Rembembering Welsh football's forgotten heroes of 1976

Everyone in Wales swells with pride to think of the amazing achievement of Bale, Allen, Ledley, Ramsey and co. in getting to the semi-finals at Euro 2016. Hardcore Wales football fans will also talk of the 1958 squad that included Ivor Allchurch and Mel and John Charles and made it to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. But what about the boys of 1976? Wales’ strangely unsung success of  the 1976 European Championships is finally celebrated in a new book by Nick Burnell – Trailing Clouds of Glory: Welsh Football’s Forgotten Heroes of 1976, which fêtes the success and achievement of a group of people who restored pride in the Welsh football jersey. The book is also the Books Council of Wales’ Book of the Month for November 2019.


It was a time which Burnell describes as less complicated, “before the onset of 24-hour saturation coverage and millionaire journeymen players. A time before football was ‘invented’ in 1992, where television and radio closed down when there was nothing more to say, and when footballers looked to the future by doing their coaching badges or searching for local pubs that needed new landlords. A time before VAR, podcasts and the gaudy vulgarity of the Premier League, when you’d stand and watch the game in front of you for 90 minutes rather than film it on your mobile phone.”


And though 2016 and 1958 are legendary, the period following Mike Smith’s appointment as manager on the heels of yet another failure to qualify for a World Cup in 1974 has largely been forgotten.


Wales had finished with the wooden spoon in the Home International tournament four years in a row in the run-up to the 1976 European Championships, yet the continent’s top international competition saw them turn things around drastically and reach the quarter finals. Many contend that had it not been for terrible refeering, the team of Terry Yorath and John Toshack, Leighton James and Leighton Phillips, John Mahoney and Brian Flynn would have made it through to the semi-finals. Mike Smith’s surprise appointment saw a squad that was low on confidence and expectations transformed into a cohesive team, playing strong, attacking football that got results. As Burnell says: “Rarely has the togetherness in the squad been as strong.”


“The 1976 Wales team was the team of my childhood, it’s the era in which I started following the sport, attending games and supporting Wales. As more time passes, the achievements of Mike Smith and the squad are being forgotten, even though Wales have only a handful of similar achievements to remember! I wanted to record the history and to bring it to the attention of the public – to remind those like me who were there, following the team, or to show those too young to remember that this was a side which deserves to be right up there with those of 1958 and 2016.”


“I think at the time the Welsh rugby team were so strong, with heroes such as J.P.R. Williams and Gareth Edwards playing. Wales won the 1976 Five Nations Championship with a Grand Slam and the Triple Crown. The rugby glory of the time received most of the press coverage and so the football team’s success has disappeared from memory,” says Nick Burnell.


Trailing Clouds of Glory is based on extensive research, and Nick Burnell has used contemporary press reports and surviving TV match footage as well as recollections collected during interviews with some of the protagonists themselves. The book also paints a vivid picture of the 1970s, taking a nostalgic and humorous look at the decade and its foibles – including a look at the news headlines of the time, and one truly surreal real-life event involving The Bay City Rollers, Tony Blackburn and a Womble.