As promised, here is the full transcript from my interview with the President of the Welsh Football Association! It is a long read but the insight you’ll get from it means it is definitely worth spending a few minutes on! Thank you again to Mr Hughes for being good enough to give me such an interview and I hope to have many opportunities to speak to him again in the future! 🙂
Jamie Thomas: First thing’s first – its been just over two years since you took over as president of the Welsh FA. Has it been an enjoyable experience?
Trefor Lloyd Hughes: The experience as a whole has been one based on meeting many people to discuss the game in Wales – its been an experience of some plusses and some disappointments along the way, as is any experience in life. It has been hard work, very hard work. I don’t think people understand or realise just how hard the job is and how much is involved – from my role, right down to the council members of the Welsh FA. What I’ve tried to do so far is to get people looking into the future a bit more, not just the next two or three years but the next ten to fifteen years and beyond that! I’ve tried to change the governance of the Welsh FA in dealing with how to move forward in this regard but it is a very difficult thing to do. Change is essential but it is a long process and mistakes are going to be made – I believe we’re making the right changes but if they don’t work then we have to fall on our swords and go back to the drawing board.
JT: Looking back through your past work there doesn’t seem to be a role you haven’t filled somewhere in Welsh football at some point in your career, as well as your long service with the Welsh ambulance service – it must bring you great pride to find yourself now successfully filling the most important role in Welsh football mustn’t it?
TLH: There’s no doubt about that – you’ve hit it on the head. I’m so privileged to be leading my country in the football world and I’m hopefully leading well. I am showing people in Europe, I am showing people across the world even, that we have a country called Wales. It is a small nation. It is a small association compared to England, Germany, France and Italy but we are in the forefront of the game and we do have a say in deciding the rules and deciding upon some of the key issues in the game. I think it is a situation where people don’t realise how much Wales is involved in the game across the world.
JT: I remember in the middle of last summer, amidst all the drama of the confederations cup in Brazil, you were in Wales and on the verge of choosing to give up your role as president – it seemed, from the outside, like a turbulent start to your tenure as a president. What has changed since then for you because obviously its been a long time since then and you’re still in charge and you still seem to be enjoying the job?
TLH: Yes you’re right I was seriously thinking of resigning. It was a difficult situation – I called a meeting in mid-Wales and made sure all of the council members were in attendance to look at the events surrounding Barry Town at that time, if you remember, because there was more evidence which we needed to look at. We went all the way there and started the meeting but in the end standing orders wouldn’t be lifted and, to me, that was the biggest disaster in Welsh Football in my time because the Welsh FA only lost that case because we hadn’t looked at all of the evidence. It was a stupid decision. But there we are, and since then obviously one of my main motivations is to work within the FA and make sure that we change the way that we’re looking at these things and it is coming along slowly, but it is a slow, slow process indeed.
JT: Considering you were so close to quitting, its been a pretty stunning 18 months or so since for the Association and Welsh football since hasn’t it? Hosting the European Super Cup, having a Welsh Champions League final winner, putting a bid forward for Euro 2020 with England as well as constantly being mentioned as potential Champions League final or Europa League final hosts – it’s a good job for the Association and football in the country that you stayed on! What are your thoughts on what has transpired in the last 18 months since that period of uncertainty that you had?
TLH: The Chief Executive, Jonathon Ford, has been in the forefront with all of this and I’ve backed him all the way to be honest with you. With the Super Cup we put Wales, as I said earlier, in the forefront to the UEFA executive members when making the decision as to where to host this year’s Super Cup – they thought our organisation of our bid went really well. Even only yesterday, I was in Poland and people like this were saying how much they enjoyed themselves in Wales – part of my job isn’t just the footballing side of it but it is promoting the country as a whole as well! As far as the rest of it goes, such as the 2020 bid, we’ll know next Friday what happens with that and I’m looking forward to that decision. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get it – we’ve put everything into this. We’ve had good support from the Welsh Assembly government, Arriva Trains, Bus companies – you name it. Everyone has been very supportive but the real jewel in the crown for us is the Millenium Stadium – that is the big plus point.
JT: One last question about you and your role if that’s ok before we move onto talking about the teams briefly. Most of the achievements that I mentioned in my previous question were based on South Wales and the wonderful facilities we’re able to provide in that part of Wales. What I’m keen to know is, given that the likes of Cardiff and Swansea are the pinnacle of Welsh domestic football right now (despite plying their trade in the Premier League) do you think it’s realistic that we can ever see that standard of football up in the north, and if so what has to be done to make that happen do you think?
TLH: The only one really we have up in the north at the moment that can hope to achieve that standard is obviously Wrexham but they’ve been going through a lot of troubles recently which is very unfortunate. But there’s only two people fighting more than me to bring internationals back to Wrexham and those two people are North Wales members. I’m trying very hard to get international friendlies played again in the North and was speaking to Chris (Coleman) just a couple of days ago about bringing the squad up to North Wales to do some training sessions. My hope is, knowing Chris pretty well, is to get Chris and the side up to Anglesey to train. The three European trophies have recently been brought up to North Wales to bring more publicity to Anglesey and the north of Wales – I’m very appreciative of my roots and want to bring publicity to the north and Anglesey if I can. I’d love to get Wrexham done up and back to the standard they were at before but at the moment it is going to cost a lot of money!
JT: You’ve been working at the FAW for 25 years now and in that time they haven’t once qualified for a major tournament, although they’ve come close a couple of times. Do you think Euro 2016 is the best chance in your tenure so far that Wales are going to have of qualifying for a major tournament? What do you make of the group Wales have been given? Qualification is definitely achievable isn’t it?
TLH: Nobody knows in the game of football. Who would have thought that Paul Bodin would have missed that penalty against Romania back in 1994? And the handball that Joe Jordan did? That absolutely gutted us! I was there then. We were so, so close but that is the game of football. I think that we have a good team and as long as we have a good footballing surface, unlike the one in Andorra, then I think we can do well. I like the stadium in Andorra and in time, once it is completed it will be a very homely stadium and I would like to see it in about ten years’ time when it is built up and everything as I’m sure it’ll look great. We’ve got a good chance of qualifying, yes, but the support is crucial. We had absolutely great support in Andorra and if we can get that for every game then it’ll be a great boost to the team. We offer great deals on home tickets now where you can get tickets for all five home games for a combined £75 for an adult or just £18 for senior citizens or under-16s.
JT: Do you still believe Chris Coleman is the man to take this team forward? I personally think he’s doing a decent job but I remember you giving him a vote of confidence just over a year ago – a sentiment which has spelt the end was near for some managers in the past but Chris is still in the job so I guess you must be happy about how he’s doing?
TLH: I know Chris very well, perhaps more as a friend than as a manger but I do have to treat him as a manager. He is very passionate for the game and is passionate about Wales – only time will tell whether or not he is the right man. In football you are always going to have your detractors but that is part of football at the highest level – you have to accept criticism, as long as it is justifiable. But again, people just do not understand how hard it is to do our jobs and what this involved within the game
JT: I gather you were in Andorra on Tuesday? What did you think of the performance the team gave, given that the pitch was pretty shambolic? Are you happy about having to play on that pitch, given that this is a competition at the highest level of international football?
TLH: There is no doubt in my mind that it was a shambles as far as the pitch was concerned. I think it was on our players’ minds that we were on a bad pitch and that didn’t help. We shouldn’t have played on it really – if we’d have waited two weeks it might have been better because the pitch needed to have a bit of rain on it just to help it settle down and I think in that case it would have been a different game. I think Gareth and Aaron would have been much happier, Joe did a pretty good job whereas Ashley and Ben did a great job at the back. Gareth and Aaron couldn’t play the kind of game they wanted to play because of that pitch but we got the result and that is what is important. The problem now is that if this pitch is rained on in the next few weeks it will settle down, as I’ve just said, and might be a different prospect for the other teams going there and in that case it will definitely be much easier for teams to play the way they want to, so we’re at a bit of a disadvantage but again that is football.
JT: Obviously when you came in to the FAW back in the late 80s we had a pretty formidable team with some great individual talents – are we seeing today though some two of the greatest talents ever to grace Welsh football in Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey? Its surely one of those rare times where our two best players are better than England’s two best players.
TLH: Well all of these players come from different eras so it is difficult to compare. I think extremely highly of players gone by such as the Neville Southall’s, the Giggsy’s and the Ian Rush’s and the Sparky’s – who I think was one of the most brilliant players in the way he managed to control the ball. I like all of these players but I’m well aware of the current players’ talents. Gareth Bale for instance, I think he has the talent to be at the top of the world game for the next four to six years – there is no doubt in my mind about that. In the Super Cup I saw him at the trophy presentation and he saw me and came over and grabbed me. We had a quick conversation and he seems to be very happy with the way things are going for him right now. He’s a very genuine man and very talented in the game of football.
JT: When you eventually do decide to call it a day in this job, of which you’ve done so well so far, what do you want to have achieved? What do you want to be considered as your legacy? Obviously I’ve mentioned a few things earlier that Welsh football has accomplished under your leadership but is there one thing in particular you want to achieve before you call it a day?
TLH: My legacy, it is very interesting because someone asked me a similar question last week. I hope my legacy can be that I’ve put Wales in the forefront of football in the world. I also hope I can help people realise that there have to be changes – I think I have helped start those changes but all I have managed to do in my time is put the foundations down for someone else to come along after me and take what I, along with other people, have started and build up from there. I thank everyone who has given me the opportunity to be in such a prestigious position as the President of the FAW but be assured that I have not forgotten my roots – my feet are firmly on the ground!