The Story of Welsh Football: 1985-2003
The Home Internationals were history. Wales now had to perform in the European Championships and the World Cup.
1985 Scottish Squeeze
Wales narrowly missed qualifying for the 1986 World Cup. Players like Mark Hughes & Ian Rush were world class. The 3-0 win over Spain at The Racecourse showed the team could deliver the goods. Maths and the referee, though, went against Wales and the Scots squeezed ahead on goal difference.
Over the coming years there were glimpses of what could be: the 1-0 victory over the World Champions Germany in 1991 at Cardiff Arms Park. Wales needed to become consistent.
1980s Snakes & Ladders
In the Eighties the picture at club level varied. Swansea rose from Division 4 to Division 1 under manager John Toshack. They even topped the cream of British football for a time. Newport County headed in the other direction - out of the League altogether.
1990s The Wider Picture
The League of Wales kicked off in 1992. It provided a new stage for clubs, a hatchery for future stars and places for the successful in the European Cup Winners' , UEFA and Inter Toto Cups. The League also started a big debate on Welsh Football. Calls went out for all Welsh Clubs to play in Wales, but Swansea, Cardiff City and Wrexham declined to stop playing English clubs. Meanwhile some in FIFA wondered aloud about why Wales has its own national team.
Less controversially, interest in football amongst Welsh women continued to grow. In 1993 the Women's team played their first international against Iceland.
17th November 1993 Hopes Dashed
This date will be forever etched in the annals of Welsh Football. Terry Yorath had created a strong side but it was all hanging on the final match of the qualifiers against Romania at Cardiff Arms Park. The winner would go through to the 1994 World Cup. Paul Bodin's penalty kick hit the cross bar and Wales bounced out of the competition. Unfairly Bodin was blamed for dashing the supporters' dreams of World Cup glory.
1994-99 The Three 'D's
Disappointment, Disarray and Debacle were the themes of these dark years. Mike Smith, the manager had to go after Wales came bottom in its Euro'96 group. Failure in the World Cup led to growing criticism and calls for change at the top. Fans saw the gap between the team's potential with players like Ryan Giggs and its results. Smith's successor Bobby Gould faced the flack too. When in 1999 Wales went down to dismal defeats against Switzerland and Italy, he knew he had to go.
2000 It Takes Time
Wales's group in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers was called the 'Group of Debt.' The debt would actually be to Mark Hughes, the new manager. He settled in, gained the players' respect, strengthened the defence and created a new team that was hard to beat. It was not time to open the bubbly, but Wales had regained their fighting spirit.
The qualifiers for the 2004 European Championships in Portugal revealed a new Wales. A win against Germany in a friendly in early 2002 got the team on a roll. Later in the year at the Millennium Stadium Wales had a night to remember and Italy to forget.
On October 16th 2002 Wales beat Italy 2-1 and further victories against Azerbaijan & Finland created a new feeling and a new generation of football fans in Wales. Hughes had brought out the best in his players. John Hartson, Craig Bellamy, Simon Davies and team mates were soon aware that history was theirs for the making.
Early in 2003 Mark Hughes renewed his contract as Manager - it's a tough job, there's a long way to go but perhaps it's time to change the old adage "Wales are never beaten, we just run out of time!" to something more positive.