the WalesAway Mailing List on the morning after the game;

One of the most difficult things about nights like last night, is that it can often seem like nobody cares as much as you do. It had been one of the best pre-matches that I can remember. It felt like my life was flashing before me as I saw face after face of people I know who had been through all of the disappointments since 1976.

In my block there were people who laughed, people who left with 10 minutes to go, and people who had quite apparently gone as a “fab midweek jolly”, (and I quote that word for word). I was determined not to be as affected as I was in
’93, but nonetheless felt unable to move on the final whistle, and struggled to take it all in. We are like the classic gambling addict who is convinced that it must be red this time, because black has come up 7 times in a row. The casinos all know that it’s still a 50/50 chance.

As I sat there, the stand emptied around me and eventually I made a move to take my flag down from the railings. I turned round and sitting in the empty stand 20 rows back I saw a face I recognised. It was a girl that I had met briefly in Moscow after the first leg, and she was sobbing. Those of you who travel away regularly will recognise the need to share these experiences with somebody who understands. We embraced, and without wanting to get too sentimental – it was

We walked together from the stadium in silence. We had a few more tears on the ramp down to Westgate Street, and I asked her how old she was. She’s 23. I told her patronisingly that she had plenty more nights like this in front of her, that our day would come, and that it would be all the sweeter for
disappointments like these. “No”, she said, “THIS was our day. This was it”.

I couldn’t argue with that. I don’t know her name, but she’s a
friend for life because of what happened last night, and if we can take anything from days like this, it’s that sort of companionship and bonding experience. I know some of you will read that and think that I’m a sentimental twat.You’re probably right, but the past 28 years have been difficult, even for someone like
me who hasn’t invested nearly as much as the regularly away supporters. You need to get something back, and that is the realisation that comradeship is worth more than football.

OK, a lot of that gush can be put down to post-match blues, but it shows a changed attitude. Gone was the fierce anger, the sense of injustice that followed the Romania game ten years earlier. It had been replaced by a dull defeatism, a complete and utter resignation that Wales will never qualify for a Tournament.

That’s what it does to you. Game after game. Scotland ’77, Iceland 81′, Scotland 85′, West Germany 91′, Romania 93′, Russia 03. If we had won any one of those games, we would have qualified. Six Cup Finals. Didn’t win one. Yet we were outplayed only once -Nuremberg in 1991. The rest could have gone either way. We just didn’t have the rub of the green.

There – good mood gone. Yours too I expect. Note to journalists – don’t mention Romania again. It sets off a chain of thought which ruins our day.