With Bobby Gould having resigned, Nigel Harris tells us why the Welsh nation is optimistic about the future with Mark Hughes
While England and Scotland endured the media spew that was the “Battle of Britain” and the Republic battled in vain with Turkey, Welsh football’s television delight was Wrexham v Conwy in a BBC sponsored trophy (Wrexham won 1-0, in case you wondered).
It is easy to lay blame for this qualifying campaign on the FA of Wales and Bobby Gould. But why not? The FAW, led by JO Hughes, the most powerful man in Welsh football at 84, and other assorted geriatrics, scuppered hopes at the outset by opting to host Italy and Denmark at Anfield. Their belief that the Welsh public would come to see Wales play outside Wales, even in midweek, was as stupid as their expectations of massive away support. The venture cost them dearly in crowds (little better than Ninian Park and without atmosphere in a half-full stadium), revenue and results (2-0 defeats in both games mirrored the infamous 1977 Scotland game).
That was not the only idiocy. The party that set off for Belarus took more baggage than originally specified so it was decided to eject 12 supporters from the plane. In a bittersweet moment encapsulating all that is Welsh football, one supporter suggested on Radio 5 Live that they should have removed Ryan Giggs instead.
“You can’t leave your best player behind,” said the reporter. “Why not? We’re here every time for Wales, he isn’t.”
Yet there are signs of hope. Bobby Gould wisely resigned before both Severn Bridges were dismantled to prevent him commuting from his Bristol home. But despite Gould the team managed to achieve their best away result in 25 years with a magnificent 2-1 victory in Denmark.
A home defeat by the Swiss coupled with Denmark’s freak victory in Italy put paid to any play-off hopes but there is a new optimism at large. Wales are back at the magnificently rebuilt Millennium Stadium. The appointment of Mark Hughes as manager may seem like desperation to outsiders but passion and pride are vital to Welsh success and Hughes will demand no less. Ryan Giggs, for example, now joins the squad even when genuinely injured.
A poor domestic championship and the influx of foreign stars into the English leagues does not bode well for future player talent but there have been encouraging results at Under-18 and Under-21 level. The World Cup draw this month will undoubtedly see Wales, seeded in the fourth rank, in another tough group. But one thing I’m sure we won’t hear any more are reactions like Gould’s to the Euro draw: “We’ve got no chance.”
From WSC 155 January 2000. What was happening this month