PICTURE BY Football Association of Wales
ARTICLE BY Keane Webster
Over the last week, I have put a poll on my Social Media accounts to ask Welsh Football fans who they think is the best Welsh footballer ever as I was intrigued to see what supporters had to say.
Would it be the controversial Ryan Giggs who is one of the best ability wise, but for his nation, always divided opinion?. Or would it be Gareth Bale, our lord and saviour in our qualifying rounds in 2015 to secure a spot in our first Major Tournament for more than half a decade? Or could it be another of our Welsh heroes?
I told people to vote seriously and give honest and unbiased opinions, taking into consideration their ability, individual acheivemnts, club accolades and of course, accomplishments with the national team. After receiveing near 300 valid responses, I can now reveal who people chose as their greatest Welsh football.
4th Place – Ian Rush
In at 4th Place is Ian Rush MBE. The Liverpool and Wales legend shone for both club and country during an illustrious 22 year career which saw him become both Liverpool and Wales’ top goalscorer.
Striker Rush started his career at Chester City where he scored an impressive 14 goals in 34 games at a young age. This stand-put start to life in porfessional football saw Rush awarded with not only a big move to Liverpool FC, but his first ever International call up. In fact, Rush actually made his debut for Wales before he made his Liverpool debut in a 0-1 away loss to Scotland in May 1980.
This was the first game of 73 for the National side for Rush, going on to score 28 goals, putting his name at the top of the list of all time goalscorers in Welsh Football – until Gareth Bale topped him in 2018.
As mentioned before, Rush was also Liverpool Football Club’s top goalscorer scoring 364 throughout his 10 year career at Liverpool, which did also see him go to Juventus in the meantime, but also being put back out on loan to Liverpool during his spell at the Turin based club.
Rush will always be remembred for the moment he played a vital part in one of our country’s most memorable wins ever after he scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win against Germany in the Euro 92 qualifiers. Rush also saw himself stamping his name into the records books for Wales when he scored the Welsh National side’s first hat trick in just over 13 years in a 6-0 win against the Faroe Islands in the qualifiers of the 1994 World Cup. The strong forward made his final appearance for Wales in 1996 on the 24th of January, in a 3-0 loss against Italy in a friendly match in Terni.
Becoming the top goalscorer of his country, One of the biggest clubs in the world, and arguably the best in England, and winning the European Golden Boot in 1984, Rush’s name will always be considered as one of our Wales’ best ever players.
3rd Place – Ryan Giggs
Taking up the 3rd place spot, is Manchester United’s all time appearance maker, Ryan Giggs. No matter what people have to say about his dedication to his national side in his playing days, there is no doubt, when you just take ability into consideration, Giggs comes out on top out of any Welsh player.
That ability saw him make 672 appearances for Manchester United between 1990 and 2014, and 64 appearances for Wales. The tricky Winger however, has come under his fair share of critiscm on and off the field. Leaving the off field stuff out of the equation as it is completly irrelavant, Giggs is often criticised for his lack of dedication towards Wales.
Giggs made his Wales debut at the age of 17 years in 1991 against Germany which saw him become the youngest ever player to represent the National Side. Despite impressing in his early years, Giggs made it clear to everybody that out of his club and his country, there was only one priority, and that was Manchester United. He missed 18 consecutive games for Wales when he was eligible to play. His reasoning was due to the concern of club manager, Sir Alex Fergsuon, who did not want his own vital player risking injury in “unnecessary” games. Giggs was also critisiced for not being “completely Welsh” after making appearances for England Schoolboys at a young age.
However, Giggs did say that he would rather go through his career not qualifying for anything with Wales than winning everything with England. To be fair on him, people do forget that he did play in many games for Wales which saw him lead by example on the pitch gaining Man Of The Match awards on few occasions. One of those in a 2-0 win against Azerbaijan where he scored a double in 2005. Before retiring from the National side in 2007, Giggs made his final appearance in a 0-0 draw against Czeck Rebublic in another game in which he won the Man of The Match award.
As this is poll was not just on these players’ national careers, but ability also, it is also important to remember just how good he was for Mancehster United. Giggs was a 13 time Premier League winner, 4 time Fa Cup winner and two time Champions League winner, playing a vital part in Manchester United’s famous dramatic last minute win against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in 1999 that sealed the treble for the club. With his incredible versatility, bursting pace and skilful dribbling, Giggs was very much one of Sir Alex’s main men for his 20 year + career. It was one which saw him win 2 PFA YPOTYs, A place in the PFA TOTY 6 times, A place in the PFA team of the Century and many other individual awards.
Now managing our national side, and doing a stellar job in his first two years, Ryan Giggs remains in a very contreversial position at the minute with his personal life but there is no doubt the United and Wales legend will always be in consideration for “Wales’ best ever player” for me and many others.
2nd Place – John Charles
At 2nd Place, and who I voted for as the best myself, is Mr John Charles. Frequently being named ‘British football’s greatest ever export’, he was also a key figure in Wales’ 58’ World Cup campaign and is without a doubt, to many people, the greatest Welsh player ever.
Charles, as well as teammate Ivor Allchurch, played the biggest parts in Wales’ qualification and World Cup run in 1958 before unfortunatley missing the decisive Quarter Final game due to Injury. Charles netted 15 times in 38 caps for Wales, showing he could also flaunt his goal scoring prowess on international level after scoring for fun at club career for Italian ginats, Juventus.
Nicknamed the ‘Gentle Giant’ due to his polite demeanour and staggering height of 6”2 at the age of 17, it was obvious Charles would go on to be an exceptional talent with his lightning quick pace, his pure strength and two good feet. Originally a centre half, it became apparent later on that Charles was a forward and was given a role up front early in the 1952-3 season by Leeds manager Frank Buckely. During his short first stint at centre forward, Charles put his name on the score-sheet 11 times in just six matches. Going on to spend the rest of his season as at centre forward, John finished the season with 38 goals in 40 matches.
In what was a fantastic year for the player, attention was drawn to the young Welsh talisman from Italian giants Juventus. The old lady were willing to pay a then British record fee for the Welshman’s signature offering £65,000 to Leeds United, who ended up accepting the offer. Going on to win three league titles and two Coppa Italia’s, plus scoring 95 goals for Juventus, Charles had an illustrious career overseas in Italy, but ultimately returned to Leeds five years after his big move. After being unable to re-adapt to the English game, Charles went out on loan to Roma and then to Cardiff – but nevertheless was still regarded as the best player in the world by Welsh fans right up until his retirement and for a long time after too I’m sure.
He is also still loved by Leeds United to this day, with a stand named after him at Elland Road, and still revered as Juventus’ greatest ever overseas player.
A true icon in Footballing history, not just Welsh footballing history. For his contribution towards our national football team, John Charles has to be within our top three players ever, and luckily, the 300 fans who where asked for their answers, realise that.
Others chosen …
Now before we get to the winner, let’s take a look at some people from the “Other” category which counted for 3% of the votes. We had, Aaron Ramsey in there (above). A player with undoubted talent and who did play a big part in Wales’ Euro 2016 campaign, but has also come under scrutintiy over his dedication for the side and for me, is one of our more overrated players (Despite inspiring the nation to dying their hair blonde for the 2016 Summer!).
Another, who I think should have definitely been mentioned more was Ivor Allchurch. A figure highly-respected all around Wales, and a true Welshman through and through. So highly respected, Allchurch has his own statue outside of the Liberty Stadium, after making over 400 appearances for Swansea City. Despite playing at such a high level for his whole career, before retiring at the age of 50, Allchurch finished his career playing for two much smaller clubs in Haverfordwest County and Pontardarwe Athletic.
1st Place – Gareth Bale
Absolutely no surprises here, surely ? Yes, not who I would have put at the top but also not one I would argue against strongly at all.
What a career this man has had and what an impact he has made on the National Side since his debut in 2006 becoming the youngest ever Welsh International at the time. On the October 7 2006, Bale became the youngest Welsh goalscorer scoring a free kick against Slovakia in the qualification rounds for the 2008 European Championships.
In December 2010, after a stunning season with Tottenham and a few bright performances with the Welsh side, Bale was awarded with BBC Sports Personality of The Year.
What we all mainl love Bale for though starts in 2014, the qualifying for the Euro 2016 Championships. On September 9, 2014, Bale scored two goals in a 2-1 win against Andorra which set the tone for the qualifiers. Also, he put his name in the top ten all time goalscorers tying with John Hartson on 14. He then scroed another two goals in a 3-0 away win against Israel in March 2015. But one of the biggest results in Wales’ history saw Bale score the only goal in a famous 1-0 win against Belgium on his 50th Cap, which made the whole nation dare to dream that this, would finally be our year of qualifaction.
Bale could not stop his goalscoring fashion for Wales at this point and headed in from a cross in a 1-0 away win over Cyprus later in the year which saw Wales only three points from qaulifaction. However, due to results going our way, Wales qualified after our final qualifier game with Andorra which also saw Bale get on the scoresheet. With Wales entering Euro 2016 as one of the favourites to go out of the tournament early, Bale’s impressive record continued by scoring v Slovakia in the opener and against England and again against Russia – meaning he scored in all of our group matches. The goal against Russia put him ahead of Ivor Allchurch at the top of the list of goalscorers for Wales in Major Tournaments. After beating Belgium in a dramatic 3-1 win in the quarter Finals, Wales were unfortunately knocked out by the eventual winners of the tournament Portugal. However, since then, Bale has not slowed down for his national side and has now seen himself top the all time goalscoring list for Wales and also secure a second consecutive European Championship for his side.
Again, this is not only a poll about our national side. Bale has also more than impressed at club level. Winning three consecutive Champions Leagues at Real Madrid, playing a big part in all campaigns, and making a total of 171 appearances and scroing 80 goals for the Spanish club. This of course before going back to former club Tottenham Hotspur recently where he made 146 appearnces between 2007-2013 where he earnt his World Record (at the time) move away to Madrid after years of impressive seasons and seasons.
Gareth Bale has certainly earned the right to be at the top of the list. What a player.
So, there we have it! As voted by 300 Welsh Football Fans, the top 4 players in Welsh Football History. Very interesting to see what people thought. Do you agree with this ? Who would you have put in instead?
Overall percentage of votes were as follows …
- Gareth Bale – 34%
- John Charles – 29%
- Ryan Giggs – 20%
- Ian Rush – 14%
- Other – 3%