Always The Bridesmaid 3

Monday, 10 July 2000, 0:00
2 mins read

The English tabloid press tried to make light of the result by making constant reference to Jens Martin Kaudsen’s (the goalkeeper for the Faroe Islands) bobble hat! Little mention was made of the fact that they had beaten Australia and were technically very efficient. Granted they were the usual assortment of fork-lift truck drivers and bankers, but every year the FA Cup has such teams who can always manage one outstanding performance and Wales made sure that such a performance was not going to be at their expense.

This result was followed by a 1-0 win away in Cyprus. At this stage, the performance was not as important as the result; beating Cyprus meant that Wales kept on a winning run and also gained valuable points towards ultimate qualification. The next hurdle was going to be difficult and Wales failed the test. A 2-0 defeat by Belgium left Wales with a mountain to climb. Belgium and Romania were now in a commanding position in the group. There was a danger that the group would become a matter of pride if matters did not change. Following the defeat in Belgium, the next match for Wales was the return game in March 1993. The group table told its own story. Wales had to win to retain any hope of making it to the USA in 1994.

For many years, Wales led a nomadic existence when playing international football. The games alternated between Cardiff, Wrexham and, to a lesser extent, Swansea. Most of these ‘home’ games were dominated by club rivalries – away teams must have wondered what was happening when had an international match involved Welsh supporters sporting out club allegiances. It must have been very discouraging for the players because, in truth, the crowd never really supported them. The situation had deteriorated to such a level that programme notes would ask the supporters to get behind the national team and forget about club rivalries. The decision to move to the National Stadium was an inspired choice; it had long been hoped that major internationals could be played there. The Welsh Rugby Union had also been against the idea of allowing football on their hallowed turf, although the ground is the oldest international venue in the world, with Wales playing some games there in the last century. The revolving ground situation had caused a north/south divide, and during Mike England’s reign as manager, Wrexham was favoured. He felt the players felt more at home at the Racecourse. His rationale was that the major stars at the time, like Mark Hughes, Ian Rush, Neville Southall and Kevin Radcliffe, were all from North Wales and felt more at home playing there.

Whatever the politics behind this rotational ground scheme were, none of the grounds in question could claim to be international grounds. The argument would always end with Cardiff City claiming that Ninian Park could hold more supporters than the other options. This, of course, was true but in terms of facilities offered to the sup-porters, all grounds were equal – they were all sub-standard. The use of the National Stadium must have had a positive effect of the players. Even for fixtures against lesser opposition, like the Faroe Islands, the crowd felt a sense of excitement at the National Stadium. Players have described the ground as uplifting, and there was a feeling of passion and pride associated with representing your country at the National Stadium. Such feelings were never mentioned when playing at Ninian Park, the Racecourse or the Vetch. The move to the National Stadium also coincided with the disappearance of the moronic club chants which had dominated previous internationals. The sight of large crowds supporting Wales must have had a positive effect on the players.

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“Come on Cymru” and “Come on Cymru 2000” are available to order on-line from http://www.sigmapress.co.uk .

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Images courtesy of Getty Images, Athena Picture Agency and Swansea City Football Club.
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