The 10 best Wales players born outside Wales

With the ‘Zambian Prince’ Robert Earnshaw recently retiring from footballLeon Barton ranks his favourite Wales players born beyond its borders. 

Trevor-Hockey-Goal-mag-2

For decades, the only way you could play for Wales was to be born within the Welsh border. Which is a bit ridiculous considering there are plenty of people who consider themselves Welsh despite being unlucky enough to be born elsewhere. Since 1970, when Trevor Hockey became the first ‘Anglo’ to play for the land of his father (Hockey was born in Yorkshire due to his rugby playing father moving north to turn pro), we’ve had many adopted Welshmen pull on the red shirt. It has taken until fairly recently for it to have had something like the effect it had for the Republic of Ireland nearly three decades ago though, when from never managing a qualification in their history, they started competing in tournaments on a regular basis thanks, in part, to their army of Anglos.

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It struck me when writing the following top ten that so many are current players; indeed half played in the Euro 2016 campaign and are likely to be in the squad for France. I unashamedly went for players I have seen play for Wales over the past thirty years, although I did consider players from the 1970s like Hockey and defender Ian Evans before deciding they simply didn’t play enough international games to merit inclusion (Hockey won 9 caps, Evans 13). If this list was based solely on ability, Belgium-born Pat Van Den Hauwe would also have been on it and fairly high (maybe not the right choice words where PVDH is involved…), but his international career fizzled out disappointingly after only 13 caps over a three year period. I tend to favour those who show unswerving dedication to their adopted country.

Talking of which, there was only ever going to be one choice to top the list…Vinnie J…ust kidding

Born: Wolverhampton, England
2008-

58 caps, 1 goal

Ashley Williams WalesWhen describing Ash, words like ‘warrior’ and ‘heroic’ readily spring to mind. The captain of the team that finally qualified for a major tournament after a near six decade wait, marshalling arguably the best defence Wales have ever had.  A battler who can really play (some of those left foot long diagonals are just sublime), he’s virtually the complete modern centre back and his rise from non-league Hednesford Town to probably Swansea City’s greatest ever defender is remarkable.  Another one or two campaigns at the level he played in the last one, and he’ll surpass Ratcliffe and Keenor as Wales’ greatest too

Born: Wegberg, Germany
1984-1996
62 caps, 2 goals

Born in Germany while his Caerphilly-born father was serving in the armed forces, Phillips first rose to prominence as part of a Plymouth Argyle team that reached the FA cup semi final in 1984. International recognition soon followed with fellow debutant Mark Hughes heading home the winner vs England at the end of the ’84 season. The following year he was in the thick of the action as Wales recorded famous back to back victories, with Phillips marking Scottish danger man Greame Souness out of the game at Hampden Park before a remarkable 3-0 win over Spain at the Racecourse. In his programme notes for the Spain game, manager Mike England made a point of praising Phillips for doing a job on Souness, especially as the role was somewhat alien to him; he was primarily known at club level as a goalscoring creative midfielder.  Sadly, with only ten minutes to go in the home tie versus Scotland later that year, the ball was smashed against his hand for an unjust penalty, denying an excellent young Wales team a place at the 1986 World Cup.  An FA Cup winner with Coventry in 1987, one of Phillips biggest strengths was his versatility with Terry Yorath often deploying him as a right wing back in his favoured 5-3-2 formation.  Phillips was a regular in the team that narrowly missed out on the 1994 World Cup too

Born: Mufulira, Zambia
2002-2012
59 caps, 16 goals

I recently wrote on twitter that it was a huge shame that upon announcing his retirement from football, so many Wales fans chose to remember Earnshaw’s miss versus England at Wembley rather than the winner on debut versus Germany or the fabulous hat-trick against Scotland in 2004.

Yes, the miss versus England was a bad one, but in the grand scheme of things it was largely meaningless.  Wales would not have qualified for Euro 2012, even if we had gone on to get a late winner at Wembley. I prefer to remember Earnshaw’s first three or so years as a Wales player, when he looked every inch (all 5′ 6” of him) the finisher we’d been waiting for since the Rush/Saunders-in-their-pomp days. Indeed, Rush even said that he believed Earnshaw would one day surpass his record of 28 Wales goals. As it is, he’ll have to settle for joint-seventh on the list.  Still not bad for someone who didn’t play an organised football match until the age of 12 with local youth side Llanbradach. And as much as Mark Hughes was my football hero growing up, I’ve still not forgiven him for not starting Earnshaw in the home leg versus Russia in 2003

Born: Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
1995-2002
30 caps, 3 goals

john robinsonDespite not being in the slightest bit Welsh (he qualified via a now abolished rule that allowed naturalised British citizens born outside the UK to play for any of the four ‘home’ nations.  See also: Pat Van Dan Hauwe, Jeremy Goss, Darren Barnard) Robbo was a hugely popular figure among Wales fans, largely thanks to his tireless all-action style of play.  Not a natural defender (most of his very decent club career with Charlton Athletic was spent in midfield and on the wing) Bobby Gould nevertheless used him as right wing back.  Perhaps the folly of Gould’s thinking was never more perfectly illustrated than by the first half against Belarus at Ninian Park in 1998.  Robinson had scored a superbly worked opening goal, getting up into a shooting position to support a sequence of slick passing.  However, Belarus equalised not long after with Robinson nowhere to be seen as they ripped open the gaping holes on the right hand side of our defence.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Robinson immediately looked a lot more comfortable after Mark Hughes took over and restored him to midfield. Indeed, he won Welsh player of the year in 2000, in Hughes’ first full year as Wales boss.  I felt it was a big shame at the time that Robinson quit Wales in 2002, and still can’t help wondering if he might have made a difference as injuries and suspensions kicked in the following year and results dipped. Sadly, we’ll never know…

Born: Southampton, England
2008-
39 caps, 6 goals

No English-born player has scored more goals for Wales than Sam Vokes.  And he’s still only 26.  Sadly, only one of his six international goals was scored in the past three years with Vokes having suffered an injury that kept him out for months and perhaps he still hasn’t recovered from.  Indeed, Vokes’ ineffectual performances were one of the few negatives of the recent qualifiying campaign, a real shame considering the huge promise he showed as a teenager.  After scoring a late winner as a substitute against Azerbaijan in 2008, he put in a performance of rare strength and bravery a few days later in Moscow, Wales unluckily going down 2-1 to the mighty Russians.  It was quite something to see an 18 year old perform as he did in that game. Perhaps it was only fellow 18 year old old Gareth Bale who shone brighter.  As disappointing as Vokes has been for Wales of late, he will almost certainly be going to the European Championships, as he’s our only big target man striker currently playing at a decent level.  Having just signed a new contract at Championship promotion chasers Burnley, I hope he can kick on and get back to his pre-injury level.  Wales will have a very tough striker to deal with if that happens.

Born: London, England
2010-
30 caps, 2 goals

Hal Robson-Kanu scoresOn the face of it, two goals in 30 games is a pretty poor return for a forward.  Which it is.  Chris Coleman – a defender – scored twice as many in his 32 Wales appearances.  And if, we’re totally honest, there’s really no getting away from the fact that HRK is a pretty limited player.  He’s not particularly quick, not particularly sharp in front of goal, not much of a passer and often makes poor decisions. And yet, his status as a Welsh cult hero is now pretty much secure forever.  Scoring the winner in a world cup qualifier against Scotland as his first Wales goal helps (as does the already-iconic shot of him rising, salmon-like in the snow to head home) Then there was the goal which secured the hugely important victory over Cyprus (Jason Koumas may have scored ten times for Wales but none of them were as important as HRK’s pair).  And his sheer work-rate in the recent victory over Belgium (Russell referred in Podcast #14 to the way the ref seemed the change his mind about telling him to get off the pitch more quickly when subbed late on, recognising that the player had run himself to a virtual standstill) And of couse, his fantastic name lends itself perfectly to those brilliant Barry Horns-led chants.  All together now: Hal! Robson! Hal Robson-Kanu!

Born: Shrewsbury, England
2007-
31 caps, 3 goals

Maybe there’s some Salopian bias coming into play here (I grew up just twenty or so miles north of where Edwards did) and we might even have played in the same junior leagues (albeit nine years apart) but he appears to be a fan-favourite in more general terms anyway.  Aside from a short period towards the end of John Toshack’s tenure, Edwards has never really been a first choice Wales player, but that’s partly what makes him so endearing.  He has come into the side during an injury crisis or – as in the case of the home game vs Cyprus – as a sub following a red card, and done whatever has been asked of him to the absolute best of his ability every time.  Holding midfielder, behind the striker, wide right, Edwards is a versatile player who you can rely on for 100% effort.  It’s a massive shame his current injury could rule him out of Euro 2016, such players are a dream for the manager and I’m sure a fully fit Edwards would have been on the ferry to France (we’re boycotting the Eurostar, right?).

Born: Watford, England
1982 – 1988
31 caps

The son of Swansea-born Frank Jackett, who moved to Watford to play for the club in the late 1940’s , Jackett junior was a first choice Wales pick in the mid-80’s, when I became a fan.  A key player in Watford’s remarkable rise to FA cup finalists and runners up in the league under Graham Taylor, Jackett also played in defence for  the Wales teams that narrowly missed out on qualification in ’84, ’86 and ’88.  Sadly, a series of knee operations brought his career to a premature end at the age 28 in 1990.  Proving himself a very competent manager – currently with Wolverhampton Wanderers – maybe we haven’t seen the last of him with Wales?

Born: Barnstable, England
2009-
32 caps, 2 goals

Perhaps we are yet to see the best of King for Wales and I would imagine the player himself is probably disappointed with his two-goal return from 32 games, especially as, with over 50 goals at a rate of one every six games, he is the highest scoring midfielder in Leicester City’s history. But still, he played in several games in our recent successful campaign, and when Leicester have won the league in a few months maybe we’ll see a more confident King on the international stage?

Born: Singapore, Singapore
1990-1995
21 caps, 1 goal

Like John Robinson, Young  was another firm fans’ favourite despite not being even in the slightest bit Welsh. Nicknamed ‘Ninja’ due to his ever-present red headband, Young was something of a ‘golden oldie’, with his Wales debut coming at the age of 30 against Costa Rica (Gary Speed and Paul Bodin also made their debuts in that game). Although he had been a mainstay of the Wimbledon side which famously toppled Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final, he then went on to enjoy the best spell of his club career, finishing third in the old First Division with Crystal Palace. As a Welsh player during the iconic but ill-fated Euro ’92 and World Cup ’94 era, he’s remembered very fondly despite only playing 21 times on the international stage. Prior to signing with Wimbledon, he combined part-time football with accountancy studies and following his footballing retirement at the age of 41, he became a full-time accountant.  I really hope he still wears his headband in his current job.

Agree with Leon? Should Sam Ricketts or Darren Barnard figure in the list? A Wiki-list of non-Wales born internationals is available here to help you decide.

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