Aston Villa Wales XI
Darren Hamer picks a Wales XI from the rich history of his team Aston Villa, and finds a few personal connections along the way.
As a lifelong Aston Villa fan from Aberystwyth I have grown up around mostly Liverpool and Manchester United fans. I have been a season ticket holder for over 15 years now and have always been conscious of the club’s many anti-Welsh fans, indeed it was only last season that I went to my first game against a Welsh team since I was a kid because I am unable to keep my mouth shut when those sat around me start with their inevitably hilarious sheep jokes.
That said the club has a long and proud tradition of players from the right side of the border who have played key roles in Villa history.
I am quite chuffed at being an Aber boy who also attended Aberystwyth University; but having spent many of the in-between years in Builth Wells/Llanfair-ym-Muallt also at how Villa’s Welsh players include connections to all three of those key places in my life.
A strong connection exists between the West Midland’s premier club and Wales, a list of players that go back to their earliest days through to the current squad that includes a legendary goalkeeper whose unique style of play caused a fundamental law change to the game that still stands whilst remaining an amateur, a forward who was pivotal in creating professional football in the USA to a centre forward who was the archetypal target man described by those who played against him as ‘the dirtiest so and so in the business’:
Goalkeeper – Leigh Richmond Roose: A legendary figure for whom a short paragraph will not do justice to this pioneering figure. I highly recommend reading Spencer Vignes’s Lost In France book about Roose. A native of Holt on the Wrexham/Cheshire border who played for Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth Town and the Villa and several other clubs in England as well as Celtic. He remained an amateur throughout his illustrious career existing on expenses that saw him travel from his London home to Sunderland every weekend for two years! A tragic end in WW1 befell a one of a kind legend. AVFC appearances – 10, Wales appearances – 24
Right Back – Mark Delaney: West Wales’s own galloping full back, who had been playing League of Wales less than a year before signing after a short stint at Cardiff. A career tragically cut short by knee injuries. Still highly thought of at Villa who is now a youth coach at the club. AVFC – 158 (2 goals), Wales – 36
Left Back – Neil Taylor: Joining Villa two months before that tackle in Dublin, his time at the club has been hugely affected by this incident. Clearly suffering issues post-Dublin has seen him much maligned and a figure of anger amongst many Villa fans for a poor attacking ability and quality of passing. He did shine through in our promotion run-in and was solid in the play-offs. AVFC – 67, Wales – 42 (1)
Centre Back – Leighton Phillips: Leighton Phillips was something of an unsung Villa hero – but his uncanny reading of the game was beyond question. He was also a versatile footballer, playing in eight different positions during the course of his 18-year career. Signed from Cardiff City for £100,000 in September 1974, Phillips won promotion in his first season at Villa Park (Cardiff were relegated to the third division the same season). He went on to captain the club and he was a member of the triumphant 1977 League Cup winning team. Having won Wales caps at u21 and u23 level Phillips spent a decade throughout the 1970s in the Wales squad winning 58 caps, three times as captain. AVFC – 140 (4), Wales – 58
Centre Back – James Chester: Still club captain and an absolute colossus for club and country. A man who fills the long lineage of centre back heroes at the club, currently facing an uncertain future due to Steve Bruce’s shocking management of Chester’s long-time knee injury and refusal to sign cover to allow James to rest. A surprise call-up to the Wales squad in 2014, via his Welsh mother, he cemented his place in the team immediately. Last Wales appearance was the home defeat to Denmark in November 2018. AVFC – 119 (12), Wales – 35
Midfield – Vic Crowe: Born in Abercynon while his father from the Black Country was playing Welsh League football, ‘Spike’ was two when his family returned to the West Midlands. He spent 12 years as a player at Villa Park, having signed in 1952, and five years as a manager and coach (1969-74). He established himself in the team in 1954, but missed the 1957 FA Cup Final due to injury, but went on to captain the club to the Second Division title in 1960 and League Cup Final success in 1961. When he moved into management towards the end of the 1969/70 season he was unable to prevent Villa from relegation; but the following season he led his third division team to the League Cup Final against Tottenham, which Villa lost. He then took the club to the Division Three title in 1972, breaking many records along the way. He was sacked in 1974 after Villa finished 14th in Division Two. He was named in the 1958 Wales World Cup squad as an uncapped player and didn’t make his debut, at Villa Park of all places, until later that year – having to mark Bobby Charlton. Although he won only 16 caps, he was captain in eight of those games. AVFC – 350 (12), Wales – 16
Midfield – Ivor Powell: Bargoed boy Powell played for Villa between 1948-51. He is most famous for being entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the World’s oldest football coach at Team Bath, retiring at the age of 93 in 2010. But long before that recognition, Powell had had a remarkable career and life: QPR signed him in 1937 when Powell was a miner; Stanley Matthews was his best man; Stan Mortensen won his ‘only Wales cap’ when he replaced a stricken Powell in a wartime international; was an airforce fitness instructor; he was part of Don Revie’s coaching team at Leeds United; an inductee of the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame in 2004; and has a Bath University scholarshipo named in his honour. AVFC – 79 (5), Wales – 8
Midfield – Barrie Hole: No not a cheap jibe at South Wales’s premier seaside resort but the Swansea-born midfielder who played for three years at the Villa before joining his hometown club. Hole made his Wales debut as a Cardiff City player in 1963 in a rout of Northern Ireland in which Cliff Jones scored a hattrick. The following year he won his second cap against the same opposition and didn’t miss another international for five years until he opted against playing in the end-of-season 1969 edition of the Home Championship, and instead go on Villa’s tour of the USA. This displeased the FAW, and he won only two further caps AVFC – 47 (6), Wales – 30
Centre Forward – Dean Saunders: With all the nonsense he comes out with in the media and his poor management career (he once famously said that Wrexham should have won a drab 0-0 game because they had more throw-ins!) it is easy to forget that ‘Deano’ was a natural goalscorer who always gave 100%. In 144 appearances his goal ratio was better than a goal every three games – and he was Villa’s leading scorer for three consecutive seasons. Signed by Ron Atkinson for a club record fee of £2.3m in September 1992 in the hope he would score the goals to help us mount a serious title assault. It very nearly paid off as Villa finished runners-up to Manchester United. He scored twice in the 1994 League Cup Final victory over United at Wembley and monopolised the Goal of The Month competition with his strike partner Dalian Atkinson in the 92/93 season. He sits fifth in Wales’s all-time goalscoring charts and in the top dozen most-capped inetrnationals. AVFC – 112 (37), Wales – 75 (22)
Centre Forward – Trevor Ford: A brutal and physical centre forward whose goal every two games record for Villa is excellent. “A half-crazed Welsh dragon” and “the dirtiest so-and-so in the business” are some of the descriptions of him but his tireless work-rate were more than equalled by his goalscoring record. None other than John Charles described Ford has his idol growing up, some recommendation. Post-retirement Ford was fielding for Glamorgan when Gary Sobers hit his famous six sixes in one over at St Helens in Ford’s native Swansea. AVFC – 120 (60), Wales – 38 (23)
Centre Forward – Dai Astley: A native of Dowlais, Astley is another pioneering Welsh footballer who called Villa Park home for his best playing days. Astley scored 92 goals in 165 games in a five season spell that ended when he joined Derby in 1936. Post WWII he became one of the first Welshman to earn their living abroad by playing for FC Metz for a season. His story didn’t end their either, Astley then went on to manage Internazionale, Genoa and Djurgårdens before taking the traditional ex-pro route of becoming a landlord in Kent. His international record was none too shabby with 12 goals in his 13 Wales caps. AVFC – 165 (92), Wales – 13 (12)
Goalkeeper – Keith Jones: Nantyglo born Jones spent the bulk of his career around Midlands football including 185 appearances for the Villa. His last season at the club was our last FA Cup win but Jones was not selected and left not long after to join Port Vale. AVFC – 185, Wales – 1
Defence – James Collins: Ginge’s Villa career sandwiched his two spells at West Ham. Whilst at Villa he made 91 appearances and struck up a good partnership with Richard Dunne; a combination that steadied a rocky back line but ultimately brought the end to their time at the club thanks to both drunkenly exchanging views and opinions with Gerard Houllier’s (sober) coaching staff whilst away on an apparent team-bonding break! Collins was lined up to return to Villa under Dean Smith as emergency cover in January 2019 but injured his problematic calf in his first training session leading him to personally rip up his short-term contract. AVFC – 91 (5), Wales – 51 (3)
Defence – Walter Evans: Another mid Wales boy who was a regular for Villa between 1890-93. Holds the distinction of surely being the only player who will ever be transferred from Villa to his hometown club of Builth Wells. AVFC – 61, Wales – 3
Defence – Thomas Griffiths: Another native of Wrexham who when he left Villa went back to manage his hometown. Another Welshman who stayed connected to the club having been a scout in the pre-WW2 years. AVFC – 65 (1), Wales – 21 (3)
Forward – Phil Woosnam: Another mid Wales native, Woosnam was a smart footballer in every way (he studied Physics at Bangor University). Another Welsh Villan like Roose who had previously played for Aberystwyth and Wrexham. He played over a hundred times for the Villa in the 1960s before moving to the US and becoming player-manager of the Atlanta Chiefs in 1966. Two years later he managed the US national team and eventually became the Commissioner of NASL during its golden years and later helped his adopted country bid and win the World Cup in ‘94. Woosnam passed away in 2013 AVFC – 106 (24), Wales – 17 (3)
Forward – Brian Godfrey: Flint-born Godfrey was a forward who made 143 appearances and scored 22 goals in a four year stay at the Villa. He captained the club in the losing 1971 League Cup final and is probably more remembered for being part of the swap-deal that brought club-legend Ray Graydon to Villa. Arguably Godfrey deserved to win more than his three Wales caps, given he scored on his debut and early to mid sixties were a lean period for Wales. Famously scored a five minute hattrick for Preston in a 9-0 drubbing of Cardiff City, a feat that saw Jamie Grundy pick Godfrey in his Preston North End Wales XI AVFC – 143 (22), Wales – 3 (2)