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.

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.”

3G Pitches Show The Way Forward

With the wintery weather tightening it’s grip on European Football, Third Generation (3G) pitches is becoming a keen conversation topic once again. Here we look at the increase in their uses within the football pyramid.

By Tommie Collins.

With the wintery weather tightening it’s grip on European Football, Third Generation (3G) pitches is a popular conversation topic once again.

We all remember the plastic pitches at Oldham’s Boundary Park, Luton’s Kenilworth Road and QPR’s Loftus Road.

Those were the forerunners for a new generation of artificial pitches now used throughout world football.

These new surfaces are supposedly the closest thing to grass, but why are the clubs turning to 3G?

Recently, measures were taken following an inquiry by the Welsh government into ways of developing their domestic league. It was decided that installing 3G artificial pitches could help clubs become ‘community hubs’.

The FAW part-funded the implementation of this latest technology. It was felt that clubs were losing potential income during the winter due to many games falling foul of the weather .

Google 3G Weather
Football falls victim to the weather once again.

The Welsh Premier League currently has four clubs with 3G artificial pitches. These include Airbus UK Broughton, The New Saints, Newtown AFC and Llandudno FC.

Bangor City and Connah’s Quay decided on installing 3G pitches for training and community purposes. Other clubs such as Aberystwyth and Porthmadog have future ambitions to install this latest technology.

This phenomenon is now trickling down to the Welsh League Division One.

One of these include the 9 x Welsh Premier League champions, Barry Town, who are steadily re-climbing their way through the leagues towards the higher tier.

Ian Johnson, a life-long Barry Town supporter, believes that this implementation is key to the future development of the domestic game.

He said: “Making Jenner Park a 3G surface over the summer has hopefully solved long-term drainage problems at the ground and means that fans can be fairly sure that matches won’t be called off.

“Although it will still require care and attention, the new surface makes the ground available for other age-groups and sections at the club, and for other local clubs to use for training and occasional games.

“The aim is to turn the ground into a real community hub through its regular use, creating a buzz around the ground – something added to by the re-opening of the club house.

“Hopefully the club will be able to use this as a stepping stone to future success, and it would be nice to be hosting representative and international matches at Jenner Park in the future.”

Jonny Drury, Newtown AFC Press Officer, agreed with this view and praised it’s impact at the club. He also pushed for non-league English sides to be given the right to implement this latest technology.

He said: “Since we have had the 3G, it has been commended by people inside and outside the club. The first team lads love it and say it is the best in the league.

“Players from both semi-professional and amateur opposition teams have praised it, and it is in use all the time which shows it is well liked.

Final phase of the 3G artificial turf pitch at Latham Park.RD299_2014-3
Final phase of the 3G artificial implementation at Latham Park. 

“In an ideal world, we would all play on grass pitches that were like carpets, but that isn’t the case at this standard, and I would recommend them for any side.

“In England I think it would be beneficial for sides from the National League (Conference) down to be allowed to use them; that could pose a problem with cup competitions, but I think it is the best way, because for me the Welsh Premier League is on par with teams from mid-table Conference, downwards.”

Welsh football fans will never forget the awful surface that Wales played on in the Euro 2016 qualifier in Andorra last year.

Gareth Bale slammed the artificial pitch at Andorra’s Estadi Nacional as ‘by far the worst pitch’ he had ever played on after his late free-kick gave Wales a narrow 2-1 win over the minnows.

Therefore, it must be a case of getting the surface to a standard – something the Andorrans failed to achieve that night.

Many Welsh fans had visited the stadium the previous day and couldn’t believe the bounce of the ball whilst watching the players train. Their fears were later compounded during the match when clusters of black rubber pellets sprayed into the air with each landing of the ball.

Elsewhere in Europe, Russia’s Luzhniki Stadium is one of the few major European stadia to use an artificial pitch, having installed a FIFA-approved artificial pitch in 2002.

One must understand that it is necessary because regular grass pitches cannot withstand the harsh Russian winters and must be replaced yearly at high cost.

In 2008 however, a temporary natural grass pitch was installed at the Luzhniki for the UEFA Champions League Final between Chelsea and Manchester United.

Luzhniki
Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

The stadium is also used for various other events and concerts throughout the sporting calendar – further emphasising it’s flexibility.

The Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) has 12 clubs with artificial pitches to date.

Stirling Albion were the first to have it installed at their old Annfield ground between 1987 and 1992.

Hamilton Academicals, Kilmarnock, Alloa Athletic, Falkirk, Airdrieonians, Forfar Athletic, Stenhousemuir, Annan Athletic, Clyde, East Stirlingshire, Montrose and Queen of the South’s Palmerston Park all have it installed nowadays.

Sammy Clingan, a fervent Queen of the South supporter, believed it was the only way forward for some of Scottish Football’s lower league sides.

He said “The general consensus was that it had to be the way forward for smaller clubs who could generate much needed income from hiring the pitch out 7 days a week.

“Queens have two local teams, reserves and youth teams who play all their home games at Palmerston now. When youngsters are needed to complement the first team they are used to playing there which helps straight away. Training is also held there occasionally without any worry of wearing out the pitch for match days.

“We also had a Status Quo concert there over the summer which brought in good money for the club to keep things ticking over during the close season.”

As one can see, clubs are utilising their stadiums and attempting to make them available to the community.

Simon Clingan added, :“I would also say that the quality of football has improved with Queens certainly using the pitch to their advantage by adapting a fast flowing passing game with much more emphasis on keeping the ball on the deck. To generalise, I believe there are more positives than negatives to the concept. Yes, we still have the traditionalists who feel that football should be played on grass but most realise that it was a necessary evil. ”

For grassroots teams, it seems like this necessary evil is worth having.

 

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