When the Welsh dragons savaged the English

The last time Wales played host to the English, Bobby Robson's complacent side were ambushed in Wrexham by a team determined to make a point. Paul Newman recreates that day
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The Independent Football

Wales are one of only two nations to share a border with England and the two countries have met 98 times, but it is now 21 years since the Welsh hosted a match against their greatest rivals. Their meeting at Wrexham in May 1984, in the last ever Home International Championship, ended in a deserved 1-0 victory for the Welsh underdogs in front of passionate crowd of 14,250.

Bobby Robson, the England manager, had not enjoyed a good start after succeeding the popular Ron Greenwood in 1982. Having dropped Kevin Keegan from his first squad, arguing that he had to build for the future, Robson searched in vain for a winning formula. A 1-0 defeat in September 1983 at home to Denmark cost them qualification for the 1984 European Championship and had sections of the media calling for Robson's head.

In the following nine months England lost at Wembley to the Soviet Union and were well beaten by the French in Paris. The defeat in Wrexham prompted one tabloid to issue "Robson out, Clough in" lapel badges, though within just over a month John Barnes' wonder goal in Rio de Janeiro helped England to a victory over Brazil that breathed new life into the manager's regime.

The Home International Championship, which lasted for 100 years and was the world's oldest league competition, had been one of the highlights of the calendar, but England and Scotland increasingly viewed it as poor preparation for World Cups and European Championships. For Wales and Northern Ireland the tournament had provided crucial revenue and guaranteed annual fixtures against top-class opposition. It was no surprise that Welsh passion ran high in Wrexham that night.

"We wanted to make a point," Gordon Davies, one of the Wales team, said this week. "We knew that the English FA didn't want to play Northern Ireland and Wales any more, especially at Wembley, because they only drew crowds of about 30,000 or 40,000. They wanted the revenue from playing the likes of Brazil, Argentina and West Germany. We felt it was a kick in the teeth for the Welsh public, players and FA. We wanted to teach them a lesson for kicking us out.

"The crowd were up for it as much as the players. The Racecourse Ground was rocking. Welsh fans are phenomenal when they have something to shout about. It was a very hostile atmosphere but one that we relished because we knew it was possibly the last game for some time against England.

"In those days you were able to get stuck into the opposition in a way that referees won't allow today. That was what the fans wanted us to do. We needed to show England they were in a game. Nowadays up to four or five of us would have been sent off."

Mike England, the Welsh manager, was a rugged centre-half as a player and Joey Jones, another of the 1984 team, says he "managed as he played". Jones added: "He kept everything very simple and the lads loved playing for him. Our training sessions used to consist of just a couple of corners from each side and a couple of free-kicks, followed by games of five-a-side. It was more of a club atmosphere."

Wales had plenty of seasoned professionals in their line-up, including the formidable Merseyside trio of Ian Rush, Neville Southall and Kevin Ratcliffe, but their attack was led by a 20-year-old debutant who had made only 11 League appearances for his club.

"We'd seen what Mark Hughes had done for the Under-21s and we knew straight away what a talent he was," Jones said. "He had power, strength and two great feet. He was very quiet off the field. You just wouldn't notice him in the dressing-room. Mickey Thomas, Rushie and myself used to laugh and joke and take the mickey out of everybody. I think Mark probably appreciated that because it helped to settle him in."

A free-kick on the right taken by his Manchester United colleague, Alan Davies, gave Hughes the chance to score in front of his home-town crowd by heading past Peter Shilton after just 17 minutes. "I made an early run to the near post," Gordon Davies recalled. "I missed the ball by a couple of feet, but as I turned round I saw Mark get on the end of it. It was what dreams are made of as far as Mark was concerned."

Wales remained on top throughout and wasted several more chances. Hughes made such an impression that Thomas asked the bemused youngster for his shirt at the end of the game.

Jones, who had also played in a 4-1 victory over the same opponents on the same ground four years earlier, said: "It was more of a good hiding than the 4-1 win. The whole team played well. Mickey Thomas had a great game in midfield. He never let Ray Wilkins pass the ball."

Paul Walsh, who in the following days completed his transfer from Luton to Liverpool, said the Welsh coped much better with tricky conditions. "It was a hard, bumpy pitch, bare in places and with the goalmouths all dusty," he recalled. "The Welsh were revved up, but we didn't play well. I felt very jaded at the end of a long season. It was a very average performance from me, though nobody in the England side had a good game."

Alvin Martin agreed. "We struggled to get going," the West Ham and England defender said. "We were a bit sluggish. They were the better side and Mark Hughes was the outstanding Welsh player. We knew it was a big game for the Welsh, though I don't think there was any lack of motivation or application on our part. Whenever I pulled on an England shirt I was always fired up. I'm sure the other lads were like that."

Gordon Davies has other memories. "I think the England players thought they only had to turn up to win," he said. "When it started and they realised that they were in a game, I think they found it very difficult to get out of second gear."

Mark Wright and Terry Fenwick were given their debuts, bringing the number of players Robson had used in six internationals that season to 28.

Four of that night's team - Walsh, winning his fifth cap, John Gregory (sixth), Alan Kennedy (second) and David Armstrong (third) - never played for England again.

Walsh said: "After the game I felt totally knackered and I asked David Pleat, my manager at Luton, to call Bobby Robson to ask if I could be left out of the England squad for the final of the Uefa Under-21 Championship.

"The next day I picked up the paper and I read Bobby Robson saying that I'd never play for England again - and I never did. Being a pig-headed, big-headed idiot at the time I was too proud to phone him up to sort it out, which, looking back, is one of my biggest regrets."

Goal: Hughes (17) 1-0.

WALES: Southall (Everton); Phillips (Plymouth), Jones (Wrexham) Hopkins (Fulham), Ratcliffe (Everton), A Davies (Manchester United), Thomas (Chelsea), R James (Stoke), G Davies (Fulham), Rush (Liverpool), Hughes (Manchester United).

ENGLAND: Shilton (Southampton); Duxbury (Manchester United), A Kennedy (Liverpool), Lee (Liverpool), Martin (West Ham) (Fenwick, QPR), Wright (Southampton), Gregory (QPR), Wilkins (Manchester United), Walsh (Luton), Woodcock (Arsenal), Armstrong (Southampton) (Blissett, Milan).

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