Saturday, 4 September 2010

How Paul Bodin Broke My Heart in 1993 (and the Welsh football team has ever since)

I return after an 18 month 'break' from this blog in a rather melancholic frame of mind. But then, I'm a Welsh football fan, what else should you expect?

So, feeling under the weather as I am today and having opted for a quiet night in to recuperate, what better way to spend my time than by venting my deeply held frustration at what has been a lifetime of anguish in following Wales with the round ball?

The catalyst of course was a certain scoreline last night that read Montenegro 1-0 Wales but this is merely the most recent chapter in a sorry, sorry story that goes back to that fateful day - 17th November 1993.

This was the day when Wales played Romania at home in Cardiff in their last qualifier for the 1994 World Cup Finals. A win would send us through to the finals for the first time since 1958. We had the likes of Giggs, Rush, Saunders and Southall in the team. It was a great campaign and on 63 minutes the score stood at 1-1.

Then, 4,20 into this clip below, Wales win a penalty...

Then, at 5 minutes into this clip...Barry Davies uttered the words that will strike fear into anyone who remembers that match...

"Wales with the chance to lead 2-1...Paul Bodin to take it...

The rest as they say is history. Bodin hit the crossbar and Romania went on to score to win 2-1 themselves and qualify for USA '94.

I'm just thankful that I wasn't in the stadium. Paul Bodin broke my heart that night and it wa bad enough as it was from the confines of my south Pembrokeshire living room. It was such a good Welsh team and we had a chance at glory...and we blew it.

Why did it matter so much? Simply because unlike the English or the Scots, qualification to major finals for Wales has never been par of the course. 1958 was the last time (the time when Pele broke our hearts by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 Brazil win in the Quarter-Finals) and to this day, we haven't eclipsed that feat.

We came close in 2003 when we lost a Euro '04 qualifying play-off to Russia (having beaten Italy 2-1 in the Millennium Stadium - I should know, I was there) but apart from that, it's just been miserable viewing. Always struggling to hold our own against teams of a similar stature who we should be competing with (particluarly if they come from eastern Europe - yes I mean you Armenia and Moldova). Always flattering to deceive. Always giving the hope but failing to deliver on the promise.

Which brings us back to the result last night. Many have derided John Toshack in recent years and have called for his head. I wasn't one of those. Since 2004, following Wales has, as it was between 1993-2002, been tough going but I saw Toshack's belief in Wales' youth as a good marker for the future. But having brought in a lot of youngsters, I really felt that it's now or never for Toshack. Particularly with an opener against Montenegro, we needed a good opening result to give us momentum against the tough but beatable opponents of Bulgaria, Switzerland and (haha) England. In 2002 we started an excellent qualifying campaign with a 2-0 away win to Finland. At the least, we needed a solid away point against a new but without doubt, technically decent new team on the international map. But we didn't. We lost. In one match, the realistic hopes for qualifying for Poland/Ukraine '12 have almost been extinguished. As Toshack has since said, we must beat Bulgaria in Cardiff in October or it's all over. They were well beaten by England so we must take advantage of this. If we do, there's still hope.

But. Come on. Who am I kidding? It's like saying my beloved Aston Villa can qualify for the Champions League next season having lost Martin O'Neill as our manager.

It isn't going to happen.

Toshack's days are numbered. He's already said that this will be his last qualifying campaign. Anything short of a win in October and he may as well pack up and quit whilst he's behind. The problem mind, is who can replace him? The list of alternatives aren't exactly tripping off the edge of the tongue.

Toshack hasn't endeared himself either to many of the senior members of the past Welsh squads who have now retired from international football. Could a new manager entice some extra experience back to the squad to compliment the decent talent that's coming through? Maybe. But for as long as Toshack's in charge, it won't happen. So maybe it would be better for Welsh football if he just cut his and our losses immediately?

I don't take any pleasure in saying this as I've always been one of the few to back Toshack in recent years but my patience has, with the result last night, run out.

It's a patience that has been tested more often than not over the past 15+ years of watching my country play with the round ball.

Mind you, perhaps I should be thankful that I'm not of an older generation that could recall the additional heartbreak of seeing Wales fail to qualify for the 1978 and 1986 finals, both at the hands of Scotland (the latter seeing the death of legendary Scottish manager Jock Stein in Ninian Park immediately after the result).

Still, I can only recall my memories of Welsh international football that go back 18 years and it's been tough going. It's that persistant under achievement and sometimes it feels, 'lack of fight' that makes me doubt that anything is going to change soon. I'd like to report back in 12 months time that I was wrong, but I very much expect that I'm right.

But I'll keep waving the flag. I'll keep screaming at our boys in red and I'll keep the faith that one day, my generation will have our 1958.

As a friend mentioned on Facebook last night after the result, 'A World Cup or a Euro Finals once in my lifetime, that's all I ask Wales'. So wept a whole generation of Welsh football fans last night.


  1. OK - given your other post regarding Last night of the Proms and your strong sense of unionism - why don't we just call it a day and merge our football team with England?

  2. I'm a Federalist as well as an Unionist.

    So I'd keep the various FA's seperate and play on as we are.