As the great sporting hibernation goes on, Dai Sport is again forced to raid its horded supplies from the past. This time, Tom Jenkins looks at the Wales national football team who just happen to celebrate their 144th birthday this week. One man who spans a fair chunk of that history is former Wales midfielder and manager Brian Flynn.
Brian Flynn was almost an international record-breaker before scoring arguably the greatest-ever Wales goal on his first full appearance.
On the 144th anniversary of Wales’ first fixture – a 4-0 defeat to Scotland in Glasgow on March 25, 1876 – Flynn’s finish against the ‘Tartan Army’ in the 1975 British Home Championship stands tall in the Welsh pantheon of great goals.
Brian Flynn celebrates his birthday today. Loved his goal for Wales v Scotland 1975. https://t.co/3xvAtSYK53
— Phil Bird (@PhilBirdBFC) October 12, 2017
But Flynn, the former Burnley and Leeds midfielder, still chuckles at the thought of how at just 5ft 4ins in his stockinged feet that he might have become the smallest centre-half in football history.
“I made my debut against Luxembourg at the Vetch in Swansea,” Flynn recalled of a European Championship qualifier in November 1974.
“We were 4-0 up and coasting with half-an-hour to go, they were playing one up front and we had a back four.
“Mike Smith (manager) took Mike England off, put me on and everyone thought I was going to play at centre-half. That would have been something!
“But Mike was quite forward in terms of tactical acumen. He just said ‘play three at the back, you’re only marking one player’. So I had about 20-25 minutes.”
Flynn made another substitute appearance in a famous Wales win – 2-1 over Hungary at their Nepstadion fortress in April 1975 – before scoring the goal that Dragons’ fans still remember 45 years on.
It is a goal that has been seen countless times on YouTube, four one-touch passes before an unerring first-time finish from Flynn.
“It wasn’t a great ball into me from Malcolm Page, but I managed to flick it round the corner (past Lou Macari),” said Flynn, who went on to win 66 caps and enjoy a distinguished management career at Wrexham and Swansea and was briefly in charge of Wales in 2010.
“John Mahoney could have turned but he played the ball back to me first time.
#OnThisDay 1978: Ann Heyno and Fergus O’Kelly demonstrated that science was everywhere, not least in Brian Flynn’s 1975 debut goal for Wales against Scotland, in Science All Around. pic.twitter.com/YyiZipOzPg
— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) September 18, 2019
The weight on John’s pass was perfect for me to run onto and John Toshack made a great angle for me.
“He only went five or six yards inside the penalty box, and his return pass meant I couldn’t miss from that position.
“It was great to score a goal so many remember. It’s a long time ago, but I keep reminding people. It was not far off a masterpiece!
“It was also my first goal in senior football, I’d not even scored for Burnley then.”
Flynn’s first-half goal at a packed Ninian Park put Wales 2-0 ahead.
Scotland, aided by a Bruce Rioch screamer, fought back to draw 2-2, but surely Flynn – just 19 at the time – had scored the greatest goal of a career that would see him play over 600 games?
“I’d have to say no,” said Flynn. “I scored against Brazil at Ninian Park once.
“In terms of profile, that was bigger. It was a header as well – and I didn’t score many of them.”
Wales’ 144th birthday treats
Wales played their first official match on March 25, 1876, making it the third oldest international football team in the world after England and Scotland.
The opening game was a 4-0 defeat to Scotland in Glasgow, and a first win did not arrive until February 26, 1881 when England were beaten 1-0 at Blackburn.
Here are some of the highs and lows of Welsh football and some of the great managers and players that have graced almost a century and a half.
One man cast his shadow over Welsh football in the early years – Billy Meredith.
Born in the small mining town of Chirk in 1874, Meredith worked in the local colliery as a pit pony driver at the age of 12. He had lengthy spells at Manchester City and Manchester United in an extraordinary league career spanning 30 years and was one of football’s first superstars.
Meredith, who was known for playing with a toothpick in his mouth to aid concentration, made a then-record 48 Wales appearances between 1895 and 1920 – and at 45 years and 229 days remains the oldest player to win a Welsh cap.
Picked off by Pele
Wales’ only appearance at the World Cup came in 1958.
A golden era featured players such as Cliff Jones, Ivor Allchurch and the great John Charles, and qualification was secured through a play-off win against Israel after Asian and African teams had refused to play them.
Once in Sweden, Wales – who were managed by Manchester United assistant Jimmy Murphy just four months after the Munich Air Disaster – made the last eight with the help of another play-off victory against Hungary.
But Wales’ dream died in the last eight with a 1-0 defeat to eventual winners Brazil and a goal scored by a 17-year-old called Pele.
From Meredith to Gareth Bale and Neville Southall to Ryan Giggs, Wales has produced no shortage of world-class talent.
But John Charles possibly stands above them all. Swansea-born Charles was equally effective at centre-half or centre-forward, but he built his reputation leading the line for Leeds and Juventus.
Charles was dubbed ‘Il Gigante Buono’ (The Gentle Giant) during his goal-laden five seasons in Italy and his 6ft 2ins frame towered above Welsh football.
Charles played at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, but crucially missed the quarter-final defeat to Brazil through injury.
Mark Hughes’ thunderous volley against Spain in 1985 or Bale’s long-range last-minute screamer to beat Scotland in 2012 live long in the memory.
But there was no better team goal than Brian Flynn’s against Scotland in the 1975 British Home Championship.
Flynn laid off Malcolm Page’s pass and played one-twos with John Mahoney and John Toshack before finishing with aplomb.
“It was my first full cap for Wales and my first goal in senior football,” Flynn said.
“The weight on John Mahoney’s pass was perfect – and although I’ve never told him – John Toshack made a great angle for me and I couldn’t miss. It was great to score a goal so many people remember.”
After a 58-year absence, Wales were back at a major championship at Euro 2016.
Wales beat Belgium, ranked second in the world, on their way to France and then overcame Slovakia and Russia to top a group that also included England.
Bale scored in every group game and Wales then sneaked past Northern Ireland 1-0 to meet Belgium again in the last eight.
Chris Coleman’s side recovered from an early deficit to win 3-1 before losing to eventual champions Portugal in the semi-final.
The wait for a third major finals did not prove so long, however, as Wales qualified for Euro 2020 under Giggs.