Wales are one win away from reaching the finals of Euro 2020 and Owen Morgan is in patriotic mood. Even more so after his visit to St. Fagan’s National Museum of History where “The Art of the Welsh Shirt” stirred something deep in his soul.
As a child of the 1970s, I whiled away many a long, dark winter’s night designing football kits with a pad of paper and a packet of felt tip pens.
We had simple pleasures back then. This was the era of three television channels (yes, that’s right kids, three) and regular electricity power cuts.
So it was colouring pens, a pencil-drawn outline and a lot if imagination as I tried to come up with designs to rival the sheer brilliance and beauty of Admiral’s iconic Wales home and away tramline kits of the Seventies.
It was, of course, an impossible task, especially if you’re a nine-year-old armed with a packet of Woolworth’s finest felt tips, working from the light of a paraffin lamp in a power cut.
Due to my insistence of sticking to the colours of the Welsh flag, most of my creations would have looked fine on Hungary, but I couldn’t quite capture the Welsh magic later conjured by those classic Admiral kits.
But my childhood pastime instilled in me a fascination for football kits and each unveiling of a Welsh strip has been accompanied with a level of excitement I really should have left behind with my teenage years.
So, when I heard about an exhibition entitled “The Art of the Welsh Shirt” being housed at St Fagan’s Museum, I knew it was going to be right up my street.
I wasn’t disappointed. The display features 28 classic match-worn home and away Welsh football shirts ranging from the design worn by the likes of Len Allchurch at Wales’ only World Cup finals in 1958 right up to the kit worn by Gareth Bale and Co at the Euros in 2016.
Walking along the simple chronological line of shirts, which, apart from the Allchurch design, concentrates on the period between 1976 and 2017, the memories came flooding back.
Each shirt in the exhibition is accompanied by details of the player who wore it and the particular match in which it featured.
But as I walked past each one, they evoked very personal memories – both good and bad – of matches and players I particularly associated with the design. Even tinny commentaries delivered by the likes of Idwal Robling from far flung European venues like Zagreb were ringing in my ears.
I wasn’t alone as visitors of all ages studied the shirts and reminisced about players and matches from across the decades and generations.
The featured example of that classic Admiral home kit with the green and yellow tramlines was the shirt worn by Leighton James when he ripped Czechoslovakia apart in a 3-0 win at Wrexham’s Racecourse in 1976.
The flying flame-haired winger scored twice in one of the best Welsh displays I can remember from the decade.
Wales’ other goal that night was scored by another player I particularly associated with that shirt – Nick Deacy, who was something of an oddity of the time as he was one of the few Welsh players who played abroad – in Holland with PSV Eindhoven.
There are also memories of that shirt I would rather forget, like Joe Jordan’s handball during the World Cup qualifying defeat against Scotland at Anfield in 1977 and the infamous European Championship quarter-final against Yugoslavia at Ninian Park the previous year.
— Wales (@Cymru) November 13, 2019
The equally stylish yellow away version of that Admiral jersey – featuring green and red tramlines – was represented by the shirt worn by Ian Edwards as he slammed home four goals in a 7-0 hammering of Malta.
This particular example of the “away” shirt was unusual as the match was a home fixture, also played at the Racecourse, against the red-shirted Maltese.
The next shirt in line was Wales’ first adidas creation, which featured white sleeves. Although the displayed shirt was one worn by Terry Yorath against the Czechs in 1980, this shirt will for me always be associated with another Racecourse fixture.
May 17, 1980, will go down in Welsh footballing folklore as the day Wales hammered England 4-1, so this shirt will always have a place in the hearts of the Red Wall, even if many wouldn’t have been around to witness it.
The away version of this kit, yellow with green sleeves, instantly brought to mind a thrilling 4-4 draw against Yugoslavia in 1982, which was notable for featuring a goal from cult-hero defender Joey Jones.
Another adidas shirt – featuring thin horizontal stripes across the chest – will always be associated with Mark Hughes’ unforgettable and gravity-defying volley in the 3-0 win over Spain in 1985.
I myself defied gravity that evening as I took off from my sofa and landed on the other side of my living room almost knocking my television from its then fashionable stand as the Manchester United striker’s effort ripped past Luis Arconada and into the net.
Sadly, that was also the shirt worn by Wales on the night Scotland ended their hopes of qualifying for the 1986 World Cup and visiting manager Jock Stein fatally collapsed in the wake of the match at Ninian Park.
There were further poignant reminders during the exhibition in the shape of two Lotto-designed shirts worn by the late great Gary Speed.
One of them is the away kit reputed to have been the brainchild of former manager Bobby Gould, who presided over a period of Welsh football history that is perhaps best forgotten despite the best efforts of the legendary Speed.
But happier memories were evoked by the patterned Umbro design Ian Rush wore as he raced away from my vantage point high in the West stand at the old National Stadium to score the winner against World Champions Germany in 1990.
And the Kappa creation on display, with white side-panels and collar, transported me back to the night I sat at Millennium Stadium listening to the famous pre-match performance of the Manic Street Preachers and Bryn Terfel’s spine tingling rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau before Wales beat Italy 2-1 in the Euro 2004 qualifying campaign.
It’s a wonder I remember the game at all having enjoyed an all-day “happy hour” in the original Kiwis bar in Cardiff’s Wyndham Arcade prior to the match!
With all these contrasting memories flashing into my mind, I did get a little worried when one kit inspired absolutely no recollections at all.
The only images that came to mind when I studied the white adidas kit, featuring thin vertical pinstripes, were of Gerry Armstrong scoring his famous winning goal for Northern Ireland against Spain in the 1982 World Cup!
I started to worry that my memory was beginning to fail me, until I read the information featured underneath, which revealed that Kerry Andrews’ shirt was only ever worn once, in an under-18 international against the Netherlands in 1986.
There were no such problems with more modern shirts, like Gareth Bale’s green collared and pinstriped adidas shirt worn in the 2016 Euro qualifying campaign and its plainer successor worn in the finals themselves.
The simple red shirt with white collar and shoulder stripes positioned near the end of the timeline will always bring back memories of a wonderful few days spent in Bordeaux watching Wales play in a major finals for the first time in more than 40 years of supporting my country through good times and bad.
And right at the end of the line of shirts, was the latest incarnation of the Welsh kit.
Hopefully on Tuesday night that shirt, with its nod to the colours of Owain Glyndwr’s shield, will create many more wonderful Welsh memories, which will be cherished if and when this exhibition is recreated in future.
Congratulations to curators Neal Heard and Simon Shakeshaft, who put on this excellent exhibition in association with the FAW, St Fagans, JD Sports and adidas.
If your intention was to bring back memories for Welsh football fans, you couldn’t have been more successful.
Which was my favourite shirt? Well the overwhelming desire I had to climb over the barrier and pull Kevin Ratcliffe’s yellow and green long-sleeved adidas shirt from its hanger and make a break for the exit probably answers that question.
The exhibition runs at St Fagans until November 24 and is free to enter between 10am and 5pm. If you’re in the Cardiff area for Tuesday night’s match, it’s well worth a visit.