Posted: 10/12/2011


         Halfway across the world, the Welsh Rugby Union team beat Ireland and now face France in Auckland's Eden Park in the semi-final of the 2011 World Cup for the Webb Ellis gold trophy, their most important match for a quarter of a century.

        At the National Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria, the football version of the Red Dragons won their second match in a row, 1-0 after a 2-1 victory over Switzerland in Swansea last Saturday, and a commendable 1-0 loss to group winners England at Wembley Stadium a short time ago,

       With new national coach Gary Speed there seems to be a new found belief in a nation that has only once taken part in the finals of a major tournament, and that being the 1958 World Cup in Sweden when they reached the quarter-finals.

       On Tuesday I took the train to Wrexham General station, via Manchester and Chester, next door to The Racecourse Ground, which claims to be the world's oldest national team stadium in continued use.   Wales U21's were hosting The Czech Republic and had beaten Montenegro at the same venue 3 days earlier.  I had a chat with my old friend Ron Bridges ex FIFA referee who is on the FAW board and with former Liverpool and Wales legend Joey Jones who coaches at Wrexham FC.

      Joey played 70 times for Wales, and while at Liverpool was a cult figure and immortalized when a banner was unfurled when they beat Borussia Moenchengladbach 3-1 in 1977 for The European Cup Final at Rome's Stadio Olympico. JOEY ATE THE FROGS LEGS, MADE THE SWISS ROLL, NOW HE'S MUNCHIN GLADBACH !!!

     The club, the third of the Welsh pro clubs after Swansea City and Cardiff City, have gone through a difficult time with some ' dodgy' ownership. However the stadium has recently been bought by Glyndwr University next door to their 6,000 student campus, with new halls of residence right behind the main stand, and faces a bright future and more international matches at various levels.  I met with the Sports Manager of Glyndwr, Anna Marie Brown, a former hockey international and a gung ho CAN DO lady who has grandiose plans.

     Before kick off and had an interesting chat and a cup of tea with Dusan Fitzel, Technical Director of The FA of The Czech Republic, and Tomas Pacik, Chairman of FC Viktoria Plzen, who face Barcelona in Camp Nou in the Champions League next Wednesday. The Czech Republic will be in the Euro 2012 play offs next month for the chance of a trip to Poland /Ukraine next June. The U21 teams are hoping for a final place at the 2013 tournament in Israel.

     We stood in silence for about three minutes before kick off but then there was an apology that neither national anthems would be played.  Five minutes into the first half an the Czechs scored what turned out to be the only goal of the match for coach Jakub Dovalil's side.  From a cormer by Vladimir Darida, the ball was headed on by Marek Hanousek to Sparta Prague's Vaclav Kadlec who headed into the roof of the net.

      The visitors were quicker and taller all round but local Wrexham player Chris Maxwell did well in goal, and Tom Bradshaw of Shrewsbury Town had the many scouts on duty take notice. Rotherham United's Troy Brown hit the bar near the end but Wales have now won 2 and lost 2 matches in Group III, which includes Armenia, Italy, Czech Republic and Andorra. The finals are in Israel in June 2013.