The shocking story of Wales 1958 World Cup group non qualification
Friday, 12th Nov 2021 13:59 by Gruff Stephens and Keith Haynes
From the 1958 Wales World Cup squad only three survive to this day. Firmly stamped in to Wales football history, the golden era of football for the Wales national team no doubt. However, the qualification story is possibly one of the craziest decision making ideas in FIFA history, and as for the Wales FA at the time, complete and utter shambolic logistical lunacy. This is the first offering of a two part story of Wales and the 1958 World Cup.
But what a story.
To understand why these two very odd play off games between Wales and Asian qualifiers Israel, yes Asian qualifiers Israel, occurred you have to look at the actual qualification matches in Wales group beforehand. Without doubt the bizarre decisions made by Wales footballing governing body regards logistics alone back then would be met with utter embarrassment today. In those days no substitutes were allowed in domestic football. So injured players would nearly always play on if they could walk or even just stand. Remember Bert Trautmann ? The rest of the world had made great strides introducing substitutes recognising the need for injured players to receive proper treatment. Wales and England just didn’t see it.
The qualification group consisted of Wales, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. The East Germans playing their first official football matches since the partitioning of Germany. The east under the control of Russia, and the west of the country under the control of, yes you guessed it, the west. This made trips to communist controlled countries mystical indeed. Wales decided to play their two away games in the communist block, as it was referred to, in one hit. It wasn’t the best of decisions when you look at what Wales actually did logistically.
Wales didn’t qualify for the 1958 World Cup as you would expect it to happen, in fact they didn’t qualify for the 1958 World Cup proper, but that’s to come in part two. Wales kicked off their group qualification with a 1-0 win at home against Czechoslovakia. A hard fought game at Ninian Park, a young Roy Vernon of Blackburn Rovers scoring the winning goal. From there those two games in the eastern bloc followed. They were a disaster for Wales. To save money the Wales FA decided to only send twelve players for the two games, believing that one replacement should cover injuries over the two game week. It was utter madness. Subs had been introduced in International football in 1954, but Wales and England didn’t cotton on until eleven years later.
Derek Tapscott received an eye injury and withdrew from the first game on the eve of the fixture. John Charles turned up so late because he couldn’t be released by his club, he was unable to train beforehand. The squad took two footballs with them, it doesn’t get much better I’m afraid, and it was no surprise that their poorly thought out logistics actually led to Wales losing the game 2-1. On top of that a couple of very odd decisions by the referee from the Soviet Union didn’t aid any chances Wales had. The ‘squad’ as it was called was down to ten fit men, and Wales actually travelled to Czechoslovakia with those ten fit men. Manager Jimmy Murphy was furious. The Wales FA actually felt that was okay. The media in Wales hammered the governing body and they reluctantly allowed two more players to travel to Czechoslovakia. Ray Daniel and Des Palmer were called up, and travelled to Prague, again ridiculous decision making would put pay to Wales qualifying for the finals. Wales lost 2-0, so after three games they had won one but lost those crucial away games in Eastern Europe. Czechoslovakia won their remaining two games winning the group on goal difference, and indeed on beating Wales 2-1 over their two games home and away.
In their final group game, Wales defeated East Germany 4–1 following a hat-trick from Swansea’s Des Palmer, and an own goal from the opposition goalkeeper warned Wales a crushing win. However, the Czech’s were top of the group, and Wales were out. So, how did Wales actually make it to the 1958 World Cup when they didn’t qualify and no play offs were scheduled. We will look at that in part two tomorrow.
Watch the goals from the East Germany v Wales game in 1957 here
The three games after the 1-0 win v Czechoslovakia, and the group table with one Czech game to go which they won against East Germany, winning the group.
Photographs licensed from Reuters
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