Pondering the three opponents that Wales will face this summer in Group A of Euro 2020 (Italy, Switzerland and Turkey), I can’t help but remember the last time Wales played Italy. It was September 2003, I was taking a week’s holiday in Scotland at the time and ended up watching the crucial Euro 2004 qualifier in an Edinburgh bar packed with raucous Scotsmen. Realising they had a Welshman in their midst, they supported Wales even more fervently than I did in a touching show of uplifting Celtic solidarity. Everything was going so well. In Milan it was 0-0 at half-time; Wales just had to hold out for 45 minutes to qualify for the finals tournament in Portugal; I was in my cups, being plied with free drinks by all and sundry…what could possibly go wrong? Answer: Filippo Inzaghi, with an 11-minute hat-trick early in the second half. I wince at the memory of my very public and very extreme mood-change. It must have been something to behold, even in the voluminous annals of Auld Reekie…
Drawing a veil over how I extricated myself from that intriguing dive in the labyrinthine back-warrens of Edinburgh Old Town, I want to focus on the hat-trick – the joint quickest ever conceded by Wales. Nobody has got a hat-trick against Wales since then, so the total number scored against Wales currently remains where Inzaghi put it at 28. For the record, and to put a double-bluff hex on the likelihood of there ever being a 29th, here, in chronological order, are the anti-heroes who broke Welsh hearts:
1 CLEMENT MITCHELL (1862-1937)
In 1883 at the Kennington Oval in London, then as now the home of Surrey County Cricket Club, Clement Mitchell of the Upton Park club in Essex was the first man to inflict a hat-trick on Wales in an easy 5-0 win for England. This was Wales’ 5th clash with England and unlucky 13th international football match overall (England’s 17th), and up to this point Wales had parity with the founders of the sport (P2, W2, D0, L2, Goals F9-A8) and had beaten England 5-3 in the previous fixture a year earlier. But this result was a foretaste of what was to come as the game’s foundation as an amateur pastime for public schoolboys was starting the process of being swept away and replaced by professionalism, eventually permitted by the FA in 1885 (the FAW resisted for a while before bowing to the inevitable and legalising professionalism in 1892). Much poorer, much smaller, ingrained with subservience and lacking the proud national identity and fortifying institutions like a national league that might have counterbalanced those disadvantages, Wales would have to wait until 1920 to defeat England again. Back in 1883, the English league, the world’s first, was still five years away from being founded and there were 22 amateurs playing on the Oval’s green sward. The Welsh team consisted of a plumber, a butcher, a painter, a tiler, a brickmaker, a brewery worker, a labourer, two railwaymen, a solicitor and a schoolmaster and, in complete contrast to today, was drawn almost entirely from Welsh clubs: four from Druids, two from Ruthin, one each from Berwyn Rangers (of Llangollen), Rhyl and Wrexham, one unattached and one from England’s Northwich Victoria. The English team was much posher and more white-collar, epitomised by Mitchell himself. Born into minor landed gentry in Cambridge, his life was changed by the unexpected death of his father when he was six. His widowed mother with five children had to move to London and downgrade to the middle-classes and devoted, dutiful Clement took it upon himself to replace his father; he never married and lived with his mother until she died. While building a career as a tea dealer, the sporty young man joined the resolutely amateur Upton Park in 1880. Not connected at all to West Ham United (founded in 1895 as Thames Ironworks in Canning Town, the Hammers didn’t relocate to the Upton Park area until 1904), Upton Park was an important early English club, founded in 1866 and one of the 15 clubs that entered the inaugural 1871/72 FA Cup. It was actually the objection of Upton Park to Preston North End’s payment of players following an FA Cup tie in 1884 that inadvertently forced the FA to confront the professionalism issue. Twenty-year-old inside-right Mitchell, small, speedy and sharp, gave Welsh captain Jack Powell (1860-1947) a torrid afternoon in Kennington. The Druids colossus got over the setback: he went on to become Wales’ first ever professional footballer when Bolton Wanderers poached him in 1884 and subsequently was captain of Newton Heath and instrumental in that club’s transformation into Manchester United. But for Mitchell the hat-trick was the highlight of his brief footballing fame; he won only two more England caps (total five) and by age 25 had stopped playing altogether to concentrate on his business as a tea merchant and look after his mother in their Beckenham villa. His job enabled him to take lengthy annual sojourns in India where he built a reputation as an excellent cricketer. Likewise, the fates of the two men’s clubs have been markedly different: Druids amazingly survive and thrive in the Cymru Premier, the top tier of a Welsh football pyramid at long last formed in 1992, while Upton Park were defunct by 1911. As for Clement Mitchell, after mother died he retired to genteel Hove on the Sussex coast where, perhaps, in his dotage, he would sometimes recall the golden day of his youth when he ran rings around big Jack Powell at the Oval.
2 JOSEPH LINDSAY (1858-1933)
Two years later in 1885, Joseph Lindsay of Dumbarton helped himself to a second-half hat-trick as injury-ravaged Wales abjectly surrendered 1-8 against Scotland at the Wrecsam Racecourse, shipping four goals in the last 15 minutes. This was Wales’ 20th international and worst home defeat yet. Two even more appalling home thrashings were to follow soon afterwards (see below) and to this day it is Wales’ 4th worst defeat of all time – not far behind the biggest loss of all, the 9-0 to Scotland in 1878 in Glasgow in which, oddly, no Scot got a hat-trick. Lindsay was an experienced, wily campaigner, having won the Scottish Cup with Dumbarton in 1883, and he had a field day against outclassed centre-half William Foulkes (1863-1937). The Llanrhaeadr-born Oswestry White Stars defender, winning his second cap, had an absolute stinker and was one of six in the side never selected for Wales again. Joe Lindsay was a Boghead Park regular for 11 years, hanging up his boots to work in Dumbarton’s shipbuilding yards just before the establishment of the Scottish League in 1890/91. He had helped his home town become such a power in the land that they won the title in the first two seasons of the competition. But the legacy wasn’t enduring: The Sons, as they are known, have never won the Scottish title since; quirky Boghead Park, at the time the oldest surviving football stadium in Scotland, closed in 2000; and the club, in what is now a post-industrial commuter town with a reduced population of 20,000, tick over unremarkably at tier three of the Scottish pyramid.
3 FRED DEWHURST (1863-1895)
Lancashire lad Dewhurst, captain and famed inside-left of Preston North End, plundered a hat-trick against Wales in February 1888 as England won 5-1 at the Alexandra Recreation Ground in Crewe. In the days before England had a national football stadium, the FA used grounds across the country and this match was the only time when the Cheshire town, fairly close to the Welsh border and well-connected by railways, was given the honour. The Nantwich Road ground, home of Crewe Alexandra until 1896 (the Railwaymen moved to current home, adjacent Gresty Road, in 1906), was full to its 6,000 capacity. It must have been a horrible experience for the Welsh players to endure those chilling Cheshire cheers as England scored four times in the second-half. Dewhurst completed his hat-trick by bundling his Preston team mate, goalie Robert Mills-Roberts (1862-1935) from Penmachno, over the line in the 88th minute. Both men were throwback amateurs in a sport being rapidly professionalised: Mills-Roberts, one of many footballers produced by Friars School in Bangor, was house surgeon at Birmingham General Hospital; Dewhurst was a schoolmaster at Preston Catholic Grammar School. Six months later the very first English League season kicked off. North End were one of the 12 founding members and it was Dewhurst who scored Preston’s first League goal in a 5-2 opening day defeat of Burnley. The ‘Invincibles’ went through the season undefeated to be the first champions of England, Dewhurst scoring 12 goals in 16 games and Mills-Roberts making two appearances as reserve to Preston’s other Welsh international goalkeeper, Wrecsam-born James Trainer (1863-1915). Then North End followed that by winning the 1889 FA Cup to become the first club to win England’s League/Cup ‘double’. To date the English ‘double’ has been achieved 12 times in total (by eight different clubs), and only Preston North End have done it without losing a single match. In the Cup Final both Dewhurst and Mills-Roberts were in the Preston team that defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-0 at Kennington Oval, Fred Dewhurst snaffling the first goal in typical style. The two great amateurs stood side by side as captain Dewhurst lifted the trophy, but soon their lives would take very different paths. Mills-Roberts retired from soccer in 1890 to become surgeon at Dinorwic Slate Quarry’s in-house hospital in his native Snowdonia, a post he held for 24 years. By 1890 Dewhurst had also left the game, but not voluntarily. Increasingly debilitated by “a lingering illness”, probably tuberculosis, the proud Prestonian was dead by age 31.
4 WILLIAM PAUL (1866-1911)
Heavy defeats were becoming more frequent as disorganised, enfeebled Wales found it increasingly difficult to compete with the other ‘home nations’. In 1890 Willie Paul, today recognised as a Partick Thistle all-time great as the research of Jags’ obsessives reveals his prodigious goalscoring deeds, didn’t just get a mere hat-trick in Scotland’s 5-0 victory – he scored FOUR. The match was the only international ever staged at Underwood Park in Paisley, home ground of Paisley club Abercorn, founder members of the Scottish League later in 1890 (Abercorn folded in 1920, unable to compete with local rivals St Mirren). It was packed out with 7,500 hollering textile-workers, the ground’s record attendance. Paul scored a brace in both halves past the aforementioned James Trainer, Preston’s ‘Prince of Goalkeepers’ who by this time had become Wales’ first choice keeper. Behind a youthful, patched-together team of exposed amateurs, five of whom never played for Wales again, the reliably excellent Trainer was helpless to prevent Paul’s goal-feast. In 1893 Partick were admitted to the Scottish League and Paul kept on scoring, getting 73 in 106 League games to add to his countless others in pre-League friendlies and Cup matches. After he retired from football in 1901 he took a job in Partick’s Clyde dockyards, only to die from a burst appendix when only 45. Trainer’s future was if anything even bleaker. He ran pubs in Preston and was a North End director for a while, but his volatile, stubborn personality combined with galloping alcoholism to wreck his marriage, his family and his finances and he died alone and destitute in a Paddington hostel when only 52, far from his Deepdale haven.
5 OLPHERT STANFIELD (1869-1952)
After the Willie Paul foursome in Paisley, lightning struck twice in Wales’ very next match against pre-partition Ireland. It took place early in 1891 at the short-lived Ulsterville ground in Belfast (closed in 1894 for housing development) and “Olphie” matched Willie by also scoring four times as Ireland cruised to a humiliating 7-2 victory. Stanfield was building a reputation as a top-notch forward with Belfast club Distillery and Wales’ makeshift defence just couldn’t cope. He would go on to become a legend at Grosvenor Park in west Belfast, Distillery’s home from 1889, scoring an incredible 178 goals in 181 Irish League matches (Distillery were founder members of the League in 1890). His four-goal haul against Wales helped him become an Irish legend: he won a total of 30 Irish caps (11 goals) between 1887 and 1897, making him the 19th century’s most capped international footballer; he would remain Ireland’s most capped player of all until 1936; and even today he is (Northern) Ireland’s eighth top goalscorer. After his playing days were over Stanfield worked as an accountant and remained a loyal Distillery official until his death. He was spared the pain of seeing his beloved club forced to abandon Grosvenor Park in 1970 due to mounting civil disorder and disturbances. After a nomadic decade groundsharing with other clubs Distillery left Belfast altogether in 1980 for a permanent new home 10 miles away in Lisburn, named the New Grosvenor Stadium. It is no substitute for the evocative inner-city original.
6 FRED SPIKSLEY (1870-1948)
1893 was a very bad year for Wales: in less than a month they were defeated by all three of the other ‘home nations’, and hat-tricks were conceded in each game. First came a 6-0 drubbing by England at the Victoria Ground in Stoke-on-Trent, Stoke City’s home from 1878 to 1997 (the club moved to the Britannia Stadium and the oldest ground in the English League was demolished – the land still lies derelict 23 years later. Preston North End’s Deepdale is now England’s oldest League ground). In front of 10,000 slathering pottery-workers, the match featured a sensational international debut from ‘Flying’ Fred Spiksley, the darling of Wednesday supporters (‘Sheffield’ wasn’t added until 1929) in the club’s pre-Hillsborough era at the Olive Grove ground. Only 5ft 6in and light as a feather, the quick-thinking, whippet-like left-winger simply tore Wales to shreds. Fred got another hat-trick against Scotland three weeks later. Rifled within six minutes late in the game, it remains England’s fastest hat-trick to this day, and made him the first to get two hat-tricks for England. He had a fantastic career at Wednesday, joining them in 1892 from Gainsborough Trinity just as Wednesday gained admission to the English League’s enlarged Division 1. Spiksley stayed for 11 years in which he scored 100 League goals in 293 appearances despite getting more than his fair share of injuries due to the rough treatment dished out by defenders in that era. He reached his pinnacle in the 1896 Cup Final at Crystal Palace, scoring both goals as Wednesday beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 to win the Cup for the first time. His first goal, timed at under 20 seconds by reporters at the scene, is considered the fastest ever Cup Final goal by many authoritative researchers, even faster than Louis Saha’s much-hyped 25-second goal for Everton in 2009. If Spiksley’s playing career was thrilling, his subsequent life was if anything even more eventful. He coached in the US, Peru, Mexico, Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany and Sweden, winning league titles in the last two with, respectively, Nurnberg and AIK Stockholm. He was interned in Germany at the start of WW1 and held for four days before his wife somehow arranged his release and they fled on a night train to Switzerland, where he outrageously dislocated his dodgy knee using hot water and, being just short of the age 45 limit anyhow, was allowed to return to Sheffield as unfit for service. Back home his advanced coaching methods emphasising skill, ball control and passing that had had such an impact across Europe were rejected by England’s long ball culture; the country’s perpetual record of underachievement in international football has been one of the consequences of ignoring Fred Spiksley’s wisdom. His main love was horse racing; as a boy on the Lincolnshire Wolds he dreamt of being a jockey. He could always be found at a racecourse and, like many footballers to this day, he became a compulsive gambler. It bankrupted him and broke his marriage but he couldn’t stay away. In the end he dropped dead in a heatwave exactly where he would want to be: in the Tattersalls Enclosure at the Glorious Goodwood meeting, having just picked the winner of the 3.10 at odds of 9-2.
7 & 8 JOHN MADDEN (1865-1948) AND JOHN BARKER (1869-1941)
4,500 at the Racecourse witnessed another sobering Welsh disaster just five days later in March 1893, slaughtered 0-8 by Scotland in a game where John Madden of Celtic became the third man to hit Wales for four and John Barker of Rangers nearly matched him with a hat-trick of his own scored in 15 minutes flat in the first half, the quickest yet suffered by Wales. This third-worst defeat of all time came in Wales’ 44th international and brought the head-to-head record against Scotland to a shockingly bad P18, W0, D1, L17, Goals F10-A80. Yes, Scotland were averaging 4½ goals per game against Wales at this juncture and it would be another 12 years in 1905 before Wales at last managed to beat Scotland at the 30th attempt! Given that the record against Scotland today stands at P107, W23, D23, L61, Goals F124-A243, this either illustrates how much Wales have improved over the last 100 years – or how much Scotland have declined. Perhaps a bit of both. Back in 1893 Madden and Barker were in a different league, literally as well as metaphorically. Scotland had its own national League, where advancing professionalism was turning recreational players into trained athletes; Wales had a hotch-potch of village clubs, still largely confined to the game’s north-east Wales birthplace, playing random friendlies against each other while the penniless FAW tried and failed over and over again to create any league structure and only the Welsh Cup, inaugurated in 1877, provided any semblance of serious soccer. Coming so soon after the 6-0 thrashing by England in Stoke, Wales were without captain Trainer and other withdrawals and fielded five debutants in a cobbled-together line up featuring four Chirk players, all miners at the Denbighshire village’s Black Park Colliery. Captain William Owen (1862-1946), a tough, industrious, ball-playing winger/inside forward who won 16 Welsh caps (4 goals) between 1884 and 1893, was the star of the team, but Billy Owen was reaching the end of his illustrious footballing years (five Welsh Cup wins with Chirk) and the Chirk stalwart could do nothing to rouse his men. His legacy, a young winger he plied with passes called Meredith just breaking through at Chirk, was in the future. Even more enduring has been the survival of Chirk AAA FC to this day – 124 years-old and counting and competing as hard as ever at tier three (north-east) of today’s Welsh pyramid. Llandudno-born full-back Fred Jones (1869-1910), winning his first Welsh cap, was particularly panned by the newspapers for his woeful performance. Lumbering ‘Fred Fawr’ had been appearing regularly for Small Heath (later to become Birmingham City) in their first season in England’s newly-formed Division Two, but this match seemed to destroy his confidence. Small Heath released him, he flopped at Lincoln City and he was soon back where he started with Llandudno Swifts. He never won a second cap. Much loved around Llandudno, sociable Fred was only 41 when he was found dead in the street by a milkman on his early morning round. The coroner recorded a death by “apoplectic seizure”, the acceptable way of saying he was paralytically pissed. Johnny Madden went on to become Celtic’s first great centre-forward, winning Scottish titles in 1893, 1894 and 1896, before heading off to Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) in 1905 to take up a post as coach at Slavia Prague. He liked it so much and was so successful that he stayed for 25 years before retiring from football. He lived in Prague for the rest of his life, and is still regarded as “the father of Czech football”. John Barker, by contrast, had an uneventful life never leaving his Govan hometown. He only played once more for Scotland and left the game entirely in 1896, spending the rest of his working life as a draughtsman for a Govan shipbuilder before dying of lymph cancer. It’s a funny old life.
9 JOHN PEDEN (1863-1944)
Three weeks later, in April 1893, came yet another hat-trick as Wales lost 4-3 to Ireland at Solitude, Belfast. Wales were 2-1 up at half-time, but forceful Lisburn-born winger John Peden nabbed two rapid goals early in the second half to complete his hat-trick and clinch a third Irish win over Wales in the 12th meeting. Peden, known as a ruthless even brutal opponent in the Irish League, bullied the Welsh defence into submission. A measure of Wales’ scarce resources was the fact that one-armed half-back Arthur Lea (1866-1945) of Wrexham was recalled and made captain to win his fourth and final cap. The Irish League was developing clubs and generating players for the national side, Peden of perennial Belfast giants Linfield being a good example. His performance at Solitude (built in 1890, Solitude staged 11 Irish matches in the 1890s and today is still the home ground of Northern Ireland’s oldest surviving club Cliftonville) persuaded ambitious English club Newton Heath to sign him. Newton Heath had been placed straight into Division 1 in 1892 as the English League expanded and formed Division 2 and were struggling at that level. Peden played in 28 of their 30 League games in 1893/94, scoring seven goals, but the Heathens were relegated and Peden was released to return to Irish football. They would not climb back to England’s top tier until 1906, following the injection of big money by Welsh brewer John Davies and the club’s transformation into Manchester United. The real significance of Peden’s year at Bank Street in the chimney-belching heart of industrial Clayton was in his being the first Irishman signed by Manchester United, the initiator of a rich lineage that includes soccer legends like Jackie Blanchflower (1933-1998), Johnny Carey (1919-1995), Harry Gregg (1932-2020), Roy Keane and, of course, George Best (1946-2005). Peden ran a confectionary and tobacconists in Belfast city centre for many years and, unlike so many of his contemporaries, stayed active and in good health until his death at the age of 81.
10 JOHN VEITCH (1869-1914)
Another year, another John, another hat-trick. It was almost becoming routine, to the extent that the English FA felt able to make a dramatic gesture for the game at Wrecsam in 1894 and pick an entire team of amateurs in an ultimately doomed assertion of the virtues of being wealthy enough to play purely for the love of the game. It worked too, England strolling to an arrogant 1-5 win after falling behind to a surprise early Wales goal from winger Jack Bowdler (1870-1927). Shrewsbury-born, Shrewsbury-bred, Shrewsbury School-educated, a founder of Shrewsbury Town and a Shrewsbury Town player, Bowdler didn’t qualify as Welsh by any criterion, but the desperate FAW got away with picking him without English objections, as well as his once-capped brother Ernie Bowdler (1872-1921). This was the last appearance of five that Jack made for Wales: the Bowdler boys soon gave up footie to settle in Salop as practising solicitors and pillars of provincial, small town English Toryism – that sentence has been bowdlerised to remove offensive language. The John who scored three this time was John Veitch, an archetypal upper-class sports lover from the wealthy Veitch dynasty of renowned plant collectors and breeders that owned Veitch Nurseries, the largest horticultural business in Europe in the 19th century. Educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, John Veitch played for Old Westminsters and the uber-amateur Corinthian club and this call-up by England was his solitary cap. He is thus one of only five England players to score a hat-trick on their sole international appearance. After football Veitch joined the family firm as company secretary but his health faded, he was beset by respiratory and hearing problems and he died at the age of 45. The Veitch business contracted in stages through the 20th century until it was finally sold off in 1969.
11 STEVE BLOOMER (1874-1938)
Could it get any worse for Wales? Oh yes (it always can). Step forward Steve Bloomer with FIVE goals in England’s 1-9 demolition job at Cardiff Arms Park in 1896. This remains Wales’ heaviest home defeat and second-worst defeat of all time, and it happened in the first football international ever staged in Cardiff as the FAW sought to encourage the spread of football beyond its Denbighshire spawning grounds. Mind you, if the Welsh dragon is to be put to the sword by any Englishman then he’d better be someone special, and Steve Bloomer was the very definition of a football great. His goalscoring achievements are so astounding that many of his most important records have still not been broken 120 years after his Victorian heyday: the second highest scorer in England’s top tier (314 goals); the fourth highest scorer in the English League (352 goals); Derby County’s record scorer (293 goals); the second-highest goals-to-games ratio (28 in 23 games) of anyone who played 10 or more times for England. Slim, pale, sinewy and cunning, he was a brilliant dribbler, passer and tactician with a repertoire of rapier-like shooting from all angles and distances. His family had moved to Derby from Cradley in Worcestershire when he was a child and in his 18 years playing for Derby County from 1892 to retirement in 1914 (interrupted by four seasons at Middlesbrough from 1906 to his return to a hero’s welcome in 1910) he became football’s first authentic ‘superstar’. His era is so distant that Derby County were still playing at the (Derby) Racecourse Ground when he joined them as an 18-year-old (they moved to the Baseball Ground in 1895, Bloomer of course scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Sunderland in the first match there); yet he remains a Rams’ legend to this day, when even the Baseball Ground is long gone, demolished to make way for housing. County moved to Pride Park in 1997, and there, in the ersatz bowl on a soulless out-of-town business park, a bust of Bloomer looks out over the pitch next to the home dugout and the team run out to the strains of club anthem Steve Bloomer’s Watching. No other 19th century footballer in the world is so alive today. Paradoxically, Bloomer won nothing with Derby (three losing Cup Finals and once runners-up in the League is the closest he got) in the highly competitive era straddling the transition from Victorian amateurs to Edwardian professionals, but this nap-hand of goals against Wales in only his fourth England appearance was one of countless glorious performances – including more torture for Wales (see below). He had a dramatic life: his brother Philip Bloomer, also on Derby’s books, died of peritonitis just two months after the Cardiff match; he was England’s captain against Scotland in 1902 when 25 people were killed and over 500 injured after a section of wooden terracing collapsed in the Ibrox Disaster; coaching in Germany when WW1 broke out, he was interned in the Ruhleben prisoner of war camp for the entire duration of the conflict; he coached Spanish club Real Unión of Irun in the Basque Country to victory in the Copa del Rey in 1924, the equivalent of winning today’s La Liga which wasn’t founded until 1929; he returned to his home in the terraced streets of Derby, living as the fans did not in a bubble of ludicrous, obscene luxury like today’s top players; his health failed, probably because of those years in the POW camp combined with the shock of his wife dying and leaving her money, accumulated from Steve’s football earnings, to another man; he died aged only 64 in a room above a Derby pub. For Wales there was one consolation at the Arms Park: also making his fourth international appearance was Chirk boy Billy Meredith (1874-1958), signed by Manchester City in 1894. His supreme talent, dedicated professionalism and sheer will to win would quite soon bring the days of such fearsome thrashings to an end. He would have been Watching Steve Bloomer, and learning, learning from arguably England’s greatest-ever footballer on that far-off day by the banks of the Taff.
12 JIMMY GILLESPIE (c1870-c1918)
Scottish winger Jimmy Gillespie of Glasgow club Third Lanark bagged the next hat-trick in 1898 as Scotland beat Wales 5-2 at Fir Park, then as now the home of Lanarkshire club Motherwell. Amazingly, this was Gillespie’s first and last appearance for Scotland – which speaks volumes about the embarrassment of riches being produced by the Scottish League. He’s a bit of a mystery man, even the Scottish FA doesn’t know his date of birth or death, but it seems likely he was a product of long defunct Dunbartonshire village side Renton, a founder member of the Scottish League in 1890 terminally injured by the SFA’s belated recognition of professionalism in 1893. He was signed by Sunderland on their election to the English League in 1890 and was a significant member of the overwhelmingly Scottish ‘Team of all the Talents’ that took the League by storm winning three titles in four years. Gillespie stayed at Newcastle Road (Sunderland’s ground before the 1898 move to Roker Park) until 1897, scoring 50 goals in 127 League games. He probably would have been selected by Scotland sooner, but the SFA had a strict policy of not picking English League players until the turn of the century. Nothing is known about his post-football life; some footie historians presume he died in the 1918 influenza pandemic. The Welsh XI, captained by Trainer in goal but missing Meredith because Manchester City refused to release him, contained some interesting men. Left-back David Jones (1867-1902), given the runaround by Gillespie in this match, died within four years of Tetanus infection after cutting his knee on some broken glass during a practice session at the quirky, cramped Hyde Road ground in Ardwick where Ardwick/Manchester City played between 1887 and 1923. Classy, intelligent Chirk product ‘Di’, as he liked to be named, had only left Bolton Wanderers, where he had been for 10 years and was a big favourite, because his pal Billy Meredith was at City – a decision that indirectly killed him. At centre-forward was Morgan Maddox Morgan-Owen (1877-1950), son of HM Inspector of Schools. Still at Oriel College, Oxford, when he won this the third his 12 Welsh caps, he was the very archetype of the amateur and went on to play for both the Edwardian era’s two leading amateur clubs in London, Corinthian and Casuals (they merged in 1939 to form Corinthian-Casuals, still going strong today in the seventh tier of the English pyramid) and write the definitive account of amateur football, Annals of the Corinthians. On the left wing was Caersws product Ernie Watkins (1878-1957), winning his first cap of five as a Leicester Fosse player. Later the skilful ball artist was a key figure in the establishment of Millwall as a leading London club. He settled in east London where he died a frightening death as an old man in an accidental fire at his home in Barking. At left-half was Rhuddlan-born Jack Jones (1866-1931) of Tottenham Hotspur, a quick-thinking utility player who captained Southern League Spurs to victory in the 1901 FA Cup, the only time the competition has been won by a ‘non league’ team since the foundation of the Football League in 1888. He too met a sticky end, falling down a stairwell at age 65 in the Sunderland factory where he worked. And, wearing the number 10 shirt, was the peerless ‘Prince of Inside-Forwards’ Gren Morris (1877-1959), the greatest footballer yet produced by Aberystwyth Town. Winning the fifth of his 21 Welsh caps, he was just starting his dazzling career and on the brink of a move to Nottingham Forest where he played for 15 years. He is still Forest’s all-time record scorer to this day (199 League goals from 423 appearances). When Wales managed to get Meredith and Morris in tandem, there would be brighter days ahead.
13 ROBERT McCOLL (1876-1959)
In Wales’ last home match of the 19th century at the Racecourse in 1899 there was another Scottish spanking as amateur Bob McColl of Glasgow club Queens Park stuck three past Jim Trainer, winning the last of his 20 caps, and Scotland sauntered to a 0-6 victory. This was Wales’ 62nd game and they had yet to field the same team twice, so as usual a motley, experimental collection of barely-acquainted youngsters, missing Meredith on Manchester City duty, fell short of the standards required. Centre-forward McColl, who between 1901 and 1904 dabbled with professionalism at Newcastle United, scored 13 goals in 13 games for Scotland and, starting with this game in Wrecsam, famously hit a hat-trick of hat-tricks against Wales, Ireland and then England within the space of 13 months. Today his name lives on in the McColl’s chain of convenience stores/newsagents that he founded in 1901. Long since sold off to corporate wolves, McColl’s are ubiquitous across the UK…I will just take a short break here and pop across the Black Bridge to McColl’s for a pack of Rizlas, a bag of Minstrels and a scratch-card…
14 STEVE BLOOMER
Bloomin’ Bloomer again did the hat-trick to Wales in 1901, in a 6-0 defeat by England at St James’ Park, Newcastle. As this was Steve Bloomer it wasn’t just any old hat-trick – he got FOUR, the last three in 14 second-half minutes to break John Barker’s 15 minute record set eight years earlier. By 1905 Bloomer would break both the England appearances and goals records held by G O Smith (1872-1943). Eventually, as the number of international matches increased, Bob Crompton (1879-1941) of Blackburn Rovers exceeded his appearance record in 1909 and Viv Woodward (see below) topped his goals record in 1911.
15 ADAM/ANDREW GARA (c1878-c1918)
More or less nothing is known about the mysterious Irishman who scored the next hat-trick in a surprise 0-3 victory for Ireland at the Arms Park in February 1902. Even his name is not certain: in some sources he is Andrew, in others he is Adam. All I can find out for definite is that Gara was on Preston North End’s books at the time of this game (he had scored 11 goals for them in season 1900/01 when the Invincibles were relegated from Division 1 for the first time) and this was his first cap of three. Subsequently he had a brief spell at Nottingham Forest in season 1902/03 and, er, that’s it: birthplace/upbringing/death/club career/diverting biographical morsels – zilch! Let’s move on.
16 HAROLD SLOAN (1882-1917)
In 1906 at Wrecsam a hat-trick was scored against Wales and yet the game was not lost – the first and, so far, only time this has happened. It was a 4-4 thriller in which Aberystwyth Town product Arthur Green (1881-1966) of Notts County, wining his sixth cap, scored Wales’ quickest hat-trick ever after 13, 20 and 28 minutes, yet was somehow upstaged by Sloan of Dublin club Bohemians who snatched a late equaliser to complete his own threesome and thwart Wales. Wales, without both Billy Meredith and Gren Morris for the usual spurious reasons given by their English clubs, should really have won easily and the result was seen as a triumph for Ireland. The game is especially noteworthy because it was caught on camera by film pioneers Sagar Mitchell (1866-1952) and James Kenyon (1850-1925). The 2 minutes 10 seconds of flickering black & white footage shot at pitch level is the earliest surviving film of an international football match and is held in the National Screen & Sound Archive at Aberystwyth. Green, who scored 60 goals in 134 appearances for Notts County and then 16 in 39 appearances for Forest, was another Aber man, like Gren Morris, who made it big in Nottingham. He settled there for the rest of his life and died there aged 84. In his wildest dreams he could never have imagined he would appear on the big screen in his hometown a century later. Harold Sloan wasn’t so fortunate. An outstanding player for Bohemians (founded 1890), he was a one-club man who scored the first goal at Dalymount Park when they relocated from Phoenix Park in 1901 and whose total of eight caps has still never been bettered by another Bohemians player. Retired from the game, he joined the Royal Garrison Artillery at the start of WW1 but did not survive the carnage and was killed in action in France in 1917.
17 VIVIAN WOODWARD (1879-1954)
England doesn’t make men like Vivian Woodward* anymore. Today the wealthy upper-classes of England are cruel brutes, vulgar megalomaniacs, corrupt moneygrubbers, deluded narcissists and inept buffoons. But believe it or not there was once a time when the happy accident of being born into money (Woodward’s father was a successful architect and Freeman of the City of London) could produce people of real quality, talent and decency. Born in Kennington and raised in superior Clacton-on-Sea, Woodward was the greatest amateur footballer of his era, the ‘perfect centre-forward’ noted for his speed, bravery, solo dribbling, unselfishness, subtle distribution and shooting and heading power. He followed father into the architecture profession and remained an amateur footballer throughout his lengthy career with Corinthians, Tottenham Hotspur (1901-1909) and Chelsea (1909-1915), never getting paid and never even claiming legitimate expenses. For England he scored 29 goals in 23 games, to break Steve Bloomer’s record (he also won 67 caps for the England and UK amateur teams, captaining the UK/England teams which won the Olympic soccer titles in 1908 and 1912). It wasn’t until 1958 that Woodward’s goal tally for England was exceeded, by Tom Finney (1922-2014) – and the Preston winger took 72 games to do it. In 1908 at Wrecsam, Viv Woodward was in his prime and the elegant, scrupulously fair English captain was unlucky not to get more than three in a devastating 1-7 demolition of a full-strength Wales. When WW1 started in 1914 he immediately joined the Army. Then Chelsea reached the 1915 FA Cup final, the last before football ceased for the duration, and wanted Woodward to play in the match, but even though he had been granted special leave to play by the Army he sportingly stood down to allow Bob Thomson (1890-1971) to take his place because he had played in all the earlier rounds. Seriously injured on the Western Front in WW1, Woodward recovered and was still playing amateur football into his 40s before the lifelong bachelor gave up architecture to farm and run a dairy in what was then bucolic rural Essex. FA Secretary Frederick Wall (1858-1944) wrote of Woodward that “he was soft-spoken, courteous and modest; if he could not speak well of a man he preferred silence; he was devoted to his mother; he was a man who stood alone, combining unexpected strength of mind and body with a suavity of manner and a bashful, gentle personality that left an abiding impression on everybody”. He was a man to truly love. Yet, near the end of his life, bedridden, paralysed and infirm in a nursing home in Ealing, he wistfully remarked to a journalist who was interviewing him that “no-one who used to be with me in football has been to see me.” We are all alone.
*NOTE: Not to be confused with Viv Woodward (1914-1995) from Troedyrhiw, who played for Fulham, Millwall, Brentford and Aldershot between 1936 and 1951 and won an unoficial Wales ‘cap’ in 1941 in a wartime international against England.
18 HUGHIE GALLACHER (1903-1957)
Twenty years went by, the days of the plucky amateur had gone, professional football was becoming a business, the FAW was being dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century and hat-trick hell was now a rare experience. Wales were no longer easy meat and, if everyone was fit and available, were capable of giving the other ‘home nations’ a real test. That is what happened in 1928 at Ibrox Park in Glasgow. But despite a sterling performance in front of 55,000 – the largest attendance a Welsh team had played in front of up to that point in time – Wales marshalled by imperturbable Cardiff City defender Fred Keenor (1894-1972) could not withstand the genius of Scotland’s 5ft 5in pocket dynamo centre-forward Hughie Gallacher and thanks to Hughie’s hat-trick the Scots won 4-2. He was the seventh, and to date the last, Scotsman to score a hat-trick against Wales. From the Lanarkshire coal-mining town Belshill, Gallacher was signed by Airdrieonians from Queen of the South at age 18 and his 90 goals in just 111 League games transformed the small club into a Scottish League power finishing runners-up to Rangers four years running. Newcastle paid a record fee to bring him to England and he became the idol of Tyneside. He scored 143 League goals in 174 games for United between 1925 and 1930 – the fourth-highest goals total and the highest goals to games ratio of any Newcastle player to this day – and in 1927 captained the Geordies to a first League title since 1909. With his pugnacious personality, caustic tongue and righteous sense of grievance at the terrible treatment he received from stop-at-nothing defenders, negligent referees and censorious officialdom, Hughie was always getting into scrapes and conflicts and it broke Newcastle fans’ hearts when he left in 1930 for Chelsea. He drew huge crowds to Stamford Bridge and kept on scoring goals (72 in 132 League games from 1930 to 1934), but he couldn’t settle in London and decline set in as he changed clubs at an accelerating rate: Derby County, Notts County, Grimsby Town and finally Gateshead, before retiring from the game in 1939 at age 36. His final total of 296 goals in the English League is the 12th highest of all time, while his final tally of 24 goals for Scotland in just 20 appearances shattered the previous record set by Robert Hamilton (1877-1948) back in 1911 and to this day has only been surpassed by Dennis Law and Kenny Dalglish. The life of this extraordinary, moody genius ended in terrible tragedy. He was living in Gateshead, his wife had died, he had no money, he had to take any menial job he could to survive, and he was alcoholic. One night after he’d had a few too many he chucked an ashtray across the room at his youngest son in a fit of temper after a trivial domestic row. It hit the teenager on the head and drew some blood. A neighbour intervened unnecessarily and called the police. Gallacher was arrested and charged with assault. As his court appearance approached, he became more and more disturbed, wandering the streets of Gateshead in open distress. “It’s no good fighting,” he said to a friend, “It’s no good fighting when you know you can’t win.” The day before he was due in court, he walked in front of an express train on the Edinburgh to London mainline railway. At 54 poor Hughie Gallacher was dead. To be or not to be has always been the question.
19 GEORGE CAMSELL (1902-1966)
The following year, in 1929, George Camsell of Middlesbrough scored a hat-trick for England in a 6-0 win at Stamford Bridge – Wales’ first and only appearance at the west London stadium. Camsell was another magnificent striker of the highest calibre. Even Wales’ excellent half back line of Keenor, winning the 24th of his 32 caps, centre-half Tommy Griffiths (1906-1981) of Everton who would be Wales’ captain throughout the successful 1930s, and Bob John (1899-1982) of Arsenal, Barry Town’s first great product, were comprehensively outmanoeuvred by the brave, balletic, two-footed goal-machine from County Durham. Middlesbrough had signed Camsell from Durham City after he had scored 20 goals in 20 games as a winger for the Third Division North outfit in season 1924/25 (founder members of Third Division North in 1921, Durham failed to gain re-election in 1928 and folded in 1938 with their Holiday Park ground becoming a Greyhound racing stadium until demolition in the 1960s. Re-established in 1949, City are currently languishing at level 10 of the English pyramid and without a permanent home ground). Boro’ converted the sturdy red-head into a centre-forward and he stayed at Ayresome Park for the remainder of his playing career until the outbreak of WW2 in 1939 and then served the club as chief scout, coach and assistant secretary through to 1963 when illness forced him to retire. In season 1926/27 Camsell scored a record 59 League goals as Middlesbrough stormed to the Division 2 title and returned to the top tier. It was a record that seemed unassailable – until Dixie Dean (1907-1980) scored 60 for Everton in the very next season! In the deadly dull, terminally over-hyped, historically illiterate, shockingly corrupt English Premier League era the nearest anyone has got to George Camsell’s goal tally is 34. Camsell’s shoot-on-sight policy was built on a foundation of natural two-footedness and instant ball control. He gorged on goals through the 1930s and ended up with 325 League goals, the all-time Middlesbrough record that has got to be unassailable – George Elliott (1889-1948), Camsell’s predecessor as Boro’ centre-forward, is a distant second currently with 203. His grand total of 345 is the fifth-highest goals aggregate in the history of the English League after Arthur Rowley (1926-2002) 434, Dixie Dean 379, Jimmy Greaves 357 and Steve Bloomer (see above) 352. If that wasn’t enough Camsell’s 418 League appearances place him third in Middlesboro’s all-time rankings. For England his strike-rate of 18 goals in a mere 9 games is the all-time goals-to-game ratio record to this day – although footie statisticians usually make 10 appearances the minimum for such records, so he isn’t deemed to have superseded Viv Woodward’s ratio (see above). George Camsell died in Middlesbrough General Hospital after a long illness in 1966, just missing seeing England win the World Cup in which his Ayresome Park spiritual home hosted three games.
20 & 21 JOSEPH BAMBRICK (1905-1983)
Two hat-tricks but only one name? That must mean…Yes! Joe Bambrick scored SIX! In front of 25,000 at Celtic Park in Belfast in 1930, local lad Joe Bambrick broke records galore in an embarrassing 7-0 Welsh debacle against Northern Ireland – the 10th encounter between the two countries since partition ended the All-Ireland team in 1920. Nobody had scored six goals in international football up that point in time (the world record is currently the 13 goals scored by Archie Thompson for Australia against American Samoa in 2001), nobody else has ever scored six for NI or six against Wales, Wales have not had a heavier defeat in the 90 years since and this remains NI’s record win. What’s more, as Bambrick acquired his six-pack in minutes 12, 43, 51, 59, 64 and 88, he broke the fastest hat-trick against Wales record set by Bloomer in 1901 (see above) by getting three of them in 13 minutes. To add insult to injury, the NI captain Andy McCluggage (1900-1954) scored a cruel seventh in the 90th minute – the Larne-born Burnley full-back’s only international goal – as if to underline the scratch Welsh team’s ineptitude. Goalie Dick Finnegan (1904-1979) had a particularly disastrous afternoon, his blunders leading directly to at least two of Bambrick’s goals. Wrecsam-born and of old Welsh gypsy extraction, Finnegan’s football career was full of wildly fluctuating peaks and troughs and this was definitely the all-time low. “Six kicks of the ball and you get six goals,” Dick said dismissively to Joe after the match. “Wait a minute Taffy,” retorted Joe, “one of them was a header!” It was Dick Finnegan’s only Welsh cap. This performance, allied to Bambrick’s prodigious scoring for Northern Irish giants Linfield (286 League goals in 183 appearances – an Irish League record), earned him a big-money move to Chelsea in 1934. He found the competition more intense in the English League but the athletic, intelligent player adapted well, scoring 33 League goals in 59 appearances over three seasons. He was never the same after he was among the Chelsea players blamed for the death of Sunderland goalie Jimmy Thorpe (1913-1936) following the Division 1 game at Roker Park in 1936 in which Bambrick scored two in Chelsea’s exciting 3-3 draw against that season’s ultimate English champions. Thorpe took a terrible battering from the visiting forwards during the match, was admitted to hospital and died of heart failure a week later, only 22 years old. Joe Bambrick lost much of his vim and vigour as a result of the incident and he wound down his career at Walsall before rejoining Linfield as a coach. The shy Belfast bachelor boy later worked as a soccer reporter on the local press. He lived long enough to see the end of Celtic Park as a football ground when the Belfast Celtic club based there ceased playing because of appalling sectarian violence against its mainly Catholic/Nationalist supporters and players in the Irish League. The scene of his triumph operated as a greyhound stadium until being covered by a shopping centre in 1983. Diffident Joe Bambrick never made his views public throughout “the Troubles”, and never left his childhood home in Roden Street by the banks of the Lagan.
22 JACKIE MILBURN (1924-1988)
Twenty years went by, another World War came and went, football was a world-wide sport and even Wales had at last ventured beyond the comfort-zone of the British Isles and begun to take a world view. Two games in France in 1933 and 1939 had broken the ice and then in 1949 Wales played Portugal, Belgium and Switzerland (losing all three matches) in preparation for the England match in Cardiff in October 1949, which wasn’t just the usual annual ‘home nations’ fixture, it was also a qualifier for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil and the first ever World Cup match for both Wales and England (the FA had boycotted the first three World Cups of 1930, 1934 and 1938 and Wales had meekly followed the sweet FA’s arrogant, xenophobic line). I have written about this agonising 1-4 defeat previously so I won’t repeat myself: see https://tinyurl.com/rg38wz6. ‘Wor’ Jackie remains Newcastle United’s record scorer to this day with 177 League goals in 353 appearances. No serious student of football history includes Cup goals in individual scoring statistics, simply because the number of Cup matches played varies hugely from player to player, club to club and season to season – as well as the fact that new Cup competitions introduced over the years unfairly distort the figures. Therefore, the oft-repeated assertion that Alan Shearer is United’s record scorer is just plain wrong – the banal cliché-regurgitator on Match of the Day scored 148 League goals for the Magpies; the dreary slaphead isn’t even the second-highest scorer, that was Len White (1930-1994) with 153 goals. After 14 years with Newcastle in which he starred in three winning FA Cup finals, Jackie Milburn had a crowd-pulling stint with Linfield in Northern Ireland and retired from playing in 1960. He then covered north-east England football as a journalist for the News of the World for 23 years before the modest, self-deprecating, decent man died of lung cancer, aged 64. There’s a statue of him outside St James’ Park and the main stand is named the Milburn Stand.
23 RAJKO MITIĆ (1922-2008)
Wales’ first match in eastern Europe was a friendly against the artificial umbrella superstate Yugoslavia in 1954, later to be dissolved in stages starting in the 1990s and today consisting of seven independent footballing nations, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo (partially recognised politically), North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Facing the technically gifted, physical Yugoslavs was always a steep learning curve for Wales (in seven attempts Wales never beat them), as exemplified by this inaugural meeting: a 5-2 pasting in the brand new JNA Stadium in Belgrade. Built in 1951, the home of Partizan Belgrade was full to its 50,000 capacity and Wales never recovered from an overwhelming early goal blitz that put Yugoslavia 4-0 ahead by the 24th minute. This included the Mitić hat-trick which was accomplished between the 10th and 24th minute, just a minute slower than Bambrick’s record (see above). Mitić was the captain and star striker of Partizan’s rivals Red Star Belgrade, the most successful club in both Yugoslavia and its successor nation Serbia. Today the Serbian national team play home matches at the Red Star Stadium, opened in 1963, and such is his legendary status in Serbia it was renamed the Rajko Mitić Stadium in 2014. The consummate sportsman scored 32 goals in 59 games for Yugoslavia, fourth-highest in the scoring charts and eighth-highest in appearances when the team was wound up in 1992. After his playing career ended in 1958 he coached at Red Star and then was the Yugoslavia head coach from 1967 to 1970. For managerless Wales, still relying on a panel of selectors and whoever was the team captain to pick the team and determine what passed for ‘tactics’, this was the last warm-up match before the start of the qualifiers for the 1954 World Cup. Unsurprisingly, they did not go well (see blog link above). But the random happenstance of an emerging batch of quality players and the arrival of manager Jimmy Murphy (1910-1989) in 1956 would nurture a startling, albeit brief, phase of success for Wales in the near future: qualification for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.
24 ROY BENTLEY (1924-2018)
In Wales’ second appearance at Wembley Stadium in 1954 (the first had been in 1952), England won 3-2 thanks to a hat-trick by Chelsea’s Roy Bentley scored in minutes 70, 74 and 81 – an 11 minute treble that broke Bambrick’s record of 24 years earlier. To date, this was the last in England’s total of 10 hat-tricks against Wales, scored by nine different players. The result brought the head-to-head record against England to P65, W10, D11, L44, Goals F66-A179. Now standing at P102, W14, D21, L67, Goals F91-A247, those truly awful stats haven’t got any better in the interim. A wandering centre-forward with great acceleration and aerial ability, Bristolian Bentley had joined Chelsea from Newcastle in 1948 and scored 128 League goals in 324 appearances for the west London club, putting him fourth in Chelsea’s all-time rankings behind Bobby Tambling and Kerry Dixon/Frank Lampard in joint second place. His career was entering a purple patch at this juncture: less than six months later in 1955 he captained Chelsea to their first ever English League title, 50 years after the club was founded. It was Chelsea’s first trophy of any kind, and it would be another 50 years before they won the League again in 2005. Four further titles quickly followed in the 21st century – but as they were not earned but simply purchased by the billions of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovic, they bear no comparison to the far greater achievement of 1955. The Stamford Bridge crowd back in the 1950s was very different to today’s gathering of braying Surrey ‘businessmen’. It actually consisted of a now extinct species ruthlessly abolished by ‘market forces’: working-class Londoners with wit, intelligence and character. The Shed End would roar “Gently Bentley!” whenever Roy scored, borrowing a catch-phrase from the BBC radio comedy Take It from Here, starring closet gay Tory Jimmy Edwards (1920-1988), Australian Dick Bentley (1907-1995) and June Whitfield (1925-2018), just beginning her 60-year comedy career. The show ran from 1948-1960 on the old Light Programme and was the breakthrough for Frank Muir (1920-1998) and Dennis Norden (1922-2018) starting out on their long writing partnership. Such cheeky cultural communality is inconceivable at Stamford Bridge today. For Wales John Charles (1931-2004) scored two excellent goals to no avail. Probably still Wales’ greatest-ever footballer, he was buiding his reputation at Leeds United before moving to Juventus in 1957, where Italian fans endowed him with his ‘Gentle Giant’ nickname. Never booked in a career of over 750 matches, his ‘gentle’ tag wasn’t the joshing irony applied to Roy Bentley; it was true. Bentley moved to Fulham after his Chelsea days and was converted to an outstanding half-back who helped the Cottagers back to the First Division in 1959. Later he took up management at Reading and Swansea Town. At the Vetch Field he slightly compensated Wales for that hat-trick by encouraging local scholboys to join in training sessions: one of them, 12-year-old Robbie James (1957-1998), went on to win 48 Welsh caps.
25 LUIGI RIVA
Fifteen years later, in a 1969 qualification match for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, slick and silky Italian centre-forward Luigi Riva scored the next hat-trick in Italy’s resounding 4-1 win in front of 67,000 at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome (again, see above blog link for more about the match). The defeat hammered the final nail in the coffin of this particular World Cup effort: in a three-team Group Wales lost all four matches, the only Welsh qualification whitewash to date. We didn’t get to go loco in Acapulco. Looking at the side fielded by manager Dave Bowen (1928-1995), the only surprise is that Wales didn’t lose by more: with the very limited Steve Derrett of Cardiff City at right-back, the erratic Dick Krzywicki of West Bromwich Albion at outside right and the fast-fading talent of Graham Moore (1941-2016) in midfield, Wales were there for the taking. Riva was at the height of his powers: the left-footed maestro from Lombardy was in the middle of leading Sardinian club Cagliari to its first, and hitherto only, Serie A title in 1969/70. By the time he retired from playing in 1976, the gimlet-eyed sharp-shooter had scored a record 35 goals for Italy (42 appearances) – a record that still stands nearly 50 years after his last cap. On top of that, his tally of 164 League goals in 315 appearances set a Cagliari club record and even today he is the 20th-highest scorer in Serie A history. Gigi, as he is universally known in Italy, was part of the national team’s complex managerial structure from 1988 to 2013 and now, at age 75, he finds himself in the grizzled, world-weary sage phase. I suppose we all end up there, if we live long enough…
26 DENIS BERGKAMP
In Eindhoven in 1996 Holland meted out Wales’ worst defeat since Northern Ireland in 1930 (see above), a 7-1 butchering by a Dutch team playing football from another planet compared to the crude, ugly, ‘British’-style huffing and puffing that was Wales’ calling card during the dark days of Bobby Gould’s managerial reign. Three words will here suffice to explain all: Vinnie, Jones and Captain. Denis Bergkamp, just starting out on his glittering Arsenal career in London, served up a masterclass of cool, stylish skill and scored an exquisite hat-trick. It was another World Cup qualifier (see blog referenced earlier) and the result shattered any frail dreams and forlorn hopes of Welsh qualification for France 1998. Amsterdam-born Bergkamp was very much the classic product of the Ajax Amsterdam academy of ‘Total Football’. Oozing technique, intelligence, style and creativity, Bergkamp scored 87 League goals for Arsenal in 315 appearances in the English Premier League era, a key early signing by French manager Arsene Wenger and a vital member of the 2003/04 side that won the Premier League without losing a single match – a modern version of ‘Invincibles’ to mirror Preston North End (see above). In addition his total of 37 goals in 79 matches for The Netherlands puts him fourth in the all-time list behind only Robin van Persie, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Patrick Kluivert – all of whom were/are out-and-out goal-hangers whereas the mobile, subtle Bergkamp probed and prompted from all over the pitch. He stayed in north London for the rest of his playing career and ended his Arsenal career in 2006 just as the club ended 93 years at Highbury. It was a Stadium that radiated distinction and class, just like Denis Bergkamp. Originally designed by famed stadium architect Archibald Leitch (1865-1939), Highbury got a fabulous Art Deco revamp in Arsenal’s first golden era in the 1930s, but it is now lost to football and just another gated ‘luxury’ ghetto. One more English club converted by the Rupert Murdoch Memorial League into a sportswash front for power-mad despots and dark, repressive, tyrannical autocracies, the Gunners now play at the nearby Emirates Stadium, an intimidating, 60,000 capacity, corporate bowl. But it doesn’t have to be this way; nothing stays the same forever. Arsenal prove that better than most football clubs. Founded as Dial Square in 1885, in 1886 they were renamed Royal Arsenal and played on Plumstead Common, before moving to the Sportsman Ground at Plumstead Marshes in 1887, the Manor Field off Griffin Manor Way in Woolwich in 1888 and the Invicta Ground in the centre of Plumstead in 1890. Turning pro in 1891, the club was renamed Woolwich Arsenal to catch a broader fan-base and, after being elected to the English Football League in 1893, they relocated back to Griffin Manor Way, purchased Manor Field and built the 20,000 capacity Manor Ground. Then, following 20 years there, the club did an MK Dons-style franchise shift, upped sticks to Highbury 14 miles away and dropped the ‘Woolwich’. That’s four different names and, including the Emirates Stadium, seven different grounds. Does anyone seriously believe that today’s status quo is here in perpetuity?
27 HAKAN ŞÜKÜR
Nine months later, in 1997, at the fag-end of the same fruitless World Cup qualifying campaign, Bobby Gould’s team were humiliated at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium in Istanbul, losing 6-4 to Turkey in a farcical match. Expert striker Hakan Şükür of Turkish giants Galatasaray, nicknamed the ‘Bull of the Bosphorus’, scored FOUR of Turkey’s six and thus became the fifth man to get four against Wales, only bettered by Bloomer’s five and Bambrick’s six (see above). The game’s 10-goal aggregate meant it joined Ireland 2 Wales 8 (1885) and Wales 1 England 9 (1896) as the joint second-highest aggregate score ever in a Wales match, beaten only by the Wales 11 Ireland 0 of 1888. Şükür’s four-goal haul helped contribute to the 51 goals he scored for Turkey in 112 appearances spread over 15 years from 1992 to 2007, making him Turkey’s all-time record scorer by a considerable margin. It was his artistry and cunning that were crucial to Turkey’s completely unexpected third place finish in the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea. What’s more, in three separate spells at Galatasaray, who moved out of the Ali Sami Yen to the Türk Telekom Stadium in 2011, he racked up 217 League goals in 392 appearances, a club record. He became a socially-conscious, progressive member of the national assembly in 2011, but was driven out of office by the frightening far-right regime of Recep Erdogan, purging all opposition and suppressing all dissent. Hakan had to flee Turkey in 2017 when a warrant was issued for his arrest and he went into exile in the US where he now works as an Uber driver in San Francisco. This is his thanks for being an authentic national hero and one of the good guys. This, it grieves me to say, is the 21st century.
28 FILIPPO INZAGHI
And so I get back to where I started, Inzaghi’s 11 minute hat-trick in Milan in 2003 – his only hat-trick in international football. Little did I know it at the time, but while I was agonising in Edinburgh the arch goal poacher was exactly equalling the quick-fire record set by Roy Bentley nearly 50 years earlier (see above). Thankfully I didn’t know it – or else I might have had to buy a round of drinks! He stopped playing in 2012 at the age of 38, having amassed a huge goal haul in the Italian League, including 156 League goals in 270 appearances for four Serie A clubs, most notably Milan. He was with I Rossoneri at the time of this hat-trick, scored at their San Siro home ground in front of 68,000 ecstatic Italians. It was one of his great nights – and he had plenty of them as the all-time fourth-highest scorer in European club competitions, behind only Raúl, Messi and Ronaldo, and as a winner of two Champions League titles, three Serie A titles and the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Currently he has moved into club management and is head coach of Serie B club Benevento from Campania. Wales have not played Italy since, so the head-to-head record stands at P9, W2, D0, L7, Goals F5-A23. Something very different will be needed from Wales in Rome this summer.
Hmm…how to end…I know: it has to be with the man who played on the wing that sultry, torrid night in Milan, the man who worked miracles to get Wales to Euro 2020, the Cardiffian with the magic touch who can change my world…
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