Cup half empty

The notion that Wales might at long last qualify for a World Cup is looking like a wild fantasy after the pretty awful goalless draw with Estonia in Cardiff which has more or less ruled out automatic qualification. The match was the climax of three September games against frankly third-rate teams that illustrated how difficult it is to draw, let alone win, against any opposition in international football.

Firstly, a goalless draw in Helsinki in a friendly against Finland laid bare the meagre pool of talent available to caretaker manager Rob Page. Fielding what was essentially a reserve team, Page afterwards made the requisite noises about “a lot of positives”, but you would have had to be watching through pink-painted blinkers to agree with him. Finland, ranked 56th in the world compared to Wales at 19th, are not very good – yet Wales were only marginally better. As for the inexperienced young players given a run-out, other than the odd moment of quality from Brennan Johnson of Nottingham Forest not one of them appeared to be ready for the international stage. The head-to-head record against Finland is now P16, W6, D5, L5, Goals F21-A15.

Then followed the serious stuff, beginning with a bizarre 3-2 win over Belarus, ranked 89th in the world, in a vital World Cup qualifier (a result that brought the head-to-head record to P6, W5, D0, L1 Goals F11-A7). Because of global sanctions against the crypto-fascist rogue state, FIFA determined that the match should be played in Kazan, Russia – 2,500 miles from Wales rather than the 1,500 miles of the originally intended venue in Minsk. On top of that handicap, Wales were missing 10 players because of injury, suspension and Covid and a further three because of visa issues caused by the match being played in Russia and by Wales being shackled to the UK, another crypto-fascist rogue state. The result was therefore quite an achievement, even if two of the goals were penalties, the winner came in the 93rd minute and Wales had every bit of luck that was going. It was all down to captain Gareth Bale, of course. He scored all three to extend his record goals tally to 36 and become the first player to score two hat-tricks for Wales.*

Three days later came the dreadful 0-0 draw with Estonia, ranked 110th in the world and hitherto the whipping boys of World Cup European qualifying Group E having lost 6-2 at home to the Czech Republic, 4-2 away to Belarus and 5-2 at home to Belgium. Despite that, they actually looked superior to strangely under-powered and stodgy Wales for most of the match. It was all summed up by Harry Wilson’s shocking miss after 45 seconds when put through on goal by a crisp pass from Chris Gunter (increasing his record caps total to 104). Wilson, with his penalty miss against Finland, his suspension against Belarus and a nasty facial injury that forced him to be substituted after 36 minutes against Estonia, had a week to forget. What Wales conspicuously lack is an out-and-out goalscorer because, for all his brilliance, Bale is actually a winger/wing-back/midfielder. The head-to-head versus Estonia has reached P3, W2, D1, L0, Goals F3-A1.

Bale’s latest hat-trick was only the 16th Welsh hat-trick in 682 games across 145 years; they are as rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth. As a companion piece to this catalogue of the hat-tricks scored against Wales, here are the Welsh hat-tricks in chronological order:

1 JOHN PRICE (1854-1907)
In a 7-1 win over Ireland in 1882 at the Wrecsam Racecourse, local man John Price scored FOUR goals in what was then Wales’ biggest victory and to this day has only been bettered three times (11-0 v Ireland in 1888, 7-0 v Malta in 1978 and 8-2 v Ireland in 1885 – see below). Price, renowned for his exceptional speed, was playing at centre-forward and snaffled the 5th, 6th and 7th goals in the last 10 minutes of the match, meaning he scored not only the first ever Welsh hat-trick but also the second quickest (see below). He was a pioneer in many ways. Originally with Wrexham Grosvenor and then Wrexham Civil Service, he was signed by Wrexham in 1877 after impressing when scoring for Civil Service against them in a 3-1 defeat in Round 1 of the inaugural Welsh Cup tournament. The concept of being ‘cup tied’ didn’t then exist, so it was that Johnny Price played in Wrexham’s 1-0 win over Druids in the first Welsh Cup Final in 1878. He also played in the second Final in 1879 when Wrexham lost 1-0 to Newtown. By then he was a Wales regular and he went on to become the first Welsh player to reach 10 caps, winning 12 in all between 1877 and 1883 (the foursome against Ireland were his only goals). After hanging up his boots he was employed in the Cambrian Leather Works in Overton, a hard, dirty job making leather from sheep skins to supply the cotton industry with covers for thread rollers. As was the case with most tannery workers, his health was wrecked and he died at age 53.

John Price

2 HERBERT SISSON (1862-1891)
The aforementioned 8-2 win in Ireland in 1885 was an extraordinary match. At the Ulster Cricket Ground in Belfast (today’s Ulidia Playing Fields) Ireland were actually 2-0 ahead at half-time before Wales inflicted a second-half goal avalanche never equalled since: five goals in 10 minutes between the 50th and 60th minutes, including a six-minute hat-trick in the 55th, 59th and 60th minutes from Sisson, a Wrexham Olympic player making his international debut. This remains the fastest-ever Welsh hat-trick and Wales’ biggest-ever away win, a margin of victory only matched by China 0 Wales 6 in 2018 (see below). Sisson was part of an influential Wrecsam family; his father William Sisson (1829-1904) owned the archetypal brewing town’s largest brewery, the Cambrian Brewery off Chapel Street (closed 1922, scandalously demolished in 2003). This was where Herbert worked until he moved to London in 1886 to study medicine, giving up soccer in the process having won just three Welsh caps. While training at Hackney Hospital in east London he contracted diphtheria from a patient (still fatal in 10% of cases today) and died when only 29.

3 JOHN DOUGHTY (1865-1937)
Wales’ all-time record win, 11-0 over Ireland in 1888 at the Racecourse, included a FOUR goal haul for forward John ‘Jack’ Doughty of Newton Heath, not to mention a brace for his brother Roger Doughty (1868-1914). The Doughty brothers, born in Staffordshire of an Irish father and a Welsh mother who moved to Rhiwabon when they were children, were important figures in the early history of both Druids, then based at the still extant Wynnstay Park near Rhiwabon, and Newton Heath, the works team of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (LYR) that would become Manchester United in 1902. Jack appeared in four consecutive Welsh Cup Finals for Druids, winning the trophy in 1885 and 1886 (3-1 against Oswestry and 4-0 against Newtown, he scored in both games) before being lured away by Newton Heath in 1886 by the guarantee of 10 shillings (50p) a week and a job at the LYR engine shed. Along with his brother, and two other Druids men Jack Powell (1860-1947) and Joseph Davies (1865-1943), Doughty was Newtown Heath’s first professional player. All four would feature in the Irish massacre. A rugged, slippery and unselfish little forward, he was an inspirational part of the club’s drive towards Football League status (attained in 1892) at their North Road ground in Monsall (they relocated to Bank Street in Clayton in 1893 and then Old Trafford in 1910; there is no trace left of the original ground on what is now called Northampton Road and covered by the North Manchester Business Park). Jack Doughty retired from football in 1892 and remained an employee of the LYR (amalgamated with the LNWR in 1922 to become the London, Midland & Scottish Railway) for the rest of his working life.

Jack Doughty

4 RICHARD JARRETT (1870-c1945)
Duplicating the achievement of Herbert Sisson (see above), Ruthin’s incisive winger Richard Jarrett scored a hat-trick on his Welsh debut at the Ulster Cricket Ground, getting all the goals in a 3-1 win over Ireland in 1889. A restless amateur in a pre-monetised football era, after winning his second cap in March 1890 he had a short spell in the English League in October and November 1890 with Bolton Wanderers – another Lancashire club that recruited a lot of Welshmen – before returning to Ruthin to pack his bags, wind up his affairs and spend a last Christmas with his family. Then, only 20 years old, he set off into the unknown on a great adventure, emigrating to Canada in February 1891. He took the New Zealand-bound cargo liner SS Ionic from Plymouth as far as Tenerife in the Canary Islands, then hitched a ride on a tramp ship carrying coal across the Atlantic to land at Quebec City and a new life (between 1890 and WW1, 50,000 UK people a year emigrated to Canada). Richard was lost to Ruthin and to Welsh football. But he wasn’t lost to football, because from Canada he soon found his way southwards and westwards over the border to the US – perhaps it was always his intention – and eventually settled in St Louis, Missouri. There he became an American citizen and built a long career as a public servant in the City Assessors Office, never losing his love of football and never forgetting his halcyon years as a dashing goalgetter on the greensward of The Parks, Cae Star and Cae Gwynach – part of the Memorial Playing Fields where Ruthin Town, the ancestors of the original Ruthin club, still play today. Jarrett became an important figure in the development of football in St Louis, instrumental in the founding of the Municipal Soccer League and deeply involved in the surprisingly byzantine politics of American local football, while also being part of the USA Olympic football team’s coaching set-up throughout the 1920s.

5 ARTHUR GREEN (1881-1966)
After that early flurry of hat-tricks, 17 years passed before the next in 1906, snaffled by Notts County centre-forward Arthur Green in a crazy 4-4 draw with Ireland at the Racecourse (as Harold Sloan of Ireland also scored a hat-trick see link above for more on the match). The match is particularly famous now because of the 2 minutes 10 seconds of silent, black & white film that is the earliest surviving footage of an international football match, which means that the career of Arthur Green has tended to go under the radar. Aberystwyth born and bred, he was one of the extended Green family that operated the 1850 Green’s Foundry on Alexandra Road, manufacturers of specialised equipment for the metal mining industry (the foundry was gutted by fire in 1908 and never resumed production). By age 16 he was in Aberystwyth Town’s first team and scoring regularly at the Black & Green’s old Vicarage Field ground. Full of flashy tricks and blessed with great ball control, Green was a central figure in what remains Aber’s greatest triumph to this day: lifting the Welsh Cup in 1900 with a 3-0 win over Druids in front of over 4,000 at the Cunnings, Newtown. The stars of the show were both future Welsh internationals: larger-than-life goalie Leigh Roose (1877-1916), spectacularly repelling everything Druids could throw at him, and Green, who made the first goal, scored the second and tormented the Druids defence all afternoon. In 1902 he was signed by Notts County, then based at Trent Bridge cricket ground, and was top scorer for the English First Division club for four consecutive seasons during which he became a regular in the Wales side, winning eight caps in total. After two seasons with County’s rivals Nottingham Forest he wound down his footballing years and remained in the city for the rest of his days, working as a sales rep until retirement.

6 TREVOR FORD (1923-2003)
Welsh fans in the early 20th century must have thought there would never be another hat-trick, until Trevor Ford delivered the old 1-2-3 against Belgium at Ninian Park in 1949 – fully FORTY-THREE YEARS after Arthur Green last did the deed. In a resounding 5-1 win – the sort of result Wales will need against Belgium this November to have any hope of automatic qualification for Qatar 2022 – the Aston Villa striker bludgeoned his triple in less than 30 minutes either side of half-time. The fiercely competitive, fearless Swansea product had a tremendous international career with Wales, scoring 23 goals in 38 games between 1947 and 1957, which demolished the previous aggregate goals record of 12, set by Dai Astley (1909-1989) back in 1939. Ivor Allchurch (1929-1997) equalled Ford’s record in 1965 and it wasn’t until 1993 that it was exceeded by Ian Rush who ultimately set a new benchmark of 28 in 1994 which in turn was eventually surpassed by Gareth Bale in 2018. Ford was also a prolific scorer in the English League, with 9 goals in 16 appearances for Swansea Town, 60 goals in 120 appearances for Aston Villa, 67 goals in 108 appearances for Sunderland, 42 goals in 96 appearances for Cardiff City and 3 goals in 8 appearances for Newport County – a total of 181 goals in 348 games that would have been even better had he not lost a number of seasons to WW2, and that does not include his 21 goals in 53 Dutch League appearances for PSV Eindhoven between 1957 and 1960 when he was unjustly banned by the English FA after daring to question its authority. That ban, incidentally, was ridiculously rubber-stamped by the FAW when they cravenly refused to select him for the 1958 World Cup Finals in Sweden. Who knows what might have happened had Trevor Ford been there to fill in for John Charles (1931-2004) in the quarter-final against Brazil after the Gentle Giant had been hacked out of the tournament by Hungary in the previous round. What’s certain is that forceful Townhill boy Trevor Ford would not have gone gentle into that Gothenburg night.

Trevor Ford

7 JOHN CHARLES (1931-2004)
Talking of King John, it was he who notched the next hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in Belfast in 1955. Plucked from his native Swansea in 1949 by Leeds United manager Frank Buckley (1883-1964), he was initially played at centre-half before being switched to centre forward as Leeds looked for goals in an effort to climb out of England’s second tier. His magnificent heading, shooting, tackling and passing worked a treat as he scored 150 League goals in 297 appearances to finally drag the Yorkshire club up to Division 1 in 1956 and then secure their place in the top flight before Juventus paid a world record fee of £65,000 to take him to Torino in 1957. In Italy he became an idol overnight at the Stadio Comunale (in 1990 the club moved to the Stadio delle Alpi), making a mockery of the stifling defensive football in Serie A with 108 League goals in 155 appearances, winning three Italian League titles and three Italian Cups. It was the fans of La Vecchia Signora who bestowed on him the nickname ‘Il gigante buono’ for his calm, unruffled temperament and his refusal to ever use his massive strength to stop opponents by foul means. In over 750 matches across a 20-year playing career he was never booked. In his 30s, he wound down his career with a short spell back at Elland Road, then stints at Roma, Cardiff City (with whom he won the Welsh Cup in 1964 and 1965), Hereford United and Merthyr Tydfil before returning to Leeds and becoming a pub landlord. Undoubtedly the greatest Welsh footballer, the paradox is that he didn’t really make much difference to Wales’ reliably mediocre results and won just 38 caps (15 goals) in 15 years – his appearances being restricted by Juventus refusing to release him, injuries and his reluctance to fly.

John Charles

8 DES PALMER (1931-)
Injuries are a crucial and often decisive factor in football, whatever the level and whenever the era. For Wales the long-term and continuing absence of a professional national league, which means there is only ever a paltry number (around 50 per generation) of professional footballers from which to select, always makes every injury assume great importance. We see this currently, for instance, with the grievous loss of midfield creativity, goal potential and sheer skill when Aaron Ramsey is missing (as he always seems to be – the curse of La Vecchia Signora?) What happened to Des Palmer is a classic example of the impact one individual’s injury can have on perennially under-manned Wales. The talented, sharp-shooting Swansea Town forward scored his hat-trick in a 4-1 win over East Germany at Ninian Park in 1957 in only his second appearance for Wales. See this for more on what turned out to be one of the most significant results in Welsh football history. Having won three Welsh caps, Palmer got a dream move to Liverpool in March 1959, one of the last signings of manager Phil Taylor (1917-2012) before the great Bill Shankly (1913-1981) took over in December 1959 – but he never played a first team match. In his first Liverpool game, a Central League reserve team fixture against Manchester City at Maine Road, he seriously damaged knee ligaments and cartilages and his promising football career came to a sudden halt. He never really recovered, never got the benefit of the Shankly magic, and never played for Wales again. An attempted comeback with Derby County in 1961 didn’t last long – the old knees couldn’t take it.

9 MEL CHARLES (1935-2016)
Big John’s kid brother Mel scored an amazing FOUR goals against Northern Ireland at Ninian Park in 1962. It was the 26th of his 31 Welsh appearances and a great way to announce his arrival as a Cardiff City player, having been signed by the Bluebirds from Arsenal only a month earlier. Although not in the same league as his brother – who was? – the adaptable utility player was a fine footballer who played at centre-half in all five of Wales’ games in the 1958 World Cup Finals in Sweden and was rated by none other than Pelé as the best defender in the tournament. He served Swansea Town well for seven seasons (233 League appearances/69 goals) before a big money move to Arsenal in 1959. Plagued with injuries, his three years at Highbury didn’t work out (60 games/26 goals). Nor did his stint at Cardiff City – his easy-going approach didn’t long survive the arrival of hard taskmaster Jimmy Scoular (1925-1998) in the Ninian hot-seat in 1964 – although it did feature a year in which he played with big brother for the first time and won a Welsh Cup medal alongside him in 1964 in a thrilling three-phase Final against Bangor City. After a 2-0 loss at Farrar Road and a 3-1 win at Ninian Park (the Final was two-legged between 1961 and 1985 and away goals didn’t count double – or Bangor would have lifted the Cup), Cardiff won the play-off 2-0 at the Racecourse. Enjoyable and fulfilling spells followed at Porthmadog and Haverfordwest County in what passed for the Welsh football system in the days before the 1992 creation of the Welsh pyramid. Post-football, Mel struggled financially as he got older – as nearly everyone in Wales did and still does; footballers were just normal people back then. His 2009 autobiography In the Shadow of a Giant, an evocative and amusing account of an eventful life, is required reading for anyone interested in Welsh football.

Mel Charles

10 CLIFF JONES (1935-)
A year later, yet again it was Northern Ireland/Ireland on the receiving end of a Welsh hat-trick (for the 8th time out of 10), and yet again it was a Swansea man who inflicted it (for the 5th consecutive time). At Windsor Park in 1963 fast, brave, elusive Tottenham Hotspur winger Cliff Jones racked up the treble – and if ever a Welshman was destined to do such a thing it was Cliff, coming as he did from Wales’ most distinguished footballing dynasty. Father Ivor Jones (1899-1974) won 10 Welsh caps between the wars; uncle Bryn Jones (1912-1985) was the most expensive footballer in the UK when Arsenal signed him from Wolves in 1938 and won 17 Welsh caps; uncle Shoni Jones (c1895-c1965) played for Aberdare Athletic and Ton Pentre; uncle Emlyn Jones (1907-c1970) had a long career at Southend United in the 1930s; uncle Bert Jones (1915-1944) played for Porth and Southend but was killed in action during WW2; and cousin Ken Jones (1935-2019) followed his father Emlyn to Southend before injury ended his playing days and he became an authoritative football writer and distinguished sports journalist. Cliff Jones was undoubtedly the cream of the crop. After 168 League appearances and 47 goals for Swansea Town between 1952 and 1958, Spurs signed him for what was then a record fee for a winger and he went on to become a White Hart Lane legend over 10 years in which he scored 135 goals in 318 League games and was an intrinsic member of the side that won the English ‘double’ (League title and FA Cup) in 1961 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963 – the first English side to win a European trophy. For Wales he won 59 caps and scored 16 goals and appeared in all five matches in the 1958 World Cup. After retiring from football he taught PE at a north London school and today, approaching age 90, he still lives in the English capital with the woman he married in 1955. What a trooper!

11 IAN EDWARDS (1955-)
After five hat-tricks in 14 years there was a 15-year wait for the next one, when Ian Edwards of Chester in the 3rd tier of the English pyramid plundered FOUR in a 7-0 trouncing of Malta at the Racecourse in 1978. The last three of those goals came either side of half-time in the 45th, 48th and 50th minutes to equal Herbert Sisson’s six-minute record set 93 years earlier (see above). What’s more, Wales got their second biggest victory of all time and the venerable “what makes a Maltese cross?” joke acquired a new punch line. Edwards, a Rhyl product from Clwyd village Rossett, was the fourth and, so far, last man to score four for Wales. He was an unlikely character to achieve such a feat, as his club career was generally disappointing. It had started promisingly when West Bromwich Albion of the old First Division signed him from Rhyl as an 18-year-old in 1973. Opportunities were limited at The Hawthorns, so Edwards moved to Chester in 1976. It was all going well at Sealand Road with Edwards leading the attack effectively until he sustained a bad knee injury in a collision with the Rotherham United goalie at Millmoor in 1977. The injury hindered and limited him for the rest of his career. He courageously battled through the pain to win four Welsh caps between 1977 and 1979 and earn a move to Wrexham, then in England’s second tier (Chester, with debts of £10 million, were formally wound up in 2010). That dodgy knee meant he had to endure surgery repeatedly and was in effect permanently injured. His professional career ended, after a fleeting last hurrah at second tier Crystal Palace, with aggregate stats in the English League of 63 goals in 214 games. Back in Wales he played part-time for Mold Alexandra and was then manager of Porthmadog in the last few seasons before both clubs became founder members of the League of Wales in 1992 (today both play in Ardal North West, at level three of the Cymru League system). Eventually, Edwards saved up enough money running two milk-rounds in Wrecsam to buy a small hotel in Cricieth. To try to envisage, say, Gareth Bale following a similar post-football trajectory only illustrates the extreme and rapid changes that rampant global capitalism has foisted on what is now called “the Football Industry”.

Ian Edwards

12 JOHN TOSHACK (1949-)
Hey! We’ve arrived at my era! In May 1979 at Ninian Park John Toshack, then the player-manager at Swansea City, got all three as Wales beat Scotland 3-0. At the time it was Wales’ biggest ever win over our oldest international opponents in the 94th meeting (today, after 107 matches against Scotland, it has only been surpassed once – see below). 20,371 were there to witness it, including me: I was that 1! There is plenty of material about my boyhood hero Tosh on this website – just type “John Toshack” in the search box to access it, or perhaps just read his entry in this blog post, so I will restrict myself here to a quote from the immortal Bill Shankly, who signed him from Cardiff City in November 1970, breaking my teenage heart to such an extent I spent months plotting to run away to Liverpool: “The socialism I believe in isn’t really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having an equal share of the rewards at the end of the day. It’s the way I see football and the way I see life.”

13 IAN RUSH (1961-)
Over 13 years passed before the next hat-trick, scored by Liverpool’s goal machine Ian Rush in a 6-0 rout of the Faroe Islands at the Arms Park in 1992. International fixtures were coming thick and fast by this juncture as the ceaseless round of World and European qualifiers merged one season into the next and the FIFA and UEFA rosters grew remorselessly – hence hat-tricks in theory were becoming more likely against supposedly cannon-fodder microstates like the Faroes. Bring on Vatican City I say! The stats of Rush’s incredible Liverpool career speak from themselves: the Fflint product, signed from Chester in 1980 by Shankly’s right-hand man and successor Bob Paisley (1919-1996), is the club’s leading scorer in all competitions with 346 goals in 660 games, and third highest scorer in League matches with 229 goals in 469 games after Roger Hunt’s 244 and Gordon Hodgson’s (1904-1951) 233, while his total appearances place him 6th in the Anfield institution’s all-time list behind only Ian Callaghan, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Emlyn Hughes and Ray Clemence. For Wales, who must manufacture a team rather than purchase one, Rush was never so successful and was unable to make enough of a difference for Cymru to qualify for a finals tournament. Nevertheless he still ended up breaking the all-time scoring record and in 16 years sterling service ended up with 28 goals from 73 appearances – making him the joint 10th most capped player and 2nd highest goalscorer to this day.

14 ROB EARNSHAW (1981-)
Cardiff City’s nimble, instinctive little goal merchant got the next hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Scotland at the Millennium Stadium in 2004 – Wales’ record win over our Celtic comrades. Earnie was actually something of a hat-trick specialist; having played for West Brom, Norwich City, Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Blackpool as well as City, he is the only player in the history of the English game to score a hat-trick in all four divisions, the FA Cup, the League Cup and, thanks to this performance, an international match. He also played in Scotland, Israel, Canada and the USA and in total scored 16 goals in 59 games for the national side.

Rob Earnshaw

15 and 16 GARETH BALE (1989-)
And so we come up-to-date with Bale’s historical brace of hat-tricks: the 6-0 win in China in 2018 and last week’s match against Belarus in Russia. Crikey, he sure delivers in massive, oppressive, imperialist one-party states! And if he can somehow or other get Cymru to Qatar 2022, I reckon he will have earned that £30million annual salary for life!

Pictures: GM Davies; MUFCInfo; The Roker Report; Pinterest; pesman; Old Baggies; Eurosport