Ryan Giggs, in the words of Catatonia: ‘You’ve got a lot to answer for’

Following his recent announcement as Wales manager, take a journey through Ryan Giggs’ international playing career – through the eye of a fan.

By Tommie Collins

I never saw Il Gigante Buono, John Charles, play for obvious reasons. I remember watching Leighton James and Mickey Thomas play for Wales, these players who would excite me, wingers they were know as them days.

Then along came a young Welshman called Ryan Giggs, this kid was the real deal and he was one of us. I along with a few thousand others made the trip to Nuremberg, October 1991 in the hope of seeing a Wales win. As usual back then, they let us down, but there was a glimmer of hope when young Ryan made his debut at the age of 17 years, 321 days to become the youngest player to appear for the Welsh senior team. I and many others thought this was the first of many, it turned to be the mere 64. Sixty bloody four, international stalwarts Robbie Keane had 164 and Gianluigi Buffon had 175.

Sir Alex

I travelled the length and breadth of Europe following Wales in Giggs’ time as a player. My choice, I know, but how do you think we felt when usually at the last minute he would pull out of the squad. I now know that it was due to Sir Alex Ferguson’s insistence, and if, as he assures us, he is a passionate Welshman, he should have told old Taggart to mind his own business.

What was the worst scenario? Transfer list him, put him in the reserves to rot – no chance.

I felt sorry for Welsh managers at the time; Sir Alex was seen to only treat Giggs this way. Whilst we were travelling usually by trains, spending our hard earned cash we felt cheated, betrayed, let down. And yet some fans, ex players, people in the media don’t understand our animosity, frustration towards him. Probably the reason why is that they’re not fans, it’s a job for them. It galls me to be honest.

I remember Giggs as someone who would excite me, them games in the Arms Park, the celebrations, he was my hero, and I even called my son Ryan (although I do say it was after Ryan Jones, Sheffield Wednesday.) I remember a game against Poland at the Millennium Stadium in June 2001, Giggs missed an open-goal as if it was on purpose. During this period, when yes, the players around him were far from his standard, he looked disinterested, hands on hips, not chasing; I was fuming.

Retired

He eventually retired in a Euro 2008 qualifier against the Czech Republic, at a time when I thought we needed him most. We had a promising bunch of youngsters coming through, but oh no, off he went to prolong his career with Manchester United – yes, he is known as Ryan Giggs, Man Utd.

Then to compound matters, he twisted the knife further. One of the biggest concerns among Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland fans was that competing in the Olympics – something that happened in 2012 but was viewed by many as a one-off because London was hosting the Games – could affect the individual nations’ independence within FIFA. Whether those fears have foundation or not, Giggs willingly came out of international retirement to represent Team GB at the London Olympics; it’s irrelevant if I have issues with Team GB, as he and others knew the risk this posed to Wales as an independent international team.

He has since continued to alienate himself from Welsh football fans by being a television pundit during England matches. Does he need the money? No, then why? Why wasn’t he a pundit during Wales games? Answers on a…

Missed Opportunity

So 15 January 2018, Ryan Giggs becomes manager of Wales, to confuse matters and possibly alienate himself further, he doesn’t confirm if a key component of the Welsh set-up, Osian Roberts, will be part of his management team. What a public relations coup it would have been for him to have Osian beside him in his press conference – but no, the rumour mill is in full swing that his old Manchester United mate, Paul Scholes, is being considered… I despair.

I’m being told by Wales football fans that travelled over the English Channel to be part of the red wall, ex players and media people, to back him and support him.

To win me over, I want Giggs to visit Bala, Llanrwst, Pwllheli, Porthmadog, Cardigan, Haverfordwest and so on. I want to see him sing the national anthem with gusto – it means a lot for some of us. I want to see him promote our National League, I want him to take us to another major championship.

I want to remember him as Ryan Giggs, Wales.

Border football clubs

Throughout the game there are a number of football clubs that play in countries different to that of their origin. Here we look at some examples on the border between Wales and England.

By Tommie Collins

Throughout the game a number of football clubs play in countries different to that of their origin. Reasons vary from geographical reasons, logistical and sometimes even disputes between countries.

Derry City, founded in 1928, played in the Northern Ireland league until 1972, when it was expelled due to issues related to the ‘The Troubles’. They were eventually admitted to the League of Ireland in 1985, where they have continued to play since. Due to the crisis between Ukraine and Russia over The Crimea, three clubs, FC SKChF Sevastopol, FC TSK Simferopol and FC Zhemchuzhina Yalta have been given dispensation to play in the Russian League since January 2015, the region is considered a “special zone” for football purposes until further notice.

In Wales, you have Swansea City, Colwyn Bay, Cardiff City, Newport County, Merthyr Tydfil and Wrexham, all of which play over the border in the English pyramid structure. Whilst you also have The New Saints who play in the Welsh Premier League, despite their headquarters being situated over the border in Oswestry.

There are also another three clubs from England that play in Wales; Bishops Castle, Trefonen and Newcastle, Shropshire. Here we delve into their backgrounds and look a little close at their peculiar circumstances.

Trefonen

“We re-established the club in 1981/82, and we played in the Sunday League in England for 15 years,” Club Chairman, Howard Martin, told Football Foyer.

“At the time many teams played on a Sunday. They were leagues of real standard. But things were changing, the committee was getting older and the club came to an end in 1996 because of a lack of interest by other parties.”

In 2008 however, locals decided to restart the club afresh, and with Sunday League football having run its course, they submitted a request to join the Montgomeryshire League.

Howard explained: “This made sense as we had a number of contacts over the border in Wales, and the Shrewsbury League itself was attempting to create a new league with higher standard teams compared to ourselves. This would have seen us travel to Telford, Ludlow and Clee Hill, and the league was pretty keen for us to join the new venture.”

The club had two options, either risk joining the new Shrewsbury venture or rejoin the Montgomeryshire League. Common sense prevailed the team opted for the latter.

Howard continued: “Our status as a football club was stabilised by the Football Association of Wales. With regards to ambition, it’s a real shame we can’t get promoted, but winning the league would still be a great moment in the club’s history. We love playing in the league and we have great connections with clubs such as Llangedwyn.”

Despite locals coming together to reform the club, they’re still finding it hard to get a decent attendance in to support.

Howard finished: “The locals don’t seem to have any sort of interest in the club, with an average attendance of 15. Yet, back in the Sunday League days, we averaged the 100 mark. Nevertheless, at the end of the day football is all about enjoyment and we’re certainly doing that.”

Bishops Castle

This is a club that sits only a mile within the English border, and according to Club Secretary, Lee Davies, playing within the Wales pyramid is a matter of common sense.

“Despite playing in England for a period, historically, we’ve played the majority of our football in Wales,” Lee Davies told Football Foyer.

“We returned to Wales two seasons back, given the majority of the league’s teams were situated in and around Telford. Therefore, it was daft for us to travel as far to play football for pleasure alone. It’s worth bearing in mind that we only left Wales for England in the first instance because we were rejected entry into the new Mid Wales Second Division.”

Despite being happy with their place back within the Wales setup, they do possess ambition to reach the higher divisions in the future. However, promotion is a no-go for the foreseeable future.

Lee explained: “When we rejoined the Welsh league, we signed an agreement that we would only be allowed to play at a leisurely level. We’d love to play at a higher level one day; the Mid Wales League if possible.”

Issues currently exist within the Mid Wales Division Two. Only 13 teams currently play in the league, despite it being meant to hold 16. The club were optimistic of promotion last summer and submitted a request. This, however, was turned down.

With the club literally on the border with Wales, a number of children from Wales attend the area’s secondary school.

Lee continued: “Pupils from Knighton, Montgomery and Churchstoke travel to the area each day, and this creates a real Welsh influence within the local community. In training, we’d normally play five-a-side between the Welsh and English contingencies. These are competitive but very light-hearted.”

FAW reaction

When asked to comment, Andrew Howard, FAW Head of Competitions, told Football Foyer:

“Bishops Castle, Trefonen and Newcastle have permission to play in Wales at a recreational level. This is because of geographical reasons, as the costs of travelling to participate in the Telford area league would be prove too expensive. However, they can’t achieve promotion and the English FA agrees. If the clubs show an ambition to gain promotion they’ll have to rejoin the English pyramid. At the end of the day, these clubs want to play football. This agreement suits everyone.”

Nothing lasts forever

Despite all the unforgettable memories, as Chris Coleman leaves Wales for lowly Sunderland, the feeling of what might have been remains..

By Tommie Collins

An Echo & the Bunnymen song. A song title that runs true to its word, and none more so than when it comes to Chris Coleman and his reign as Wales manager. His tenure, which started badly, came better than anyone could ever have imagined, yet finished on a disappointing note.

Upon resigning as Wales manager, Chris Coleman has taken on a poisoned chalice of a job at Sunderland, and I certainly wish him well. I first met Chris at a McDonalds in Copenhagen after a rare Welsh victory abroad in 1997. I sat next to him and we had a conversation about Wales at that moment in time. He was a real gentleman, no prima donna. Chris was also a very good player, who showed sheer determination overcoming a horrendous car crash, and his retirement in 2002 came as a huge loss for Welsh football.

A few years later, I managed to get Chris down to Porthmadog for a Q&A session. Once again he was a gentleman, as he drove all the way from London and back, showing a real human side by giving time to all who attended.

Chris took on the Wales job in the most exceptional of circumstances, when the country suffered the sudden death of then manager, Gary Speed. At the time there was some fans, mostly of Cardiff City descent, who could not accept him due to his birthplace being Swansea. Since his decision to join Sunderland came known, some have seemingly resurrected.

Chris suffered a poor start as Wales manager. Having lost his first five games, culminating in that 6-1 Serbian thrashing at Novi Sad in 2012, he admitted he needed to do it his way from then on.

The vultures were swarming; he looked a beaten man. Fans were split, but after Gareth Bale’s super strike at a sodden Cardiff City Stadium against Scotland in 2012, he celebrated wildly. We soon realised he was one of us; it is one of my best memories of Coleman as manager. It was the moment when it all came together for us.

That goal from Bale was the turning point. We were wet and miserable, Scottish fans were sat amongst us, yet our dampened moods soon turned to ecstasy when the ball flew into the top corner, and the jocks soon disappeared out of sight.

Our form remained up and down, but another win on Scottish soil in a snowy reverse fixture kept Chris on board with the fans. Results were fluctuating between mediocre and bad, culminating in a horror show in Macedonia where we lost 2-1. Chris didn’t help himself, as he nearly never made the trip with his passport being mislaid. Again, some fans were showing signs of disapproval.

The seeds of what was to blossom came with a deserved 1-1 draw against Belgium in October 2013. Harry Wilson came off the bench to become the youngest player to represent Wales at the age of 16 years 207 days. A minute later, Aaron Ramsey equalised and the away end went mental – he and his team were heroes. We never looked back. We were marching towards France and Euro 2016.

I was very fortunate to be in Bosnia to see us qualify and witnessing Coleman celebrating with us at the end was immense. He’d transformed us from perennial losers to Euro 2016 finalists. He’d made grown men cry, as along with about 800 others, I had tears in my eyes and it was down to Chris Coleman, his backroom staff and players.

France itself was a dream, for the old-stagers, qualifying was all we wanted, but to get to the semi-final of a major international tournament was beyond our wildest dreams. But we overachieved, we played well away in Israel, yet stumbled over the line. We then followed that up by playing magnificently in the Russia and Belgium games in France, but the semi-final against Portugal was a game too far.

cymru
Wales fans at Euro 2016, France.

The World Cup group for Russia 2018 pitted us against Serbia, Austria, Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Moldova. Many commentators and fans thought it was an easy group as we weren’t paired with one of the giants of world football, like France or Germany.

We played well in most games but conceded late goals. It seemed that some players thought we could just turn up and trounce to victory. We were lucky to escape with a point at home to Georgia. Chris, for me, was too pragmatic and too loyal to some players. It seemed that the #TogetherStronger hashtag was literally too strong to break.

In the end, despite a late run which saw us put play-off destiny in our own hands, we failed to qualify. A defeat at home to the Irish, followed by a friendly defeat to France and a home draw to Panama saw Chris’ tenure flop at the last.

I genuinely wish Chris would have stayed, as I felt he owed us and himself another campaign, and with the likes of Ethan Ampadu, Ben Woodburn and David Brooks coming through, possibly he would have played a more attacking system and taken Wales on another unforgettable journey.

So, I would like to thank Chris for giving us some fantastic memories, yet the feeling of what might have been remains. As Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen sang:

‘Not the promises of what tomorrow brings
I need to live in dreams today.’

Barn y ffan: Atgofion o gemau yn erbyn cyfandiroedd America

Gyda Chymru yn paratoi i wynebu Panama mewn gem gyfeillgar, dyma ni’n edrych yn ôl ar gemau’r gorffennol, a’r atgofion ddaw gyda nhw.

Gan Tommie Collins

Mae’r gêm gartref yn erbyn Panama wedi dal fy sylw i. Mae’n anarferol i ni wynebu timau tu allan o Ewrop, a hyd rŵan rydan wedi wynebu timau CONMEBOL, conffederasiwn pêl droed De America, dim ond pum gwaith a CONCACAF, conffederasiwn pêl droed Gogledd, Canolbarth America a’r Caribî, chwe gwaith.

Rydan wedi wynebu cymdogion Panama, sef Costa Rica dwywaith o’r blaen ac meddai cyn ymosodwr Cymru, Malcolm Allen, wrth Football Foyer bydd yn brofiad da i’r tîm hyfforddi a’r chwaraewyr.

“Roeddwn yn eilydd yn 1990 pan wnaethon gwrdd â Chosta Rica ar Barc Ninian, buddugoliaeth o 1-0  gyda Dean Saunders yn rhwydo. Roedd yn brofiad i wylio chwaraewyr â steil gwahanol, roedden yn chwarae’r gêm yn araf a thechneg dda ganddyn. Doedd neb yn gwybod llawer amdanyn, ond dipyn wedyn glaniodd Paulo Wanchope yn Uwchgynghrair Lloegr. Bydd yn dda i weld system a steil gwahanol a bydd yn dda i Chris Coleman cael gwrthwynebwyr sydd wedi mynd drwodd i Gwpan y Byd Rwsia a cheisio cael hyder pawb y nôl ar ôl  siom mis diwethaf. Mi wnes hefyd chwarae yn erbyn Canada, dwi ddeall mai’r un gêm ydy, ond coeliwch fi, oedd gan Ganada dull gwahanol o chwarae hefyd.

“Yn sicr y gêm hon ydy’r cyfle i roi gemau llawn gyntaf i Ethan Ampadu, David Brooks a’r dewin Ben Woodburn, buasai’n wirion i beidio defnyddio’r ddwy gêm nesa i arbrofi.”

Brasil

Ond i gefnogwr o fy’n oes i, Brasil oedd tîm y dydd, ac rwy’n cofio gwylio ffeinal Cwpan y Byd 1970, Brasil yn erbyn Eidal a gwirioni a phêl droed.

Felly pan drefnodd Cymru gêm yn erbyn y sêr o Dde America yn 1983 roedd rhaid i fi fynd. Ar yr adeg, oedd y daith i lawr i Gaerdydd yn antur yn ei hun. Roedden dal yn gorfod mynd drwy Lanidloes, lle’r oedd fel yr arfer seibiant bach yn y tŷ tafarn, ac roedden yn gorfod y ffordd hir mynd drwy Ferthyr oherwydd oedd y ffordd ddeuol sy’n bodoli rŵan heb ei hadeiladu. Gwnaethom dorri lawr ger Merthyr ac rwy’n cofio ni’n rhoi selotep du rownd y ‘tophose’ i gael y car nôl ar y ffordd.

Roedd yn wych i gael gweld sêr Brasil yn fyw, rwy’n cofio bod yn yr ‘Enclosure ‘ gyda fy wyneb ar y ffens i gael gweld drwodd. Roedd yn dipyn o gêm gyda Brian Flynn yn rhoi ni ar y blaen ar ôl pum munud ond ar ôl awr sgoriodd Paulo Isidoro i unioni’r sgôr.

Mi welais Gymru yn curo Brasil ar Barc yr Arfau yn 1991, gyda Dean Saunders yn sgorio’r gôl fuddugol. Ond siom oedd y drydedd waith, colli 0-3 yng Nghaerdydd cyn teithio i White Hart Lane yn 2005 i weld ni’n colli 2-0.

Mi chwaraeon Brasil yn Brasilia yn 1997, ac yn anffodus wnes ddim mentro, ond dwi’n cofio clywed hanes rhyw gefnogwr o Gymru yn mynd ac eistedd wrth ryw foi drwy’r ffleit. Ar ôl glanio mi ddywedodd rhywun wrtho mai ond y dyn i hun ar y pryd, sef Rivaldo, oedd ei bartner am y ffleit hir.

Y Cae Ras

Roedd y Cae Ras hefyd yn cael dipyn o ddefnydd gan y tîm cenedlaethol yn ei ddydd ac yn 1986 roedd Uruguay yn chwarae yno, rwy’n cofio ddim am y gêm gyfartal 0-0.

Mi welais ni’n chwarae Paraguay yn Stadiwm y Mileniwm yn 2006, dim llawer o gêm, ond mi fethais y gêm gyfartal yn erbyn Ariannin yn yr un stadiwm yn 2002, roeddwn wedi trefnu trip i Ffrainc â’r wraig i wylio Ffrainc – Rwmania. Nid oeddwn yn hapus pan drefnwyd y gêm hon, roedd unigolyn o Gymdeithas Pêl droed Cymru wedi gaddo na fydd Cymru â gêm. Roeddwn yn falch mai gem gyfartal 1-1 oedd y canlyniad.

Yn amlwg siom arall o fy ngyrfa’n gwylio Cymru, oedd peidio mynd i gwpan Kirin yn Japan yn Fehefin 1992, lle wnaethom gwrdd â’r Ariannin a cholli 0-1.  Roedden wedi trefnu i fynd i Rwmania yn fis Mai, felly oedd Japan allan o’r cwestiwn.

Sôn am anarferol, chwaraeodd Cymru dwy gêm gyfeillgar yn fis Fai 2006, oedd y gyntaf yn Bilbao yn erbyn Gwlad y Basg – gêm gyfeillgar gyntaf Ryan Giggs oddi gartref, tra roedd yr ail yn ddinas Graz, Awstria, yn erbyn Trinidad & Tobago. Roedd y gwrthwynebwyr yn yr un grŵp a Lloegr felly roedd dipyn o ddiddordeb yn y wasg Saesneg a Chymreig. Gêm gyntaf Gareth Bale oedd hwn, y chwaraewr ifancaidd i gynrychioli Cymru ar yr adeg.

America a’r noeth wibiwr

Teithiodd Cymru i America ar ddiwedd tymor 2003, roedd hon yn un o’r tripiau roedd rhaid mynd, dyma beth mae cefnogi pêl droed yn gynnig, cael teithio i lefydd anghyfarwydd, roedd y gêm yn San Jose, a cholli 2-0 wnaethom ni gyda Mathew Jones yn cael ei anfon o’r cae, ond roedd cefnogwyr Cymru wrth eu boddau yn cael y profiad o ymweld ag San Francisco, y fan hon oedd y lle i aros a gweld y bont enwog y Golden Gate a rhai’n ymweld ag Ynys Alcatraz. Mae dau beth yn sefyll allan am y daith hon, roedd noeth wibiwr (streaker) ar y cae yn ystod y gêm, cefnogwr Cymru a hyd heddiw mae dal yn gwylio Cymru. Mi wnes seiclo dros y Golden Gate, ond ar ôl dod adref wnes ddileu’r lluniau mewn camgymeriad. Atgofion wedi diflannu, am byth – am dwpsyn!

Mi chwaraeodd Cymru eto yn America yn 2012 yn erbyn Mecsico yn Efrog newydd, un o gemau cynnar y rheolwr presennol Chris Coleman, colli 2-0. Ond wnes i’m mentro, oedd fy nghlwb Chelsea yn ffeinal Pencampwyr Ewrop.

Am gywilydd arna i yn rhoi fy nghlwb, cyn fy ngwlad.

Memories from Tbilisi ’94

Over 1,500 Wales fans are heading towards Tbilisi to watch the crucial World Cup qualifying match with Georgia. Although back in 1994, only the mere total of 11 supporters ventured to a much-different landscape.

By Tommie Collins

Over 1,500 Wales supporters will be heading towards Tbilisi to watch the crucial Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying match on October 6. The numbers will be vastly different to the mere total of 11 supporters that ventured across Europe to Georgia back in 1994, for what turned out to be a forgetful performance.

The red wall didn’t exist back then and dark days were aplenty after the disappointment of not qualifying for USA ’94.

“I flew there on the Welsh FA’s chartered flight with the squad, coaches and association officials. Flying from London Stansted airport, it was a troubling journey as we had to stop along the way following fuel shortage,” Russell Williams, a regular Wales match-goer, told Football Foyer.

Russell continued: “I’m certain there was some concern about the level of insurance we had in place due to the country’s current state. We arrived Tbilisi pretty late at night and later than planned. The total cost of the trip was around £450 and that included our flight and hotel.”

Tanks on the streets

Back in 1994, Tbilisi wasn’t the cosmopolitan city it finds itself as these days. The city and the whole country was stepping out of a dark period in their turbulent history.

“Georgia at that moment in time was a war zone. It had United Nations tanks along the streets and outside our hotel. The city itself, however, was pretty quiet, with not much night life to be had,” Russell went on to explain.

“The scars of war tainted the city and I’m certain Wales fans that visit this week will find a much-changed Tbilisi welcoming them. The only place that offered late drinks at that time was the local casino. One unlucky person lost more than his money one night – as he was shot whilst we were in attendance.”

Russell’s memories of the Tbilisi that he stepped into are stark. The country had recently fought a civil war between 1988-92 before it restarted later on in the year and stretched into 1993.

“Not many people ventured in their travels to Georgia at that time. Therefore, the locals took a real interest in the 11-man band who completed the just-under 3,000mile journey. Yet, the Wales performance upon arrival was a real disappointment and one that neither of us expected,” Russell went on to describe.

“We had (Ian) Rush, (Mark) Hughes, and (Dean) Saunders in the side and coach Mike Smith’s team should have performed to a much-higher standard. After the game, we somehow managed to end up in the Georgian FA’s committee room where a meeting was taking place. Their reaction was to offer us a seat, take out a bottle of vodka from the cabinet and to thank us for visiting their country. I remember the stadium being full of soldiers, the atmosphere being electrifying and every seat in the house being full.”

One of the scorers during the Georgia rout was Georgi Kinkladze. He later went onto excite Manchester City fans before continuing his Premier League journey with Derby County.

Russell continued: “In the same campaign, I travelled to Bulgaria, Germany and to Albania. The most notable performance came in Germany, as we drew 1-1. Otherwise, this campaign was one to be quickly forgotten as Wales managed to finish bottom of the group.”

Tension between supporters

Despite the relatively small number of fans which travelled to watch Wales back in the day, there was constant tension between fans of Cardiff City and Swansea City. Russell followed Swansea City, which meant that issues often came to the fore when he attended games where just small numbers made the journey.

Russell added: “There was an element of dismay when following Wales back then. It’s improved nowadays, as we experienced last year in France. I fell out of the routine of going for many reasons, although I did make it over to the Euros last year and I was delighted to see supporters that had been there when we were a poor team, enjoying the team’s remarkable journey throughout the tournament.”

“Before, fans who followed Wales were viewed with a level of amazement as to why anyone would follow a team of such ilk. These days however, the situation has turned on its head with the team getting huge attention. Back in the days of failure, the fans had no expectation. The reason for travelling was for the laughs and adventure!”

The red wall, turning up in their droves over the coming days, will experience a peaceful city compared to the Tbilisi experienced by Russell in ’94 – and, hopefully, a better result to go with it.

One night in Madrid

Many a football fan is found to be disillusioned with the modern day game. And is it any wonder, when they’re treated like this..

By Tommie Collins

Many football fans these days pick their games, whilst many have become disillusioned with the game due to outrageous ticket prices, astronomical player wages, live games schedule and even the boredom of facing the same old teams in the UEFA Champions League.

Thus, when Chelsea drew Atletico Madrid in the group stage of this seasons competition it was a match I wanted to attend mainly due to Atletico playing at their newly opened Estadio Wanda Metropolitano. The club played there previously from 1923 to 1966.

The flight was booked with Ryanair at a cheap price of £50, the match ticket cost more at £55, although the trip was in doubt at one stage due to Ryanair cancelling flights due to staff rostering – alas we were lucky our flight was going both ways.

My previous visit to Madrid was a 2-2 draw in 2009 at the Vicente Calderon- it was a cauldron of noise that night with an intimidating atmosphere, but what stood out was the sheer brutality of the Spanish police. Whilst leaving the metro near the ground before kick off Atletí fans were throwing missiles at us from the other side of the road, but it was the Chelsea fans that bore the brunt of the baton wielding police, cracking heads of innocent fans for it seemed with no reason except that they could. I had seen the Spanish police in action previously at the Real Zaragoza – Chelsea, European Cup Winners Cup tie in 1995 when again for no real reason they attacked us in the ground and took no prisoners.

This trip to Madrid saw no violence. The majority of fans these days are out for a good time whilst abroad, but the way Chelsea fans were treated after the match was something I thought was in the past. After the unforgettable few weeks at Euro 2016 in France with Wales, even with a real threat of terrorism, the French police – who I did have bad experiences with in the past whilst following Chelsea at Marseille and PSG – were excellent and kept their distance.

Chelsea had given us instructions to meet at an arranged point where we would be escorted to the ground in a 25 minute walk, with bars awaiting us at the meeting point. I don’t know of any fans who took up the club and police offer. The instructions read:

“The police strongly advise using the Metro’s Line 5, which runs from the city centre, and to get off at Metro Canillejas. They do not recommend using Line 7 which will be crowded with home fans.

The police have designated a meeting point outside Metro Canillejas, Plaza Del Cefiroline, which has a few bars close by. They recommend fans arrive there three to four hours before kick-off.

From the meeting point there is a 25-minute walk along Avenue Luis Aragones. It should be noted the stadium is located on the outskirts of the city and as such, adequate time should be allowed for the greater distances involved in travelling to the stadium compared with our previous visits to play Atletico. Police will accompany fans along the route to the stadium.”

Nevertheless, we made our own way to the ground without any issues, even arriving at the Metropoloitano metro station with the Atletico fans. After the match we were locked in for 45 minutes. This I can accept, during Wales’ recent visit to Serbia the lock in lasted an hour but you were free to find you own way back after. Instead of taking us to the metro station by the ground, by which time there were no Atletí fans in sight, the police proceeded to march us along a main road back to the pre match meeting point metro station. Despite repeated questioning by fans, there was no explanation why, there had been no trouble before, during or after the match. I finally managed to break away from the escort and found a bar which was supposedly near the pre match meeting point. 15 minutes later, lo and behold, the Chelsea escort turned up at the metro entrance. The bars were basically two small bars. Just imagine if the 2500 Chelsea fans had taken up the offer of the pre match meeting point.

I struggle to understand why football fans are still treated this way, it’s frustrating and needless, and it basically beggars the question why we bother. Could there have been Chelsea stewards with the police to convey information, perhaps?

Many supporters of clubs from abroad take it upon themselves to walk miles to their stadiums in a show of solidarity, that’s their choice. British fans like to stay in bars until as late as possible and make their own way to and from stadiums, it seems that the Spanish police have other ideas. When will this stop?

Fan organisations are in place these days with supporter liaison officers, Chelsea need to take the actions of the police up with the relevant authorities to prevent innocent supporters being denied their civil liberties as happened last week in Madrid.

The curious case of international allegiance

Ben Woodburn got his name into the papers with his late goal for Liverpool against Leeds United, but which nation will he represent – Wales or England? We look into the curious case of representing nations at international level.

By Tommie Collins

Scoring your first competitive senior goal at any level is a feat to be proud, but scoring your first on only your second senior appearance, in front of the Kop for Liverpool, suddenly escalates your reputation from promising youngster to being lauded the next big thing.

Ben Woodburn did exactly that on Tuesday night as he surpassed Michael Owen’s 19 year record to become Liverpool’s youngest ever goalscorer with his late goal against Leeds United. Woodburn, born in Chester, qualifies to play for both England and Wales but has been part of the Welsh set up from the age of 13. England are now thought to be keen to have him on board all of a sudden, which brings some other curious international representations to the fore.

Issues regarding dual nationality have risen many times over the years. The first I remember is Kevin Sheedy, a gifted left footed footballer who represented the Republic of Ireland despite being born in Builth Wells to an Irish Father. The situation has also been highlighted with Polish born players such as Miroslav Klose and Lucas Podolski, choosing to represent Germany due to both living there since childhood.

One of the greatest footballers ever actually represented three nations at international level. Alfredo di Stefano represented Argentina six times (his country of birth) and Columbia four times – although these are not recognised by FIFA. Due to a general strike in Argentina which paralysed professional football, Di Stefano moved to Columbia to ply his trade. He then appeared for Spain 31 times after acquiring Spanish citizenship whilst playing for Real Madrid. Another fine player was Ferenc Puskas of Hungary, who represented the Magyars 84 times before moving to Real Madrid, where he gained Spanish citizenship in 1962 and appeared four times for Spain.

What should the criteria be for representing a nation at international level? Should it be your birthplace or the origins of your parents or grandparents? The situation has become more complicated of late with Kosovo being granted FIFA membership. Many Kosovo qualified players, despite already playing for other countries, now want to represent their country of birth – but this is an exceptional case in point that should be allowed special consideration. One player who has now switched to Kosovo is Valon Berisha, born in Sweden but brought up in Norway to Kosovar parents, who represented Norway at all levels and gained 20 caps at full international level. He duly scored Kosovo’s first competitive goal in a 1-1 draw against Finland after switching this year.

Other issues arised with cases like Diego Costa, who represented Brazil twice before switching his allegiance to represent Spain. Roman Neustadter, a lesser known case born in the Soviet Union, represented Germany twice before switching to Russia in 2016. Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who played two friendlies for England in 2012/13, but last week decided to defect to the Ivory Coast is a fresh case.

Stoke City captain Ryan Shawcross, born in Chester like Ben Woodburn, thwarted Wales due to the fact he didn’t feel Welsh enough. Unlike Rhys Williams, who represented Wales at U21 level, but then defected to Australia – his country of birth.

Therefore, young Ben Woodburn apparently has a decision to make, like so many before him. Wales are now a different proposition to what they were years ago and he would play for a country that recently made it to the Euro 2016 semi finals; and here’s one Welsh fan hoping Wales qualify for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia, where Woodburn will hopefully shine in the red shirt of Wales.

Together Stronger?

We look at the much talked about raised expectations issues facing Wales following the brilliant Euro 2016 showing.

By Tommie Collins

 

Expectations, Expectations..

Roll back to July 6 in Lyon when Wales were finally eliminated from Euro 2016. The red wall stood together stronger in complete unity as one. Fast forward to October 9 for the World Cup qualifying match against Georgia, where we were fortunate to come away with a draw – murmurs of discontent and some boos were heard.

This is typical of a football fan one says, we are a fickle lot. But this is Wales, the team who exceeded mine and thousands of other expectations during that glorious summer in France.

I was present when the lights went out at The Vetch against Iceland, and also at the Romania and Russia games where we fell at the final hurdle. Them days it was a realisation that the team had done well and we trudged off to drown our sorrows with a pint or two; we were used to it and expected nothing else. Those to an extent were also excellent Wales teams who possibly should have done better. We then endured mediocrity for many a year, players picked from lower leagues with no affinity to us, but again, we accepted it. If a player turned up and gave his all, we were happy.

Then, with the emergence of two world class players in Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, add to that a sprinkling of decent Premier League and Championship players, things changed quickly. We clicked, the country woke up and realised we were on the brink of something very special. The clever marketing team at the FAW (Football Association of Wales) introduced the twitter hash tag #TogetherStronger which has been prevalent throughout the last campaign and the current 2018 Russia World Cup one.

We started the current campaign with a comfortable 4-0 home victory over Moldova, followed by a 2-2 draw against the Austrians out in Vienna, where a 4,000 strong following was present. This sort of following is usually reserved for matches where we need a result to qualify, such as Nuremberg ’91 or Milan ’04, and this amount of away support is unprecedented. This is surely an effect of France, which created a boom in the FAW membership, request for tickets and sell-out home games. 

But, what it has done is attract a new breed of fan who demands instant success, like the millions who choose whichever club side that has the biggest revenue and attempts to win their respective domestic league or the UEFA Champions League.

The long suffering fan has opinions; he should have introduced new blood, he should have dropped so and so etc. But he’ll still be there when the form eventually drops, his expectation is only for the player in the red shirt to give his all.

The new fan who moans about ticket allocation, poor play and drawing at home to Georgia will no doubt be in his back garden, checking his family tree for a long-lost relative of the next flavour of the month.

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