Our inspirational leader

15th March 2014

Following Gareth Bale's scintillating performance against Iceland, Swansea and Wales skipper Ashley Williams described the Real Madrid man as being "superhuman". 
Well Ash, it takes one to know one.
If Gareth Bale is the Welsh team's superhero Wonder Winger, then Ashley Williams is their Captain Courageous. 
Typically, the big centre-half hauled himself off his sick bed to lead his country against Iceland at the Cardiff City Stadium.
His dedication to the cause, despite having thrown up on the Liberty Stadium pitch just a few days before, will have come as no surprise to Swans fans.
We've been used to Ash turning out week in, week out despite illness, fatigue or injury.
The former Stockport County man, who was released as a youngster by today's opponents, holds the club's record for consecutive matches.
Since joining the Swans, initially on loan back in 2008, he has racked up a remarkable 255 appearances.
Included in those appearances was a run of 166 consecutive league games for the Swans - as well as three play-off matches - before a bout of sickness forced him to miss a 3-0 Premier League win at Fulham in March 2012.
Ash played in the 1-1 draw against Palace two weeks ago despite having been up all night with a sickness bug and carrying two separate toe injuries.
His illness eventually forced him off against Palace after 70 minutes and no one would have blamed him had he cried off from the Wales friendly, having played 10 games in 36 days.
But that isn't Ash's way, something he has shown time and again when perhaps many would have liked to see him rest or recover from injury in order to protect the long-term welfare of this invaluable player.
And Ash's dedication to club and country now seems to be appreciated further afield...even by the Wales-supporting faithful at the Cardiff City Stadium.
When he first pulled on the Wales armband against Scotland in 2009, Ash was roundly booed by Cardiff fans in the crowd. But when his name was read out prior to the Iceland friendly a week last Wednesday, those jeers had changed to cheers.
In fact, the only name which attracted an equally warm welcome was that of Bale - the world's most expensive footballer.
Remarkably, at the exact instant Bale's name was being announced during the warm-up, the Real Madrid man smashed an unstoppable 30-yard screamer into the roof of the net...the perfect starter for the "superhuman" performance to come.
But although many may suggest Wales are a one-man team, that is far from the truth, with the likes of Williams putting in eye-catching performances.
And if Bale had produced a spectacular appetiser of what was to come during the warm-up, the Wales captain conjured up an equally impressive magic moment to sign off his performance.
Just before he was eventually withdrawn from the action, Ash showed he's not just a lion-hearted and hugely talented defender, when he lined up one of his trademark long-range diagonal passes.
The 60-yard inch-perfect pass picked out Bale like a laser guided missile and helped set up Wales' second goal.
A few minutes later the Welsh skipper was heading to the touchline for a well-earned rest with the applause of the Cardiff crowd ringing in his ears.
And there was a definite Liberty Stadium inspired flavour to the occasion.
Apart from Ash captaining the starting XI, there was Neil Taylor at left-back, along with ex-Swan Joe Allen and Swans youth product Emyr Huws, from Llanelli, in midfield. On the bench were Ben Davies and Ashley Richards, along with another former player Sam Rickets and ex-loan signing Jermaine Easter. And, of course, the team is managed by Chris Coleman.
One thing that did wind me up a week last Wednesday though were the comments of TalkSPORT presenter Adrian Durham, who suggested Ashley Williams shouldn't be Wales captain because he's English!
I'm sure England would be delighted to have an inspirational centre half and leader like Ash at their disposal. But sorry Roy, he's all ours.
He may have been born and bred in England and his accent is more Black Country than Blackpill, but Ash has more than proved his commitment to the Welsh cause.
Away from football Ash may well consider himself to be English, I don't know. But as soon as he pulls on that red shirt, he is as Welsh as anyone in the squad and that's all that interests me. 
Let's remember, he's broken no rules to play for Wales. Under FIFA regulations he is as entitled to play as anyone thanks to his Welsh grandfather.
There have been players born and bred in Wales who would have done well to match Ash's example on the pitch. As mentioned above, he has only missed a handful of games for the Swans, but his absences from Wales squads are even more of a rarity.
Let's also remember the contribution he has made to Wales as a player and subsequently captain here in Swansea as well as all the work he does in the community here. He is a truly talismanic figure in this part of South West Wales.
Ash is a prime example that you don't have to be born in a country to develop a passion and dedication to it. 
Just ask Terry Bucher. The iconic image of the blood soaked former England skipper playing on after suffering a serious head injury against Sweden is often used as an illustration of the English bulldog spirit. No one would question his Englishness, or his eligibility to captain England, but Butcher was born in Singapore.
So if Ash shouldn't captain Wales, then Butcher shouldn't have captained England.
If that had been the case, both countries would have been robbed of two of their most inspirational leaders.
And let's not even start on foreign-born players who have captained England at cricket and rugby!
Anyway, back to football and hopefully Ash will be fit and raring to go after last weekend's rest, and ready to lead the Swans in their bid to claim a vital Premier League win!