Tag Archives: Sports Journalism

INTERVIEW: Jack Harper – ‘I’m just concentrating on trying to make a name for myself.’

A young Scottish man, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as he plays his football for one of the world’s biggest football clubs – welcome, everybody, to one of Real Madrid’s brightest youth prospects, Jack Harper.

Like his fellow Brit Gareth Bale has been doing in the first team, Harper has been lighting up the stat sheet for Real Madrid’s youth teams for some time now, notching goals and assists at will in domestic and European competitions.

Such impressive form from the youngster has inevitably resulted in comparisons to great forwards of years gone by, such as Robin van Persie and Alan Shearer, but Harper shows incredible maturity in the face of such comparisons:

“I’ve always tried to learn from watching players like Van Persie and its great to be compared to such great talents but I’m just concentrating on trying to make a name for myself.

“I’m always happy to hear my name getting compared to great players, and I’m putting in the work to hopefully become a top player in the future.”

National Pride

Born and raised in Spain, it would have been easy for Harper to join the Spanish youth ranks at a young age – there was surely plenty of interest in him – but the youngster opted to join the Scottish set-up.

It is a rare combination of course, a Spanish-born youngster playing for Scotland, but the youngster speaks in a Scottish accent and has been known to regularly travel to Scotland to visit relatives and so on, as well as travelling back for national duty while most of his teammates head to train with the Spain set-up.

It shows how much Scotland means to Harper when I asked him whether debuting for Scotland’s first team or Real Madrid’s first team would mean more to him, he gave a short, defiant answer, with a smile: “Scotland.”

Such national pride is encouraging, almost inspiring, to see from such a young man who could, with all due respect to Scotland, win a lot more with Spain in the long run.

Especially given the fact that Ricky Sbragia, Scotland’s Under-19s coach, caused outrage a few months back as he declined the opportunity to pick Harper for his squad as Sbragia deemed him a ‘luxury player’ who wasn’t big enough, despite Harper standing at over 6ft tall.

Even in response to such a setback from a country he clearly loves, Harper showed maturity:

‘I’m always determined to get better and better. Hopefully my time will come but I would rather pass on to another chapter now. I’m still young, I will work very hard and see how the future pans out.’

9? 10? 9 and a half?

If you look at the great forwards in the game these days, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, they’re all equally proficient at leading the attack as they are at putting the ball on a plate for others.

Former Scottish FA Performance Chief Marc Wotte mentioned in a Daily Mail article previously how it isn’t certain if the Scottish youth international is a number 9 or a number 10, prompting one of his Real Madrid coaches to label him a ‘9 and a half’.

It seems Harper would fit the mould then of these other top forwards as he himself has scored and assisted with equal frequency this year, but which does he prefer?:

“Playing as a number 9 you do tend to score more goals but I do prefer playing in a more creative role, linking up the midfield play with the centre forward. As a number 10 in Madrid this year I have scored plenty of goals and assisted from that position too.”

Learning Lessons

There are few better environments in football to learn in than Valdedebas, Real Madrid’s training ground – the perfect place for Harper to develop technique akin to his inspirations, Robin Van Persie, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.

After another great season for Real’s youth team, the young Scot admits he has learnt some key lessons along the way this year:

“The big lessons are to work hard in training and try and learn from the great managers I’ve had all these years. That in any great team you always have to play 110% because the squads are big and you have fierce competition as everyone obviously wants to play in the starting XI.’

Harper famously offered to help the most expensive player on the planet, Gareth Bale, settle in to life in Madrid and feels he benefits greatly from being able to watch and interact with these top players regularly:

“The good thing is we see a lot of the first team walking about Valdedebas in the gym, the pools etc. When I see Gareth Bale we have a quick chat now and again, he’s a great guy, an inspiration to all British players. He’s one of the best players in the world playing for one of the best teams.”

It’s impressive to speak to a young man who has his feet firmly on the ground whilst still having his heart and mind focussed on the job at hand – becoming a top class footballer for one of the world’s top teams.

I firmly believe that Jack will do something special in the future if he keeps progressing through the football world in this manner – I can’t wait to see how it all pans out!

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Conwy Academy is great news for Welsh Football

Osian Roberts tonight threw his support behind the new Conwy Borough FC academy set-up led by Chris Whitley and looked forward to the opportunities it would give local youngsters in football.

Presenting a ‘Technical Football Seminar’ at Y Morfa Venue on the 15th of December, Mr Roberts was keen to discuss the importance of the youth football structure developing in the region.

“We have academies at Bangor, Caernarfon and all of the Welsh Premier League clubs and it is important for us that the standard of those academies are the highest possible.

It gives the kids the best experience and the best opportunities so it is great that Conwy, a former Welsh Premier League Club, have got one there now so that the kids in the area have got somewhere to go!”

The Academy is run by Conwy Borough Football Club Head of Youth Development Chris Whitley; Mr Roberts was keen to emphasise the importance of Mr Whitley’s vast experience to the project.

“Chris has got a wealth of experience and has helped in a number of different clubs over the years at that level and can lend that experience to the coaches, club, the players and the kids in general.”

Mr Whitley was buoyant at the prospect of Osian Roberts coming up to give the seminar: “We’re delighted to have Osian come to the club to give a seminar on academy and coaching work and its importance.”

“There’s a lot of people coming too – we’re thrilled to have him – it’s a great experience for the kids and the parents who put so much into the club so it’s a nice way to give something back to them!”

It has been nine months now since Mr Whitley took on the Head of Youth Development role at Conwy Borough Football Club; a role which he says he has been delighted with doing.

“I’ve worked across the leagues, Premier League, Championship and so on as well as a few positions in the Welsh League and I’m really enjoying where I am now.”

“I’ve tried to help foster a successful culture and the players are taking it on board and they’re loving it – I’ve been delighted by their response. I expected it to be a lot harder than this though to be honest!”

The First team are currently on a run of six games undefeated in all competitions, having won five and drawn one of their last six, and welcome Mold Alexandra to Conwy on the weekend.

 

Victory Shield win shows Wales’ Golden Generation Still to Come

The Chair of The Football Association of Wales’ Senior Technical Group, Chris Whitley tonight insisted that Welsh Football’s bright future is soon going to get even brighter.

Speaking to me exclusively after coaching a youth football session in Colwyn Bay, Mr Whitley expressed his immense happiness regarding the Welsh National side’s current success before promising more was to come in the very near future.

‘Chris [Coleman] and all of them speak about this current Welsh National squad being the Golden Generation but I think differently if I’m honest’.

‘The Golden Generation will be the next one. We have half a dozen players at least now waiting to come through to the senior squad that are going to be great players very soon. Make no mistake!’

Mr Whitley, who is also the Head of Youth Development at Conwy Borough Football Club, has been responsible for pushing through the youth development of a number of Welsh football greats such as Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Gareth Bale, Ryan Giggs, Aaron Ramsey and so on.

However Mr Whitley thinks that the current group of youth players, such as the under-16s who won the Victory Shield recently coached by FAW Technical Director Osian Roberts, could make for Wales’ most talented squad to date when they join the seniors in the near future.

‘When we bolt these youngsters on to the existing lot, who in a few years’ time will still be young enough, we will have an exceptionally talented squad of players without a doubt’.

Whitley spoke of a number of Welsh Youth players who he believed had the potential to go to the top but picked out three in particular as his standout stars for the future.

‘There are so many talented youngsters coming through but Joe Murrell, Harry Wilson and Tyler Roberts really stand out for me’.

‘Tyler is absolutely outstanding in my opinion. I’ve seen so many youth players coming through but Tyler is the best number 9 I have seen in a Wales shirt since Mark Hughes without a doubt’.

Whitley’s career within the FAW has spanned over 40 years but he believes there are a number of key changes that have been made in recent years, most notably during Gary Speed’s tenure, that have put the current senior and youth squads in such a strong position.

‘This all started towards the end of Gary Speed’s era in charge where we said one of our objectives is to make our squads one of the best prepared squads in the world and they are without a doubt!’

Key changes have been made also in the way the FAW recruits its youth talent:

‘Our recruitment and retention of players now compared to years gone by has improved so much! To be honest, 75% of our team now are English-based players’.

‘Years ago we wouldn’t have discovered them because we didn’t go out there and look for them – we used to stumble upon them by accident sometimes’.

The National Coaching Conference took place in Newport at the Welsh Football Trust earlier in the week and, with a record number of coaches in attendance, Whitley believes the Welsh coach development is another key piece in what is currently a very successful Welsh Football structure.

‘The coaching education in Wales is first class, absolutely first class. We had a record number of coaches at our recent national conference – 350 coaches! Unbelievable!’

‘Our coach education programme is second to none. The Welsh Football Trust is doing a tremendous job in terms of coaching education and player development’.

Welsh football is currently going through a tremendous period of success and, having spoken to Mr Whitley about his experiences within the side and where we are making changes and trying to develop, I for one fully believe that the future for football in our country is very bright indeed and I hope we can continue to be rewarded for the amazing support that we fans have always given!

A Talk with Marti Perarnau & BackPage Press on hotly anticipated Pep Guardiola book!

Hey guys,

Been a few weeks since I’ve published anything – back in university now and it is kinda hectic so apologies for that!

What I have for you today though is a piece I am really excited about. I’m a huge fan of BackPage Press and love the books they manage to publish – if you haven’t read any of them and you’re a sports fan then I seriously suggest you change that! You will not regret it. Anyway, their latest release is an insider’s account on Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge of Bayern Munich – written by the excellent Marti Perarnau.

Naturally, I had to try and get in on this so I got in touch with the excellent guys at BackPage Press and they put me in touch with Mr Perarnau who very kindly agreed to talk to me about his latest project. Read on to find out what he, and the guys at BackPage Press, had to say!

As always, any feedback is greatly appreciated – I hope you enjoy it! 🙂


Marti Perarnau, BackPage Press ‘Very Excited’ to Release Highly Anticipated Guardiola Book

Pep Guardiola is a champion of the modern game – releasing a book about one of the most highly respected and successful men in world football can understandably be a daunting task.

For Marti Perarnau though, a relative veteran of Guardiola-oriented literature, having written a book on the Tika-Taka tinkerer before, is ‘very excited’ about his latest Guardiola book’s impending UK release.

Pep Confidential is the inside story of the former Barcelona superstar’s first season at the helm of FC Bayern Munich and marks the first time in the modern football era that a writer has been given such candid access to one of the powerhouses of world football.

As the book’s October 16th release date neared, Mr Perarnau told me of his unwavering excitement: “I had the same feeling of excitement when the book was published in Germany and in Spain. With each country it is published in, it seems as if it is a new book”.

Publishers, BackPage Press – who are co-publishing Pep Confidential with Arena Sport, an imprint of Edinburgh-based Birlinn – were equally buoyant regarding the latest addition to their catalogue: “We’re very excited. It is an incredible achievement for a writer to be granted such a level of access but also to pull it off with such skill”.

They went on to add “This is arguably the greatest football coach in the world laying out his coaching manual in great detail. If there is any justice, Pep Confidential will be a huge book not only for readers but people within football”.

Mr Perarnau had only met Guardiola once, four years ago, prior to writing this book and detailed how the help of a good friend as well as a little bit of luck enabled him to embark on this project.

“I am very good friends with Manel Estiarte, his assistant, and I informed him that I was going to write a book about Pep’s first year at Bayern. By then, they had already decided that, for once, they would make an exception to their privacy”.

“It was at that moment, I appeared. It was a coincidence – luckily for me. Even then, I had to earn the confidence of Pep day by day.” He added.

Perarnau pointed out that one of his main inspirations for writing the book was “wanting to know, in depth, the true Pep, who is very different from what is said about him”.

It didn’t take the Spanish writer long to decide that Guardiola was who he wanted to be the topic of his latest literary piece, describing how he decided instantly on the day Munich announced him as their new manager.

He said “I was thinking of some ideas for a new book when I heard the news and I thought that this could be a good idea: A great coach like Pep at a great club like Bayern”.

Despite relocating to Munich for a year to fully focus on the challenge that lay in front of him, Mr Perarnau spoke of how he enjoyed the task that lay ahead of him and how much he appreciated the opportunity Guardiola had given him.

“It’s been a fun year but also very stressful. Particularly stressful because I had to pick out all the details and remember the conversations to write. I always tried to be honest and show the trust and generosity Pep had shown me”.

Understandably, with Guardiola being one of the game’s great tacticians, getting to grips with his instructions on the training pitch is difficult – Mr Perarnau characterised this as one of his biggest challenges.

“The challenges were to understand Pep’s technical explanations, stay focused, not to miss the details of what happened and try to remember all the details in order to write them down. There was no chance to relax”.

As grateful as he evidently is for the opportunity, Mr Perarnau seemed slightly melancholic when discussing his next project: “Now begins a big problem. Pep Guardiola’s character is fascinating because it is rich in nuances – he is not just a great coach. Now what? It is the question that I ask every day”.

However he ended by pointing out that he had “several ideas” but was still yet to make a decision on which one to pursue.

Publishers BackPage Press, however, were clear on where their next book was coming from: “We have a book on the Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas out next year, which we’ll be releasing more details of soon”.

You can find more information about Marti Perarnau’s new book (out on the 16th of October) and the other award-winning titles they have in their catalogue via the BackPage Press website or through hitting the guys up on Twitter via @BackPagePress and/or @ArenaSportBooks

A Quick Chat with Guillem Balague!

What a wicked few days!

Interviewed the FAW President last Friday, met Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and the legendary Ryan Giggs on Sunday and then last night I got to meet and have a very quick chat with Spanish football aficionado, Guillem Balague.

In the heart of one of his favourite cities, I attended the final event of Guillem’s two-and-a-half year Messi Book Tour at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

After a fair bit of pestering (apologies for that if you read this Mr Glasswell), I managed to grab myself five minutes with the man himself – what follows is a brief article based on what we talked about!


Balague looks to New Season after Finishing Book Tour

After two and a half years of promoting and discussing his critically acclaimed Lionel Messi biography, Guillem Balague closed off his book tour among many friends and fans in Liverpool’s Cavern Club.

In the brief few moments before he addressed those in attendance and introduced some of the musicians performing, Mr Balague was happy to talk about what to expect in this season’s La Liga action.

The gap in financial firepower between Spain’s top three and the rest of the league seems to be growing by the year but the Revista De La Liga star was adamant that this wouldn’t make the shock results that make for such good viewing any less popular.

“They’ve spent significantly more money than the rest of the league but when that whistle blows it is 11 against 11 and there are some very intelligent players and coaches all across the league so you’re still going to see that.”

He added “Because actually, even though the teams you mentioned have spent a lot of money, the teams themselves at the moment are a work in progress.”

After the summer Real Madrid have had, with some spectacular players joining the club many people have them down as favourites to win their 33rd La Liga title this season, despite their difficult start.

Mr Balague agreed though that there was definitely one key departure who needed replacing: “Clearly they are going to need to bring in someone like Alonso because at the moment it is hard to see who fills that role”.

He also said “then again people said similar things about them last season and look at what they achieved then, winning another Cup and winning La Decima”.

As for whether or not Mr Balague felt anyone in the current XI was capable of filling the hole Alonso had left, he was unsure but was looking forward to seeing what this could mean for Madrid.

“I’m not sure Kroos can fill the Alonso role but all that means is that we are possibly going to be seeing Madrid playing differently this year which is exciting”.

Mr Balague finished the talk with a brief point addressing Barcelona’s start to the season and played down concerns that they hadn’t done enough business in the summer “Well they’ve done a lot, they got new players in each position”.

“They’ve started really well and are trying some new things under Luis Enrique – most of the key players they needed to play the way they want to play were already at the club so we’ll see but at the moment they’re doing well”.

A Full Transcript of my Interview with the FAW President

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!


 

A Chance Meeting with the President of the Welsh Football Association!

As any journalist will know, starting out in this industry can be exceptionally difficult! If you don’t have an established publication or broadcaster behind you it can be very hard to get people’s attention, no matter how persistent you are! This is something I have found out in the last few months! I’ve tried talking to lord knows how many people and have only turned about a quarter/a third of them into anything worth shouting about.

Having struggled persistently to get a conversation with anyone in Welsh Football, I decided to change tack and look a bit closer to home and managed to get an interview with the President of the FAW, Mr Trefor Lloyd Hughes. Having been raised in the same area as me and one who is consistently talking up that area at any opportunity, I felt I had a good shot of getting an interview with one of the most highly respected people in Welsh Football. Read on to find an article I wrote based on my hour long chat with him (a full, unedited, transcript of our interview shall follow this in a separate post)!


“I’m so Priviliged” says FAW President

Recently celebrating his 25th year at the Football Association of Wales and the second anniversary of his appointment as FAW President, Trefor Lloyd Hughes spoke to me about how he’s found the role so far.

It has been a long journey from the Anglesey League to the top of the Welsh game – however, having recently returned from Andorra, Mr Hughes was keen to express his happiness in the role.

“I’m so privileged to be leading my country in the football world and I’m hopefully leading well. I’m showing people in Europe, I’m showing people across the world even, that we have a country called Wales.”

Mr Hughes argued that recent times had shown how well Wales could compete with other, bigger countries and footballing associations across Europe.

“I think it is a situation where people don’t realise how much Wales is involved in the game across the world.”

“In hosting the European Super Cup this summer we put Wales in the forefront to the UEFA executive members when making the decision as to where to host this year’s Super Cup – they thought the organisation of our bid went really well.”

The former FAW treasurer also thought there was reason to be optimistic about what the future holds for Welsh football with the verdict regarding Cardiff’s bid for hosting Euro 2020 matches coming soon.

“We’ll know this 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, transport companies – you name it. Everyone has been very supportive but the real jewel in our crown is the Millennium Stadium – that is the big plus point.”

The FAW President conceded though that it hasn’t been an easy role to fill as he went into detail regarding nearly resigning after his first six months of leading the Association.

“The Barry Town situation, to me, 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.”

The Barry Town situation saw Mr Hughes call his councillors down to Mid-Wales to discuss new evidence in the case to lift the standing orders against Barry Town and allow them to continue at Welsh League level but some councillors didn’t even want to discuss it.

“I was seriously thinking of resigning due to that situation, however since then my main motivation has been to work within and change the FA to stop these situations arising again!”

Change was a word that kept popping up as Mr Hughes discussed the difficulties he faced in the role and what needed to be done moving forward.

“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.”

A change that will surely excite many football fans in the North of Wales was the FAW President’s eagerness to bring international football back to Wrexham.

“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.”

“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.”

On the subject of the men’s national squad, Mr Hughes was bullish about their chances of qualifying for the 2016 European Championships in France.

“I think that we have a good team – I think we can do well. We’ve got a good chance of qualifying but the support is crucial. We had absolutely great support in Andorra – if we can get that for every game then it’ll be a great boost to the team.”

Unsurprisingly, Mr Hughes had nothing but good words to say about Welsh Football’s latest superstar – Gareth Bale as our interview neared its conclusion.

“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.”

With just under a year left in his current role at the FAW, Mr Hughes was keen to close the interview showing his appreciation for the opportunity he had been given.

“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!”


TBT – My favourite piece of work! – Graham Hunter interview!

Hey guys!

I had intended to publish some examples of my previous work to this blog just so you can check out my writing style and all that but that’s a bit of a slow process as I’m my own biggest critic so I don’t actually think a lot of very many of them. So what I thought I’d do was just re-publish one of my favourite pieces of work for Fortitude Magazine.

Below you will find a transcript of my interview with the legendary Graham Hunter! For those of you who don’t know who he is, he is one of the best Spanish football journalists around at the moment – UEFA’s official correspondent for Barcelona Football Club and a very successful author. I met him back in February and spent a fair bit of time picking his brains about football before the World Cup came along in June and I decided to ask him for an interview – the complete, unaltered, transcript follows below. There’s a fair bit of insight to digest but you see in one question in particular how he called the potential for what happened to Spain to actually happen before the tournament began so it is definitely worth a read! Enjoy!


Jamie Thomas: Will you be going to Brazil this summer and if so how much are you looking forward to it, given the country’s footballing history?

I’m going to Brazil, yes and it´s a thrill. Of course it is. The work of a sportswriter is hard and draining so there will be some who will moan about it but going to a World Cup to report on the action remains the epitome of the job so I´m full of adrenaline for it!

JT: You’ve travelled with the squad for the last three tournaments. How difficult is that to do? It sounds like a lot of fun but surely it can be exceptionally stressful at times can’t it?

GH: It’s a bit of a mix of stress and fun. I love the fact that Spain often train twice a day; it’s plain to see how much benefit it does the players. It acts as a weapon against boredom and keeps the squad sharp and competitive. However if they train twice then we work twice, thus there’s about four or five hours work around the first training session, about an hour off, then the same again for the second session. It can lead to really long, tiring days but its fascinating, really interesting at all times, stressful sometimes but a joy to do!  

JT: As for the team itself, with the World Cup being in South America and with no European nation ever having won it down there, do you think Spain could be the first to manage it and why?

GH: Spain have a horrible group and a horrible order of matches. The first one is against a young, athletic Dutch squad in the only venue with humidity which Spain have to contend with in the group stages – Salvador. Holland have been in training for several days while the majority of Spain’s players have still been competing at club level until very recently and, bar Strootman, Holland have fewer injury problems. I say this because tournament winners regularly go out in the group stages of the following tournament i.e Italy in 2010, France in 2002. So, realistically, there’s a chance of group exit if Spain aren’t switched on from the start. After that though I see Spain as a very good team in knockout situations and thus a possible winner if they manage to get out of the group.

JT: As you say, they’ve got a horrible group, arguably the toughest – what problems do the likes of Holland, Chile and Australia pose to Del Boqsue’s side?

GH: Holland are very young and athletic. The horror story for Spain would be if the fixture between these two sides was a) anything like the Swiss game at this point four years ago, where Spain became the first side to lose their opening group game and then win the group; to have to do that again would be a big ask and b) if this game resembled Ajax vs Barcelona in the Champions League this season then the threat is big. Also because the game is in Salvador where the humidity is very high, Holland’s athleticism is a greater threat to Spain; factor in that Van Gaal’s side will have had so much longer to prepare and a defeat in this fixture for Spain followed by a brutal test against Chile isn’t a good combination. Spain’s last few games against Chile have been bad-tempered, very tough and capable of going either way. Australia as a test greatly depends on how the first two fixtures go; facing them in Curtiba, close to where Spain are based is good, as is the climate around that area. Normally you’d expect Spain to beat Australia but if the previous two results for Spain have been negative then an athletic, physically strong Australia side will be more testing. The message for Spain is simple: win the first two games!

JT: If they both win their respective groups, Spain and Brazil won’t meet until the final. Should they both get there, how much should we read into what happened in the Confederations Cup Final last summer and what lessons will Spain have learned from that defeat in order to better cope with the hosts this time around?

GH: This time around, Spain need to cope better with the climactic conditions and all of the travelling they’re going to have to do. Their tiredness and not rotating the starting XI between the semi-final and the final as much as they maybe should have done were major factors in the big defeat to Brazil last summer.

JT:

GH: If he’s on form, Koke in particular could be very important to Spain. His incredible energy, ability to win many tackles and high amount of goal assists will definitely be big assets for Spain; especially at a time when Xavi can’t be asked to play seven full matches on the trot.

JT: Given the amount of top-class youth talent you’ve seen coming through the Spanish league and into the national side over recent years, how highly do you rate Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling?

GH: I want to be careful here; I don’t claim to be an expert on subjects which I can’t properly studyI want to be careful here. I don’t claim to be expert on subjects which I can’t study properly. Shaw, when I’ve seen him, seems to. Shaw, when I’ve seen him, seems to fit into the modern template for an attacking full-back or wing-back. He’s clearly athletic, clever, positionally quite clever and talented. Whether he’s yet a defender’s defender I’d say is a question but a natural one given that he’s so young. Watching his play enthuses me as I enjoy seeing a player of his style and hearing good things about his upbringing and personality further enthuses me. He has a lot to learn but probably has the capacity to learn it.

Barkley is evidently a talent but it’s also true that the enormous attention and excitement in England whenever anyone of any reasonable ability comes through is a threat. It’s vital that he doesn’t get carried away with the wave of praise and excitement and it’s also vital that people start to speak carefully and analytically about him rather than simply saying that he’s already magnificent and a dead cert to start for England. Clearly he’s got tremendous power, personality and a will to win but again there’s a lot of learning to come and was patently over-played this season such that he was tired and making some ragged decisions in the latter part of the season. Again though, I’m enthused by him and delighted that England have got a young buck of his ability beginning to emerge.

All I’ve said about Shaw and Barkley, I said of Sterling when he was coming through last season. I knew, as anyone of experience knew, that to ask too much of him repeatedly would hinder his development and at his age that’s vital. You’ve seen the benefits this season as he’s more central to the play of the team, has more stamina, makes better decisions and has added more of a goal-scoring threat. He’s a thrilling player and I hope he continues to think and develop his game.

JT: You spoke in your latest book about how Spain viewed their fixture with England at Old Trafford in 2007 as a real turning point in their fortunes which played a big part in them going on to become what they are today. Should these two sides meet again, even if England lose, do you think that there’s any comparison here and that this fixture could act as that same spark, but for Roy Hodgson’s men this time around?

GH: No, I don’t think there’s any comparison in the ‘breakthrough’ Spain felt that they managed that day at Old Trafford compared to if England were to play Spain and beat them; the cases are totally separate. Iniesta told me that they cleared out generations of ‘over respect’ for England and English football that day. Doing so at such a young age and at Old Trafford were great liberators for these players; I don’t think there’s the same feeling in England. Spain at that stage felt inferior and felt vulnerable while in England there’s this constant ‘we are the best and it’s only a matter of time before we show it’ – a mentality bred into the players by the media and by fans. I hope England play with all the technique of Spain and the will to win of the British Isles but how they achieve it is a much more complicated process.

A Quick Hello!

Hey people!

My name is Jamie Thomas and I’m a student at Bangor University studying journalism and media studies!

Got a lot of aspirations in the field of journalism which is why for the past few years I’ve been putting myself forward to write articles for basically anyone who’ll have me! The publications I have wrote for have been very receptive in letting me fill their virtual column inches with content and for that I’d like to give a quick S/O to Dave Hudson and the awesome crew at Fortitude (fortitudemagazine.co.uk), Lewis Abbey for allowing me to broaden my horizons a fair bit at Inveterate (inveterate.co.uk) and to Ifan Jones for pointing me in the direction of Golwg and allowing me to get some much needed practice on my Welsh language writing!

Basically I’ve had this WordPress blog for a few years for no apparent reason and have never had any real use for it until now because I’ve come up with a neat little solution. What I’ll be doing as of today is filling this blog with any content I write for any of the publications I write for – the reason behind this is that it is getting a tad difficult to keep track of what I’m writing for who and when and so on so to get around that I’ll be dumping it all in here like one big archive! 🙂

So in the next few minutes another post is going to follow this one to link my author pages at Fortitude and Inveterate then I would really appreciate it if you could spare a few minutes to look through them, pick out any stories that catch your eye or are of relevance to you and then give me some feedback maybe on what I’ve written? If you wouldn’t mind doing all of that, that’d be great! If you even just head over to the sites themselves and have a browse, I’d be very grateful for that too as I’ve had the pleasure of working with some excellent writers in the last few years and I can assure you that they’re putting out is of a very high standard and they would too, I’m sure, appreciate all the feedback they can get. At the end of the day we only write to serve the public interest so if you, the public, are interested by our stuff, let us know – if not, let us know what we can do to change that!

Nice to talk to you briefly today guys! I hope very much that you like my stuff – if so, I shall endeavour to keep putting out that kind of content, if not then let me know where the problem is and I’ll try and put something out for you too!