At least they were allowed to leave with their pride intact, talking feverishly of that Paul Robinson save that denied them the draw they will forever claim was deservedly theirs. But if they looked into the befuddled eyes of Sam Ricketts they will have perhaps seen a glimpse of the real story. They said that Wales had been outclassed here, and that they had not been out-thought or out-fought was as glowing as their commendation should ever have got.
"Pleased to be disappointed," summed it up perfectly. They would never admit as much, but they would have taken that emotion as well. As the nephew of John Francome, Ricketts, the 23-year-old from League One, knows only too well that breeding rarely lies. Uncle John started the day on the Morning Line. Alas, after Danny Gabbidon's cruel deflection that undid all the valiant deeds of the Wales back-five, nephew Sam finished it on a mourning line.
On an afternoon when the contrast was supposed to be so glaring to make Welsh foreheads disappear beneath Welsh hands, none was feared quite as startling as that provided on England's right wing. There, £21m of Chelsea investment was being confronted by £0 of Swansea City investment - the hyphen in Shaun Wright-Phillips's name no signifier of blue-blood, of course, but still only serving to extenuate the embarrassing differential in footballing pedigree.
Ricketts had arrived here from the second tier of the Championship via the non-League where he resided until just two years ago until Telford hit financial meltdown and Kenny Jackett stuck on his asbestos gloves to scoop the semi-pro international from the sulphur. That was no doubt a dream move for the Aylesbury-born "Welshman" with a Cardiff grandmother, but when John Toshack rang in February, Ricketts was suddenly in the theme park at Wonderland.
But Wonderland is never quite as you imagine it, even if in John Hartson, who began his career at Luton, he had a mad Hatter all of his very own. For a start there was Wright-Phillips to contend with and it was impossible not to drag the mind back to earlier in the week. "The worst nightmare would be one half of Beckham followed by one half of Wright-Phillips," Ricketts had joked, although you should always be careful what you don't wish for. What he was presented with was three quarters of Wright-Phillips followed by one quarter of Wayne Rooney. Ouch.
But in the event it was a winger of even more twinkle-toed renown who gave him his torrid afternoon. His name was Ryan Giggs, he was Wales's captain and when he wasn't worrying England silly he spent the afternoon bawling at his full-back. It was obvious why, as in his tepid flurries up that critical flank was encapsulated the very fear that ultimately held the home side back here. Sure, Wales were courageous, plucky and every other patronising adjective that would make John Toshack's blood-pressure hurtle. But what they weren't was positive. At least, not when they should have been.
That was palpably in the first half when a hole the width of the Taff kept opening up in front of Ricketts but he kept refusing to fill it. Time and again Giggs was forced outside to peg back Luke Young from the central berth where he was causing such havoc, and time and again Giggs let Ricketts know just what was expected from him. It was easy for Giggs to scream, Ricketts might forgiveably have surmised. In the non-League a No 3 is not expected to go anyway near the halfway line, never mind over it.
But Ricketts somehow managed to banish those habits of his strife-time and push forward he did and when he turned inside Young with a sleight of boot that had Premiership written all over it, the glory loomed so large that the weak trundle into the side-netting was all that was expected. Ricketts had got there, though. That was the important thing.
He carried on getting there, too, leaving the poor David Partridge to wrestle with Wright-Phillips's twists of torture. Young was almost instantly nullified and as Wales found their conviction, Ricketts had at last found the position Toshack had always meant for him. Get up, get back, get it in there. It had taken the full 90 minutes, though, but then this was a day of education for Ricketts and Toshack's young Wales as a whole.
After all, victory here would have taken them nowhere but humiliation would have taken them back to that footballing nowhere land Ricketts knows only too painfully.Reuse content