Friday, 18 November 2016

And then there were two....

No im not referring to the number of dinner guests left alive halfway through an Agatha Christie story but the surviving members of Wales 1958 world cup team. The sad news this week of the passing away of Len Allchurch means only Terry Medwin and Cliff Jones now survive from a Wales team which - with a bit more more luck - could have quite easily won football's world cup in sweden in 1958. And if they had won that world cup how different might the history of welsh football and maybe even the history of the country of Wales itself have been?

Of course luck and the Welsh national football team have never exactly been close acquaintances. Erroneously awarded penalties, deflected goals, late goals, criminal refereeing, even drugged up opponents - you name the calamity and it's likely the welsh football side have been on the receiving end of it over the years. All of which of course made the achievements of Wales in France in the summer all the sweeter. And while a disappointing start to the current world cup campaign has seen some people all to quick to write off this team it's worth remembering that it wasn't that long ago that teams like Serbia were putting 6 goals past Wales.

But to return to the 1958 world cup team a closer inspection reveals a quite remarkable feature of that side. 6 key members - Len Allchurch and his brother Ivor, John and Mel Charles, Cliff Jones and Terry Medwin were from the same part of Wales - namely Swansea. I'm not sure if any other part of Wales has produced footballers of such quality in their entire histories but for 6 players of such quality to emerge from the same place at the same time is frankly extraordinary, and certainly something we are unlikely to see again in Wales (current manager Chris Coleman is also from Swansea as it happens).

I dont know whether it's to do with the passage of time - there's not even any colour footage or colour photographs of the Wales team in Sweden - but it's easy to forget just how good a team Wales were in 1958. In John Charles and Ivor Allchurch they possessed two world class players, and who along with Gareth Bale are the greatest footballers ever to pull on a Wales shirt. Goalkeeper Jack Kelsey and Captain Dave Bowen were part of an Arsenal league title winning squad. While Cliff Jones, Terry Medwin and Mel Hopkins would go on to star in the great Spurs team of the early 1960s. And in Jimmy Murphy they had a great manager too. Murphy was Matt Busby's assistant at Manchester United for 15 years and took charge of the team while Busby recovered from the terrible injuries he sustained in the Munich air disaster. Murphy would play a key role in developing United's star studded side of the 1960s - indeed Bobby Charlton credited Murphy with making him the player he became.

Unbeaten in their group and then seeing off what even without Puskas was a still very good Hungary side Wales faced Pele and Brazil in the quarter final. Unfortunately the battering John Charles received from the hungarians meant they did so without their best player but even so it still took a late deflected Pele goal to end Wales participation in Sweden. Of course we'll never know if a Wales with John Charles in their side would have beaten Brazil but it's not unreasonable to think that if John Charles had played in that match Bobby Moore wouldn't have been the first red shirted captain from a UK country to lift the world cup.

For anyone wanting to know more about the Wales 1958 world cup squad and what might have been i recommend getting a copy of Mario Basini's excellent book 'When Pele Broke our Hearts'.

And continuing with a Wales and Swansea theme the campaigning organisation YES Cymru will be staging a rally in Swansea this Saturday. A non party campaign Yes Cymru was launched earlier this year with the aim of building popular grassroots support for independence for Wales. Saturday's rally will take place at Castle Gardens at midday and among the speakers will be the former Labour MP Gwynoro Jones.

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