"Ashley Williams, he's captain's of Wales!"

11th April 2015

"He's captain of Wales, he's captain of Wales, Ashley Williams, he's captain of Wales!" 
I love hearing that booming around the Liberty when Ash has done something characteristically inspiring on the pitch. 
We are a Welsh club and our inspirational captain is also the inspirational captain of our national team. What could possibly be better? 
Football is a global game these days with Premier League squads made up of players from a myriad of countries.  
Each of these players are as much a part of their team and valued as highly as any home grown player. 
But I am particularly proud that the Swans currently provide the captain of our country. 
In the same way as I will always support the Swans, I will always support my country - through good times and bad. So, to me, being captain of Wales is a very big deal indeed. 
However, I do sometimes wonder what opposition fans think when they hear us singing that song. 
"Ashley Williams, he's captain of Wales." 

"So what?" they must mutter to themselves.
And to be fair, you can see their point. Over the past few years Wales haven't exactly been pulling up trees at international level. 
It's been over a decade since we even came close to qualifying for a major tournament, let alone actually getting there. 
Everyone knows the statistic that Wales haven't qualified for the finals of a major tournament since 1958. Even though it is often overlooked that Wales did reach the quarter-finals of the 1976 European Championships, which didn't feature a finals tournament at that stage. 
Since then it has been a catalogue of dodgy refereeing decisions, failed floodlights, and missed penalties as we have sometimes failed to qualify by the width of a cross bar, whilst other campaigns have been sunk without a trace.  
Since failing to win a play-off for the 2004 European Championships there hasn't been an awful lot to shout about, apart from the odd glimmer of hope here and there, particularly under the late Gary Speed.
Until now, that is.
Being the captain of Wales isn't just a big deal in Wales any more. 
People are starting to sit up and take notice of Wales on the international stage again - especially after the 3-0 win at the home of then Group B leaders Israel. 
I'm not going to make any predictions about qualifying for the European Championships in France next summer as, having followed the Welsh team for the past 40 years plus, I have seen too many teams fall by the wayside in an increasingly inventive and often unjust variety of ways - ever since Joe Jordan somehow managed to win Scotland a penalty by punching the ball in the Welsh area way back in 1977! 
So, having been disappointed too many times in the past, I'm desperately trying to keep a lid on my excitement over Wales' currently promising position in second place behind Belgium on goal difference. 
However, whether they qualify or not, I am excited about the talent in this team and by the fact it is led by one of our own. 
Being captain of a team that features the world's most expensive player and a plethora of Premier League talent is now once again seen as the highly prestigious position it should be beyond the Welsh border. 
But it is even more prestigious when you consider the remarkable team spirit and commitment to the cause that this team is currently showing under Ash. 
As an old fashioned football fan, I feel playing for your country should be the biggest honour of a players' career, however I am not too naive to realise that priorities have changed for some players and countries over the years. 
But there can be no doubt how much playing for Wales means to this group of players under Ash's leadership. 
When you see the world's most expensive player Gareth Bale, who plays for one of the world's biggest clubs and has won Europe's biggest club prize, deliriously and uncontrollably roaring his delight after scoring for Wales, you know something special is happening. 
Whether it is Cardiff-born global superstar Bale, or the likes of London-born Reading forward Hal Robson-Kanu, there seems to be an unbreakable team spirit and commitment to the cause amongst this Welsh squad, the like of which I don't think I've ever seen. 
I've acknowledged in the past that Ash's accent and heritage is more Black Country than Black Mountain, but nobody, and I do mean nobody, can ever begin to question his commitment to the Swans and to Wales. 
On the extremely rare occasion he misses a match for club or country, you know it won't have been out of personal choice. Ash epitomises the commitment and spirit being shown by this Welsh squad. 
Wherever he was born, he must surely be up there with the greatest players to pull on the Welsh armband. 
And it's fitting that we should be talking about Wales captains on the day that Everton visit the Liberty Stadium. 
The Goodison Park club have always had a close link to Wales, and not just geographically. A total of 26 out of the club's 206 international players represented Wales, and their first player to gain international honours for Everton was Welshman Job Wilding back in 1886.
Former Toffees Kevin Ratcliffe, Barry Horne, Gary Speed, Dai Davies and Simon Davies have all captained Wales. 
Ratcliffe, of course, would be high on any list of Wales' greatest captains having led his country 33 times in his 59 appearances. 
The outstanding defender captained the Welsh side which came so close to qualifying for the 1986 World Cup when Wales were denied by a controversial handball penalty decision against Scotland. 
Another Everton player, Barry Horne, captained the Welsh team which agonisingly missed out on the 1994 World Cup when Paul Bodin missed that fateful penalty in the deciding match against Romania in Cardiff. 
Both these near misses though were put into perspective by circumstances off the field. Visiting manager Jock Stein collapsed and died of a heart attack immediately after the Scotland game, and a Welsh fan was killed by a flare seconds after the final whistle of the Romania match. 
Those incidents are a sobering reminder that football is just a game and qualifying for World Cups and European Championships isn't a matter of life and death. 
However, after such a long wait, qualification would be hugely important to us fans. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this Welsh team could succeed where others have failed and Ash led Wales to a finals tournament for the first time since 1958? 
The singing of "He's captain of Wales, he's captain of Wales, Ashley Williams, he's captain of Wales" would definitely go up a few decibels! 
C'mon you Swans!