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Rushie and Sparky cooked the bacon,Bale [...]; Find out about these and many other little gems in the definitive history of the Welsh Schools FA.

Byline: HYWEL TREWYN

IT'S difficult to imagine Welsh soccer legends Mark Hughes or Ian Rush cooking bacon and eggs for the rest of their team.

But as schoolboys the two North Walians, Sparky from Ruabon, Wrexham and Rushie from Flint, did just that not only for the rest of the Wales schoolboys squad but also for the coaches.

That little fact - and many others - are included in a new book charting the careers of former Welsh schoolboy stars such as Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale and Gary Speed.

Written by FA of Wales press officer and football historian Ceri Stennett, the book is called As Good as It Gets - A Centenary History of the Welsh Schools Football Association 1911-2011.

Ceri said: "Players were actively encouraged to help with the cooking too when the squad had training weekends - often staying in school dormitories - and it was no surprise to see the likes of Mark Hughes or Ian Rush cooking the morning's bacon and eggs for the rest of the squad and staff!" The book explains how Wales and Spurs superstar Gareth Bale wasn't selected for his Wales schoolboy team because "there was another very good left-sided player from North Wales called Carl Jones and because Gareth was going through a difficult growing stage."

Gareth said: "I grew so fast between the ages of 12-15 that my muscles were struggling to stretch to the same degree and I had problems with my back and hamstrings.

"My club, Southampton, were not sure if they were going to keep me on."

Fortunately for Wales, he got over the problem and the rest is history.

When asked who was the best player who played for the Welsh squad, Chris Whitley, of Mold, Under 15s manager for 86 international matches until stepping aside in 1983-4 and taking over again from 1987-1988, said: "Mark Hughes stood out, even at 14 years of age.

"Confident and strong with the capacity to keep the ball.

"In the European Nations Tournament he must surely have gone down as the player of the tournament."

He also praises Wales and Liverpool striker Ian Rush and his: "silky smooth turn of foot and the capacity to pass the ball into goal."

Wales Under 18s manager Wyn Davies, from Caernarfon, said: "I look at some of the lads who I have worked with - Mark Hughes, Eddie Niedzwiecki, Neville Southall and really can't believe it.

"I think that Mark Hughes was the one player that always looked like he would go a long way. Totally professional in everything that he did.

"I remember turning Eddie Niedzwiecki into a goalkeeper.

"Originally, he used to play up front, but at one trial match we were short of a goalkeeper and I asked for a volunteer.

"Eddie put his hand up and the rest is history!" Wyn said: "I think the strength of the Under 18s was the camaraderie, both players and staff alike. If you had anything to offer, you threw it in.

"That, combined with a strong sense of national pride meant that the players always did their best when wearing the shirt of Wales."

At Ipswich in 1979 the team stood and sang: "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" unaccompanied before taking on England after only "God Save the Queen" had been played at the start of the match which Wales won 2-0. Ipswich Town manager Bobby Robson told Wyn afterwards: "You had beaten England before the kick off with that rendition of your anthem!" Wyn was also responsible for trying to discipline the young Malcolm Allen, from Deiniolen, now Sgorio presenter, after he, and a few other players, broke a curfew at a schools tournament.

"I banned him from schools football for a season after that.

"I think it did him some good and I know that he wrote about it in his biography, so it must have left a mark on him!" Dai Davies, Under 15 team manager 1988-90 remembers Wrexham-born Robbie Savage to be "technically efficient and never a shy lad!" Dai said: "I was also privileged to be at Old Trafford among a crowd of 10,000 watching England v Scotland and witnessing the emergence of a young Ryan Wilson, then playing for England, who hit the post twice and headed against the cross bar as well as completely dominating the whole game.

"He later changed his name to one Ryan Giggs and went on to become one of Wales' best ever players and an exemplary ambassador for Welsh football."

The book took Ceri three years to research and write.

It was his collection of Welsh international football memorabilia that was the cornerstone of what is now the National Welsh Football collection, housed at the Wrexham County Borough Museum.

Ceri, son of actor and entertainer Stan, said: "The WSFA has capped over 2,500 players since it started around a 100 years ago.

"It has succeeded in guiding youngsters along the path to their first representative honours.

"In many cases, a career in professional football has awaited - but others have also managed to enjoy the game by becoming coaches, managers, referees or administrators."

In the forward, WSFA chairman David Nickless writes: "Ceri has left no stone unturned.

"It is a definitive history of the Association."

It has chapters written by all living former schools international managers at both under 15/16 and under-18 level, including Chris Whitley, Iolo Owen, Dai Davies, Martin Evans, Roger Skyrme and Adrian Jones.

It has over 250 photographs, many never before published.

Team groups are included from 1913 onwards.

The final sections are the records of matches played, players capped as well as Office Holders and Cup Competition winners.

? The book (pounds 9.99) is available from Welsh book shops and from Stennett Books, 23, Whiteacre Close, Thornhill, Cardiff, CF14 9DG THE HISTORY OF WELSH SCHOOLS FA THE Welsh Schools FA was officially founded on March 15, 1912 in Barry.

Until then it had been run under the English schools system. It was a Welshman, Thomas P Thomas, head of Llanrwst national School 1900-32, then secretary of the ESFA who was a prime mover in beginning international football at schools level. He started a series of matches in 1907 between his native Wales and England. The first fixture between them was held on April 13, 1907 at Walsall when Wales lost 3-1, with the honour of the first goal for a Wales schools team going to James Pryde of Wrexham. It wasn't until 1912 at Reading that Wales recorded their first-ever win - 1-0 - though the result was overshadowed by the news on the same day of the sinking of the Titanic! With the founding of the WSFA a month earlier, immediately finances were a concern and both Wrexham and Flintshire declined to play in the first competition because of the distances involved. In the 1960s cash-strapped WSFA had to ask players to return their shirts after each game so that they could be re-used and there was no money to buy caps.

Players just received a certificate and photograph to mark their achievement. In the 1980s, Nerys, the wife of Under 15s manager Chris helped to sew badges on to the shirts while he also drove the mini bus from north to south for preparation sessions.

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Some of Wales' biggest names are featured in the new book including Ian Rush, main, and (inset l-r) Mark Hughes, Gary Speed and Gareth Bale
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 30, 2011
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