Pele Museum, Lugansk – Музей Пеле


Yes there really IS a Pele Museum in Lugansk.

Lugansk is in Ukraine. Twenty miles from the Russian border,  it  is the easternmost major city in the country and has about 500,000 inhabitants. 

There is a Pele museum in Santos, where Pele played for the local team, which is about 7,000 miles away from Lugansk.  I hope to visit the Santos museum later this year. 

Continue reading Pele Museum, Lugansk – Музей Пеле

Extreme noise terror – Russia 0 Wales 0 (2003)


Ten years ago, Wales drew 0-0 in Moscow in the Euro 2004 play-off first leg. We lost the second leg 1-0 and, on the pitch, have never posed a serious threat to the opposition since.

The weekend was an extraordinary, surreal experience. At one point Cardiff hooligans were negotiating with local idiots to have a fight in Red Square. At the match, we had to barge policemen out of the way to enter the terrace. It was relentlessly crazy – just read Darren Tandy’s amazing tale below to get a sense of what life there is like. Here’s my piece which was first published on the Bobbing Along website:

Continue reading Extreme noise terror – Russia 0 Wales 0 (2003)

Trust in Cookie – Wales 1 Macedonia 0

photo (40)

Is it crisis over now? And finally there’s been an outbreak of trust and hugs and kisses all round? Did the FA say to Chris Coleman in the communal showers after: “We were always going to keep you, Cookie – this was a test.”

I hope so. And I think it’s the least he deserves. We can all move on then. To new Welsh football fiascos and debacles. Or maybe with the world’s most expensive footballer in our ranks and Britain’s best player (Ramsey) we can finally achieve something concrete.

Continue reading Trust in Cookie – Wales 1 Macedonia 0

Wales 0 Belgium 2

Gary Speed WalesWelcome to ‘Plucky Wales shoot themselves in the foot’, episode 95 (or choose your own number).

Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, when maybe we were on the verge of a breakthrough with a decent squad, a good performance goes to waste in cruel style. Only Wales games can produce so many ‘so-near-yet-so-far’  moments.

It all started so well. Full marks to the visiting Belgians for unravelling a ‘Respect Gary Speed’ banner in their end before and during the match. You’ll be forever given credit for a magnificent gesture. They even had the good grace to lose the fans’ match beforehand 11-2. We should have realised they’d launched a charm offensive.

Then, there was then a sermon from Mount Fifa before the match. Was I the only person who found this bizarre?

Someone read out, as if it had been printed on a tablet of stone, an earnest lecture on ‘Fair Play’ in the manner of a schoolmaster declaiming Leviticus 3:24 loudly, knowing that your life would be forever changed as you were struck by a thunderbolt of  .

I’m all for fair play and, fair play, it was very good common sense. But it was ridiculous.  Any sermon from Sepp Blatter is, er, tainted.

Anyway Fifa, fair play to you wonderful gents, did the Panorama show last year get your goat and inspire the marketing bods to respond with ‘a brainwave’?

Jolly good show.

The match

Everyone I spoke to before the match seemed scared of the Belgians and could take no comfort from the fact that we’ve got good players too. Let’s just write that again in capitals – WE’VE GOT GOOD PLAYERS TOO.

And it showed. We played really well until the sending-off. After the sending-off we continued to play really well. Passing was very good, composure was amazing. Coleman criticised the team last month against Bosnia for going forward too early and not holding on to the ball for long enough. Thoughtless play.

He was right. Last night the lesson was learned and I was deeply impressed by the guts we showed.

Talking to media types before the match, they felt the players didn’t care about Wales, couldn’t be bothered and were uninterested. With some exceptions (Church was mentioned), up their own backsides.

But I wonder if I spent several days before a big game at training and waiting if I’d be a bit listless and uncommunicative (they are footballers after all). The performance did not lack character or effort. It seemed to me that once on the pitch their professional ‘football head’ if you like, kicked in and automatically they did what they were trained for to the best of their ability.

And for me the proof was that at 1-0 down in the second half we could barely hear a peep from the Belgian fans. Seems that they could see we were playing well and the game could end in 1-1. Pigs might fly, but at 1-0 and playing as we did, it DID seem that 1-1 was on the cards.

And then, hey presto, Plucky Wales shoot themselves in the foot.

The ref

I don’t blame the ref at all. The Collins tackle, from a long way away, had me praying for a yellow card immediately.

Another bad start in an opening game – it reminded me of the Minsk match in 200o when Bellamy was red-carded in the dreadful defeat over there.

The ref wasn’t to blame for their first goal and, again, from a long way away may have g0t the free kick decision wrong but that didn’t cost us the game. So why blame the ref?

James Collins

A few years back I used to think there were two James Collinses. One played for Cardiff City at centre-back and was brilliant. The other played for Wales and in his first ten games seemed to make a bad mistake inevitably punished. The two couldn’t possibly have been the same person, it seemed.

His performances for Wales improved hugely to the point where he was bloody fantastic in Moenchengladbach, for example, and his commitment couldn’t be faulted.

In short he either had stinkers or stormers. Then, you couldn’t make it up, last night  he had a stormer for 25 minutes and stinker for a microsecond and that was enough to get him sent off. The two extremes  of James Collins’ play were captured in a 25-minute cameo that epitomised his entire career. In the history of the game that’s unusual – it’s fair to say he has a unique talent.

For what it’s worth I hope he returns after the ban. But with Darcy Blake doing so well ever since he first lined up in the side, he seems to be destined to be third choice  centre half. Will he quit Wales, seems to the question?

Chris Coleman

 Coleman’s five at the back starting line-up was common sense. Collins saved our bacon several times before throwing himself into the frying pan with a flying hack.

Then the back four were superb. Have never seen Adam Matthews, for instance, play so well. From that sending-off on, no one performed badly.

Coleman, with the game still at 1-0, then introduced attacking subs in a bid to get a point. So, tactically, he’d thought through what was required and the implementation of the plan was derailed by the sending-off.

Afterwards his defence of Collins, while wrong, was great man-management. He could have kicked him hard but he showed Collins he still had belief in him and wants him to stay in the squad. Classy.

It seems to have been difficult for Coleman to knit the squad together with the ghost of Gary Speed hanging over this side.

His forbearance in the light of what happened to Gary Speed has been exemplary – the fans singing ‘Gary Speed’s Barmy Army at matches are unlikely to change that to ‘Chris Coleman’s Barmy Army’ soon.

But I’ve been impressed with the serious dignity he has brought to the job and deserves credit.

Where now?

Well I’m off to Novi Sad. Updates to follow. For what it’s worth I fancy us to win as Serbia are on a downer and if we are to do anything in this group we have to beat sides like Serbia. A second defeat and we are in last-chance saloon. No side ever gets through the qualifiers having suffered three defeats.

For once, the marketing types have come up with an appropriate slogan ‘Time to Believe’. Last night the players performed – to my surprise – that they do, something I had doubted. Most fans

But I believe this campaign is gonna be a lot more fun than we ever suspected.

No consolation, but why couldn’t the Belgians have picked a few of their fans instead

Wales 0 Costa Rica 1 – Gary Speed RIP

Gary Speed WalesLuxembourg City, November 1990

At  about 2am, after we’d beaten Luxembourg 1-0 in a Euro 92 qualifier, through an Ian Rush goal, Clayton Blackmore  being sent off early, fans and players bumped into each other at a nightclub.

Blackmore, wolfishly good-looking in his early 20s and apparently not too bothered by a dismissal which caused me to suffer a chronic stomach ache and what appeared to be early-onset Parkinson’s for the rest of the match, then spent the night dancing groin-to-groin with a local lassie as half the Welsh team celebrated a not-very-momentous win.

The club shut. A posse of fans sauntered drunkenly  towards their beds. Gary Speed and Malcolm Allen  somehow found themselves walking alongside us. I pulled out my vuvuzela, the first one ever seen in Wales and Luxembourg I wager, and blew it hard – the sound reverberated up and down the road. Seemed like a great idea at the time.

We passed it around and  Gary Speed gave us a parp. Gary Speed, glassily smiling what became his trademark smile, blew my horn. Aged 20 at the time, there was no visible ego (unusual in footballers I’ve since learnt),  no airs, no graces. He just seemed like a nice lad. Words that seem to have been uttered ever since by every who knew him.

I never met him again.

November 27, 2011

Gary Speed found dead. While shocked, for some reason this death spoke to me through the death of a very close friend who took his own life in a very similar manner in 2006. My thoughts were less of Gary Speed and more of my pal – the death rattled the senses and defied belief. A sense of being shaken violently stayed with me for a month back in 2006.

In the days that followed, amid the grief, quite clearly fans  were enduring the same shock and having the same thought processes and experiencing a sense of bewilderment. The memory of it really does stay with you forever.

Leckwith Stadium, Cardiff. Feb 29, 2012, 4.30pm. Wales fans v Costa Rica fans

With 25 minutes to go the life support machine for a number three Wales kit, that’s me, came on. Geraint from Bala directed me to mark Senor M Vargas with the words: “He’s their biggest threat.” Not what you want to hear when you’re going to celebrate (wrong word) your 50th birthday later in the year. Sr Vargas started the psychological brain jamming immediately

Sr Vargas: You like lamb?

Me: Of course, with mint sauce. Where’ve you come from today?

Sr Vargas: Bournemouth, it’s lovely.

Me: De donde eres? (Where are you from?)

Sr Vargas: San Jose, Costa Rica.

Me; Nicer than Bournemouth?

Sr Vargas: Of course.

Luckily the Ticos omitted to feed Sr Vargas the ball for the entire 25 minutes so he never got to embarass me. But a tense last few minutes ensued as one of his team-mates got clobbered by S4C’s Tim Hartley  who swung and missed the ball in the box, clattering an attacker with a kick that would have felled a camel and then swore blind it wasn’t a penalty. From three yards away I felt it couldn’t have been a clearer spot-kick and Sr Vargas despatched it to make it 2-1 to us.

We clung on for a deserved victory. Our female keeper had to go off injured in the second half injuring her foot in a brilliant stop and Greg from Aber, after a mad dash to the game, stepped into the breach to seal a not-very-heroic but strangely satisfying triumph.

The match was played for the John Hartson Foundation and Gol charities and, of course, with Gary Speed at the front of our minds. Donate here at

6.15pm, Gol Centre, Cardiff.

The charming Costa Rican Ambassador to Britain, Pilar Saborio de Rocafort, bought 20 quid’s worth of raffle tickets and enthused about what a wonderful occasion the day had been, bringing Costa Ricans together for a rare chance to see their side play and also spread goodwill.

Having met many of the Costa Ricans in Cardiff for the match, it has to be said they brought a welcome colour and humility to the day. Any chance of a return fixture please? Not in Bournemouth, but in San Jose.

7.45pm, Cardiff City Stadium

A three-month cloud hovered over what must be the most unanticipated match in Welsh football history. Usually, as fans, we’re mad for it. This time we were mad for it to be over.

That was the feeling beforehand anyway. But as the evening progressed there was plenty to savour and in every respect the tone of events was spot on.

What a great job the FAW did. The association’s handling of the last three months was respectful and considerate and deserves great credit.

And it says much for the FAW”s measured, appropriate responses that the match was all anyone could have asked for. There was no wallowing  in mawkish recollections, just simple gestures genuinely felt and warmly expressed.

Nice touches everywhere – from the ‘Gary’ spelt out on the Canton Stand (those of us holding up coloured sheets were trying to figure out what we were showing), to the male voice choir, to the employment of a World Cup Final ref, Howard Webb, it all struck the right  respectful note.

The teenagers’ ‘Shoes off for Gary Speed’ in the Canton stand was welcome relief – why do they do this? – as were the opposition. Let’s face it, we were hoping for someone more illustrious but on reflection it was entirely fitting to end where Gary Speed had started.

Costa Rica turned up to give us a game, scoring at a time when perhaps Welsh players’ minds weren’t entirely focused. Why would they be? The Ticos were quite rugged, could have had a second goal and seemed more cohesive compared to us. In contrast we played too many lateral balls and without Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, the team was shorn of direct attacking menace.

Craig Bellamy, distraught at a pal’s death and facing speculation about this being his last game for his country, quite frankly deserves a medal just for turning out.

The personal and psychological pressure on him must have been immense. He took it all on board and once again, unlike others who’ve turned their backs on their country, strode out to give his all.

Should he pack Wales in, his reasons are pretty much beyond question. Should he stay, then let’s just him appreciate his crazy energy and manic passion for the game for as long as it lasts. He’s the closest we’ll ever get to a Maradona character.

The Human Firework has been a positive force of nature ever since he headed the remarkable  winner in Denmark in 1998 through to his goal against Italy in 2002 and his evident on-field leadership of the last couple of years. Not to mention his charithy work in Africa.

It would be great if he clung on to see if Welsh football finally comes of age by qualifying for a tournament. If we do, it won’t be because of Gary Speed, who inherited the nucleus of a half-decent side, made good decisions after mediocre early results and appeared to have us on the right road.

It will be down to factors influenced by him, key players turning up,  continuing to turn up and luck in games to come.

But whatever happens in the next two years, there is a guiding light and a strange sense of destiny hovering over the side. Whatever is achieved will be for Gary Speed.

Cadwch y ffydd