WALES: 26 CAPS

(CAREER: 26)

V Northern Ireland, Wrexham, 6 April 1960

V Ireland, Dublin, 28 September 1960

V Scotland, Cardiff, 22 October 1960

V England, Wembley, 23 November 1960

V Hungary, Cardiff, 20 March 1963

V Northern Ireland, Belfast, 3 April 1963

V England, Cardiff, 12 October 1963

V Scotland, Hampden Park, 20 November 1963

V Northern Ireland, Swansea, 15 April 1964

V Scotland, Cardiff, 3 October 1964

V Denmark, Copenhagen, 21 October 1964

V England, Wembley, 18 November 1964

V Greece, Athens, 9 December 1964

V Greece, Cardiff, 17 March 1965

V Northern Ireland, Belfast, 31 March 1965

V Italy, Florence, 1 May 1965

V USSR, Moscow, 30 May 1965

V Northern Ireland, Cardiff, 30 March 1966

V Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, 14 May 1966

V Brazil, Belo Horizonte, 18 May 1966

V Chile, Santiago, 22 May 1966

V Scotland, Cardiff, 22 October 1966

V England, Wembley, 16 November 1966

V Northern Ireland, Belfast, 12 April 1967

V Northern Ireland, Wrexham, 28 February 1968

V Italy, Cardiff, 23 October 1968

There aren’t many Albion captains who have had the privilege of lifting the FA Cup, and only three of them have done it at Wembley Stadium. The most recent was, of course, Graham Williams, away back in the glory days of 1968. The former Albion skipper turned 70 at the start of this month, so what better time to pay tribute to him than today, and to pay particular attention to his record as a stalwart of the Welsh international side through the 1960s?

Wales has provided Albion with two of our greatest internationalists. Stuart Williams remains our most capped player with 33, while Graham amassed 26 over the past part of a decade in the Welsh team. Ironically, the two of them were pretty much locked in combat for an Albion shirt as well as a Welsh one, a healthy rivalry that brought the best from both players.

Graham was steeped in Albion tradition long before he won his first cap for his country, having joined from Rhyl Athletic as a 16 year old in September 1954 before turning pro the following April. He initially came under the eye of manager Vic Buckingham who made a great impression on the youngster: “Vic always said that football should flow, like chocolate, it shouldn’t be all bump, bump, bump.”

It was a long apprenticeship for Graham before he finally made a place in the side his own, making his debut as an outside left against Blackpool on 19 November 1955 but only becoming a regular in the team midway through the 1959/60 season when he switched to left-back and replaced Stuart Williams in the side. There was a sense of transition about Albion at that point, Ronnie Allen and the great Ray Barlow coming towards the end of their time here, the likes of Don Howe, Derek Kevan and Bobby Robson the stars of the show and new faces such as Graham, Alec Jackson and David Burnside beginning to make their presence felt.

From this distance, it’s hard to imagine Graham set out on his career as a winger because as poacher turned gamekeeper, he was the scourge of outside rights everywhere, a tough tackler who gave no quarter and was quite happy to deposit his opponent into the crowd if necessary. That said, his early experience as a striker added an additional dimension to his game and with Don Howe also marauding forward from right-back, the Throstles were among the first teams to deploy full-backs as a supplement to their conventional attack.

Graham made the full-back slot his own, Stuart Williams heading for Southampton to end his playing career before returning to The Hawthorns as a coach later in the 1960s, by which time Graham was not just the first name on the team sheet but the captain to boot, a role he was made for, an inspirational leader who get the team acting as one, on and off the field.

Just too young to make the only Welsh side that has ever played in a World Cup – in Sweden in 1958 – Graham became a feature of the side through the 1960s. It was a team that featured some wonderful players, leaving him rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ivor Allchurch, Cliff Jones and, on brief occasion, perhaps the great Welsh footballer of all time, John Charles.

But Wales lacked any real strength in depth and though they could produce some terrific performances any kind of consistency eluded them as they failed to qualify for the latter stages of either the European Nations Cup – as the forerunner of the European Championships was known – or the World Cup.

Graham registered one goal in his 26 appearances for the country, against Northern Ireland in a 5-0 win in Belfast in March 1965, but there was consolation for Wales’ failures to gain measurable success when he returned to the club scene here at the Albion.

He skippered the side to the Football League Cup at the first attempt in 1966, even scoring one if the goals in the second leg rout of West ham that gave the Throstles the trophy 5-3 on aggregate. A year later, he led the side out at Wembley only to see QPR steal the trophy off us, coming from 2-0 down at the break to win 3-2 in controversial circumstances, as Graham recalls: “I think the League Cup Final at Wembley was pretty unlucky. Rodney Marsh would have been sent off today for what he did to Dick Sheppard. I played the second half with only one eye, I was at Moorfield’s Hospital for a fortnight afterwards. Ken Foggo would have been the first substitute at Wembley, but the referee wouldn’t let me go off. He said to me, “The only way you go off is if I send you off”. We were in control, it was finished by half-time, but the second half turned into a nightmare. Going back out of the tunnel for the start of the second half, Jim Langley from their team turned to me and said, “Christ, we’ve just been put on four grand per man to win this!” We were on 25 quid to win! Losing that one really hurt.”

Back at Wembley the following year – after Graham had had to play in goal in the fourth round replay at Southampton on the way to the final – Albion claimed their fifth FA Cup win and it was left to Graham to climb the 39 steps to the Royal Box and collect the cup itself, the pinnacle of any professional footballer’s life. Happy birthday skipper.