Football Legends of Wales: Part 1
Do you know any of the local Welsh football legends? Darwin Escapes is here to help you remember some!
Welsh football has recently enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance period; climbing the FIFA rankings and qualifying for their first major tournament since they reached the quarter finals of the World Cup in 1958.
To celebrate their success and Visit Wales’ Year of Legends, we take a look at the greatest Welsh football players of all time and their career highlights for both club and country…
Gareth Bale is currently regarded as one of the best football players in the world and the talisman of the Welsh national side. In the 2015/16 football season, Bale managed to score an impressive 19 goals for Real Madrid in only 23 games, and scored 3 goals for Wales during their successful Euro 2016 campaign. A pretty impressive record considering he often plays as a winger.
He became the world’s most expensive footballer signing for Real Madrid for £85.3m in 2013, scoring goals in the Champions League final, and the Copa del Rey final in his first season at the club.
Despite being eligible to play for England, he made his debut for the Welsh national side at the age of just 16, making him at the time, the youngest player to have been capped for the team.
Bale also made his debut for Southampton’s first side at the age of 16. He went on to be named the Football League’s Young Player of the Year in 2007 and signed for Tottenham Hotspurs in May.
Bale was instrumental in Wales’ qualification for Euro 2016 and their success in France, reaching the semi-finals. Wales had never qualified for the European Championships before and had not played in a major tournament since 1958 – reaching the tournament was a major achievement and milestone for the national side. Reaching the semi-finals was unbelievable considering the side were ranked 82nd in the world in 2013, and 112th in 2010.
Bale scored a number of important goals to help Wales reach the competition. He netted 2 goals in Wales’ first qualifying game, to earn a 2-1 victory against Andorra. He also scored the only goal in Wales’ crucial victory against Belgium. His pace and striking ability made him a constant threat to the opposition. He was able to relieve pressure from Wales’ defence during pivotal matches by providing a crucial target and outlet that could turn defence into attack in a matter of moments. Pundits also claim that Bal
In France, Bale scored against Slovakia in their first game of the Euro 2016 tournament on the way to an impressive 2-1 win. He scored again against England and Russia in the group games – making him Wales’ all time top goal scorer in major tournaments. Bale has currently scored 24 goals for Wales, making him the national side’s second highest goalscorer of all time, behind Ian Rush.
Bale’s Honours include:
- 2 UEFA Champions Leagues
- 1 Copa del Rey
- 1 FIFA Club World Cup
- 2 PFA Players’ Player of the Year
- 1 PFA Young Player of the Year
Ryan Giggs made 632 Premier League appearances, making him the player boasting the most games in the league since it’s inception in 1992. He also made 963 appearances for Manchester United in all competitions, a record number for the club and he even played in the old First Division, if you can remember that far back…
Giggs spent 25 years at Manchester United, after being offered his first contract on his 17th birthday and signing it two days later on 1st December 1990 – making his debut against Everton on March 2nd 1991, over a year before the “class of 92” won the Youth Cup. He scored his debut goal for Man Utd’s first team in the first game he played in the starting-eleven, a 1-0 win against Manchester city. Later in his career, he reinvented himself as a central midfielder, utilising his vision and ability to read the game, rather than his pace.
Giggs’ Honours include:
- 13 Premier League titles
- 2 Champions Leagues
- 4 FA Cups
- 2 PFA Young Player of the Year awards
- 6 PFA Team of the Year awards
- 109 goals in the Premier League, 1 with his head and 3 with his right foot
- 168 goals for Manchester Utd
- The winning penalty kick against Chelsea in the Champions League final
- In 16 different Champions League campaigns
- Against Benfica at the age of 37 – briefly making him the oldest scorer in the Champions League
Giggs’ longevity was quite remarkable, especially considering the level he played at throughout his career. According to some sources, Giggs stopped driving sports cars due to the impact on his hamstrings but credited his adoption of yoga as one of the main contributing factors to his long playing career.
Born in Mancot, Wales in 1969, Gary Speed, another legendary Welsh football player, was the first person to notch up 500 Premier League appearances and made 840 domestic appearances in total. He was well known and admired as both a player and manager. He was regarded by many fellow professionals as a model football player both on and off the field, reliable, hardworking, as well as comfortable on the ball, he had great vision and tactical awareness.
He is best known as a player for his time at Leeds United where he won the First Division title in the 1991/92 season. He signed as a professional in 1988 for Leeds United and made his first team debut at the age of 19. He moved to Everton in 1996 and became captain of the club under Howard Kendall. He moved to Newcastle United in 1998 for £5.5 million, playing in 2 FA Cup Finals and the UEFA Champions League before moving to Bolton Wanderers in 2004 for £750,000. He later retired from playing at age 40, whilst at Sheffield United.
He also captained the Wales national team, earning 85 caps for his country, the second most behind Neville Southall who earned 92. He became captain during his 46th game for Wales, and retired as a player from international football in 2004.
Speed became Wales’ manager in February of 2011, his first competitive match was against England which they lost 2-0. Wales rebounded from the initial loss under Speed and climbed the FIFA rankings more than any other team in 2011 – 112th to 48th.
He died on 26 November 2011, aged 42. The following week whilst playing against Nottingham Forest, Leeds United fans had arranged to sing Gary Speed’s name from the 11th minute, for the following 11 minutes, in a mark of respect for the club’s former number 11. The chant began as planned on the 11th minute, but lasted the entire game, with Leeds inspired to 4-0 victory.
As a player, Speed won:
- 1 Football League First Division championship
- 1 Football League Second Division championship
- 1 PFA Premier League Team of the Year
- 1 Premier League 10 Seasons Award
That isn’t enough football legends for you? click here for part 2 of our welsh football legends post!
Photo Credits: Jon Candy,