Excerpt from / Detholiad o ‘Little Wonder’

12 October 2017. Brian Flynn’s 62nd birthday.  Forty years ago today he celebrated his 22nd birthday by winning his 21st Wales cap in the infamous 2-0 defeat to Scotland at Anfield. To mark the occasion we publish an except from Leon Barton‘s forthcoming biography of Flynn, Little Wonder (available to pre-order from St. David’s Press here)

‘We won that game hand over fist’
Joe Jordan

The famous win over Austria brought relief for Flynn. With just one victory in the first ten games of the 1975-76 season, Burnley were really struggling. In November – the same month that Wales triumphed over Austria – Burnley were hammered 5-1 at Turf Moor by Wolverhampton Wanderers, laying bare the stark contrast in form between Flynn’s club and country.

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By Boxing Day Burnley had won only four league games. Player sales and injuries were catching up with the club and manager Jimmy Adamson was under severe pressure. The third round FA Cup draw wasn’t kind; a day trip to Blackpool, by then being managed by Harry Potts, who had left Burnley seething at his marginalised status at the club. The press relished a fixture they were billing as Potts’ big chance for revenge. They got their story. Colin Waldron had a goal controversially disallowed as Burnley were again dumped out of the Cup 1-0 at the same stage as the previous season’s embarrassment against Wimbledon. The tension became unbearable.

“It was a small, tiny dressing room at Blackpool.  We’ve come in having lost and there’s a fight.  A couple of players start fighting each other. Can’t remember who. Colin Waldron might have been one of them. The door’s locked. Jimmy Adamson’s banging on the door and he can’t get in. At Blackpool, the press office is literally next door and the manager’s banging the door to get in. It’s not great. It doesn’t look good.  Mayhem inside the dressing room and the manager can’t get in … you can imagine the press headlines. It was ridiculous.”

With the team also facing the prospect of relegation, something had to give. Bob Lord – a professional butcher – was never keen on sacking managers but the tension between the pair had been stretched to breaking point. Adamson was dead meat. He left the club a few days later.

Although Flynn played less than two years of first team football under Adamson at Burnley, he has no hesitation in describing him as his biggest professional influence. “He set a lot of my standards, in football and in life.  He talked about the sacrifice involved in becoming a professional footballer but always stressed the rewards.”

Adamson was replaced by assistant Joe Brown. “He was very religious, Joe. Never swore. He was a nice man. Probably too nice to be a manager.” For those who may be thinking Flynn could also have suffered from the same problem, it’s worth noting a passage in Wrexham coach Joey Jones’ autobiography:

“There was another side to Brian that not many people have seen outside the confines of the dressing room. Believe me, he could lose his temper with the best of them. I’ve seen him go berserk, shouting and raving, kicking buckets, throwing whatever he had in his hands”

Wales’s reward for topping its qualification group was a two legged quarter-final tie against Yugoslavia. Even now, and especially since Euro 2016, Wales’s stars of this era are annoyed that their achievements are so often overlooked. Terry Yorath wrote in his 2004 autobiography:

“to this day it annoys me when I hear people say that Wales haven’t qualified for the finals of a major tournament since 1958.  It’s not true because we did it in 1976. It was a knockout rather than round robin group format but it doesn’t alter the fact that we qualified for it by what we had achieved on the pitch. Wales went through the backdoor to the 1958 World Cup in Sweden while we actually reached the quarter-finals of the European Championship fairly and squarely with no help from anyone.”

John Toshack repeatedly echoed Yorath’s thoughts when he became Wales manager. Flynn is also keen that the achievements of that team are not airbrushed out of Welsh football history.

The first leg of the quarter-final was in Zagreb and got off to a calamitous start when the Yugoslavs scored after just 45 seconds, further firing up the raucous 50,000 crowd. The match turned into a battle, “partly because of me as much as anyone else” admits Terry Yorath. In going through the Wales team of the time Flynn says, “It picked itself really … but we didn’t have a proper partner for Tosh. Curt [Alan Curtis] would have been great but by the time he emerged, Tosh’s injuries meant he was on the way out.”

Winger Gil Reece was playing in the Third Division for Cardiff by that time, and Smith was obviously reluctant to throw 22-year-old Curtis into the heat of a quarter-final battle. The player himself understood. “Swansea were a lower league team then. It was a big jump up to international level.”

So instead, Flynn was tasked with partnering Toshack in attack, ahead of a central midfield of Yorath, Mahoney and Griffiths – the aim being to form a ‘little and large’ partnership similar to the highly successful one Toshack was enjoying at club level alongside Kevin Keegan. The idea was a logical one. Wales had strength in depth in central midfield, and right from the start Flynn and Toshack had enjoyed an excellent on-field relationship, with passes between the two leading to John Mahoney’s goal in Hungary and Flynn’s spectacular one against Scotland.

In Zagreb, Wales created little of note in going down to a 2-0 defeat. It could have been worse –  Dai Davies pulled off a dramatic late save to keep Wales in the tie.  Though Yorath says “we upset the Yugoslavs,” their manager Ante Mladinic disagreed. “That was the best Wales can play and it was not good enough.”

Ahead of the second leg at Ninian Park, Burnley succumbed to the inevitable. Finishing in 21st place, the little club from east Lancashire was relegated, the effects of years of player sales and a youth production line that was starting to dry up were being felt.  Bob Lord was prescient when he made the comments:

“Burnley has no future as a club with status or influence … our big city clubs will band together and outstrip the rest of us so the rest of us will be on the outside looking in. We’ll have to content ourselves with discovering kids and then flogging them, just to stay alive. The day may come when we get back in the First Division but the future remains bleak for clubs such as ourselves.”

The abolition of the maximum wage was beginning to help the richer clubs pull away.

A season in the Second Division awaited but first there was a European Championships quarter-final second leg to play.  A disappointing British Championship, with losses to England and Scotland and a low key win over Northern Ireland in front of a 9,000 crowd at the Vetch Field preceded the visit of the Yugoslavs.

It turned into one of the most infamous matches in Welsh football history and the trouble began with the appointment of East German referee Rudi Glöckner.  He had pedigree, having officiated at the previous two World Cups, including the 1970 final between Brazil and Italy. The odds were stacked against Wales but a fervent, boozy Ninian Park crowd had not given up hope. Glöckner however, took centre stage from the off. “Some of his decisions were questionable” is Flynn’s polite way of putting it.

He inexplicably booked Leighton Phillips when an opponent crashed into him and then bought an obvious dive by Danilo Popivoda, awarding a penalty that the same player converted to put Yugoslavia 3-0 ahead on aggregate: away goals did not count so three unanswered Wales goals would have lead to a play-off match at Milan’s San Siro stadium. The home team launched everything at Yugoslavia but Glöckner’s display became more and more erratic as he ignored blatant fouls, whistled for innocuous Welsh challenges, and disallowed a perfectly good John Toshack goal after interpreting Mahoney’s overhead kick in the build up as dangerous play.

Flynn had to calm down an angry fan who had invaded the pitch following that decision; “he was heading straight for the ref … me and Leighton Phillips had to block his path.” The crowd’s chants of Sieg Heil and the FAW mistakenly displaying the West German flag before the game probably didn’t help matters.

Flynn – playing up front once more – should have netted following Toshack’s knockdown but instead hit the post from five yards out. Seconds later Ian Evans did pull a goal back after a cool lay off from Griffiths.  With five minutes to go Wales were awarded a penalty but as regular taker Arfon Griffiths had been substituted, “petrified” first time penalty taker Terry Yorath took responsibility when none of his teammates fancied it. His weak shot was easily saved – there was to be no grandstand finish.  Final score 1-1, 3-1 on aggregate. Fans of both teams invaded the pitch at the end, with Glöckner receiving a police escort to protect him from the locals. For all Glöckner’s faults, BBC commentator Barry Davies concluded that:

“The Welsh team, to a great extent, were their own worst enemies because they allowed the fire, too often, to get between them and the football they are capable of playing.”

Yorath later pondered this assessment and came to the conclusion that Davies was probably correct. ‘It’s easy to be wise after the event but were we too hyped up for the match? Perhaps we had too much Welsh hwyl for our own good.’  The next time Wales made a quarter-final – four decades later – Welsh heads were far cooler.

Burnley’s Second Division campaign of 1976-77 was awful. By February Joe Brown had been sacked with the club just one place off the bottom of the table and a possible third tier relegation looming. A desperate Bob Lord – who’d spent most of the season fending off offers for Flynn – turned to former manager Harry Potts to try and save the club from the drop.

The draw for the 1978 World Cup qualifiers placed Wales in the same group as European Champions Czechoslovakia – who beat Yugoslavia’s conquerors West Germany on penalties in the final – and a Scotland side brimming with top class talent.  With only one spot up for grabs, it couldn’t have been much tougher. Scotland claimed a 1-0 win at Hampden in November 1976, which meant a home win against the Czechs in March 1977 was essential. With the ban following the Cardiff unrest still in place, the match had to be played in the north of Wales.  Not that the players minded. Even the Cardiffians like Toshack and Yorath preferred playing at the Racecourse. A delegation of senior players had even lobbied the FAW to play all of Wales’ big matches in Wrexham – they simply felt the atmosphere helped them get better results.  Then there were the ‘extra-curricular activities’:

“The Bryn Howel Hotel was a great little set up, by the canal in Llangollen. The tradition we had was, get there early, walk to the Sun Inn in Trevor and have a few pints.  All of us. Then walk back along the canal. Mike Smith would say, ‘When are you going lads? If that’s tradition, you go.’  We did it every time. Nobody would stay behind, we made sure of that! You’d hear,  ‘Where’s Ian Evans?’ … ‘He’s in his room.’ ‘Go and get him!…nobody’s leaving till everybody’s here’.”

Flynn beams at the memory of these drinking sessions as much as he does recalling famous Welsh victories, but is at pains to point out it didn’t do the players much harm. “Just look at the results we got in Wrexham!”

One of those results was a superb 3-0 victory over the Czechs that March. Debutant Nick Deacy, who not long before had made an unlikely move from Hereford United to PSV Eindhoven, scored once, with Leighton James netting twice. The second James goal followed a superb piece of play from Flynn, when dispossessing a Czech player inside his own half before bursting away and feeding his former club colleague, to secure the victory. It capped another excellent individual performance from a player, then at the wrong end of Division Two, although Harry Potts’ reappointment was having the desired effect. Burnley gradually pulled away from the relegation zone, eventually finishing in the safety of 16th place.

The win over Czechoslovakia set up a tantalising home tie with Scotland, to be played on October 12th 1977 – Flynn’s 22nd birthday. After Scotland had lost 2-0 in Prague, Wales knew a victory over their Celtic rivals would go a long way to getting them to the following summer’s World Cup in Argentina. Simply avoiding a three goal defeat against the Czechs in the final game would then be enough.

First there was a Home International Championship to play though and, funnily enough, a home tie against Scotland kicked it off. It finished 0-0 at the Racecourse, and there was no hint of the drama that would follow against other British teams in the weeks to come.

Three days later Wales played England at Wembley. There was a growing streak of belligerence in the squad, Flynn joined a Wales set-up that may have been managed by an Englishman but it was an increasingly patriotic group. That patriotism and belligerence came to the fore when the English FA refused to play Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau before the Wembley encounter. Amazing as it might seem now, until the mid-1970s God Save the Queen was played before Wales games instead, or alongside, the Welsh national anthem. But when the FAW didn’t play ‘The Queen’ ahead of the match with Czechoslovakia, the English FA took umbrage and made it be known that the opposition anthem would not be played at Wembley and as a result Yorath and the squad wanted to register their displeasure.

Following God Save the Queen, the Welsh players stayed in line for several seconds, posting a silent protest that was met with boos from the English fans. The anthem drama provided extra motivation for the Welsh performance; an excellent one which yielded a famous one goal victory. Leighton James converted a penalty after he’d nipped between Peter Shilton and Emlyn Hughes and was brought down by the England goalkeeper when setting himself to shoot. Over four decades later it remains the only time Wales have ever triumphed at the home of English football. It had taken a quarter of a century of trying.

If the 1976 European Championship quarter-final second leg was one of the most infamous games in Wales’ football history, then perhaps this game is the most. The ban from playing within 200 kilometres of Cardiff provided a dilemma for the FAW.  Wrexham’s Racecourse was available but its capacity of less than 30,000 would be nowhere near sufficient enough to satisfy demand to such a huge encounter. With an extra 22,000 tickets providing a potentially salivating gate receipt, the FAW decided to take the match to Anfield in Liverpool.

It was a decision that excited the Celts. Sadly, the ones to the north, rather than to the west, as noted by Dalglish:

“I doubt if I’ve ever, since then, known ticket fever quite the way it was for that match. Naturally I was inundated with ticket requests from home; there I was, a Liverpool player, and the game was at Anfield. The Scots were even travelling down to the Welsh FA headquarters in Wrexham to buy tickets there … I’ll never forget going to Anfield that night and seeing the sea of tartan which seemed to surround the terraces and stands. Then out we went onto the park.  I saw big Joey [Jones] look towards the Kop, where he predicted that the Welsh would rule, and wince at the tartan that had flooded the giant terracing.”

Wales fan, Dylan Llewelyn, then just a young boy, was amazed to be surrounded by Scottish rather than Welsh fans when he took his seat with his father in the stadium.

“Seeing all these Scottish fans drinking beer in the streets of Liverpool was a bit of a shock for an 11-year-old boy from Pen Llyn. Our seats were for the front row of the Cemlyn Road stand and as I looked towards the Kop, I could only see a small section of red.”

With Scotland much more used to success than Wales, having appeared at three World Cups, including the previous finals in 1974, their national team had a much larger, more rabid, and frankly, more drunken following back then. Whether the FAW were just naïve, or simply didn’t care about Welsh fans being outnumbered for the game as long as they made their money, is a matter of conjecture. Home advantage had certainly been sacrificed though. The players would just have to tough it out.

The Welsh performance was excellent in the circumstances, and with the scores still 0-0, an excellent dipping John Toshack shot looked like it might break the deadlock. Alan Rough got his fingertips to it, diverting the ball onto the crossbar and away for a corner. “Scottish goalkeeping was a bit of a joke back then but Rough had the game of his life” is one of Flynn’s strong memories of the evening.

But in the 78th minute came the notorious moment when Joe Jordan’s [nickname: Jaws] actions caused Welsh football fans to gnash their teeth for decades to come. When a long throw was launched into the Welsh penalty box, the gap-toothed Jordan and Norwich City defender David Jones both challenged for the ball. The short-sleeved Jones kept his arms by his sides, the long-sleeved Jordan raised his right arm and flicked the ball with his hand. When I ask Flynn if he saw what happened, he immediately responds “Oh yeah. It was clear.”  Amazingly, a penalty was awarded to Scotland. “It was obvious,” goalkeeper Dai Davies told BBC Sport Online. “I immediately ran towards the referee and lifted nine fingers to indicate that it was Jordan – their No 9 – who had touched the ball with his hand.” Despite the Welsh protests the decision stood.  Don Masson tucked the penalty away to send the majority Scottish crowd into raptures.

Despite being offered £5,000 by The Sun the next day, even just to deny that he touched the ball with his hand if he wished, Jordan steadfastly refused to discuss the incident. Sports reporter Norman Giller managed to get in touch with him to at least ask the question. A firm “nae comment” was all that was forthcoming from the mouth of ‘Jaws’. With Wales committing numbers forward in their desperation for an equaliser, the Liverpool striker headed home to make the score 2-0.

“The following morning, everyone on the school yard had seen the television replays and we were absolutely furious,” Dylan Llewelyn remembered. It was a tough lesson to take for the young Phil Stead too. ‘There was something particularly cruel about the game’ he later wrote, ‘the realisation that life could be unfair – the shame of being outnumbered in a home game – the stark reality that more Scots cared about their football.”  Jonathan Owen exclaimed “There can’t be a God”, a statement that has provided an amusing family story ever since.

The players were crushed too. “We were all bitterly disappointed,” said Dai Davies. “Two years of hard work had been wasted because of one mistake by a referee.” Terry Yorath added: “I shed a few tears before going into Scotland’s dressing room to wish them luck for the World Cup.”

Jordan finally discussed the incident – sort of – in his 2004 autobiography Behind the Dream:

“I denied it then, I deny it today. I will deny it at the moment of my death, which may be necessary if by some cruel fate the sad event should occur in the presence of somebody from Wales.”

Unsurprisingly, there was no reference to his kiss to the hand, as clearly picked up by the camera, following the award of the spot-kick.

After rejecting overtures from Queens Park Rangers, Birmingham City and Ipswich Town, Burnley finally accepted a bid for Flynn when Leeds United offered £175,000. Among those disappointed with the sale was 11-year-old Rebekah Jackson. “He was my first ever favourite Claret and I cried when we sold him … I told my Dad that maybe I would support Leeds instead of Burnley and he very seriously said to me ‘that will never be allowed to happen in this house’ and I knew he meant it.” Her father’s reaction is not surprising. John Jackson became Burnley’s chairman when Bob Lord stepped down in 1981, before dying of cancer just three months later.

The legendary Billy Bremner moved to Hull City in 1976 there was a gap for a combative central midfielder at the Yorkshire club. So Flynn crossed the Pennine divide, leaving a team still struggling in the Second Division to join a team who had won countless trophies in the preceding decade. Just two years earlier Leeds had played in the European Cup final. Although sad about leaving behind the club where he’d felt at home since first setting eyes on Gawthorpe Park, Flynn accepted that Burnley selling their most valuable assets on a regular basis was simply a fact of football life.  “We used to joke about it on the training ground – ‘You’re next!’ – it was just the way it was … It was my turn.”

It meant that just a few weeks on from the infamous ‘hand of jaws’ at Anfield, Flynn was sharing a dressing room with Joe Jordan. The two became friends, but even in quieter moments,

“He’s never admitted it.”

Leon’s biography of Brian Flynn, ‘Little Wonder’, is due out next month from St. David’s Press

 

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