Cwsg yn dawel Dai Davies, 1948 – 2021

In memory of former Wales goalkeeper, Dai Davies, who passed away on 10 February 2021.

By Tommie Collins

This week a gentleman who I got to know on a personal level sadly passed away. On numerous occasions I met Dai Davies, the former Wales international goalkeeper, who played his club football for Everton, Swansea, Wrexham and Bangor City – and yes, there are many stories to tell.

I first saw Wales play back in 1973. It was at the Racecourse ground against Scotland, where Gary Sprake was in goal. Dai made his debut away against Hungary in April 1975 before going on to achieve 20 clean sheets in 52 appearances. Dai would only miss six out of the next 57 Wales matches.

By the time of the World Cup qualifier against the USSR at the Racecourse in 1980, I was old enough to attend the match by myself having also been to some friendlies against Northern Ireland and West Germany the previous year. Dai played in the USSR match, whilst another game I attended in which he played was the ill-fated floodlight failure match against Iceland at the Vetch in October 81. We drew 2-2 after being two-up before the floodlights went out. Dai retired from international football in 1982.

I can’t remember the exact year, but I was still in school and attended a football competition at Eirias Park, Colwyn Bay. Dai was in attendance doing some coaching. If you weren’t trying or interested he’d tell you in no uncertain terms. Later on I read his book called ‘Never Say Dai’, it was a great book; honest and funny and you came to the conclusion that he was a very determined character.

Despite his excellent displays at international level, he was sometimes criticised at club level unfairly in some quarters by dropping some crosses and was called Dai the drop but he always overcame the sceptical ones.

I then met Dai in a hotel in Villa Real, Portugal after the Wales friendly in Chaves. All the players and media were present and I was steaming to say the least. I introduced Dai to my friend as Dai the drop and to put it mildly he went ballistic. I made a hasty retreat.

Our paths crossed again when I was called to be a studio guest on the S4C football show ‘Sgorio’ alongside – yes, you’ve guessed it – Dai Davies.

He was already in the make-up room when I had to sit next to him to get my make-up done. He offered his big hand out to say hello and he said “have we met before?”. I said yes but I don’t want to tell you where, he smiled and said “oh, go on” – I preceded to say “nah, forget it”, he said “go on, I won’t bite you..”

I was thinking to myself “do I tell him?”, the whole night could then be a disaster, he could go ballistic, I then plucked up some courage and said “I called you Dai the drop in Portugal.”

It’s at this point he stopped the make-up woman, got up and gave me a big smile, laughed and shook my hand, “at least you told me to my face” he laughed.

Image from that episode of Sgorio.

Before, during and after the show he was the ultimate gentleman by guiding me through the night and telling me anytime you want some help or advice to just ask. That night summed him up – gwr bonheddig, a true gentleman.

We met on numerous occasions after that at Welsh Premier League games and he was an FAW guest at Cefn Druids when they started touring the country to meet fans; he was an excellent guest and had many a story to tell.

Sadly, the last time I saw him was a chance meeting in Llangollen. I’d stopped on a cycle ride in a shop and brought my bike inside the store. Dai was inside shopping and we greeted each other, but things took a turn for the worse when a shop assistant got angry about my bike being in the shop.

He came to my defence told me take my bike out and he duly paid for my goods, we then had a sit down outside putting the world to right. He asked if I wanted anything as I was far from home.. That is the final time I saw him and as usual he was a true gentleman.

They don’t make people like Dai anymore.

Featured image sourced off the FAW website.

Super Frank Lampard departs Chelsea as Thomas Tuchel arrives

Chelsea Football Club over the last few years have had a nasty habit of sacking managers at a whim, but their latest sacking of fans favourite and club legend Frank Lampard seems very harsh.

By Tommie Collins

Chelsea Football Club over the last few years have had a nasty habit of sacking managers at a whim, but their latest sacking of fans favourite and club legend Frank Lampard seems very harsh.

This is especially the case when fans of other clubs leave you messages such as “madness”, “brutal” and “out of order”, it’s at this point you realise that the club make such decisions without even thinking about fan opinion – the ruthless truth being that football is now sadly but a business.

Looking back in time, another excellent manager in the making, Eddie Mcreadie, left the club in 1977 and fans were also seething back then, and to be honest the club didn’t recover until the arrival of probably our best manager (not the most successful) John Neal in May 1981.

Things didn’t start well for Neal. We nearly got relegated to the then Third Division until a Clive Walker goal at Bolton Wanderers gave us a 1-0 win to save us the heartache. Then to his credit, then Chairman Ken Bates backed Neal in the summer of ‘83 with some superb signings bringing in Pat Nevin, Joe McLaughlin and Nigel Spackman, all relative unknowns at the time, whilst also adding Welsh Goalkeeper Eddie Niedzwiecki and Kerry Dixon.

Neal had an eye for talent and the 1983/84 season was the beginning of our revival and, for some of a certain age, probably our best season ever culminating in gaining promotion to the 1st Division. Sadly Neal had to step aside in the summer of 1985 due to illness and again the club took a long time to recover – oh what might have been.

The arrival of Glenn Hoddle revitalised the club but he left to take the England job in 1996 – since then our managers have rarely lasted more than a few seasons, with Ranieri nearly completing four.

Chelsea fans thought they got the real deal when 18 months ago we appointed Frank Lampard. Enough was enough of the managerial merry go round, and this was the appointment where we could settle down and surely give a club legend, who had been learning his trade at Derby County, that word which does not resonate in a Chelsea boardroom – time.

I’d really like to get into that boardroom and find out what they really want from a manager say season by season. There’s the League Cup, FA Cup, possibly a European trophy and the Premier League, whilst not forgetting the all-important Top 4. There’s not much to go around is there!

Some fans want to win trophies, with some thinking this is a must or they’ll desert the club, whilst some want to see entertaining football. Others want runs in the European competitions, whilst some are content just to support the club whatever they achieve.

Therefore in his first season in charge, Frank Lampard achieves a top 4 finish and an FA Cup final without being able to sign players, he then gets handed a lot of money, splashes the cash and come December we’re top of the Premier League and still in Europe.

A month later we’re ninth, some of his big money singings have been poor to say the least but we’re still in Europe and the FA Cup with a manager who’s still learning the job, so what exactly do the board want?

Whilst manager of Derby County, he took Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori on loan and in his first season at Chelsea had to play youngsters due to the transfer ban imposed on the club. This is what the fans wanted to see, academy players coming through the system and thriving; Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James and Callum Hudson–Odoi.

Things haven’t since turned out well for Fikayo Tomori after such a promising start. He recently joined AC Milan on loan but Mason Mount has excelled under Lampard and was handed the captaincy on Sunday against Luton Town in the FA Cup. Maybe Lampard was being sentimental in giving Mount the armband, maybe he knew his time was up.

Personally I want someone who identifies with the club, Jose Mourinho did the first time and Antonio Conte did briefly. Fans disliked Rafa Benitez because of his Liverpool links and things he’d said, Maurizio Sarri was just Sarri, no charisma no interest in gaining a rapport with the fans. However, Frank was our man.

Who can forget how he celebrated at Tottenham. Jurgen Klopp has entrenched and endeared himself with the Liverpool way. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a Manchester United legend and currently the club seem happy with him. Mikel Arteta was toast before Christmas but has since turned things around to a degree, whilst Pep Guardiola is still comfortable at the Etihad despite failing to win the UEFA Champions League.

Now confirmed as our new manager is former Mainz, Borussia Dortmund and PSG coach Thomas Tuchel who according to some reports won’t take orders from above and is a control freak – that augurs well for the future, although I wish him all the best.

Fans are fickle and no manager, player, boardroom member is bigger than the club so fans will move on. At the end of the day there’ll be a split – some will not accept Tuchel due to their loyalty to Lampard, whilst others won’t accept him as he possibly won’t buy into the club. Some won’t care as long as he wins those coveted trophies – but what if he doesn’t?

It’s just a shame that currently fans aren’t allowed in the ground as things could be hostile towards our beloved board members.

I wish the board would be open and honest with us the fans, being clear as to the bare minimum he has to achieve. I wonder if, say, in another 18-months, we still haven’t lifted the Premier League or Champions League, which Tuchel has failed to do thus far – what fate then awaits him?

I think we all know by now.

Football without fans: Pass me the remote

As football continues to be played behind closed doors, Tommie Collins looks into whether the special connection between us football fans, our teams and the beloved game is slowly being lost, or was it in fact already lost some time ago..

By Tommie Collins

Do you remember the very first time you attended a football match in the flesh? Was it a relative who took you or were you old enough to go on your own?

In the early seventies, I remember my uncle taking me down the Traeth to see Porthmadog in pre-season friendlies against Tranmere Rovers and Stoke City. He also took to my first ever Wales game at the Racecourse circa ’73, then to see Chelsea for the first time at Hereford circa ‘76.

These are all good memories since replicated with my kids. Taking my daughter aged two to Villa Park for the last game of the season which Chelsea drew, I remember holding her hand walking up the steps through the tunnel. When witnessing the vast stadium, she stopped and kneeled down seemingly in awe at the stadium. I then took my two boys to their first games at Torquay and Blackburn Rovers respectively. Another highlight for me was taking my eldest lad, then age six, to Marseille circa ’99. That I tell you was an experience and a half.

He also came with me aged 10 to the Parc des Princes to see PSG V Chelsea. These games made my kids the fans of today, going to Wales away matches and the occasional Chelsea match.

PSG v Chelsea, Parc de Princes 2004.

Yet why the ‘occasional’ match I hear you ask. Well, time has since seen the experience change with the abundance of live televised games. The odd live game here and there was all well and good. Then with the creation of the Premier League in 1992 came higher ticket prices which prompted the loyal travelling fan to question whether he could afford going, especially with the way it has since developed with silly kick-off times on any day of the week.

Many fans soon realised that they weren’t worthy pundits no more and that the game was in fact being turned into a TV event for the armchair fan, where pubs would be packed to the rafters.

Then with social media since coming into play it really has gone global. We all remember your club having a supporter’s branch in Wales, Ireland, Australia and the USA. Now any person in any country is blessed with a platform to give their own wonderful insight worldwide. Everyone has something to say and an opportunity to be heard which leads to outrage on social media sites. 

The old school supporter who got priced out of the game still supports their club and will still go when finances and transport allow. However, the global fan who might be based on the other side of the globe will do nothing but decry the old fan. They spout they are as much of a fan due to getting up at a god forsaken time to complain or lament a manager who possibly won the league the previous May, or who might be a club legend (i.e. Frank Lampard) but according to them he is already burnt toast.

Looking ahead to this upcoming summer’s Euro 2020/21 Championships, currently planned to take place across 12 different countries, this despite being in the midst of a global pandemic.

On 5 March, an announcement will be made on how many fans can attend or whether they will be held behind closed doors – actually, let’s just call it football without fans. Only last week UEFA offered to refund supporters if they didn’t/couldn’t attend this year, but why now? Why not wait until after 5 March to see what that announcement brings, or leave it until April even, where the vaccine situation could have changed things dramatically.

The pandemic has led to enough games being played in empty stadiums worldwide. Being at a live game allows you to criticise loudly, support and go ballistic when your team scores. One of my most recent games before the pandemic was Tottenham away at the their excellent new stadium. Chelsea came out on top and, even at my age, it meant something to be present.

“The game was made for supporters to attend, not for a watching TV audience which sadly it has since become.”

The train journey down, socialising pre-match, the buzz entering the ground, jumping like a madman when we scored, even at home watching Wales or Chelsea I could get emotional with a crowd there, but now I like many others sit there unattached, hardly watching the game.

Additionally, for years now there’s been a live game almost every night – it has been saturated to the point where I rarely watch a live game unless it involves Wales or Chelsea. But to the armchair fan, it’s sheer bliss and for UEFA to even contemplate playing the Euros without fans is nothing short of scandalous.

Ah but you might say ‘they’ve already cancelled it once remember therefore needs be’, so what – why won’t they cancel it again until 2022, then move the Qatar World Cup (another thorny issue in my backside) back another year.  The game was made for supporters to attend, not for a watching TV audience which sadly it has since become.

When UEFA’s inevitable ‘behind closed doors’ announcement comes on 5 March, I will then reluctantly watch the televised games at the Euros. However, I already know I just won’t be able to celebrate the same as if I was there.

Is it just me? Is it my age? Is it that I was brought up in the pre-live game era? Whatever it is, it’s currently a dismally soulless experience

… Pass me the remote.

The tale of Wales’ four-goal hero Ian Edwards

As Wales look forward to Euro 2020, Tommie Collins went to interview the only player to score four goals in a match for Wales.

By Tommie Collins

As Wales look forward to Euro 2020, Tommie Collins went to interview the only player to score four goals in a match for Wales.

The Welsh national football team has probably had three world class players; namely John Charles, Ryan Giggs and most recently Gareth Bale. We’ve also had very good striker called Ian Rush, albeit none of the above achieved what a striker who only played four times for his country managed – scoring four goals in a game.

Ian Edwards, born in Rossett near Wrexham, scored 63 goals in 214 games for West Bromwich Albion, Chester, Wrexham and Crystal Palace, before retiring at the age of 28. He then managed Mold Alexandra and Porthmadog. The ex-Wales international that scored four goals in four appearances for his country now runs a hotel in the seaside town of Criccieth.

“It’s funny really, I didn’t play centre forward until I was 16. Our PE teacher knew someone from Rhyl so he took me and a local lad Steve Edwards who played for Wales schoolboys. I played for Rhyl in the Welsh system then the Cheshire league; I used to get paid in that league.”


“Lots of clubs were in for me when I was 15, Joe Mercer from Man City came to our house with Malcolm Allison, I don’t know if he had his fedora on as I was still in bed. Man Utd, Burnley and Luton also wanted to sign me as an apprentice, but I decided to stay in school and carried on playing for Rhyl. At the end of sixth form West Bromwich Albion came in for me and I went but, it was a mistake really as I should have gone three years earlier. I was playing catch up; the others had been there three years. Asa Hartford, John Trewick, Len Cantello, Willie Johnstone, Bryan Robson, John Wile and Joe Mayo, who I’m still friends with.”

Ian Edwards was playing before the days of the Bosman ruling came into force in 1995. The Bosman ruling meant that players could move to a new club at the end of their contract without their old club receiving a fee. Players can now agree a pre-contract with another club for a free transfer if the players’ contract with their existing club has six months or less remaining.

“I was on £35 a week when I started, it wasn’t bad but wasn’t life changing, my dad earned the same in his job as a draughtsman. What you don’t realise is that you become their property; I signed a two year contract and started playing in the reserves. I didn’t think I was doing very well, they were now in the 2nd division, when I went to ask for a pay rise they said you signed a two year contract, which had an option of another two which meant they could keep you for that period of time on the same money, after that they kept your registration, a bit like slave labour.

“There were no agents then which meant you had to go in and negotiate with the Chairman and Manager; they would say you’re lucky to have that, even though you were doing well they wouldn’t tell you. I left in November of 1976; they were now in the first division I doubled my money by going to Chester which was ridiculous. I left because I was 21, travelling with the first team, I was only playing once every three weeks, those days if you were sub, which I was a lot, they weren’t keen to put you on in case someone got injured. It’s not like where there are big squads and everyone is well paid, they had you and if you kicked off you’d be back in the reserves or the third team.”

Injury problems

“Soon as I went to Chester I started scoring but within two months I did my knee in at Rotherham. Their keeper, Tom McAlister, came out and caught me as I scored, my knee buckled backwards and I was never right again, it’s still hurting me now.

“But them days they didn’t put them in plaster, they had me playing in about three weeks running up and down stairs to strengthen it. I was 21 when it happened and 28 when I finished. I’d had five different operations on the same knee, today’s technology would certainly have helped me, they just kept giving me cartilage operations. I had three full ones, and there was stuff left from before – basically, I think they were experimenting. Now it’s a keyhole – them days it was a six-inch cut.”

On the treatment table

“Being injured at a football club is terrible, all the time I was at Wrexham I was injured, because I went there with an injury, I’m sure they were hoping it would clear but it never did. They get annoyed, you know you’re a burden when you’re on the treatment table, the physio doesn’t like you as he knows he can’t make you better, the manager doesn’t like you because you’re not playing and you’re not happy, because all you want to do is play. We know it’s a short career and you think you can achieve something.

“So for about three years before finishing I didn’t train much, I just went in and, I was breathing through my ass, I was knackered you need to be fit to play. It was the second division which is now the championship and I was taking pain killers to get me through.”

Chester > Wrexham

There is a fierce cross border rivalry between Chester and Wrexham and not many players get accepted when they make the move, although Gary Bennett is one that was accepted at both clubs probably for his goal scoring prowess.

“If you lived in Mold, where there was a lot of Chester fans, it was no big deal, it’s more so now this nastiness between them, it’s not a good move to go from Chester to Wrexham because the Chester fans don’t like you for going and the Wrexham fans don’t like where you came from and vice versa – it’s up to you to convince them.”

And convince them he did with a stunning goal for Wrexham at Derby which won the Goal of the Month in the September 1980/81 season.

“It should have been the goal of the season. Tony Morley won it for his goal at Everton. Ivan Golac’s goal for Southampton was a cracker as well. I was always good at volleying and the previous midweek I scored a left foot volley at Newtown, it was better than the Derby one. It was instinctive.”


It was during his spells with Chester and Wrexham that Edwards made his four Welsh appearances.

I got picked for Wales U21 in Edinburgh against Scotland, along with Peter Sayer as he was a good foil for me. Not being quick, I could win the balls in the air and flick them on to him. I was 22 but still eligible for the U21’s and the Scottish team had some good players in the squad.

“It didn’t start well as during the train journey up to Scotland I got in a conversation in the buffet bar with a guy who was going clam diving off a boat. We chatted for ages, the train had stopped for a while in the middle of nowhere, next thing the train pulls into Glasgow Central, I said goodbye to my new friend and realised there was something wrong – I thought what’s happened here? I was told in the middle of nowhere the train splits in half, with one going to Edinburgh and the other Glasgow, so when I came off the train I was arrested as I had no ticket, anyway I explained the situation and the police all took the piss out of me. They took me in a Black Maria across Glasgow to the station that goes to Edinburgh; I arrived four hours after everyone else.

“The manger at the time Mike Smith wasn’t impressed, he eventually started to laugh and I told him well really someone should have told me the train splits in half. Anyway, we played the game and soon after I got called up for the Malta game. Robbie James made his debut; he was a quality player, and he played up front with me – he could hold the ball up well. John Toshack was coming to the end of his career; he’d had injuries, so really it was open for me. If I had been fit enough, it was there for me, on the weekend of that game when I scored four I scored for Chester against Reading and two the week after. In the space of ten days I scored more than I did in some seasons. I scored nine goals then and after the two goals against Hull I had another knee operation on the Sunday. I didn’t think I needed another operation but just probably a rest.

“I was out again, all these breaks were affecting me, you need two or three games to come back from injury, I can see it with players now they’re off the pace, I wasn’t blessed with pace thus I couldn’t come on and make an impact. I could hold the ball, head the ball and score goals, but I wasn’t going to come on and do a David Fairclough.


“Kuwait away, it was very hot, Graham Williams came to pick me up, and I knew him from my West Brom days. He was captain of the WBA team who won the FA Cup in 1968 and he was managing a team out there. Kuwait isn’t a country – in reality, it’s a city. We stayed in beach side apartments in 100 degrees heat, I came on as sub, a good experience, a funny place, smashed up sports cars were left on the side of the road. Maseratis and all – more money than sense.

“I‘d already played schoolboy, youth and U21 level so I was used to representing my country. If you do well, you’re going to play for your country aren’t you? You’ve got to be honest as a footballer, it’s a selfish existence and you do it for yourself, you’re not doing it for Wales. Like now, I’ve got no interest in some of the teams I played for. They paid my wages, I look at their results. They’re not interested in me neither.

As the Red Wall are planning their trips to the Euros this summer, only fans of a certain age will remember Edwards’ feat.

 “In my only full cap I scored four. I had a good goal disallowed, they said I pushed the defender but I was stronger than him, I kept the match ball got it signed and then I gave it to the kids to play football with. When I came to Criccieth, I found some shirts; one had been in a suitcase since 1989. My lad Rhys has the shirt from the Malta game and he’s going to frame it.

“We played Germany at home and Toshack came on and replaced me, I had a knee in my back the previous weekend; I was in pain and had a cortisone injection. They (Germany) were miles better than us at the time, they had some team, they were also ahead of us with the fouling game, they were holding on to me throughout the game, I’ve never been fouled so much in a game. The centre-half was a man marker, just held on to me, I should have battered him early on – but you’re frightened of being sent off. When you’re playing against a team that’s better than you they have the possession, you’re chasing and I wasn’t the quickest to be doing that. I needed us to have possession to be playing further up field. It was such a big gap, they had players like Karl Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Stielike, Klaus Fischer, Manfred Kaltz – he was brilliant.

Byron Stevenson was controversially sent off in Turkey in 1979 after he allegedly fractured opponent Buyak Mustafa’s cheekbone. He was given a four-and-a-half year European ban, effectively ending his international career.

“I played against Turkey where we lost 1-0 in Izmir. It was a holiday resort, the road was full of potholes, and you could lose a bus in them – also a very hostile place. One of our players, Byron Stevenson who died in 2007, broke a blokes nose and they went crazy. Mike Smith asked him did you do it he, said ‘no’, but Joey Jones said that he did. It nearly caused a riot and we couldn’t go out after. I went to Iran, in one stand there was only the Shah and machine guns everywhere. I was sub, and it was part of the job.”

End of the footballing road

“I joined Crystal Palace on a free from Wrexham and they were relegated. I could have stayed if I’d taken a pay cut but I had another operation as I’d fractured the orbit of my eye in two places. I had two spells of six weeks on the sidelines, and then I came back for the last two games of the season and scored the goal that kept Palace up. It was the last time I kicked a ball; we won 1-0 so Burnley went down – Alan Mullery was the manager and he was great with me, although the Palace fans weren’t keen because he came from Brighton.

“I came back home to Wrexham. Some clubs wanted me, Twente Enschede asked me to go there, and some other Dutch clubs were interested, but my knee was hurting. I went to Walsall and played a practice game, Kevin Summerfield was there, I’d played with him at WBA, and they asked me to go back. My knee was swollen, I couldn’t go back, you can’t tell people I’ll sign but only play on a Saturday, so I just went downstairs and decided that’s it I’m retiring; it was a relief.

“There was no point in trying to be fit. I never got dropped at Palace, same at Wrexham really, at 28 I wasn’t in a position to go into football, it’s not like today where there is backroom staff, and it was only the manager and his mate.”


“I had to do something quickly to earn some money as I had a family to support, I started a milk round in Wrexham and did all right, and I sold it after a few years and bought a hotel in Criccieth. The knees were all right on the round and I played for Mold in the Welsh National League but they got promoted to the League of Wales (now the Welsh Premier League). My knees wouldn’t have coped at that level, I was only going at half pace, I was fit but I wouldn’t have coped full pace, then I went to Porthmadog, but that’s another story…

“I did some work at Llanystumdwy with the kids and would watch my boys play but soon after they came off I’d go home – I’d sooner play golf than watch football these days. Football has changed. You need a sugar daddy these days. Money is the be all and end all, that is why the richest clubs are where they are.

“Even though I said I’d rather play golf than watch football, I like many others thought Wales were brilliant at the Euros and they should have qualified for the World Cup. With players like Joe Allen, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey there shouldn’t have been a hangover. It should have been exuberance, and we should have been thinking we’re top four in Europe.”

Trains, Planes and a Crazy Taxi Driver

“The beer was vile so I again plumped for pear cider all the way from Cornwall! The old BATE stadium was adjacent to the bar and it seemed a pity we weren’t playing here – proper old skool stadium.”

When Chelsea’s UEFA Europa League draw was made I knew that I would miss PAOK as I was on holiday, whilst Vidi in December was a non starter, thus I fancied Bate Borisov in Belarus due to it being a country I hadn’t previously visited.


This was no straight forward trip to arrange even for Tommies Tours. The easiest way it seemed was to fly via somewhere to the capital of Belarus, Minsk, Borisov was about an hour away. The flight was touching £300 and the return was via Istanbul with a four-hour wait there as well. I explored the other options and flying to neighbouring Lithuania seemed a decent choice and again a country I hadn’t visited. However, by going this way you required a visa, what a stupid situation this was, if you fly into Minsk a visa isn’t required but entering any other way you need one – it should be all or nothing.

The visa seemed reasonable at £60 on top of the £143 flight to Vilnius, but problems lay ahead. The Belorussian Embassy in London would not answer any emails or phone calls, it was a complicated visa form thus I needed to speak to them. Eventually we decided to pay £100 for a visa company to assist us, which I must say they did well – the train to Minsk came out at £30 – not bad for a return which took over two hours both ways.

So flights booked and the visa arrived in time and match ticket was purchased for £17.50. The usual ticket collection was in place and with luck at our hotel, which by the way was excellent – kudos to Billy for booking, at least he didn’t moan about the hotel.

Baltic States

We flew to Vilnius via Stockholm where I refused to pay €12 for a pint at the airport but cracked and paid €9 for a bottle of pear cider – no logic in that. We arrived in Vilnius and a decent night was had. It wasn’t a poor place by any means but, my understanding is that compared to the other Baltic states such as Estonia and Latvia, Vilnius isn’t the nicest of the three. Maybe we weren’t there long enough but there was it seems only one street with bars and there wasn’t many, although they were decent. The beer was fine, we did look for a late bar, but to no avail we couldn’t find one, albeit a good outcome probably due to us having to catch the 06.15 train. There was passport control procedures at the station and the border crossing was nervous, they inspected our passports like they were looking for gold, but when they got the stamp out I knew we were in.

Catching a glimpse through the taxi window

The station in Minsk was a taxi ride away to the hotel where we passed the renovated national stadium – it looked impressive, as far as floodlight go it was porn, they were like gigantic tennis rackets.

Check in

The hotel bar was open when we arrived at 10.00am thus beers were ordered and we refused to pay the €77 for an early check in. We checked in at 12.00, showered and headed back to the bar and left for the mini bus to Borisov. Once again, this was a contentious decision as most were staying in Minsk till later – kick off wasn’t until 21.00, Google had shown a couple of bars in Borisov but the driver firstly decided to drop us of at the impressive stadium on the outskirts, I mean who wants to go in the stadium at 14.00 – he eventually managed to find a bar – the obligatory shamrock was outside and it had wooden decor inside. This area was grim, I’ve travelled a lot and this city was the grimmest I’d visited: it had nothing going for it.

Old ground walls.

Ordering food and drink was a nightmare, the waitress brought us two plates of cheese balls instead of the chicken and chips we ordered, she didn’t understand what a vodka and orange was: we were in Belarus! The beer was vile so I again plumped for pear cider all the way from Cornwall! The old Bate stadium was adjacent to the bar and it seemed a pity we weren’t playing here – proper old skool stadium. It seemed that some Chelsea fans were happy to stay in one bar but I wanted to say that I’d been to more than one, so we decide to head off to bar Pinta.

Crazy driver

The taxi arrived and promptly expected us to walk through the mud and puddles to it. Billy was having none of it and we persuaded her to drive to an area not as muddy. She drove off and whilst pulling out of a junction I could see the lorry drivers eyes, we were lucky – I’m sure someone had just given her a set of keys and said drive, she was character but wasn’t fit to be behind the wheel. To make matters worse, bar Pinta didn’t exist, to save our embarrassment of going back she came up trumps and took us to bar Dogma her local. It was a great bar and the thought of grim Borisov soon vanished.

The local Chelsea fans were there and wouldn’t take no for an answer regarding buying us a little drink, large shots of vodka were bought and I swear we couldn’t say no. A bear of a man then came in with a ‘Cymru am byth’ jumper (Wales for ever) but he was in no mood for a laugh, he was the sort of guy who you didn’t want to upset, he persuaded us to join him and share his jug of vodka, a man of little words, a gentle giant perhaps, but possibly ex-forces. Came across as a bit of a nutter.

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Vodka man

We eventually managed to free ourselves from vodka man and got to the ground. The evening sky was the same as the city, dank misty and grey. Chelsea scraped a win and the trip back to Minsk was a thirsty one, the hotel bar was crammed with Chelsea until the early hours of the morning where most realised they had a plane or train to catch.


I can’t really judge Minsk as I didn’t see enough but the contrast between Belarus and Lithuania was immense. Belarus people seemed regimented, and it seemed like a job for everyone, whilst when we arrived back in Vilnius everyone seemed jovial and happy. Borisov is the worst place I’ve ever been to, although I’m in Albania soon…

Four flights – ran a mile to catch a connection

Two trains

One nutter

One crazy taxi

Vodka – lost count

Beer- mostly good

Food – good

One grim city.

Mixing with the Mexicans in LA

“I’m not that keen on America. I don’t like their policies and attitude. Anyway we shouldn’t mix politics with sport, should we?”
Tommie Collins talks us through his recent Wales trip to LA.

By Tommie Collins

After a long trip to Nanning in March to see Wales play Uruguay in the China Cup I really didn’t fancy another long trek to Los Angeles to see Wales play a friendly against Mexico but, after negotiating time off work I managed to book a direct flight from Manchester – also the pull of the iconic Rose Bowl stadium was too much.

I’d visited America in 2003 for the friendly in San José where we lost 2-0 with Mathew Jones getting sent off. I’d missed the Mexico match in New York in 2012 due to putting club before country for a change – that’s another story.


I’m not that keen on America. I don’t like their policies and attitude – but hey ho I went to Israel for the qualifier. Anyway we shouldn’t mix politics with sport, should we?

Due to visiting San Francisco in 2003 I’d chosen to make a short four-night trip this time. I didn’t bother going to Hollywood, I mean why should I want to see some celebrities gate or house. I went to Venice beach which was a very dodgy place, Santa Monica was a nice place with a lovely beach and very clean. Downtown LA was ok; bars with live bands and a tad cheaper than Santa Monica and Pasadena.

Venice Beach. Image: WiLPrZ, Flickr

The day of the game started with an early trek to Pasadena where the Rose Bowl is situated, a good decision I understand as the organised buses that were due to take Wales supporters to the match were late in arriving, with many fans missing kick off – they weren’t happy.

We drank in a couple of pubs owned by the chain called Lucky Baldwin’s, again very expensive – I honestly didn’t realise that it was so expensive, on average we were paying anything from $6 – $10 a pint, well less actually – it’s called a 16, a 22 was dearer. In one place in Santa Monica they charged $10 for a small can of Heineken, they wanted $18 for a pint, the exit door was found quickly: I despaired.

There were nearly 500 Welsh fans there and a few who lived over there were looking for tickets, most made a holiday of it combining Las Vegas or San Francisco. It was good to see kids out there, hopefully they’ve had the bug, and they are the future, also a few had managed to get some groundhopping in by seeing LA Galaxy and LAFC.


After negotiating the crazy traffic on the way to the game we finally arrived at the Rose Bowl. It was a sea of green with the Mexicans having taken up swathes of land with barbecues and music blaring out and beer everywhere. What a friendly bunch they are, wanting to take photos with us, amazed we’d travel all the way. Although they did have a brawl with each other during the game – club rivalry, perhaps?

There were security checks to go in but nothing too severe and beer was on sale inside the ground albeit at a ghastly price of $16, thanks but no thanks – I have my limits!


The Rose Bowl. Image: Tommie Collins

The stadium was impressive, a massive bowl, with great views, obviously quite far from the pitch but at least there were no obstructions. To be honest the atmosphere wasn’t great, the Mexicans were persistent with their now famous wave but the Welsh contingent wouldn’t play ball. Again the Mexicans were friendly, but I wonder how the yanks felt with 80,000 in their stadium. For a 0-0 draw it was a decent match, we had chances and considering we had Bale, Allen, Chester and Ampadu missing we did well and the youngsters who came on did ok.

To see Wales play in the Rose Bowl was another tick off the list but I wish it had been in the Azteca, Mexico City. FAW can you arrange? Next stop Aarhus.

For info – I’ve seen Wales play in 43 different countries and that was my 97th away game. Three more this year possibly to hit the magic 100?

Groundhopper: Tango and Football in La Boca

“We all have dreams, plans, bucket lists and after watching the Argentina ‘78 World Cup on television at a young age; South America was my number one place to visit before it was too late.”

By Tommie Collins

We all have dreams, plans, bucket lists and after watching the Argentina ‘78 World Cup on television at a young age; South America was my number one place to visit before it was too late.

My brother was in on the trip of a lifetime and the planning started two years ago. We eventually settled on Argentina and Chile, cue the outcry from some family members you’re not going to Brazil – it can wait…

The plan was to see some football, soak in the cities’ vibes and luckily for me a bit of cycling. We opted for March as it is still their summer and two weeks would suffice. The fixtures came out and the planning started on how to get tickets. There are numerous clubs in Buenos Aires with Boca Juniors and their rivals River Plate being the most famous.

We realised quite early that getting tickets for either of these clubs is a challenge and extremely expensive. Boca were home to Tigre on the Saturday, and due to the demand for tickets you usually have to go through legitimate companies to secure tickets ranging from £134 – £200. However, they do provide beer and transport but you still wonder how they justify the price.

Ticket please

We decided to leave it until we got there and take our chances. We visited Huracan on the Saturday morning to try and obtain tickets for their match the following day against rivals San Lorenzo. We had to join to become Socios (members) and show our passports, which we’d left at the apartment, meaning that game was off the agenda. So we had a quick Quilmes and headed for La Boca.

Scouting for tickets.

In desperation I contacted the tour companies for Boca tickets but they had sold out. I was now regretting the fact that I hadn’t bitten the bullet and paid up. As luck would have it, I went to an ATM to take out enough money in case I came across a ticket, there was a guy in a Boca shirt and I asked him if he knew of tickets?

“Follow me,” he replied as we caught bus no 29 straight to La Boca, passing the impressive Alberto J. Armando (La Bombonera) to our right.

Our friend Santiago (he was Italian) knew everyone and the walk to the bar to meet our ticket guy took a while. The whole area was a sea of blue and yellow with couples dancing to the Tango in bar doorways. Shops were selling all kinds of Boca merchandise, there was a great vibe about the place – although we were warned to avoid at night! I must add that I never felt threatened or intimidated during any of the games I attended.

We were lead into a bar where Santiago’s friend quoted me a price of 2500 Argentinean pesos which I knew equated to approximately £100; I bit his hand off and agreed the price. He went on his way to get the ticket, that turned out to be a membership card. What happens is the fans are all members and they sell on their cards for inflated prices to foreigners who want to attend their games.

We waited a while having another beer, this time an Imperial that was smoother than Quilmes, not as nice but served in a glass similar to a jam jar. Santiago told us “Don’t worry the wheels turn slowly in S America.”

Street football.

Our man came back, we sorted the money out by paying a guy who put it through his computer – it seemed legitimate? We were given our card and away we went towards the ground passing kids playing street football and as we got near to the ground the security checks started – six in all.

The police presence was high despite away fans having been banned in Argentina for a number of years due to violence leading to deaths amongst supporters. You could argue that it has sanitised the atmosphere, but it hasn’t and I suppose it’s testament to the ban that so many young people attend the matches.

When I got to the sixth check the guy said to me ‘passport’. I despaired and thought ‘oh no’ at the last hurdle – there was a standoff, I then muttered the word hotel, he grinned and signalled me through. He knew I was a foreigner (people from abroad are called foreigners not tourists in South America).

Thumbs up.

I was through, I took a couple of photos and sprinted for the entrance, climbed the stairs and came out in the middle tier and what a sight, a proper old school of a ground, steep steps, no seats, fans crammed, steep stands with floodlights above the roofless stands and barbed wire fences – reminded of me of Stamford Bridge in the 80’s.


The singing was loud, all of the ground in unison with all ages joining in, there were some kids above me and it was great seeing these boys, I suppose their highlight of the week joining in and singing with passion, and no half & half scarfs in site. What tickled me most was kids clinging on to the fences but tied to them with jumpers and jackets in case they fell – proper old school.

Old school.

To be honest the game wasn’t the best, Carlos Tevez was up front for Boca, Tigre seemed to huff and puff, also due to a platform sticking out from the tier I couldn’t see the goal, but I was happy to be there soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the sight of the locals loving every minute of it.

The opposite end was the main section of the barra bravas – the stand has the 12th man emblem on the terrace, also the away dressing room is situated underneath so the barra bravas go there a couple of hours before kickoff to sing and jump to create fear in the away teams mind. The match finished 2-1 to Boca.

We walked for a while and eventually caught a taxi back to San Telmo where we once again enjoyed a few cold Quilmes bottles. For any football fan that has had enough of the sanitised game in Britain, in the words of Jake Burns – Go For it.

China Cup: A Trip Too Far…

From Porthmadog to South America, with China providing the icing on the cake – or maybe not so much.. Read all about Tommie Collins’ recent venture following his beloved Wales to the China Cup.

By Tommie Collins

After arranging a trip of a lifetime to South America, the Football Association of Wales were invited to play in the China Cup to be held in Nanning. As an avid supporter of my country’s football team I had a decision to make.

I decided not to rearrange my South America venture; thus I would miss the first game in China on the Thursday meaning my latest run of consecutive matches would come to an end. I would fly with my friend from Buenos Aires to Amsterdam overnight and after three hours would fly direct to Hong Kong arriving Saturday morning, thus having two consecutive nights in the air.

So at 08.30 Thursday morning – eleven hours behind China time I would be following the China – Wales match on twitter and receiving updates from family members. My phone was pinging at an alarming rate – six times to be precise as a Gareth Bale hat-trick spurred us on to a relatively easy 6-0 victory. My phone didn’t stop after either as fellow Welsh supporters out in Nanning gleefully asked me have you ever seen Wales win 6-0 away… I despaired.

Hong Kong

After landing in Hong Kong and checking into our hotel we met up with our friends who had chosen HK as their break in-between the two games, some had opted for Thailand, Beijing, Macau and Vietnam. Hong Kong was an eye opener regarding the wealth in the country, all the top designer shops are in town, top of the range cars and beer prices ranging from £7-10 a pint but the happy hours offered after 2pm in virtually all establishments balanced it out by the end of the night, a good night was had.

One night in Hong Kong.

The following morning we had to endure a journey across the border to Shenzhen via metro and train, this is where I started to realise that for me it was a trip too far. The border crossing was a nightmare with constant passport checks, filling in departure and entry cards and stern looks from the Chinese border police, notwithstanding the vast amount of people trying to push through the baggage security check area. After going through the border we arrived at Shenzhen train station and this is where I realised how big this country is. I’d call myself well travelled and was overwhelmed when I visited the USA for the friendly in San José in 2003 and again this place was massive.

Packed train

We queued for the train to Nanning and soon realised that the train was full, and there wasn’t an available train until the 28th, a group from Pwllheli had been in the same situation earlier and had to book flights, the same fate awaited us. Now, we had no Chinese money but eventually found an ATM after some sign language to numerous Chinese people – yes no one spoke English, the sense of failure was overtaking me, I was distraught, the thought of not attending the match was overwhelming – I would have had to abstain from social media for a long period of time.

Busy stations.

I switched on my data roaming (another £6) to receive 4G, and then scoured the internet for flights to Nanning, Sunday night or Monday morning and back to either Hong Kong or Shenzhen Tuesday. There were flights but I couldn’t book over the phone, the mood got better, it had been either go home, or go back to HK but we opted for the airport. A 50 minute journey to the airport cost £12 and we were still in Shenzhen the place was massive. We arrived at the airport, once again welcomed by more security and stern looks, yet we eventually found an English speaking girl at a customer service desk.

“We need flights to Nanning tonight or tomorrow please,” I uttered. There was a flight at 22.25 or a cheaper one Monday morning. The thought of finding a hotel put us off. Therefore, we agreed to pay the price, which shall remain private – after going all the way I would have paid any price!

All was well and we duly arrived in our Nanning hotel at 02.10 am, my friend and I mutually agreed to wipe Sunday 25th March from our memories.

Match day

Monday morning I was up bright and early, it was match day. All I wanted was a beer to get rid of the previous day stress.

Nanning was massive, tall tower blocks, wide streets, hotels all manner of shops, but again no one spoke English, navigation was difficult. The thing that tickled me was the amount of scooters in the road, all kinds of people hurtling down the street in tandem, thousands of them, and at traffic light a battle of will between pedestrians, scooters and cars: mayhem.

Hustle and bustle.

I eventually got hold of Prys from Blaenau Ffestiniog who by the way had a trip of a lifetime, and he told us to meet him in Food Street. This was the China I’d thought of, no road surface, rubbish in the street, dirty, but this was a superb street to have a beer and fun at night I was told. It wasn’t my cup of tea and we moved on to a westernised bar where I enjoyed a nice cold Corona. I was happy and China was good.

We then moved to the bar where coaches would take us to the ground, here I met the young Porthmadog lads who again where having the time of their lives, buckets of Budweiser was bought in and the world was once again ok.

The journey to the match was fine, and when I saw the ground again I was overwhelmed – it is indeed a great stadium. The game itself was decent and we started ok, but Uruguay seemed stronger and ran out deserved 1-0 winners, we are a much better team than say 10 years ago and with the youngsters coming through we could yet again see qualification for another tournament, probably Qatar, but we need a goal scorer – a proven one!

Guangxi Sports Center.

On the journey back to the bar after the match I felt drowsy and was like a nodding dog, the whole trip had caught up with me so I headed for bed, no post-match beer – a rare event.

We were up bright and early for the 08.15 flight back to Shenzhen, and the idea of going through the border again was haunting me, luck was with us, there was a bus £15 from the airport to HK airport, it was seamless, no bag checks just a showing of passports, when we arrived in HK, I felt better, China was behind me.

To summarise, personally I’m glad I went to China, another country ticked off and another Wales away game in the bag – an experience I’ll never forget. If it was a standalone trip I most likely would have enjoyed, but, give me a friendly in South America any day.

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