Called-up but not called upon
When you consider the likes of Paul Mardon, Stephen Roberts, Mark Bradley, Glyn Garner and Simon Davies (not that one, but this one) all managed to win an international cap it must be a tad galling for any Welsh professional footballer who ends up failing to grace the international stage even once. A select band of players, however, get tantalisingly close to a cap only for injuries or rare strength in depth to conspire against ever taking to the field, Or they fail to fulfil youthful promise. Or managerial tokenism, desperation or rank random team selection gets in the way.
The following list of players are some who were called up, but not upon, by Wales by Russell Todd
This blog ignores the likes of Danny Ward, Gwion Edwards, Lee Evans, Joe Walsh or Connor Roberts who have had recent call-ups and whose time will surely come to join the capped ranks. There is one exception though…..
The widely-respected and regarded Brian Flynn was acting in a caretaker capacity of Wales after John Toshack fell on his sword after losing the opening 2012 European Championships qualifier in Montenegro. There was a keen lobby behind Flynn for him to get the job permanently and so the 2010 double header of Bulgaria at home and Switzerland away was seen as his audition. Odd then that he omitted Craig Bellamy from the squad without providing adequate reasons for doing so, a strange decision that was compounded when Robert Earnshaw subsequently withdrew, like several others, through injury. Even so, even the player himself was stunned to hear about his call-up when Blaenavon-born Ryan Doble, 19, was invited into the squad. Doble had yet to make a senior first team appearance for his then club, Southampton. In fact it took Doble another 15 months before he managed a Southampton first team appearance, his only one, as a substitute in the FA Cup having had largely fruitless loan spells at Stockport County, Oxford United and Bury. Given that Steve Morison started the Bulgaria friendly it suggests, then as now, that the striker cupboard was bare but even so Doble’s call-up smacked of desperation. Or it was Flynn’s way of demonstrating he could be inventive and exciting. Given the largely witless performances in both games, it betrayed how Flynn was more comfortable coaching young talent rather than at first team level.
Ryan Doble was not the only rookie to be called up by Brian Flynn during his brief stint as caretaker manager. For the Bulgaria and Switzerland double header he also called up the uncapped Jonathan Bond and David Cornell to act as back up to the established first choice goalkeeping pair of Wayne Hennessey and Boaz Myhill. Like Chris Coleman’s current tendency to bulk his squads out with defenders it seemed odd that four goalkeepers were called up, given that there were no reported injury concerns about Hennessey or Myhill at the time. Cornell may get his chance in the future; Bond, however will definitely not. Bond was the current first choice Wales under 21 goalkeeper and was highly rated at Watford. Flynn would have known a lot about Bond from his time coaching all Wales’s age grade teams since Bond had also earned caps at under 17 and 19 levels. Only an injury catastrophe over the course of the Bulgaria/Switzerland international camp in 2010 would have seen Bond win a full cap. But he eventually turned his back on Wales as soon as he broke into the first team at Watford due to injuries to the club’s senior goalkeepers. One cannot help but think that Bond used the Wales set up to enhance his development. With the Scottish Premier League (Fraser Forster), Championship (Jack Butland), Turkish League (Ben Foster) and Fulham reserves (David Stockdale) providing the back up to Joe Hart at full England level, Bond might well be correct in his probable thinking that Watford’s first team is no less a window in which to further his international prospects with England. He may not have been called upon by Wales, but with Boaz Myhill’s international retirement and a merry-go-round of back up choices to Hennessey, Bond might have already seen international action. He may not have been called upon by Wales, but his call up by England remains some time off.
Not only was Jacobson a stalwart of the clutch of under 21s who came through under Brian Flynn’s tutelage, but he was, it is often forgotten, the regular captain of the side. Not Aaron Ramsey or Joe Allen who have since led the full team, or Neil Taylor who captained Wrexham at only 19. Indeed, he captained Wales in the classic 2008 play-off games against England. Those games came after being called up for Wales’s summer games in Iceland and The Netherlands. The squad was severely weakened, as proven by Jason Koumas captaining the side against The Netherlands, and several players made their full debuts over the course of the two games. Jacobson did not prove to be so fortunate and remained on the bench for the duration of both games. The six seasons since have seen Jacobson forge a solid career in the lower reaches of the football league, at present with Wycombe Wanderers. But with Wales’s current strength in depth at left back – Neil Taylor, Ben Davies, Paul Dummett, Rhoys Wiggins, Declan John – it appears unlikely Jacobson will again be in the running to win a cap.
I must confess that despite having watched Colwyn Bay-born Dale from Ninian Park’s Bob Bank many times in my youth it was not until several years after he had left Cardiff City that I realised Dale is Welsh. Dale never played higher than the current League One but having had a tremendous debut season at Cardiff, and having been a regular goalscorer at his first professional club, Chester City, he surely must have had his admirers at Championship level. Like his peer Darren Rowbotham, however, injury probably wrecked the chances of playing at a higher level and therefore remaining on Terry Yorath’s radar to challenge the likes of Malcolm Allen and Iwan Roberts to be back up to Ian Rush, Dean Saunders and Mark Hughes. There is confusion over whether Dale was selected for the end of season friendly against West Germany in 1989 or was only on standby. Either way Dale never took to the field and was ultimately never capped
Thanks to Chas Sumner, Chester FC historian, and Ceri Stennet, FAW historian, for the assistance on Carl Dale.
Wales squads have many times been bulked out with lower league and journeymen players when a raft of their more able peers withdraw. The likes of Mark Bradley, Ryan Green, Alan Knill and David Pipe have all benefited from the habit. Bobby Gould, John Toshack, Chris Coleman, even caretaker Brian Flynn, have all been personally blamed for the raft of withdrawals; the nadir however occurred when Mark Hughes arranged an end of season friendly in San Jose against the United States in 2003. Nineteen players withdrew. It saw the likes of Matthew Jones being pressed (disastrously it turned out) into action at right back, and call ups for the likes of Pipe and Christian Roberts. After the withdrawal of Kit Symons (due to paternity leave), Darren Barnard injured and Robert Page, Danny Gabbidon, Rhys Weston and Steve Jenkins all in play-off action, Millwall’s Matthew Rees and Manchester City’s Rhys Day were called up for the only time but did not see action.
I had seen both line up at centre back for Wales under 21s against their Azerbaijan counterparts at Barry’s Jenner Park earlier that season. Day was the under 21 captain that night and was red carded early on. Rees, initially only on standby for the squad, was a commanding presence and was comfortably man of the match in the blustery and wet conditions, albeit against limited opposition. The full squad call-up did not lead onto better things for either though. Rees’s English league career fizzled out, leaving Millwall without making a first team appearance before becoming Port Talbot Town’s all-time leading Welsh Premier League appearance holder. Despite being considered a prospect coming through the ranks at Manchester City, Bridgend-born Day left without making a first team appearance and later retired at the age of 30 after playing for the bulk of his career in League Two and the Conference Premier. He was though tempted back into action for Hyde in their car crash of a 2013-14 season (only 1 win and 10 points) and for whom I saw him play versus Wrexham. The two friends who accompanied me to the game were stunned, and embarrassed, that the overweight, cumbersome, slow and by now 32 year old defender in front of them had once received an international call-up by our country.
Swansea City stalwart Coates received only two call ups but was at least able to witness at first hand the chaotic and fractious end to Bobby Gould’s disastrous tenure in Bologna in 1999 as Italy outclassed Wales 4-0, 3-0 up at half time. Unlike many of the others listed here Coates did not get a call up due to a raft of withdrawals; indeed, Wales were able to field Mark Hughes, Paul Jones, Andrew Melville, Ryan Giggs and Gary Speed among others in Bologna and the previous fixture against Switzerland in Zurich, a Euro 2000 qualifier. That fixture provided for Coates’s first call-up as left wing cover for Ryan Giggs. In one sense an unenviable rival for your position, but given Giggs at this point had still yet to play in a friendly, Coates might have sensed a cap was likely to be forthcoming in the friendlies at the end of the 1998-99 campaign or at the start of the following one. The dressing room mutiny before the game and at half time that prompted Gould to resign immediately, however, led to Mark Hughes, initially on a shared (with Neville Southall) caretaker basis, taking over the reins and Coates fell out of favour never to be selected again. He continued to be a regular for Swansea but was released by Nick Cusack at the end of the 2001-02 season, eventually turning out in the Welsh Premier League for Port Talbot, Haverfordwest and Aberystwyth Town. He might not have a cap, but I bet he has a few stories about that Bologna dressing room….
Baker holds a unique distinction among this list of players…sort of. For although he never won a Wales cap he did have the honour of going to a World Cup…sort of. While on the books of Plymouth Argyle, Maerdy-born Baker impressed on his under 23 debut against England at Wrexham only 3 months before the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. He was named by Jimmy Murphy in the World Cup squad and is listed as an unused substitute in all five of Wales’s games at Sweden 1958. However Baker was one of the players who were infamously left at home on the eve of the tournament in favour of FAW officials due to insufficient space on the plane and he never actually made it to Sweden. He subsequently won another under 23 cap but was never fortunate enough to win a full cap. He finished his playing career at Barry Town in the Southern League.
Cardiff City through-and-through, club legend Young is largely remembered as the player who scored the winner to knock then league-leaders Leeds United out of the FA Cup in January 2002. Few people remember that during the first quarter of 2002 Young also received his only call-up to a Wales squad to face the Czech Republic in March at the Millennium Stadium. Club mate Danny Gabbidon made his debut at left back but Young remained on the bench. He might consider himself unlucky however given that Mark Hughes made replacements up front, midfield and in goal with the likes of Danny Coyne, Gareth Taylor and the Pauls, Evans and Trollope, making appearances from the bench. However with back injuries beginning to blight Young’s career, he struggled to recapture the form he previously showed for Cardiff and was forced to retire after over 300 appearances at the end of the 2003/04 season.
The one that got away? Having lost Owen Hargreaves to England while still a teenager, many Welsh fans are disappointed with John Toshack for letting Williams slip through our grasp. Had Williams taken to the field in either of the qualifiers against Finland and Germany after his first call-up in March-April of 2009 the competitive status of the games would have seen him cease to be able to represent England, India or Australia (the country of his birth) for whom he was also eligible. Not surprisingly Williams was disappointed not to take to the pitch: “I was a bit upset that I didn’t play last time in one of the matches…[I]t’s not me who picks the team so you’ve just got to wait and see. Wales have been good to me, I just want to keep progressing and hopefully I will get in eventually and play games.” Moreover, rather than face Germany, Toshack pressed Williams into under 21 action in a laboured goalless draw in Luxembourg and within two weeks of the above quote Williams opted to represent Australia with his agent, not unreasonably, citing a lack of Welsh “interest in him being in the first team squad”. Williams has been more contrite since, expressing regret at “jumping ship”.
The first, and to date only, Welsh Premier League player to receive a Wales call-up. Left back Lloyd was not only a regular in the mid-90s Barry Town team that romped year in year out to the league title, he is widely regarded as the best player to represent Barry since the league’s inception and is in the top 10 for all-time appearances in the league. Lloyd had already captained the Wales semi-professional side when Bobby Gould selected him in the squad to face Belgium away in 1997. Gould’s reign was largely a disaster but he is arguably the only national manager to ever show much, if any, interest in the domestic league. In so doing, however, there was a feeling among some that Lloyd’s call-up was a publicity stunt. Lloyd turned down offers to join League One clubs, though, so was probably good enough to play at a level from which the likes of Owain Tudur-Jones, Steve Evans, Jermaine Easter or, as recently as November 2103, James Wilson have all gained caps. Indeed, for the likes of Tudur-Jones and Evans under 21 and full international recognition was earned only a matter of days after joining a club in the English pyramid from the Welsh Premier League. Attention-seeking or not, victim of an “apartheid” system or not, Lloyd never got another chance, despite getting tantalisingly close. As Neil Dymock wrote in the Israel away edition of Dragon Has Landed:
“With the rain lashing down and Wales 3-0 down, it looked like Gary would win his first cap, but Mark Pembridge and Ryan Giggs scored to give Wales hope and Bobby Gould sent on Gareth Taylor and John Oster to try and salvage a draw.”
Gould’s reign soon ended and Lloyd remains alone in joining up with a national squad while playing in Wales’s domestic league.
Thanks to Neil Dymock for the assistance on Gary Lloyd.
Having been prolific in the League of Wales and foraging a decent lower league career, at the end of his first season in the English League One in 2004 Williams faced a win-win situation: reach the play-off final at the Millennium Stadium for a shot at promotion to the Championship, but miss out on a Wales call-up for a pair of end-of-season friendlies against Canada and Norway; or lose and get the chance of a consolation with an international cap. In the end he failed to win promotion and the cap. Hartlepool lost to Bristol City in the play-off semi-finals and injury in the second leg meant Williams dropped out of the squad after his first, and only, call-up. Even more galling was how Mark Hughes was in the mood to hand out debuts with Paul Parry, James Collins and Martyn Margetson all winning their first cap over the pair of fixtures. A question of ‘What if?’
Wrexham-born Valentine joined his hometown club from Darlington before the 2006-07 season. After only six appearances John Toshack added him to the squad, replacing Dave Partridge, for the games against the Czech Republic in Teplice and Brazil at White Hart Lane in September 2006. Toshack also selected Valentine in the squads for the home qualifiers against Slovakia and Cyprus the following month, making it to the bench in the latter game. Perhaps Valentine’s best chance of a cap, to complement his appearances for Wales at under-16, 18 and 21 levels, appeared to be the friendly at The Racecourse against Liechtenstein. However he was dropped from the squad altogether for a game that saw Valentine’s clubmate Steve Evans make his debut. Valentine received a final call-up for the next game, a friendly against Northern Ireland in Belfast but once again was not called upon. Caught up in Wrexham’s struggles at the bottom of the football league Valentine was eventually released subsequently signing for a succession of League Two and Conference Premier clubs. Valentine signed for Bala Town in 2013.
1988 Simod Cup winner Jones represented Wales at under 21 level and won numerous call-ups to full squads in 1983, including the June friendly at Ninian Park against Brazil and the final three qualifiers for the 1984 European Championships. He was never called upon however despite his versatility at full back or in midfield.
One half of the Climie Fisher of football (according to Nogan’s Wikipedia page), Nogan’s brother Lee won the second of his two caps in Bobby Gould’s first match in charge, a European Championship qualifier, against Moldova in September 1995. When Ian Rush and Mark Hughes withdrew from the next qualifier against Germany Gould selected both brothers. Kurt had been scoring regularly for his club Burnley having become the club’s record purchase earlier that year. Kurt did not make the bench in the 1-2 defeat (the game in which Paul Mardon won his solitary cap) and was not selected for the match in Albania the following month but watched from the bench in Terni as Italy easily won 3-0. In an interview after that match Nogan appeared diffident about his international future: “Maybe Bobby Gould would have given me a little run-out as substitute before now if I was in his long-term plans…I’m not so sure what the international future with Wales holds for me”. And so it turned out. He never did win a cap and having been bought by hometown club Cardiff City with funds raised by supporters, in 2001 he had to call time on his career due to injury.
We joked on an early Podcast Pêl-droed how Fon Williams must surely be the recipient of the most Wales squad call-ups without ever gaining a cap. However, the more I have thought about it since, the more I struggle to think of an alternative. I am not alone either:
"How many times must a man turn up
Before you give him a game
Owain Fon Williams is waiting in the wings
Owain Fon is waiting in the wings"
— Siôn (@jonilloegr) November 16, 2014
Fon Williams received his first call up in 2009 and so at the time of writing has been regularly turning up for Wales camps for over five years, in which time Wales have played 48 internationals (up to and including Israel away). He was a regular at under 21 level, rivalling Wayne Hennessey, 2 months his elder, for games between the sticks at that level (6 caps to Hennessey, 11 caps to Fon Williams). But whereas Hennessey is closing in on his golden cap (awarded to those players who play 50 or more times for Wales), Fon Williams has yet to get off the mark. Boaz Myhill’s eligibility is probably the single biggest factor in this. Many of the caps Myhill earned between 2008 and 2013 as a substitute and in friendlies probably would have gone the way of Fon Williams, even accounting for the likes of Lewis Price and Jason Brown also winning caps in this time. With recent call-ups for Danny Ward, Connor Roberts, David Cornell and Kyle Letheran, Fon Williams may be feeling that his chance is slipping, particularly with his club Tranmere Rovers mired in a fight to stay in the football league. I hope not though. It might be old-fashioned and outdated but there should remain room for sentiment in football that sees a stalwart be rewarded for his loyalty and patience with a cap. I remember Martyn Margetson and, in particular, Roger Freestone earning their solitary caps earned more in recognition of their service than their ability or long-term future at international level. Fon Williams’s patience deserves its recognition eventually. How about versus Northern Ireland in June?
If you know of any other players who were called up, but not upon, by Wales please suggest them in the comments section below.