That’s Brazil 2014 out of the way. We can now concentrate on not qualifying for Russia 2018. After that, there’s Qatar 2022 to look forward to not going to. The 2026 host nation hasn’t been decided, but a nice non-appearance in an African World Cup would be overdue by then. 2030? Make no plans: we’ll all be dead.
To lose 6-1 in modern international football (especially against a side that had only scored three goals and registered one win in its previous 10 matches) is not easy to accomplish. Receiving such a thrashing in the measured, cat-and-mouse probings of the contemporary game requires a rare combination of ineptitude, apathy and irresolution, qualities this Welsh team has in abundance. Check out the starting line-up, all the ingredients are there:
•Boaz Myhill – An Englishman developed by Aston Villa and capped by England at youth level. When the FAW’s ever-busy genealogy department approached him in 2006 (his mother’s Welsh) he declined the offer, holding out for something better. As it became clear England’s clarion call was never going to come he finally consented to honour Wales with his erratic talents in 2008.
•Chris Gunter – Currently with Reading, Gunter is one of only 26 Cardiff City products to play for Wales. Yes, that’s right: in 113 years Wales’ capital city club has brought a mere TWENTY-SIX players through the ranks from apprenticeship to the national team, a record low for any capital city club on the planet. Entirely disconnected from and uninterested in the Welsh game, the Redbirds’ sole purpose is to make it Big in England.
•Adam Matthews – Matthews also counts among those 26, making this a Golden Age for Cardiff City’s Welsh credentials. Because Wales has no professional domestic structure we have hardly any professional footballers, and because Cardiff City produces Welsh players so infrequently, when one accidentally comes along a Welsh cap is guaranteed. This results in English league journeymen being cruelly exposed in the international arena, as happened to Matthews in Serbia (he was substituted at half-time). Similar fates have befallen the likes of limited City stalwarts Steve Derrett, Phil Dwyer, Simon Haworth, Jason Perry, Keith Pontin, Peter Sayer and Derek Showers over the last 30 years.
•Ashley Williams – From Wolverhampton, Williams came to the FAW’s attention during his move from Stockport County to Swansea City in 2008. Figuring he must have Welsh ancestry with a name like that, the overworked genealogy department unearthed a grandparent. He seems to hold back for Wales, reserving his passion for far more important Swansea in the English Premier.
•Gareth Bale – Wales’ only player of true international class was a product of the Southampton academy having been unnoticed by home town club Cardiff. His flirtation with the Olympics GB team went unconsummated because of injury thankfully. He needs to prove his prime loyalty is to Wales.
•David Edwards – Another Englishman with a Welsh grandparent recruited to add a body to Wales’ threadbare ranks, the workaday Wolves midfielder is out of his depth amid the superb technicians of international football.
•Darcy Blake – Blake came through Cardiff’s youth system. He was never a regular in City’s first team, but that didn’t disqualify him from being picked for the Wales first team by age 21. Now with Crystal Palace, his nightmare performance in Serbia would halt an international career anywhere else – but Wales can’t afford to be choosy.
•Joe Allen – Welsh-born, Welsh-speaking, Welsh-produced, skilful, effective, young midfielder now with Liverpool. What’s not to like? Answer: he played in all five GB matches in the Olympics, despite being asked not to by his own national association. Having put his personal foibles ahead of wider considerations the 22 year old couldn’t complain if he were now given the opportunity to appear more often for the GB of his dreams and never be selected for Wales again. That Englandandwales team could well come about in the future anyway – but it’s doubtful Allen would win many caps if his saving-himself-for-Saturday performance in Serbia is anything to go by.
•Aaron Ramsey – Wales’ captain cut an abject figure in Novi Sad, weak, lacklustre and anonymous. Pulling on the red shirt clearly can’t compare to the thrill of getting into the GB kit, which Ramsey did with relish in pre-Olympic photo-shoots even as the associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were in delicate negotiations with FIFA about their very future. Probably exposed to too many Paul Abbandonato ‘rambo’ pieces in his formative Cardiff years, Aaron’s personal caprices trumped Welsh interests. Reminder: this boy is the Welsh captain (imagine his rousing half-time call to arms: “Men of Harlech, on to lucrative boot sponsorship deals!”). With four Cardiff City products, this Wales XI was most unusual historically – a temporary blip caused by City’s dalliance with Cymrufication and localism in the Hamman era. Fat good it did anyhow: the cream of Cardiff’s crop couldn’t hold a candle to what Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, delivers routinely for its national side. As for Ramsey, in any self-respecting country he would face a storm of criticism. But Wales is not such a country. Wales is a pretend-country going through the motions, run by cadres of pretend-Welshmen saturated in and committed to a Britishness that erases Wales. Ramsey knew he could get away with it because he knew the pipsqueak FAW blazers would do nothing.
•Simon Church – An Englishman who plays for Reading and has a couple of Welsh grandparents – cap him! The striker has mastered a skill essential for all Rent-a-Welshmen: gazing moodily and tight-lipped into the middle-distance during the playing of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, it being less bother than learning so much as one syllable of our national anthem. Ched Evans would be a slightly better option up front, but you know you’re in trouble when your only goal threat’s doing five years for rape…
•Steve Morison – Born in London and developed by Northampton Town, Morison spent 10 years scoring regularly in the nether regions of the English pyramid without the slightest prospect of international football – until that FAW genealogy department got on his case and discovered he had a nan from Tredegar. This was helpful for Morison’s career: being an “international footballer” bestowed enough cachet to secure him a move to Premier League Norwich City. It was no help to Wales though; the long journey from Stevenage Borough to Serbia being a step too far.
Chris Coleman – four games in charge, four defeats – should of course be sacked, as he is obviously unable to instil either the modicum of fighting spirit or the basic organisation that at least could keep defeats respectable. But really that’s no more a solution than blaming a Threadneedle Street charlady for the banking crisis. No manager in the world can turn base metal into gold. No manager could forge a winning team out of a thin rag-bag of flag-of-convenience, opportunist, conditional and half-hearted ‘Welshmen’ who reckon Wales needs them more than they need Wales. Wales’ position will remain hopeless so long as we have no professional domestic structure in place to churn out a constant conveyor belt of players and synchronise the national and international games; and that can only happen when all Welsh clubs play in that domestic structure. Everybody knows this is true. Yet only I say it. The alternative, the status quo, has been tried over and over and over again – and failed over and over and over again. The last time Wales qualified for a World Cup will be 60 years ago by the time of Russia 2018 – a Diamond Jubilee of the utmost ingloriousness. Now will the Assembly, currently conducting an enquiry into the state of Welsh football, grab the bull by the horns and discharge its statutory duty to protect the interests of Wales? I’m not holding my breath.
So…we won’t be flying down to Rio after all. Rio de Janeiro?? Pfff! We’ll be lucky to make Rhydybloodyfelin…