Football in Wales

Football in Wales

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Football was played in Wales in the early Middle Ages. 1550) in Wales football was slightly different from the game played in England: "There is a round ball prepared... so that a man may hold it in his hand... The ball is made of wood and boiled in tallow to make it slippery and hard to hold... The ball is called a knappan, and one of the company hurls it into the air... He that gets the ball hurls it towards the goal... the knappan is tossed backwards and forwards... It is a strange sight to see a thousand or fifteen hundred men chasing after the knappan... The gamesters return home from this play with broken heads, black faces, bruised bodies and lame legs... Yet they laugh and joke and tell stories about how they broke their heads... without grudge or hatred."

Professional football emerged in Wales in the late 19th century. It became very popular in those areas which had seen large-scale immigration from England. The game was encouraged by the ruling class. In 1881 Sir William Wynne, MO for Denbighshire, argued: "Much has been said of the British spending their time on drinking... These kinds of sports... keep young men from wasting their time... after playing a good game of football... young men are more glad to go to bed then visiting the public house."

The best Welsh players moved to England. For example, the former miner from Chirk, Billy Meredith, was considered to be the best players in the league in the 1890s.

Rugby Union became more popular in Wales than football and it was impossible to establish a high-quality league in the country. The top clubs joined the Football League and Cardiff City became a leading First Division side and in 1927 won the FA Cup.

Gwynedd schoolboys 'make history' by reaching Welsh national semi-finals

Gwynedd schoolboys under-13 side have made history by reaching the national semi-finals of the Welsh schoolboys competition.

The side topped the North Wales section and qualified for the knockout phase with a thumping 5-1 against Wrexham Schools.

The team, coached by Ifan Thomas and Gavin Parry, completed a clean sweep of their section winning all three of their games.

On their route to the knockout phase, they beat county sides from Anglesey and Denbighshire.

They cruised to the top of their group with a thumping 5-1 away win with goals from Steffan Alford (2), Caio Humphreys (2) and Owen Whiteley.

They will now take on Denbighshire Schools at Treborth in Bangor on Saturday for a place in the final against a south Wales side.

The Denbighshire side qualified as best-placed runners-up.

The Gwynedd team is made up of pupils from eight secondary schools in Caernarfon, Bala, Bangor, Pwllheli, Llanrug, Harlech, Tywyn, Dolgellau and Blaenau Ffestiniog.

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Coach Ifan Thomas was full of praise for the side&aposs performances and commitment in a Covid disrupted season.

He said: "Reaching the national semi-finals is a massive achievement for the young players, and is a testament to their dedication and talent.

"Many years have passed since Gwynedd County last qualified to this stage of the competition.

"We hope that the success of these players will carry on for many years and that they will continue to flourish in the national schools competition."

He went on to praise the spirit and togetherness shown by the players.

"They have bonded together quickly and have developed into a very strong team who thrive on working hard on and off the ball, as well as showing skill and flair in attacking situations.

"Having representation from eight different schools across Gwynedd County is brilliant, and shows that the schools pathway offers an opportunity to all kids within the county a chance to play football at a high level.

"Most players within our squad also play for academy teams such as Caernarfon and Bala, who also offer the boys some great opportunities and an environment to develop as footballers and individuals.

"It’s great to see that the hunger and desire is there from every single one of them to attend all training and games to develop themselves as individuals and as a team."


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Explained: Why Welsh teams play in the ɾnglish' Premier League

Swansea and Cardiff City are participants of the English Football League, though they are Welsh-based clubs – so how does their participation in the Premier League, Championship and League One in England work?

The likes of Scottish-based clubs play in their own league, same as Northern Ireland. Wales, it seems, are the only nation in which their sides participate in a cross-border league – and here's what you need to know about it.

Swansea, along with Cardiff City, Newport County, Wrexham and Merthyr Town all play in the English Football League as when they were first formed, no Welsh football league had existed. And so, their only option was to join the English Football League – Cardiff doing so in 1920 and Swansea following suit in 1921 – and have been playing there ever since.

Editors' Picks

Though a Welsh Premier League (also known as Cymru Premier) was formed in 1992, the above clubs wished to remain playing in the English football league pyramid.

Cardiff City, Swansea and Newport all compete in the English football league system and are all allowed to compete in the FA Cup, an English tournament. They used to be under the administration of the Football Association of Wales up until 2012, though their disciplinary functions are now handled by the English FA.

"All matters where the penalty can include sporting sanctions will be dealt with by the [English] FA, including doping and off-the-field issues," said an FAW representative in 2011.

The likes of Wrexham and Merthyr Town, however, remain under the authority of the FAW.

Welsh teams playing in the English Premier League are ultimately the exception and not the rule.

Scottish teams still play in the Scottish Premiership, not the Premier League, and Northern Irish teams compete in the Northern Ireland Football League.

Swansea and Cardiff City are the two Welsh clubs who have played in the top tier of English top-flight football most consistently, with the Bluebirds also the only non-English team to have won the FA Cup (in 1927).

Their participation in the FA Cup final in 2008 led the English FA to ultimately allow Welsh clubs to represent England in UEFA competitions, such as the UEFA Cup, in the event that they won the final. They ended up losing to Portsmouth in the final, but FA's rule change still stood.

Swansea's victory during the 2013 League Cup led them to become the first Welsh side to qualify for a European competition through the route of the English FA.

Wales finished second in the group behind Italy in Group A, finishing with four points after recording one win, one draw and one loss each. Wales' run to their second successive knockouts has come on the back of their defensive showings, conceding only twice in three games. While Gareth Bale is yet to get on the scoresheet, Wales have scored thrice, with Aaron Ramsey, Connor Roberts and Kieffer Moore all netting for Rob Page's side.

Denmark meanwhile did not have the best of starts, losing Christian Eriksen in their 1-0 loss to Finland, before going 2-1 down to Belgium. However, the Danes showed their ruthlessness in their must-win game against Russia, clinching a thumping 4-1 win to finish ahead of Finland and seal a knockout berth. Denmark had four different goal scorers on that night, with Mikkel Damsgaard, Yousuf Poulsen, Andreas Christensen and Joachim Maehle scoring for Kasper Hjulmand's side.

Honours: Scottish League (1894-95, ྜ-97, 1957-58, ཷ-60), Scottish Cup (eight times), Scottish League Cup (1954, ྲྀ, ཷ, ེ)

Hearts are pretty good at winning the Scottish Cup with three wins and five runners-up spots since they last won the league title – which, by the way, is way too long ago.

Edinburgh's biggest club have finished in the top three 13 times since they last won the Scottish league title, including five second place finishes. How on earth they haven't turned one of those into a title in the last nearly 60 years is mind-boggling.

Anyway, being the biggest club in a capital city? Big club.

The Keith Harding Collection

A unique collection of photographs assembled by the late Keith Harding, who was chairman of Newtown Football Club for seven years, during which time the club became one of the Welsh Premier League's most successful clubs, and made UEFA Cup appearances in 1996 and 1998.

His legacy is the biggest collection of graphic material yet and hopefully an incentive for other clubs to research and make available their football heritage in the same way. Click to view the collection >>

Historical Football Kits

In January 1876 Llewellyn Kenrick responded to a challenge printed in The Field, to raise a Welsh football team to play a representative side from Ireland or Scotland in either the association or rugby code. Kenrick faced down his critics from South Wales who argued that Wales' representative team should play rugby football and in February 1876 at a meeting held in the Wynnstay Arms, Wrexham, he formed the FA of Wales ( Cymdeithas Bêl-droed Cymru ).

The Welsh team of the Edwardian era is associated with the brilliant Billy Meredith, a miner from Chirk who went on to play for both Manchester City and Manchester United, became involved in a bribery scandal, fell out with his managers on a regular basis and won 48 caps for his country. (He would have won more but his clubs refused to release him for 23 internationals.)

A clear distinction developed between South Wales, where rugby union was firmly established as the game of the working class and the more sparsely populated North Wales, where association football was more popular.

Wales joined the other British associations by leaving FIFA in 1928. In 1932, Wales played host to the Republic of Ireland, the first time they had played a team from outside the home nations. The following May they played France in Paris, the first time Wales had traveled outside the British Isles.

The first part of this section owes a great deal to Simon "Shakey" Shakeshaft who spent hours in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth ploughing through contemporary newspaper reports to compile the most complete record of early Wales' kits available.



Wales' first game was played in Partick, Glasgow against Scotland, who won 4-0. A programme was printed for the match which, curiously, does not give details of the team's colours (which were white shirts/black knickers) but does describe the stockings worn by the players so spectators could distinguish one from another. The Welsh goalkeeper, for example wore "pale yellow and purple" socks while the Scotch (sic) left-back wore a brown pair.

Dylan Jones has established that in the return fixture in 1877, Wales wore white shirts with the Welsh emblem (confirmed by Darren Foss as being the three feathers of the Prince of Wales ) and (navy) blue knickers. Players provided their own socks until 1879 when the FA of Wales specified that these should be red.

Wales first played England at The Oval in January 1879, a match reduced to 60 minutes due to heavy snow. The home side played in their club jerseys so there was no clash with Wales' white shirts. In the return, however, England turned up in white. The match was delayed for 15 minutes while the Welsh returned to their dressing room where they fashioned some red material into belts. A similar solution was adopted for the next two England fixtures but a red sash was now draped across the Welsh shirts.

It was not until they played Ireland for the first time on 25 February 1882 that the Welsh recorded their first win, a crushing 7-1 victory followed by a 5-3 win against England.

In 1883 the British Home Championship was inaugurated and Wales now met the other home nations on a regular basis. Home games were normally played at Y Cae Raes (Racecourse Ground) in Wrexham although in February 1894, they entertained Ireland in Swansea, in the heartland of rugby union. Two years later Wales played England at Cardiff Arms Park and were thrashed 1-9.

The picture between 1883 and 1900 is confusing: while the team generally wore halved shirts, they appeared in a bewildering variety of colours. Not all of these changes can be explained by colour clashes and in some years different combinations were worn against different opponents. Because records are incomplete, this is noted below relevant graphics. In 1884 white shirts with a badge were worn although there is no record of what England wore when they met Wales.

A press report on the match against England in Wrexham described Wales' shirts as red and black. It may be that he was describing the cardinal/navy shirts worn earlier but this cannot be confirmed.

Two different crests were worn between 1876 and 1888, The first consisted of the Prince of Wales' feathers. This was replaced in 1880 by a red dragon passant, holding a football and surrounded by the legend "The Football Assocation of Wales Cymry (sic) Am Byth" on a black shield. At some point a new badge featuring a dragon rampant appeared on a maroon shield with the Welsh text now correctly spelled but so far we have not been able to establish any dates for this nor whether it was worn on team shirts. It is possible it was a blazer badge.

Birth of Pro Football

The date was November 12, 1892, a day that would forever be etched in sports history, although no one involved that day could possibly have recognized the importance of the occasion. It was the day that the Allegheny Athletic Association football team defeated the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. The game in itself was not a momentous event. But one of the circumstances of the game did make it a never-to-be-forgotten moment in sports history &ndash one of the AAA players, William (Pudge) Heffelfinger, was openly paid $500 to play the game. Thus pro football made its debut more than 100 years ago in comparatively obscure surroundings that could not possibly have provided the slightest clue to the world-wide popularity the sport would be destined to enjoy, particularly in the waning decades of pro football's first century.

William (Pudge) Heffelfinger, the first professional football player.

While the PAC had suspected something illegal was afoot, there was no immediate evidence to back up its belief that the AAA had abandoned the standard practices of the day by actually paying someone to play football. Absolute verification, in fact, did not become public for almost 80 years until the Pro Football Hall of Fame received and displayed a document &ndash an expense accounting sheet of the Allegheny Athletic Association that clearly shows a "game performance bonus to W. Heffelfinger for playing (cash) $500. While it is possible that others were paid to play before 1892, the AAA expense sheet provides the first irrefutable evidence of an out-and-out cash payment. It is appropriately referred to today as "pro football's birth certificate."

View pro football's "birth certificate."

The sport of American football itself was relatively new in 1892. Its roots stemmed from two sports, soccer and rugby, which had enjoyed long-time popularity in many nations of the world. On November 6, 1869, Rutgers and Princeton played what was billed as the first college football game. However, it wasn't until the 1880s that a great rugby player from Yale, Walter Camp, pioneered rules changes that slowly transformed rugby into the new game of American Football.

Meanwhile, athletic clubs that sponsored a great variety of sports teams became a popular phenomenon in the United States in the years immediately after the Civil War. One of the sports the athletic club embraced was football.

By the 1880s, most athletic clubs had a football team. Competition was heated and each club vowed to stock its teams with the best players available. Toward this end, some clubs obtained jobs for star players. Others "awarded" expensive trophies or watches to their players, who would in turn pawn their awards, only to receive them again and again after each game they played. A popular practice was to offer double expense money to players for their services. Since football players were supposed to be amateurs, these practices were questioned by the Amateur Athletic Union but for every tactic declared illegal, a new one was developed.

Thus the scene was set for the AAA-PAC showdown. The actions before, during and after the game are as intriguing as the fact that someone was openly paid to play football for the first time. The Allegheny football team, founded in 1890, and the Pittsburgh team, founded a year later, already were heated rivals when they met in the first of two games in the 1892 season and wound up in a 6-6 tie. Adding fuel to the fire was the AAA claim that the PAC's top player and coach, William Kirschner, was a professional because, as a paid instructor for the PAC, his salary went up and his work load down during the football season. With controversy raging, both sides began to explore methods of beefing up their squads.

Early-day pro football historians agreed that a 16-year-old quarterback from Indiana College in Pennsylvania, John Brallier, had become the first pro football player when he accepted $10 and "cakes" (expenses) to play for the Latrobe, PA, town team against neighboring Jeannette on September 3, 1895.

After the Pro Football Hall of Fame was opened in 1963 in Canton, further research uncovered the Pudge Heffelfinger payment by the Allegheny Athletic Association in 1892 and thus negated the Latrobe claim as the birthplace of pro football.

Today, Brallier is ranked no higher than seventh in line among the early-day players accepting pay to play.

Listed below are the first seven players known to have been openly paid to play football:

William "Pudge" Heffelfinger &ndash Allegheny Athletic Association, Pittsburgh, &ndash $500 for one game on November 12, 1892.

Ben "Sport" Donnelly &ndash Allegheny Athletic Assocation, Pittsburgh &ndash $250 for one game on November 19, 1892.

Peter Wright &ndash Allegheny Athletic Association, Pittsburgh &ndash $50 per game (under contract) for the entire 1893 season.

James Van Cleve &ndash Allegheny Athletic Association, Pittsburgh &ndash $50 per game (under contract) for the entire 1893 season.

Oliver W. Rafferty &ndash Allegheny Athletic Association, Pittsburgh &ndash $50 per game (under contract) for the entire 1893 season.

Lawson Fiscus &ndash Greenburg, PA &ndash $20 per game (under contract) for the entire 1894 season.

John Brallier &ndash Latrobe, PA, &ndash $10 and expenses for one game on September 3, 1895.

The AAA and PAC both focused their attention on the strong Chicago Athletic Association team that utilized the "double expense money" ploy to keep its players happy. Heffelfinger, who had been a three-time Yale All-America guard in 1889, 1890 and 1891, had been granted a leave of absence from his job as a low-salaried railroad office employee in Omaha so he could accompany the Chicago team on a six-game tour of the East.

The PAC, with a particular sense of urgency after its star Kirschner had been sidelined with an injury, scouted Chicago in a tour-opener against the Cleveland Athletic Association. Chicago won easily and Heffelfinger had an outstanding game. The Pittsburgh Press on October 30, 1892 reported that Heffelfinger and Knowlton "Snake" Ames of the Chicago team had been offered $250 to play for the PAC against the Allegheny Athletic Association in the upcoming November 12 game.

Thus alerted, the AAA did some scouting of its own and found that Ben "Sport" Donnelly, a star end, and Ed Malley would play with the AAA for the usual "double expense money." Ames was unwilling to risk his amateur standing for any price and Heffelfinger said only he couldn't risk his amateur status for a mere $250. In effect, pro football had its first "holdout" even before it had its first pro. When the AAA representatives learned that Heffelfinger would play for $500, they readily welcomed him into the fold.

When the teams took the field on November 12, PAC players quickly noticed that Heffelfinger, Donnelly and Malley were in AAA uniforms. The PAC coach took his team off the field because, among several reasons, followers of both sides had bet heavily on the game and the AAA obviously had tilted the scale with ringers. Finally, it was agreed that game would be played as an exhibition and that all bets would be off.

The lengthy bickering had delayed the kickoff so long that the game had to be shortened to two 30-minute halves (instead of 45 minutes) to beat the autumn darkness soon to descend on Pittsburgh. Midway through the first half, Heffelfinger scored the game's only touchdown when he forced a fumble, recovered it, and raced 25 yards for a score. Touchdowns counted four points in 1892, so Allegheny won 4-0.

Almost no one was happy with the result. AAA fans were angry because they were unable to collect on their bets. PAC followers were furious over the use of the Chicago players and charged that Heffelfinger had actually been paid cash to play. The AAA manager O.D. Thompson insisted he had acted prudently and had merely done "what the Pittsburghs tried to do. Only we were successful where they failed." It should be noted that the expense accounting sheet that years later proved the PAC charges to be correct was signed by none other than O.D. Thompson.

That now-famous Allegheny Athletic Association expense sheet also showed that the AAA realized a net profit of $621 for the game, despite the "huge" payment to Heffelfinger. Since winning and maintaining financial solvency were dual objectives in 1892 just as they are today, the AAA's first venture into pro football had proved satisfactory, both on and off the field.

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