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World Cup 2022: Wales’ boys of ’58 – in their own words

Seven of Wales' 1958 World Cup squad reunited at the Millennium Stadium in May 2002
Seven of Wales’ 1958 World Cup squad reunited at the Millennium Stadium in May 2002

Wales’ appearance at this year’s World Cup is the first time the country has competed in the finals since the exploits of 1958, when Jimmy Murphy’s side reached the quarter-finals.

Murphy’s side were initially eliminated after finishing second in a qualifying group that also included Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

But political uncertainty handed Wales a second chance because numerous opponents refused to play Israel.

Following a draw of all second-placed teams, and after Belgium also refused, Wales were handed the opportunity to face Israel over two games to decide which team would qualify for the finals in Sweden.

Only two of Wales‘ 18-man squad that travelled to Sweden in the summer of 1958 – Cliff Jones and Terry Medwin – are still alive

But from interviews conducted by the BBC over the years, the story of 1958 is able to be recalled in the words of some of the players who made history 64 years ago.

A second chance in the play-offs

Wales' only previous appearance at the World Cup finals in 1958 came after they beat Israel over two legs in a play-off.
Wales’ only previous appearance at the World Cup finals came after they beat Israel over two legs in a play-off.

John Charles; centre-forward, Juventus: Nobody expected us to get there. We were lucky to get there in the first place. We got knocked out… but we still had to beat Israel.

Terry Medwin; outside-right, Tottenham Hotspur: In early 1958 we had to play Israel home and won the games 2-0, home and away. That’s the way we got through. We were lucky as footballers to travel around the world. One of the best trips I’ve ever been on was Israel.

Ivor Allchurch; inside forward, Swansea Town: It was lovely to play out there because we were leaving the snows of Britain in January to go out to Israel to play out there.

Mel Hopkins; full-back, Tottenham Hotspur: All I can remember when we got to Tel Aviv was the trip to the stadium was something that would have put you off. We went on a bus where we went through dirt roads and dust flying everywhere. The pitch was awful and the goalposts were solid square – I thought, ‘God, if you hit one of those you’re going to kill yourself.’

Ivor Allchurch: The first goal was a cracker, a 30-yarder.

Dave Bowen; captain and wing-half, Arsenal: I scored a goal that night, the only one I ever scored for Wales. We brought them back to Cardiff and we won that match 2-0. It was a glorious night.

Cliff Jones; winger, Tottenham Hotspur: I got the second goal, which I took on the run and with my left foot hit it into the back of the net from about 20 yards and that put us into the World Cup.

Mel Hopkins: The biggest celebration I suppose was when I opened my door the following day and saw someone with a box full of oranges, which was from the Israel association in Cardiff.

Dave Bowen: When we qualified the joy was clouded a little bit with sorrow, because the following day eight Manchester United players, that I’d played against on the Saturday in front of 63,000 at Highbury, were killed in the air crash at Munich airport. Jimmy Murphy was the assistant manager of Manchester United and after we played the match at Highbury on the Saturday I went along with Jimmy and Jack Kelsey down to Cardiff and shook the hands of the United lads on the steps at Highbury and said, ‘good luck lads’.

The manager – Jimmy Murphy

Jimmy Murphy was Matt Busby's assistant at Manchester United
Former Wales international Jimmy Murphy was Matt Busby’s long-serving assistant at Manchester United

Cliff Jones: He had played for Wales himself, a strong tackling wing-half and he brought that into his coaching. He liked to win and liked to put his foot in a little bit. He preached that we were as good as anybody, just to believe in ourselves.

Ken Jones; goalkeeper, Cardiff City: He was a 110% Welshman – the passion of the man was enough. It rubs off on you, the hair on the back of your neck stood up with his team talks because he was very blunt and to the point.

Terry Medwin: He was a players’ manager. He was fantastic and he’d let you do little things that he knew, as a footballer himself, didn’t make any difference like having a few beers. He treated us like human beings and not like kids.

Wales’ squad in Sweden

John Charles: We never prepared really. They just picked the team, sent you the details of where to meet and what have you.

Dave Bowen: It wasn’t a bad side at the time. We had big John Charles and Ivor Allchurch and Cliff Jones on the touchline. Wales always produced great players but we didn’t seem to gel on the night as a team. But when we went to Sweden we threw that straight out of the window and we were very difficult [to beat].

John Charles: We were well knitted and enjoyed each other’s company. The team spirit was great. That comradeship was a great thing and we had Cliffy Jones, Terry Medwin, my brother Melvin and Jack Kelsey in goal. We had a lot of big-name players. There were a few old ones and a few youngsters and I think we combined well together. I think it was one of the best teams that we had.

Ken Jones: I saw the Israel game in the stand, I was in Cardiff City’s reserve team so it was from rags to riches from the time I watched the game to the moment in time I had a letter from the Welsh FA telling me that I’d been selected to go to the World Cup. So it was a bit of a fairytale.

Cliff Jones: Jimmy Murphy knew that if we performed we would give anybody a game and we did go out thinking we were in with a chance of making things difficult for teams in our section.

The talisman – John Charles

John Charles at Juventus in 1958
John Charles had joined Italian side Juventus from Leeds United in 1957

John Charles: I missed a lot of matches and in 1958 I had to beg to go to Sweden but they [Juventus] let me go in the end.

Mel Hopkins: When Big John appeared [at the hotel] in Saltsjöbaden, Jimmy Murphy came in and said, ‘Big John has arrived lads’. It was like Jesus Christ appearing for the disciples.

Stuart Williams; full-back, West Bromwich Albion: I think I was in the foyer when he arrived and apart from being a good player he looked magnificent – well bronzed and an immaculately cut lightweight Italian suit.

Mel Charles; centre-half, Swansea Town: The committee got up and started singing, ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ as we were having breakfast. He was like a Greek God and it enthused us as well that he had arrived.

Group 3 – Hungary, drew 1-1

John Charles: Being in the World Cup was strange. Hungary had a great name. Just before then they had a great team with Puskas and all them and we thought it was going to be very hard.

Stuart Williams: We could approach the game with confidence because we knew we were a good side. Obviously we knew we were going to have a hard game because of Hungary’s reputation.

Cliff Jones: The game against Hungary was a very tight game, they were an excellent side – a very fit side and a good footballing side with good outstanding individuals. They went 1-0 up first, we came back very strongly.

John Charles: It was nice to score.

Terry Medwin: I can see him in the six yard box at the far post and he headed the ball natural as it came and just stuck it in like a snake coming at you.

Cliff Jones: You could hear the thud as he hit it into the back of the net. Jimmy Murphy was very pleased with how we performed, he said we’d matched one of the best sides in Europe and he was quite right.

Group 3 – Mexico, drew 1-1

Cliff Jones: It wasn’t a very good game of what I can remember of it. There was quite a bit of physical challenges being put in here and there and the game never really flowed at all.

Mel Charles: It was a bit rough that was. I remember Colin [Webster, Wales’ Manchester United forward] kicking the full-back and the crowd jumping on the pitch chasing Colin all over the pitch.

Colin Baker; Wing-half, Cardiff City : They were a team of ball players and hard to get the ball off them but we managed to get the goal and we were nearly onto a good result there.

Mel Hopkins: I remember the goal they scored because I remember them congratulating each other and me sitting on the floor watching the ball in the back of the net. We were coasting – we thought we’d had it won.

Group 3 – Sweden, drew 0-0

Wales held hosts Sweden to a goalless draw in their final game in Stockholm to secure a play-off against Hungary.
Wales held hosts Sweden to a goalless draw in their final game in Stockholm to secure a play-off against Hungary.

Cliff Jones: Host nations always do well in World Cups and we knew we were in for a tough game. If somebody had said we’d get a draw before the game then we would have settled for it and that’s what we got.

Stuart Williams: I thought we played well against Sweden but we rode our luck. Jack Kelsey played well and they hit the woodwork once. We were relieved to come out with a 0-0 draw in that one.

John Charles: The Welsh selectors and their wives were there and they had all booked their planes back after the first three matches. They had to fly back to England and fly back out. It was unbelievable really because they’d said, ‘We won’t get very far and they’ll go out in the first round so we’ll go home’. It showed they had no faith in us and thought they’d go out there on holiday for the first week or so.

Play-off – Hungary, won 2-1

After three draws in their group matches, Wales beat Hungary 2-1 in a play-off to reach the World Cup quarter finals.
After three draws, Wales beat Hungary 2-1 in a play-off to reach the World Cup quarter finals.

Cliff Jones: We knew we were in with a shout. We had already played Hungary and we’d had the better of them, there’s no doubt about that. Jimmy emphasised this in his team talk and we went out with a very confident air about us that we could get a result.

Terry Medwin: We attacked, attacked, attacked and they did exactly the same, but a bit more physical and they gave Big John terrible stick in that game.

Stuart Williams: The referee did give some dubious decisions, I don’t know whether it was because he was Russian or what but he did tend to favour the Hungarian side.

Cliff Jones: John came in for a lot of physical abuse if you like and to put it mildly he was kicked right off the park.

John Charles: They kicked hell out of me that day. I think they kicked me in the back and the back of my legs were all black and blue. I couldn’t retaliate – I couldn’t catch anybody because my leg was hurting!

Mel Charles: They kicked hell out of him but we couldn’t do nothing about that and John was limping all the way through the game.

Terry Medwin: It was a very hard game. We were 1-0 down and Ivor Allchurch scored a fantastic goal to make it 1-1.

Stuart Williams: The first goal we got, which we were desperate for to pull ourselves level was a great goal by Ivor Allchurch. He did a surging run from halfway and let fly and it flew into the top corner. For the winner we had to thank Terry Medwin coming in from the right and slotting one home.

Terry Medwin: Luckily I got the winner. It was a good result for Wales and put us on the map. Getting to the quarter finals for a small country like us was like getting to the semis or the final. It was that big. But what was sad about that game is that Big John got injured.

Mel Hopkins: Jim was really pleased because as far as he was concerned we had done a terrific job because nobody expected us to get any further than the first qualifying rounds.

Stuart Williams: I think we most probably had a few drinks after the game just to calm ourselves down. Obviously being dedicated professional we didn’t go over the top – and if you believe that you’ll believe anything.

Quarter-finals – Brazil, lost 1-0

Pele comes under pressure from Wales defenders Mel Charles and Stuart Williams (right)
Pele comes under pressure from Wales defenders Mel Charles and Stuart Williams (right)

John Charles: I couldn’t play against Brazil . The doctor said, ‘You can’t play John’ so I didn’t. I wanted to come back home, I said, ‘I’m no good here Jimmy I’ll go back home’. But he wouldn’t let me.

Stuart Williams: We stuck to the plan and it was a good one because Brazil hardly had a shot on goal. They had nearly all the ball, but Jack Kelsey didn’t have a save to make in the first half.

Mel Hopkins: We thought if we could keep going like we were, and they didn’t look like scoring because the defence was playing so well, that there was every opportunity we could have snatched a goal because we had a couple of chances in the first half.

John Charles: You’re always in with a chance if they’re not scoring and you might just nick one and that’s what we thought we might do.

Terry Medwin: More crosses went over that day against Brazil that just needed somebody to stick it in and John would have been ideal.

Ivor Allchurch: The team played well, unfortunately there was a young chap called Pele playing for Brazil and he did get a fortunate goal.

Terry Medwin: Even at that time he [Pele] was streets ahead of everybody. He’s certainly the best player that I’ve ever seen.

Mel Charles: I can see that goal now. He stubbed his foot and the ball trickled into the far corner and broke our hearts.

Mel Hopkins: He brought the ball down very skilfully, just turned and shot and it hit Stuart Williams’ foot and Jack Kelsey went one way and the ball slowly rolled into the net the other way. I went running into the net with about six Brazilian players hugging each other to try and get the ball and to get on with the game.

Dave Bowen: Jack Kelsey always swore that the goal was a deflection off Stuart Williams. Jack said, ‘I had it covered’ but it just took a little deflection and deceived him.

Mel Charles: If Pele or Didi had scored a cracking goal then I don’t think we would have minded about that but how it trickled in, that was the disappointing thing about it.

Pele's deflected shot beats Jack Kelsey to give Brazil the lead in Gothenburg
Pele’s deflected shot beats Wales goalkeeper Jack Kelsey to give Brazil the lead in Gothenburg

Ken Jones: It wasn’t a spectacular goal but it was damn important for them and we couldn’t come back from it. With all the enthusiasm and guts that the players had produced, when that final whistle went my heart fell down – not for the sake of losing but for the lads that were on the pitch that moment in time and had given 110%. I felt so sorry for them.

Ivor Allchurch: It took the best team in the world to knock us out and that was only by one goal.

Dave Bowen: Jimmy Murphy always said to me, ‘Dave, if Big John had been fit for that match against Brazil we’d have progressed further still’.

John Charles: Jimmy was like that and would always say something like that. I think they would have beaten us anyway because they were a great side, a wonderful side.

Mel Charles: We were a bit upset because we were out of the World Cup and had to come back home – it would have been lovely to go on into the semi-finals. We were proud to put that jersey on and that’s why we did so well.

Terry Medwin: Brazil showed their class and went on to beat France and then Sweden in the final with no problem at all.

Aftermath

Dave Bowen: It was a wonderful competition and it was a pleasure to have taken part.

Mel Hopkins: We all flew into Heathrow and dispersed different ways. There was no celebration whatsoever, it was all back to normal when we got back.

Mel Charles: We got back home and I remember getting off the train at Swansea and three of us walked through, Ivor, Terry Medwin and myself and the ticket collector said, ‘Where have you been Mel? On holiday again?’ He hadn’t realised we’d been playing at the World Cup!