Their stories, their emotions, their words.
That, in a nutshell, is what this series on whitecapsfc.com is all about. What better way to get to know the 'Caps – your 'Caps – than to hear from them directly. No filter. No fluff.
Just their words.
I remember the moment everything changed for Wales.
It was about six years ago, when the late and great Gary Speed took over as head coach. Gary was our captain back in 2003, when we came within one game of qualifying for Euro 2004.
We were so close. That was the chance.
But we lost to Russia in a playoff – and the wait of qualifying for another major tournament continued. As you’ve probably heard by now, the last time Wales qualified for a major tournament before this year’s Euros was the 1958 World Cup. Pele was playing in that tournament.
That says it all.
We’ve always produced great individual players. We’ve just never got it together.
Until Gary took over. That was the turning point.
His first day on the job, he sat us down and said: “For those of you who were involved in 2003, we weren’t good enough. That’s why we didn’t make it. We weren’t unlucky. We weren’t prepared.”
He wasn’t speaking out of term. He spoke how it was.
Then he said: “We weren’t good enough then, but now we are. Now we’re going to be the best prepared, in the best shape, and start to play differently.”
It kind of took us by surprise, but I was so happy he said that. That was the beginning. He sent a message not only to the players, but right throughout the back office and right through the Football Association of Wales. Things needed to change. And he was the man to do it.
After all, the guy’s a legend. Not only for Wales but also in the Premier League.
It took Gary about a year to get everything in order. It was also around that time that most of this year’s team at the Euros started getting regular minutes with the national team. The likes of Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale, and Ashley Williams really started improving.
Everything just kind of fell into place – on and off the pitch – and the rest is history.
But I hope Gary’s role in all of this is not forgotten. He committed suicide in 2011. It was such a tragedy and shock across the whole nation and for me personally. I was lucky enough to play with him and have him as a manager. He inspired us. He had us believing.
And more than anything, he was just a top, top guy.
Gary would be a proud man right now. I know I am.
For Wales to have qualified for Euro 2016 was such a massive, massive accomplishment. To see them reach the semifinals, I can’t even put it into words (though happiness, joy, and pride come to mind). For me, it was a true honour representing Wales 59 times and scoring 16 goals, including the game-winner against Germany on my debut.
Of course, I would have loved to have played in the Euros myself.
It breaks my heart that I never did.
But that doesn’t take away for how extremely proud and happy I am for everyone involved. A lot of these players are my old teammates and friends, after all.
People have been asking me: how has Wales done this? How is this possible?
Well, now you know some of the history. As far as the present goes, Chris Coleman deserves a lot of credit for the job he’s done, and so do the Bales and Ramseys, but this is a true team.
No one is bigger than the other. And that’s a very special thing.