An Eligible for Wales XI
In light of the FAW telling Watford’s Will Hughes that he isn’t, as he recently claimed, eligible for Wales, Russell Todd picks an XI comprising players that were eligible to represent Wales but either decided against it, the calling of another nation was stronger, or fate intervened.
Karl Darlow – Northampton-born Darlow doesn’t just have Welsh heritage but Welsh footballing heritage, via his Ynysybwl-born grandfather Ken Leek who was a non-playing member of Wales’ 1958 World Cup squad and went on to win 13 caps (5 goals). First approached in 2013 ahead of the friendly against Austria in Swansea, Wayne Hennessey was injured at the time and Coleman selected Lewis Price and Owain Fôn Williams as back up to Boaz Myhill. At that time Price and Fôn Williams were playing less frequently and at a lower level respectively than then-Championship regular Darlow, but he was quoted as not wanting to make any decisions about his international future.
Darlow since stepped up to the EPL with Newcastle United and the occasional run in the first team has come when the likes of Rob Elliott or Tim Kruul have been injured. Darlow reiterated his ambivalence about joining the fold when Ryan Giggs enquired about his availability ahead of the China Cup. He had recently lost his place to new loan signing Martin Dúbravka, whose performances since joining Newcastle permanently have impressed. Giggs subsequently called-up Ipswich rookie Michael Crowe suggesting he was keen on Darlow to join as third choice behind Henneseey and Danny Ward. Any aspirations Darlow may have to represent England might be realistic according to some; and he has been linked previously with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool. But the pathways to England or Wales caps looks highly competitive with a crop of talented – and younger; Darlow is now 28 – keepers firmly ensconsed in both camps. For Wales, Adam Davies has established himself as third choice, making his debut against Trinidad and Tobago; and Tranmere’s Luke Pilling remains highly-rated.
Ben Turner– with maternal and paternal grandparents from Wales (though he could only prove the roots of one of them) Turner bluntly turned down Wales in 2012 when approached by Chris Coleman, having been approached at under 21 level previously by Brian Flynn. His response was as robust as his playing style:
“I couldn’t justify it for me and clear my own conscience. It would be like I was pretending to be a Welshman when I’m not. The reason I turned down Wales is that I’m an English lad. There are lads who grow up dreaming about playing for Wales because they are Welsh and are born in Wales”
Coleman had managed a young Turner at Coventry City so was fully aware of what he could have brought to the Welsh set-up. But Turner’s honesty was to be admired. Recurrent ankle injuries saw his five year spell at Cardiff peter out and via Burton Albion, Turner recently signed for Mansfield Town. His international achievements will amount to a single England u19 cap back in 2007.
Bert Evans – Hubert Evans won his only international cap for the United States in a 1-8 drubbing at the hands of England in 1959 two months short of his 37th birthday. Bert was eligible for Wales, not by virtue of ancestry, but simply becuse he was Swansea born and bred. Evans signed professional forms with his hometown club in August 1939, but three weeks later the Second World War started and instead of representing the Swans, he had to wait until 1951 to make his league debut with Newport County, after a postwar spell in the Welsh and Southern leagues with the famous works team Lovell’s Athletic. He later played for Llanelli before emigrating in his mid 30s to San Pedro in California where he captained the local, snappily-named McIlvaine Canvasbacks to their only national cup triumph just ten days after the England defeat. His final years were spent in Nova Scotia, Canada where he passed away in a nursing home in 2008 aged 85.
Paul Butler – possibly a narrow escape for Wales this one as Butler is a shoe-in in most Irish fans’ all-time worst Ireland XIs based on a torrid debut first half against the Czech Republic in which Jan Koller rinsed him. Those 45 minutes in 2000 were the sum total of Butler’s international career. The joke dating back to the days of Jack Charlton’s Plastic and Passport Paddies was that a pint of Guinness made you eligible for the Irish team. A tad unfair, perhaps. But Butler’s eligibility was via his step-father’s father; whereas his Welsh eligibility was at least via a direct blood relative – a grandfather – and Bobby Gould had two years earlier previously tried to tempt Butler into the Welsh set-up. According to an interview with the Irish Independent on the occasion of his B international debut in 1999, Gould and his Irish counterpart Mick McCarthy had simultaneously turned up at Ewood Park to have a word with Butler after Sunderland had visited for an FA Cup clash. Butler was tempted by both courtings, in part thanks to having his Sunderland room-mate Andy Melville in his ear about Wales. His efforts though stood little chance compared to the pillow-talk of Mrs Butler’s, who hails from County Kildare. His solitary cap was in a friendly so under current rules would still be eligible to represent a second country. In 2000 however he was tied to Ireland, and though he’d have the chance in 2004 to switch under FIFA’s ‘amnesty year’ (like Ben Thatcher), by this point Butler was 31 and the likes of Danny Gabbidon and James Collins were on the Welsh defensive production line.
John Hughes – Hughes emigrated from Swansea as a baby when his professional footballer father Brian left Swansea City after eight years to join the fledgling North American Soccer League with the Atlanta Chiefs. Brian later coached the London Boxing Club and University of Victoria Vikings teams in British Columbia, Canada. John played for schools and clubs around Victoria and later the university team his father had coached, earning Canadian youth caps along the way. He failed to make the squad for Canada’s only ever World Cup finals appearance, in 1986 (Cardiff-born Paul James did; more of whom later), but made his full debut weeks after the tournament as part of the largely-experimental squad that took part in the Merlion Cup in Singapore. Against Asian countries that had failed to reach Mexico – China, North Korea, Singapore and an Indonesian XI – Canada were favourites. to win a tournament whose format comprised a round-robin of all competitors followed by semi-finals and a final. Ahead of the last four clash with North Korea, a hard-to-resist bribe ingratiated its way into a card school among some of the Canadian players. Canada subsequently lost but it was James who lost his nerve, returned the money and raised it with the authorities. The fall out was enormous for a country that might have used as a springboard an inaugural World Cup appearance and a national league less than a year away from being launched. Instead, suspensions, recriminations and scandal engulfed the game in Canada. Hughes played three times in Singapore, then played four times as part of the Canadian Olympic team’s efforts to reach Seoul in 1988, and won a final pair of caps in friendly defeats to El Salvador and Mexico in 1987. Hughes is now a high school teacher in Victoria.
Lloyd Jones – Having signed a three year contract at Liverpool in the 2013 close season Plymouth-born Jones, eligible for Wales via his father, decided he had outgrown the Wales intermediate set-up after a total of 12 caps at u17 and u19 level and on the eve of being selected by Geraint Williams for his u21 debut. Williams claimed that Jones felt he had a chance of winning full England caps.
Zero Liverpool appearances, several League One and Two loan spells, an arrest, trolling of his former Wales team-mates, and a closed Twitter account later, Jones currently struggles to get into the Luton Town team and recently joined hometown club Argyle on loan “looking to prove himself”.
Rhys Williams – The one that got away? Having lost Owen Hargreaves to England while still a teenager, many Welsh fans were 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 senior 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 citing a lack of Welsh “interest in him being in the first team squad”. For Williams:
“…once Australia showed a firm interest in me there was only one way it was going to go.”
He immediately made his Australia debut against Japan in a World Cup qualifier, but eventually won only 14 caps as pelvis problems began to hamper his Middlesborough appearances; he made only two appearances in his final two seasons on Teesside. He subsequently signed for his hometown team Perth Glory in the A-League and then won the league with Melbourne Victory. Still only 30, Williams is currently fighting relegation in the Saudi Arabian top flight with Al-Qadisiya and has been more contrite about how he tuned his back on Wales, expressing regret at the manner he jumped ship.
Terry Venables – at the time of his two caps for England (1964) Venables would only have been eligible for the country in which he was born. However, had he remained uncapped for another year, when FIFA relaxed the rules to allow a player to represent a country of his parents’ birth, he would have been eligible for Wales via his Clydach Vale-born mother. Also close on at least one occasion to managing Wales, Venables is revered in his mother’s home village where he regularly spent childhood summers. In the local clubhouse there is a suite named in his honour and the above picture is dispalyed alongside those of Ryan Giggs and John Charles.
Kerry Dixon – in Luton-born Dixon’s autobiography Up Front he reveals that he was also eligible to represent Ireland and via his maternal grandparents, Wales. However. he only ever had eyes for the country of his birth, especially after becoming aware of Bobby Robson’s regular attendance at Cheslea matches. Dixon seldom performed in front of the England manager though but at the end of the 1984-85 season, and after 36 goals in the second of two consecutive prolific seasons for Chelsea, Dixon was selected for England’s Azteca 2000 Tournament squad, where he won his first caps and scored his first goals, in a 3-0 victory over West Germany, and scored another brace four days later in a routine friendly win over the USA in Los Angeles. Despite tearing stomach muscles the following season he was selected for the 1986 World Cup squad but played only six minutes, as a late substitute against Poland. Dixon won an eighth and final cap in late 1986 but his form went the same way as Chelsea’s top-flight status as the club was relegated in 1988. In the second division he re-captured his goalscoring form and today remains third in the club’s all-time goalscoring charts. But by now the likes of Mark Hateley, Tony Cottee, Mick Harford and Steve Bull had usurped Dixon in the pecking order behind Robson’s preferred Lineker-Beardley partnership. Problems with gambling, drugs and a prison term for assault have plagued Dixon since retirement.
Jamie Cureton – in 2004 Fifa announced a year-long ‘amnesty’ during which players could freely switch allegiance to another country after representing another at u21 level. Fredi Kanouté was the most high profile player to make the most of the window of opportunity choose to play for another country and did so just in time to play in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations. In Wales’s case Ben Thatcher, Gary Croft and Jamie Cureton all declared themselves available for Wales after England caps at intermediate level, though only Thatcher was subsequently picked by Mark Hughes.
Bristolian Cureton was playing in South Korea at the time having previously established himself as a consistent goalscorer at Championship level with Bristol Rovers and Reading. Failing to settle, Cureton returned to England and joined QPR, then Swindon Town, but his goal return was a fraction of what it had been. Presumably, Hughes saw little point in adding a striker to a roster that had John Hartson, Craig Bellamy and Robert Earnshaw as first choice strikers, with Nathan Blake and Gareth Taylor in reserve; particularly one who was playing half a world away and may not have been available for all internationals. Now in his 25th consecutive season, 43 year old Cureton is player-assistant manager at Bishop’s Stortford playing at England’s seventh tier. But the goals are still coming: 19 for the 2018-19 season so far, and recently past the 350 career goal milestone.
Steven Naismith – ahead of a Euro 2016 qualifying clash between Scotland and Ireland, the media made much of how there were Scotland-born players playing for Ireland and England-born players playing for Scotland. One player though brought Wales into the mix: then-Everton forward Steven Naismith who qualified for Wales via his father. Naismith’s dad was born in Wales while his Scottish father was serving in the armed forces. Only in Wales a few weeks before his family returned to Scotland, both Naismith Senior and Junior never felt any affinity to Wales.
It will come as little surprise to any readers that while Brian Flynn was prospecting for Welsh-qualified gold among English clubs, he stumbled across Naismith who was involved with Scotland’s u19s at the time. Naismith declined the approach to play for Wales’s u21s and, at the time of writing, has amassed 49 Scotland caps.