Baku Or Bust

Welsh football fans’ charity Gôl has spent eight years helping children’s causes in Wales and in cities where the team plays.
Next month it undertakes one of its most ambitious expeditions as it returns to Baku, Azerbaijan, where the whole project began.
Back in November 2002, a trip to the Azeri capital had been the focus of Gôl’s first-ever project as members visited several orphanages in Baku with gifts and cash donations. The charity now makes regular visits to orphanages on Welsh fans’ away trips, as well as helping children in Wales.
On June 6, Wales play in Baku again, and Gôl will be making the trip. This time the fans are making it hard for themselves.
Their journey starts on May 22 when Neil Dymock will lead a nine-car convoy of 27 fans from the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to Baku – by car.
They hope to get there in time for kick-off!
On the way they will be visiting and taking gifts to 20 orphanages in Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia and, of course, Azerbaijan.
If that wasn’t hard enough, Neil is driving a taxi which has 237,000 miles on the clock!
To sponsor Neil go to

Tribute to Jimmy Murphy

A plaque was due to be unveiled today in memory of Jimmy Murphy, the coach who helped nurture Manchester United’s legendary Busby Babes and led Wales to their only World Cup finals.
Murphy, born in the Rhondda of a Welsh mother and Irish father, was the man who stepped into Matt Busby’s shoes after the Munich air disaster which killed eight players in 1958.
It was he who had to steer the grief-stricken club through a fifth-round FA Cup tie just 13 days after the tragedy.
United beat Sheffield Wednesday, and then West Brom and Fulham, before a 2-0 defeat to Bolton Wanderers in the final spoiled what would have been an even more amazing cup story.
Murphy himself only missed the Munich crash because of his other job as Wales national team manager.
He had stayed behind to guide his country successfully through a World Cup playoff match against Israel in Cardiff.
“I usually sat next to Matt on the plane and had the next room to his at the hotel whenever the team went away and I had suggested that I went to Belgrade, with it being such an important European Cup game. He had said, ‘No, Jimmy, you have a job to do,’ so [the coach] Bert Whalley went to Belgrade in my place,” Murphy recalled later.
Whalley was one of the 23 players, coaching staff, journalists and crew who died in the crash.
Busby was a spectator on crutches at Wembley in 1958 when United lost to Bolton.
“It must have been a terrible time for Jimmy and everyone at the club after the crash,” Busby said in the book, The Team That Wouldn’t Die – The Story of the Busby Babes by John Roberts. “It needed someone who, though feeling the heartbreak of the situation, could still keep his head and keep the job going. Jimmy was that man.”
In the same year Murphy, who died in 1989, took Wales to the quarter finals of the World Cup.
The plaque was being unveiled at the house where he grew up at 43 Treharne Street, Pentre.

Four Nations football tournament confirmed

The Football Association of Wales has announced that the Four Nations tournament is likely to commence in 2011.
One nation is set to host the tournament on a rotational basis with matches to be played as double headers on the same day.
The associations of Wales, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland met recently and have agreed the competition is likely to take place between February and May 2011, according to the FAW.
One nation is set to host the tournament on a rotational basis with matches to be played as double headers on the same day.
The tournament will take many of us back to the Home Internationals that we enjoyed in the 1970s and 1980s – but will the tournament be as enjoyable without England?

Time for the FAW to support the fans

Is the Football Association of Wales going to slash the extortionate prices of tickets at the Millennium Stadium?
Well, possibly, if you read today’s papers.
Average turnout at matches during the Euro 2008 qualifiers was just over 24,000, with middle tier seats costing £35 plus booking and postage fees.
The Western Mail today reported that a cut in prices was the last thing on FAW secretary David Collins’ mind.
According to Collins: “I have heard people say tickets were expensive for the Euro campaign just gone, but you could still purchase them for £10 and £5 in the lower tier.
“In my eyes, that represented terrific value for money. And remember, the lower tier holds 23,000 seats, which is almost a third of the ground.
“Tickets for other parts of the ground ranged from £35 to £25. But, with respect, people pay four times that to watch Premiership matches.”
However, not all FAW suits appear happy to think of a stadium with just the lower tier filled.
The South Wales Echo reported today that the governing body does look set to slash prices in a bid to boost John Toshack’s assault on World Cup 2010 qualification.
“The Football Association of Wales hierarchy want a return to the capacity attendances that roared on Mark Hughes’ team to within a whisker of the Euro 2004 finals,” claimed the Echo.
The decision would mean a return to the £5 and £10 ticket policy – and a cut of around £15 to sit in the middle tier.
“We want to get behind the team and we want the supporters to be there,” said an unnamed FAW official – presumably not Mr Collins. “We see no point in 20,000-30,000 fans rattling around a 70,000-seater stadium.”
Interestingly, Welsh fans have just returned from Germany, where supporters pick up tickets for the top flight Bundesliga for an average price of under 19 Euro.
The 98-page A4 programme produced by the Germans for last week’s international cost just one euro. Welsh fans pay £3.50 for the far less impressive product sold here.

Frankfurt Joy – Germany 0 v 0 Wales

Great atmosphere in the cold, dark woods outside Frankfurt on Wednesday as just under 50,000 fans made their way to the Commerzbank-Arena.
Few believed, though, that Wales would come away with anything other than a four or five goal defeat.

In the end, it was a night of celebration. One of those nil-nils which feel like a victory.
Behind me a group of fans counted down the clock to see who was going to win a sweepstake on the first German goal. Two minutes gone. Then five. Seven. Ten. Twenty-two. Suddenly, it was half-time and Wales were doing more than holding their own.

On the hour mark thoughts went back to the San Siro during the last European championship campaign. We were keeping the Italians out that night after 60 minutes but got well beaten by four late goals.

It wasn’t to be the same on Wednesday, though. A great and passionate performance by Toshack’s men.
There was something else different from the night in Milan: the home fans.

Many Italian fans acted appallingly that night. The Germans were gracious and friendly.
There was no segregation so in Block 17N Welsh and German fans mingled and chatted.
Many celebrated the score coming through from Wembley; others laughed at the Welsh fans who suddenly discovered that the ‘bier’ they had been allowed to bring to their seats during the game was actually alcohol free.

Delaney’s retirement

Right-back Mark Delaney’s enforced retirement – having been unable to shake his knee injury – is a blow for Wales.
I used to watch Delaney when he played for Goodwick – before he moved up the line to Carmarthen Town.
He was already 22 by the time he got to Cardiff City so his full professional career (mainly at Aston Villa) has been short.
Everyone knew he was something special in his Goodwick days – and even I recognised his talent.
I wasn’t always so keen-eyed. I once reported on a schoolboys’ international featuring both Simon Davies and Damien Duff – but mentioned neither of them in my write-up.

Hill 16, Croke Park

The sun shone brightly as the clocked ticked towards 3pm on Saturday. The Wales fans on Hill 16 were in good voice and bouyant mood.

But within minutes of the start, heads were in hands.

As we drifted back across the Liffey, the sun dipped its head. People were too stunned even to try to understand how the team had played so much like amateurs.

Yesterday, a photograph arrived from Dublin. It’s said to provide an excuse as to why Wales appeared to lack concentration from the start…


The thing about celebrities is this. We know them, they don’t know us.
They are celebrities, in fact, for that reason.
This all might some pretty basic stuff for you lot but I’m getting it straight for myself. And I’m a little slow.
Take my recent encounter with John Toshack, the Wales football manager.
In my defence, I’d point out the meeting took me by surprise. It was in the toilet of a rather pleasant hotel in Dublin.
I’d enjoyed a liquid lunch and an equally solid-free high tea.
On wandering into the gents to make myself more comfortable, I saw a figure at the sink. Although he had his back to me, the centre forward’s build was a familiar one.
“John!” I blurted out, from my unsteady position at the cubicle.
He spun around, no less nimbly than had he been getting on the end of a pass by his 1970s Liverpool strike partner Kevin Keegan.
Tosh stared. I’d say he was trying to put a name to the face but there was, I can say without any doubt, absolutely no recognition in those eyes.
And why should there have been? We’d last met around 1980 when I’d got his autograph during a charity event at Llandysilio. I’d been about 11.
“It’s Greg,” I said, only half stumbling on my own idiocy. “I’m from Wales.”
Faced with this bumbling idiot who, after all, was using the function for which the curved porcelain was provided, what would Tosh do? Smile politely, then turn on his heel and leave, surely.
Well, no, actually, he gave me his thoughts on Wales’ upcoming spring contest with Ireland and talked through the different permutations which could still see the side qualify for Euro 2008.
Great quotes, but I didn’t get any of them down.
Some journalist, eh?
Though I wasn’t in the best position for making notes.

This is a cold, telephone-talking, computer-communicating call centre world designed, in spite of what they say, for the seller, the business, the multi-national, and not for you and me.
That’s why unassuming consumer champions often find themselves celebrated local heroes.
Take Roger Annies, the postman who showed people on his round how they could put a stop to junk mail.
When he was suspended by Royal Mail, there was an outcry. He was reinstated after a disciplinary hearing but hasn’t returned to work through stress.
He must be heartened by the campaign started in his local paper, the Barry and District News.
The News wants German-born Roger nominated for one of the Royal Mail’s own First Class People Awards.
The ceremony honours posties who carry out public spirited acts.
Well, if like me you’ve a bad back from transferring junk mail from the door mat to the bin, you might want go along to the News’ website and post your support for Roger.

:First published The Big Issue, December 4-8

Brazil v Wales

Excellent performance by Wales last night.
I know you are not supposed to say that after a defeat, but it was Brazil.
Wales held strong until the second half, run-out substitutions.
Bale, Duffy, Giggs and Collins, all had excellent games.
So did the fans in the Wales end.
Two great goals from the Brazilians and as a first half shot went wide from the South Americans and spun in our direction it met a crowd of hands and then hit my wife on the head.
She had her eyes closed but she is very pleased to have got on the end of a ball by either Baptista or Edmilson (we were too excited to see who struck it).
I’m proud of her work.

The Gentle Giant

I don’t know why this picture came out all orange but it shows Ian Rush opening The Gentle Giant exhibition at Rhydycar Leisure Centre in Merthyr Tydfil yesterday.
Rushie – back from watching a couple of games in the World Cup – paid quite a tribute to Wales’ greatest ever footballer, John Charles, before taking a look around the exhibition.
Some great stuff there, including a ball suspended in mid-air apparently at the height Charles could reach to header a cross into the back of the net.
It is very high. Exhibition creator Phil Cope made me have a leap for it as assorted Merthyr councillors and Dowlais choristers looked on.
I probably wouldn’t have reached it if I’d sat on the council chief’s shoulders.

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