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Wales: 60 years

John Lloyd Jones recollects

60 years of following the fortunes of the Wales football team

    Starting from as far back as I can remember as a toddler, I was always kicking a ball in the farmyard. Thus began an obsession with football which has persisted for the more than 60 years since that time. I was always trying to cajole both my father and uncle into joining me, as I volunteered them to be the goalkeeper and I took my shots toward the gate that led to the fields, which represented the goal I was trying to score into. A little later in time, furthering my football education, I was deemed old enough to accompany my uncle to watch the local football team perform on a Saturday afternoon. It was a walk along the fields, crossing the boundary from his land onto his neighbour's, and to one of his fields, where the game was played. My uncle would watch the game alongside his friends and I would listen intently as they discussed what might be the outcome of the professional matches being played in what seemed to me at the time, very far away places.

   As family and friends realized the importance of football in my life at that time, they would enter into some amount of discussion about it. John Charles was the Welsh icon of the time and he would be a prominent topic as well as Billy Meredith, a name I got to know as being one of the greatest footballers of the past. As a 7 and 8 year old who enjoyed attention, I found a way to gain the interest of my uncle's friends as they towered above me in their discussions, as we stood on the sideline watching the local match. I would study the back pages of the Saturday newspaper reading all the football news as best I could. Our primary school lessons were all in Welsh, but we were increasingly taught English as a second language, in preparation for our move to the "county school" as we took our next step along the education highway. All local conversations were in Welsh, except for the rare occasion a "Sais" was around, but I did hear English spoken on the family radio. Although somewhat limited in my English vocabulary, I intently studied the back pages of the Daily Express and committed to memory as much information as I could. Going to watch the match could often not come fast enough, not only to see the play, but also to listen to the ongoing conversation. I would wait for any sort of opportunity to get involved, usually one of the conversants making some incorrect statement regarding the prior mentioned far away games. I would quickly interject the correction and turn some heads in my direction. It became something of a party piece at the games, my uncle proud to show off my knowledge, his friends equally intrigued and amused as I could reel off the starting lineups of all the teams in the First Division. Of course at that time, even though the First Division was basically the equivalent of the present Premier League, it was before the time of substitutions and it was the case of teams fielding their eleven best players at each position, changes mostly the result of unavailability through injury. A few months after my 8th birthday came the thrill of finding out that I was going to travel with my uncle to Liverpool and stay for the weekend with family friends. I had been with him a few times on a Saturday as we crossed the Menai bridge and on to Farrar Road, the stadium at which we watched Bangor City play. This was quite an upgrade in comparison to the farmer's field which was prepared as best as possible for the local team to play on. It was with almost uncontrolled anticipation that I accompanied my uncle in his Ford Zephyr for a fascinatingly long journey (in my mind anyway, probably about 3 hours in those days) and eventually exited the Mersey tunnel into the heart of Liverpool. The next day could not arrive fast enough and eventually there I was inside Goodison Park. I had seen photographs of some of the big stadiums, had some idea of what I was expecting to see, but was still apparently unprepared. I have been told that it was with wide eyes that I commented to my uncle my view of the experience, throwing in an expletive to verify my amazement. It was not a really bad one, a word heard used on occasion by the grown ups, but one that us kids knew we shouldn't use. It did seemingly thoroughly amuse the patriarch of the family friends who had accompanied us to the match. I had been asked prior to the trip which team I was going to support and since I knew that we were to see Everton versus Cardiff City, I had said that it was Cardiff and that I wanted to see Trevor Ford score. Unfortunately, Ford did not play due to an injury and Cardiff were on the wrong end of a 3-0 result. I returned home and admitted that maybe I should be an Everton supporter. It must have been around this time that I became more aware of the fortunes of the Wales team and the players who represented it.   

    May 1957 was the first time I saw the FA Cup final on the television and decided that I would support Man Utd, stayed with them though they lost. Of course the Munich tragedy brought tears and then the disappointment of another Cup final loss. That summer was of course when Wales reached the quarter finals of the World Cup. A couple of months after that, it was time for me to start my attendance at the "county school" (the comprehensive version of it) and there I soon met and became great friends with Michael Williams. We were a matched pair, both in playing as much football as we could and in the love of football statistics. We would compete with great (but always friendly) intensity to outdo one another in regard to who could amass the greater football knowledge. The back pages of our class notebooks were used to record various challenges we would pose, Michael has managed to preserve some of that evidence to this day. One of those was to collect the names of Welsh professional players and assimilate the list into first, second, third teams and so on. As we grew into our teenage years and girls, pop music and some amount of study for exams used increasing amounts of our brain capacity, the intensity did wane slightly, although there was still plenty of football discussion in those boy's together times. Following on from those times came college, work and family life and though priorities adjusted with the necessary demands, I guess that as one has been involved in something with an amount of passion, it is not relinquished, just realigned within the constraints encountered. At college I met and developed another great friendship with Michael Hailwood. As I did myself, he enjoyed playing as much football as possible and talking about football facts, a habit that we still regularly maintain as we have continued to keep in touch over these many years.

    In 1975 I accepted the offer of an opportunity to work overseas, a move that was originally anticipated to be a temporary period away from the UK, but turned out to be a permanent absence other than numerous vacation visits over the intervening years. Life, in the simplest of terms, is but a consequence of one's actions, intended or not, a fact we all have to deal with whether we like it or not. I must admit that for the entirety of mine to this point I have been dealt a very good hand if it can be described in that way. I feel that I can also take only partial credit for it as I have been very fortunate that the actions of many I have interacted with, have contributed a great deal as I negotiated along the pathway. Please excuse the digression of these few lines, but also accept that it does have a bearing on the dissertation I am penning.

     As I embarked on this new direction and the great adventure (at least from my perspective) that I proceeded along, there are always things that one has to forgo in order to move forward. One of the things that I found I missed was the ability to keep up with the daily football news that reading the UK newspapers and that television broadcasts generally provided. I had the foresight to pack a radio with shortwave capability in my luggage and so tuning in to the BBC world service broadcasts did some amount to alleviate this. Also being in a location where there was fairly sizeable contingent of fellow Brits, there was enough interest for a supplier to import copies of the Sunday newspapers, a couple of days after their print date. This, in my case, provided some added football information to go along what I garnered from the radio broadcasts. Added to this was a couple of other things, I found a means of purchasing the Rothmans Football Yearbook on an annual basis and my mother kindly agreed to post me a weekly football magazine with some back pages of the Daily Post also rolled up in the bundle (it was a few weeks journey from her to me, but well worth the wait). With all this information, even though I had been paying as much attention as I could previously to the fortunes of the Welsh football teams at all levels, I reverted to a more passionate study, similar to how I had done so with Michael Williams almost 20 years previously. Although I was without doubt enjoying doing so, there was some frustration that I couldn't get more information. I have to acknowledge the kindness of Ceri Stennett and his predecessors at the FA of Wales as they accommodated my whims, and provided the information on the international youth team that I sought. Of course, this was prior to the last 20 years and the expansion of internet information which has allowed one to be drowned in football news should it be desired. Not always an easy task to find information on the Welsh players to the depth that I like to achieve, but by the same token a great deal better than previously, with some very good and helpful websites available. That is quite a long explanation of why I have titled these words as a description of what I have written.

    The participation of the Wales team in the upcoming European Championship finals later this year culminates a quest that has been ongoing for practically the total length of time I have had a keen interest in their results and successes. For me and I am sure a great number of other Wales supporters, it comes with a sense of relief. As the length of time since the appearance at the World Cup finals in Sweden grew, it seemed as though this was as big an obstacle in itself as was the need to attain enough positive results against their opponents in order to achieve a successful position at the end of a group stage. Over this period of time I have tended to have an optimistic view that there would be a successful conclusion, but also have to admit that there was a sense of anticipation that events would somehow conspire to continually thwart it. Although I don't profess to be any kind of expert on the subject, I am offering this as my perception and evaluation of what has transpired during the afore mentioned 60 years.

    It all began roughly in 1955 or so as I started to take a mental note of not only the more renowned Welsh footballers, but also the remainder of those involved with the national team and possibly some on the periphery. No doubt somewhat of a sketchy knowledge as I was young with a very limited command of the English language. I persevered as best I could, an incentive being understanding the Football Annuals I began requesting as a Christmas present along with the Charlie Buchan football monthly magazines I pestered for a year or two later. I have already mentioned some of the events occurring in 1958 that were important to me and of course another was the outcome of the Wales matches at the World Cup finals. The tournament at that point was almost a complete opposite from the enormous commercial enterprise and the accompanying constant fanfare it has developed into over the intervening years. Qualification out of the group stage through winning an extra game as the tie breaker for the second place spot moved them into the quarter finals where elimination resulted as a consequence of a 1-0 defeat by eventual champions Brazil. A television set had been installed in our home earlier that year but if I remember correctly there was only very limited coverage with some short segments of highlights of the Wales games shown and I believe the final was shown live. An unusual occurrence in those days, it was a Sunday afternoon game. It clashed with the time for attendance at Sunday school and there could only be one winner under those circumstances. No amount of begging, sulking and whatever else I might have tried could overcome the disappointment that I only arrived back home in time to catch the last quarter or a bit less of the proceedings, followed by the extra few minutes afforded to show the trophy presentation.   

    It was regarded as a good tournament performance by the Wales team. Typically, in those times, news presentations were in a serious mode and on the whole understated. This included sports news. I am sure that there were a few congratulatory words mentioned on the news to acknowledge the performance. As I suspect it was with many others, I took my key from the typical reaction of the time, in particular toward sporting events and thought they did quite well and was pleased that it was so, that being about it. Looking back as I have done over the years, I think it can be regarded a team that compares favourably when trying to assess the strongest teams Wales have fielded. A majority of the players were prominent members of their respective club sides in the English First Division at that time and many of those that hadn't played at that level, would go on to do so soon after. I believe that I am correct in mentioning this interesting aside. All teams were allowed to have a squad of 22 players for the tournament. For economic reasons, Wales only selected a squad of 18. This was not a bad decision, as they only used 14 players, even though they played 5 games in the 12 day period before they were eliminated.   

     Qualification for another World Cup finals proved to be a vain quest for the Welsh team in the 60's as was also the case for Northern Ireland and a bit more surprisingly so at that time, Scotland. A slight reduction in the number places available for European teams along with an increasing strength of more eastern European nations proved too hard a hurdle to overcome. Many of the 58 team continued warranting their places in the team for a number of seasons after that time, but increasingly so in the waning years of their careers. Added to this was that John Charles, who at that time also moving into the latter years of his powers, was however performing at a level as to achieve a long lasting iconic status in the Italian league. Unfortunately, he was only very rarely able to represent Wales in this period. Wales did have a good number of young players that progressed to more than adequately fill in boots of those they superseded, but the team as a whole did not have enough of them at one time. I think it is fair to say that although those teams did gain some impressive results at times, probably equivalent with those of the 50's teams, good performances could not be sustained.

     Moving on to the 70's, we saw Wales grouped with formidable opponents England in order to qualify for the 74 finals in West Germany. A third team in the mix was Poland and Wales had a very creditable home win against them but were well beaten in the away fixture. A loss in the home fixture with England was somewhat atoned with a deserved draw in the reverse fixture at Wembley. Much to the astonishment of the media and even more so the late Brian Clough, who combined punditry with management at that time, the dropped point (2 points for a win at that time) in the Wales fixture proved fateful as the Poles matched that result and so ended top of the group. The supporters of both nations rued the absence of their team at those finals.                   

    The European Championships (or Nations Cup as it was originally titled), conceived as a tournament in the mid to late fifties was originally received with some apathy in some quarters and participation in the first version which culminated in 1960 was not endorsed by all the member associations. The early World Cups of the 30's suffered a similar fate. Situated in the gap between World Cups, it was realized to be a means of providing an increased competiveness in European football and possibly an added means of countering the South American (Brazil in particular) dominance of world football that was a feature of the time. It quickly gained attention and started the trend towards becoming the elite commercial enterprise it has now become. The 1976 version fitted the elite category but not so much the commercial side as the finals tournament comprised only four teams playing the semi-finals and final in an assigned host nation setting. This is in some way an anomaly when suggesting that Wales have continually failed to qualify for a major tournament since 1958. Facts are facts and so it is correct that they have not attended a finals situation for all that time. They did however win a fairly difficult group in order to move forward toward qualifying for the finals in 1976. In what was the quarter finals stage they succumbed to a talented Yugoslavia team and so by the measurement placed on the semantics of truth, a failure to match the achievements of what had been accomplished in 1958. The team at the time was probably only very slightly superior to those that had preceded them in previous decade and a half or so. The team was a mixture of experience and up and coming talent in much the same way as previous Welsh teams and succeeded in comparative terms through an ability of the supporting players in the team to better assist the principal ones in order to formulate an overall desired outcome. With this came much optimism of better fortunes ahead as Welsh football seemed very much on a roll to a somewhat brighter future. It proved to be something of a false dawn however.  Wales and Scotland were in the same group, as qualification for the 1978 World Cup stages got underway. It was close, but it was the Scots that prevailed, although with some amount of controversy and as in 1974 they were the only home nation that made the final 16. It did seem likely that a further improvement in the standard of the Wales team could be expected as a number of young Welsh players looked to be progressing toward a career in the higher echelons of league football and with it a likely period of fruitful international football. In the short term, a group stage containing West Germany amongst others made qualification for the 1980 European Championships out of reach.

     In the 80's qualification for either of the finals that was yearned for, became a goal that was tantalizingly just out of reach at times. Some of the young Welsh players previously mentioned did in fact progress to a high level and for a short period in roughly the middle of the decade the future looked to have a very positive outlook. Unfortunately, the beacon shone brightly for only a relatively brief period for many of these youngsters, at least in the context of international football for some and fizzled out for others. Nevertheless, there was a good competitiveness from the team displays. This was largely down to the emergence of four players who developed to a consideration of being at world class status (some words that are at best a subjective term, only used here to convey something a bit better than very good). It is not intended to downplay the contribution of the other members as it always requires a good level of performance from all players on the field in order to produce a good team display and desired result. Still the quest continued without a successful conclusion, a quandary for the minds of some of their fervent followers as Northern Ireland had finally managed a reappearance at a finals in this time period. They had also had a forlorn time since 58 and could be gauged on something of a par with Wales in terms of resources. Had Wales used all of the luck they were maybe entitled to (and some had been used), to join the other 15 nations in Sweden all that time ago?

    Moving on into the last decade of the 20th century, the already global game grew into a truly global phenomenon as the digital age and advanced communication gave the ability to see broadcasts of football matches just about in any location on the globe. The World Cup had already moved in the direction of a commercial enterprise by this time but now the pace of that part of its growth also increased rapidly. New leagues and the transformation of previously established ones were conceived as all nations wanted their team to be at the party if at all possible. It certainly looked as though Wales were going to have their turn to attend the ball, the version being the 94 finals to be hosted in the United States. Qualification was an increasingly tough task, but placed in a group that did not include an obvious powerhouse nation made the task slightly more manageable. The team duly obliged the wishes of their delighted supporters by positioning themselves with strong enough results to be on the verge of qualification. One final group game remained as Wales were poised to play a home game against Romania, the prize of a winning result allowing them to better their opponents and become group winners. An added bonus was that they were also the only home nation in that position by that time and so join the Republic of Ireland as the teams of most interest for the watching British TV viewers. Guarded optimism preceded the match, Romania was certainly a formidable foe with a reasonably strong team enhanced by a couple of very talented players. They were generally a much tougher opposition on home turf than on their travels and therein lay the belief that Wales had the means to expect a triumphant conclusion at the final whistle. I shall not describe the last scene of that particular installment, suffice to say that the wait for a finals appearance was not over. Devastated was probably the only word that can describe the reaction of just about all concerned. The quartet that had been the foundation of the team for the greater part of the 80's were still very important contributors up to this point, but were increasingly in the waning years of their careers during the qualification process, a ride into the sunset looming just ahead for most of them. They had been well supplemented in general by a very adequate supporting cast and there was an added excitement that part of it was a couple of very talented youngsters who had emerged onto the scene over the previous 3 or 4 years becoming important contributors themselves. It was certainly a shame for all of them to be robbed of the only realistic opportunity to display their talents on the most observed football world stage that occurred throughout their careers. That said, with but the bare bones of a competitive team in place, some amount at least of a rebuilding process was a necessity. At the very least a solution did seem to be on the horizon as more promising youngsters emerged, a number somewhat thrown in at the deep end but with some initial encouraging signs that provided some hope. Hope was forlorn though, as enough of them vanished into a footballing future far below the needs of international caliber about as quickly as the reverse had happened. As a result, a team more often in disarray than not, was the general consensus of those witnessing performances, the efforts of the more talented players that were available not enough to stem the tide on many occasions.

     An organizational change saw a reversal in fortunes as the early years of the new century came along. With a combination of doggedness and talent, the spirit of the following faithful was revived as some very good results were achieved. Anticipation of breaking what was becoming to be regarded as some sort of hoodoo was without doubt in the minds of many as the qualification group stage for the 04 European Championships concluded. Wales had not been eliminated, but there could not be an uncontrolled celebration as there was one hurdle to overcome before appearing in a major finals could be ticked off as an fruitful outcome for that team. Finishing second in the points tally of the group table now offered a place in the play off group to determine the teams that could join the group winners and the host country for the summer event. Drawn against Russia in this winner take all scenario, it was regarded as by no means an easy task. The team had already displayed character that allowed it to be victorious in an underdog situation and was again evident as a drawn result in the first leg encounter was about as good as most could have wished for. Now it was down to one match to be played in front of a large and fervently partisan home audience at a stadium which could generate a cauldron of noise to will the team to draw on all its reserves if necessary. Once again despair was what the script of that final scene produced as the only goal of the game ended up in the Welsh net.

    A consequence of what had gone on before was now the major topic of how the next set of events unfolded. The team manager had obviously impressed other football hierarchy and was tempted away into club management. Undoubtedly a correct decision as he has proved very astute and adept at plying his trade at a very high level. It did seem that the replacement choice was certainly a very good one. The resume of achievement was long and impressive, a very successful club career at the highest level was followed immediately by guiding Swansea into their first taste of First Division football. Their tenure in it was brief but even so it was an almost remarkable chapter in the club's history as could have been imagined at that point in time. A move to foreign fields brought even greater success and probably righty so, something of a guru status. This could not be ignored and employment as a pundit for Welsh international games was a logical step. Harsh criticism uttered as an honest opinion was not tempered in any way by an acknowledgement of the obvious need to exhibit a substantial amount of quality to become an international player for almost any country. Of course it is often the remit of punditry to offer opinions of a controversial nature and in this case it led to an equally strong rebuttal. With no desire for reconciliation apparent in any quarter of the camps, it resulted in a hurried abandonment of the desire for a wish to represent their country by a number of what had been the incumbent players. So the path forward was now to find some sort of solution with new players. Once again there seemed to some light evident at the end of the tunnel as another group of emerging talent presented a case of a brighter future. With options limited, it was another case of throwing youngsters in at the deep end and results were generally of the variety that it was a bridge too far (on occasion multiple bridges) to travel for the team. At least it was pleasing to note that most of the youngsters of whom good things were expected were not of the fleeting glance sort this time. Some stuttering occurred here and there but the very pleasing aspect is that many developed their talents to a level where they have become the backbone of the national side. Credit has to be given for the instigation of a system of progression as well as the recruitment of potential future candidates during this time period. With more failures than successes came the inevitable change of leadership and alongside, a variant in some parts of the philosophy. Disappointment was an accompanying story as new principles were put in place, but with perseverance came the belief that very good progress was being made. Tragic circumstances threatened to derail the process with the need to install new parts of the guiding team. After experiencing early doubts that the disruptive nature of events could be another chapter and that (only by a whisker) the saga was in danger of outlasting Coronation Street in longevity. Thankfully we can now say that it is not so, as the anticipation of participation in Euro 2016 is now a reality and fast appearing on the horizon. Credit must again be given to all concerned who continued with the progression formula of former leaders and are diligently on a continuous improvement agenda in order to fine tune it to the maximum of its potential.

    I have written this piece as recalled almost exclusively from my memory of the events as the years passed by and so follows that they are just my opinion of what transpired. I continue by adding some more of my thoughts as an evaluation of the time I have pursued what I regard as a hobby.

    Even though it has been a long time and a source of frustration for many as the period in between an appearance at the finals grew into the many decades, there is much that can be regarded as positive when considering Welsh football during this time period. As I have indicated, from the mid 70's or just after until now I have closely monitored Welsh football statistics. One thing I have been able to do is keep a count of the number of Welsh qualified players for each season. I am very confident that although I cannot guarantee that my numbers are absolutely correct for any one, I have missed by less than 5 or so for any one of those times. The criteria used was that the players were 18 years of age or older prior to the first league match of that season and that they were fully contracted to clubs in one of the four English leagues, Scottish Premier or First division, la Liga or other equivalent. I have been surprised to notice that the number has been almost a constant 120 or very close to it for the vast majority of the time, with the variations being a low of around 110 and a high of roughly130. The high of  about 130 occurred for a couple of seasons in the early 80's and it did not come close to that again until the last couple of seasons. This present season is actually the highest ever with the number approaching 140. Making the assumption that there are somewhere between 2000 and 2500 as a total of full time professionals in the four English leagues, the Welsh total is slightly above what may be predicted with the use of population statistics. Even so it really quite a small pool of players as it covers from just starting out as professionals to those coming to the end of their careers in league football. On this basis, I think that Wales has done very well to field very competitive teams for a large proportion of the time, in part as they have had some very good players to bolster the overall strength many more times than they have not. In some ways I think it could be argued that they have tended to have above their fair share of top tier players. More could be added in this sort of comparison issue but I will leave it there. To finish this part, I had better define the Welsh qualified players term for those who want to understand how I derived the numbers. Welsh born or those who qualify by other criteria and have been involved with international squads from schoolboy onwards. There are most probably others but until they have been deemed to be international quality or close to it, I am not able to be aware of them.

    I do think that Welsh football deserves the optimistic response that recent events have conjured. The strength of the squad in the last couple of years is certainly better than it has ever been. Although the absence of key players would undoubtedly be a very hard situation to overcome, there are options that provide reasonably adequate replacements for many positions in the team. The summer tournament will certainly be a tough test even if what is deemed as the strongest line-up is available for selection and all the players used will need to perform at, or at least near, their optimum capacity for positive results to be attained. This is with the assumption that their opponents will perform likewise. We will just have to wait for a few more weeks and then see what happens on the days. Then there will be plenty of discussion and dissection of what we will have witnessed.

    What will be the fate of Welsh football after the Euro's? The simple answer is that it is impossible to even make anything other than a reasonable guess. A couple of important players are approaching veteran stage and the longevity of their careers and the quality of their eventual replacements is but one key element that will be determinant in what is to follow. The team does have the benefit of a good nucleus of players who not only have amassed the experience of what is necessary to succeed but hopefully have quite a few more seasons of playing at the high standard they have exhibited thus far. That would allow one to suggest team performances should remain competitive but not necessarily enough for continued qualification to final tournaments. In order for that to be something projected, there needs to be an infusion of younger members into the squad who can maintain or even improve the quality of the team. There is no doubt that new players will be introduced into the squad over time with indications of some talented boys at their age group who may be what is needed for senior team success. As mentioned the system is in place to give the teams and the individuals the best advantage of achieving maximum potential. I have shared evaluated projections of the 18 to roughly 21 year old group a few times in the past with I believe a modicum of success. Through doing this and also trying to gauge the likely path forward of the senior squad over that time I have reached the following conclusion. It requires for the team to have 8 or 9 members who are playing with some amount of regularity in the Premier League and as many as possible regarded as prominent performers in it, so that the chances of success are enhanced. This is a trend that can be noticed through the 58, 76, 94, 04 and present situations. Again maybe more could be mentioned to further clarify the statement but it unnecessarily lengthens the article. In the present day scenario, 25 to 30 players or so need to be considered to have some amount of claim of recognition by the coaching staff when the selection process for matches takes place. This accounts for injuries, suspensions, form variance and so on. On the basis of a 10 year international career it means in general mathematical terms that between 2 and 3 new players are needed from each birth year to supplement those who drop out as age limits their effectiveness. This is what in general contributes to the strength of the present squad, of course with some variance as to what reality produces. Some birth years are above this average which makes up for the shortfall in others.

    The path along which a person strives to a destiny of making a living through playing football is at best described as an extremely rocky road. Many start out with some sort of ambition of doing so. Playing any sport that is enjoyable takes one forward when regarded to have some ability at doing so, the next step being to wonder whether it can be a consideration of being very good at it. Of course I am relaying that as it is perceived in a child's mind. This moves us on to schoolboy football and only a very few of those who allow themselves a poignant moment at times that such an occasion may beckon, will reach the pinnacle of their footballing lives up to that point, representing their country. Schoolboy international player status is without doubt a feather in the cap of anyone who possesses such evidence of its designation, using a play on words. A fact well known by those who follow football with any amount of fervor is, few from this category are able to continue in a mode of having a job in football whereby they can reflect on the profession having provided them adequate remuneration for a time that can be classified as a good career. Ok, showing off on my part with some words I have to admit, but also trying not to regurgitate similar sentences as I continue my sermon, to be honest challenging the limits of my literary skills. Back to point, many fall along the way and even out of this much reduced number, only a small percentage go on to receive acclaim of senior international status or anything with even the remotest possibility of it. This has been a constant throughout the time schoolboy, youth and under 21(23) matches have been contested. A good question is why is this so? In different eras some variation in influences has existed, but also much has remained in a very similar context of probable explanation. Growth pattern, injuries, interaction of family, friends, coaching constructiveness and the environment are all to some degree contributory. I think, however, that desire and dedication are usually the biggest determinants as to how the pursuit of the goal concludes. Words to describe the commitment needed to make the physical and mental sacrifices necessary in order to avoid being victim of the attrition rate. Already acknowledged to have skill and athletic ability, it must continually be refined so as to excel within their peer group initially and improved sufficiently to meet the challenge posed by more experienced exponents if the step into a senior football environment is realized. True that some late developers will fill the gap vacated, but again only a very small relative number do so. There are only so many spots available, a very large proportion already filled by tried and tested performers.

    A lot of sentences to say that sport, football in this case, in line with other entertainment and parallel occupations, is a tough business to succeed in. Not any different from most if not all jobs, the highest paid are those that can perform special functions and are best suited to do so.

    As some sort of answer to the question I posed as I tried to conclude this preamble that I would like to share with all who may have an interest in reading it, I submit that my view is this. There are sufficient candidates who seem to have a potential of doing so, but by far the biggest challenges lay ahead. Some undoubtedly will reach the top of the tree as it were. Will enough of them do so to provide some sort of continuity pattern in the achievements of the Wales senior team in comparison to the present? That is the million dollar question which can only be fully answered retrospectively. Now I have to commit myself on record and say that I do have at least a small amount of doubt. I am encouraged that there are a decent number of the 18 to 21 group of players being exposed to first team football which can certainly be beneficial to them, it may be questionable as to whether they can continue to climb the ladder to perform in more demanding circumstances. Not wishing give an impression of being unappreciative, I need to say that a message I want to be considered amongst all I have said is the opposite. Whomever I have inferred, whatever the limits of their achievement, it is very worthy of recognition as something well beyond the powers of most, just as a comparison in regard to those who have played football. I greedily want all to succeed in a manner that could improve the Wales senior team, that is the very high standard that I use as the reference measuring stick as it were.   

     As a closing paragraph I will mention that though I thoroughly enjoy the pursuit of football statistics, playing the game has always been at the forefront of my interest during my sporting life. Again, another part of the lucky life I have enjoyed, is that I have been able to continue playing for an unexpectedly long period and experienced the odd thrilling moments (it felt that way for me) along the way. What I treasure more than anything is some wonderful people I have encountered through this common passion and foremost the special friendships I have luckily established.

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Posted: Thursday 12th May 2016
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