No one ever quite got to the bottom of why Wales were based at Saltsjobaden — a town with no training facilities — on the last occasion they reached the World Cup finals, though Cliff Jones is fairly certain that costs came into the calculation.
The Welsh FA chartered a plane to fly to that Sweden tournament of 1958 and after the squad’s selectors insisted that seats be found on board for their wives — a different kind of WAG held sway back then — it transpired that there was no room for four of the 22 players selected by manager Jimmy Murphy.
‘So the four of them stayed at home,’ says Jones, who at 87 is one of four surviving members of that team. ‘And that was that.’
The same culture applied to what might be very loosely called Wales’ World Cup preparation camp. A group of Murphy’s players found themselves with a couple of days to kill in London before the flight to Stockholm from Heathrow so they met for a kickabout in Hyde Park.
Former Wales winger Cliff Jones was a member of the squad that went to the 1958 World Cup
The tournament was the last time Wales went to a World Cup and things were different then
‘It was like being back on the school playing fields,‘ Jones recalls. ‘I never really knew where the ball we used came from and we weren’t out there for long. The park keepers approached us and asked us to leave. “No ball games”, they said.’
Wales’ World Cup wasn’t so shabby, in the circumstances. They were knocked out in the quarter-finals 1-0 by a Brazil side fielding a 17-year-old Pele.
Jones’ big contribution came just a month after he completed his two years of National Service with the Royal Horseguards Artillery at London’s St John’s Wood. He regularly left the barracks for Saturday afternoons operating on the left wing for his home club Swansea.
Jones was, by many definitions, the Gareth Bale of that Wales team: an out-and-out left winger who’d just become Britain’s most expensive player with a £35,000 move to Bill Nicholson’s Tottenham. There was a mercurial, sometimes mischievous, element, too, and he still has the twinkle in his eye.
‘Gareth? He’s got my pace but I’m not sure about the looks,’ Jones grins, reflecting on that golden summer from a spot overlooking Swansea Bay at Mumbles, a mile from the streets where he grew up.
He savours the last of the seafront sunshine, engaging dog walkers in conversation before the rain rolls in across the bay. None recognises him, though the distinctive trim figure and pencil moustache are the same as ever.
Jones said that the coaching staff left players at home and instead took their wives to the World Cup
Though Spurs fans brought up on Nicholson’s teams would know Jones, he was hardly mobbed in the streets of his hometown that World Cup summer. Jones’ wife Joan was looking for news of him and the team every day of the tournament. ‘They weren’t even in the Swansea Evening Post,’ she recalls.
‘The day they came back home, there was a paragraph inside the paper. It was the cricket scores on the back page. The only way to follow it was on the Pathe news at the cinema.’
But some story it was. Murphy, Sir Matt Busby’s assistant at Manchester United, had taken the team to play a World Cup qualifier against Israel in Tel Aviv, rather than join United on the European Cup trip to Belgrade which would end in devastation at Munich.
He also recalled meeting a 17-year-old Pele during Wales’ 1-0 loss against Brazil in 1958
He evidently revealed none of the devastation he would have felt at the loss of 23 men he knew so intimately. ‘We called Jimmy “Kick, Bollock and Bite”’, he says. ‘He came from the valleys, he gave it to you straight and was tough in the way they all were back then. He didn’t say a word about the tragedy. We didn’t ask.’
Saltsjobaden, outside Stockholm, certainly had its compensations. The team stayed at the Grand hotel where the locals took them to heart, offering them a field to practice on and dressing the streets in Welsh colours.
The group stage saw Wales draw against Hungary, Mexico and the hosts, and they need a 2-1 play-off win over the Hungarians to progress to the Brazil game.
There wasn’t a huge Welsh following in the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg for that match. The national anthem was played but the Welsh-speaking North Wales contingent of the squad were the only ones familiar with it.
Yet they had an orator and motivator in Murphy. ‘He wasn’t very tactical,’ Jones relates. ‘Jimmy’s approach was: “If they’ve got the ball, we defend. If we’ve got it we attack.” But he was rousing. He instilled in us that to put on that Welsh shirt was an absolute honour.’
He said Pele (left) was ‘talented’ but they didn’t know who he was before the World Cup
Wales were knocked out of the quarter finals by Brazil having played Mexico and Sweden
There was such minimal awareness of overseas players that Pele’s talent was a surprise to Wales, after they’d kicked off at 7pm.
‘Pele? We’d never heard of Pele,’ says Jones. ‘He was only 17 and I think it was his first game but I remember him picking up the ball in the first half. Who is the kid? No one ever said anything about him.
‘They had great talents, like Garrincha and Didi, but Pele was the one. There was some good fortune about the teenager’s decisive goal, which trickled in at the far post past defender Stuart Williams as well. A bronze statue of Pele stands outside the Ullevi now. Little did that Welsh band know that it would be the nation’s last contribution to a World Cup finals for 64 years.
Jones had been earning the £20-a-week maximum wage at the League Two side then known as Swansea Town, supplementing it with £10 a week as an apprentice sheet metalworkers at the Prince of Wales dry dock.
‘My father insisted that I had a trade to fall back on,’ he says. He tells the story of scoring in his second game for Wales — a 4-4 draw against England at Ninian Park — in boots which his wife had to fetch up on the train in a paper bag, having first collected them from Vetch Field.
At 7am the following Monday he was clocking on at the steelworks. ‘Every time I turned up for a game after that the first thing Jimmy would ask is “Have you remembered your boots?”’
Jones also revealed that Wales’ World Cup preparations included a ‘kick-about’ in Hyde Park
It’s an utterly different world that Bale occupies, though the nation’s two outstanding wingers of the last 70 years have established a firm relationship, as their paths have crossed.
When the two first met, the young Bale would address Jones as ‘Sir.’ When Rob Page spotted Jones at a Wales match, whilst assistant to Ryan Giggs, he saw to it that the ’58 legend was introduced to the 21st century star and his family in Bale’s box after the game.
‘No one is more entitled to be in there than you,’ Page told Jones after they’d walked in. Then there was the trip to Porto that Jones and his wife made, to see Spurs compete in the Eusebio Cup in June 2010.
Eusebio had asked if Jones, a member of the Spurs side that contested the European Cup semi-final with Benfica in 1962, might attend with the Spurs contingent. ‘Cliff bought Gareth a Panama hat and suggested he wear it,’ Mrs Jones relates. ‘Gareth left it on the coach but Cliff was not deterred. He sought him out with it. “You forgot your hat!” I’m not sure it was quite Gareth’s style!’
The story of the seven-strong Swansea contingent returning home after their two weeks in Sweden is legendary. Mel Charles, Jones’ roommate, was recognised by a ticket collector at Swansea railway station.
‘All right Mel, you been on your holidays?’ asked the official.
‘What do you mean on your holidays? We’ve been to the World Cup, you silly bugger!’ replied Jones.