Cymru will play their 200th women's international under the jurisdiction of the Football Association of Wales on Friday when Gemma Grainger's side head to Slovenia in 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying (7.15pm).
2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Qualifying Round
Cymru v Estonia
- 19:15 Friday 26 October
- Cardiff City Stadium
- Tickets available here
To celebrate this important international milestone, historian John Carrier takes us back to the very first fixture against Iceland in September 1993. However, while that 1-0 defeat marked the start of the official match count, the journey began long before as a number of pioneers and trailblazing players paved the way for future generations.
With women's football becoming increasingly popular in Britain during the 1920's, the fact that that it was banned was clearly a sign of a very different time. The ban remained in place until the early 1970's when a Cymru team took to the field in a one-off match against the Republic of Ireland. Gaynor Blackwell and Gloria O'Connell were on target in the 3-2 defeat, but the match was significant in that it started a period of sporadic international fixtures under a number of different coaches and managers.
Unconnected to the FAW at the time, Ida and Danny Driscoll together with Tony and Pat Quelch were key names in the women's game in Wales during that era, and they played an important role in the team becoming completely independent towards the end of the decade. In July 1978, a team managed by Tony Sully and Billy Davies were even invited to compete at a tournament in Pescara, Italy. However, the appointment of former England international Sylvia Gore as manager in February 1979 brought stability to the side and she remained in charge until April 1989.
The next chapter in the story begins in 1992 following an approach to FAW Secretary Alun Evans from three Cardiff Ladies players. “We wanted to start up the Wales national team again,” explained goalkeeper Karen Jones. “So myself, Michele [Adams] and Laura [McAllister] went to see him. I remember his grand office with the carpet covered in FAW badges in this old building on Westgate Street in Cardiff. With his massive leather desk and chair, it was like going to see the headmaster!”
Evans would subsequently prove to be an influential figure in accepting the administration of the women's game through a series of meetings after taking in a Cardiff Ladies game at Trelai Park, and the rest as they say, is history. Reforming the national team, the experienced and well-respected Lyn Jones was appointed as manager with a coaching team of George Wood and Frank Hagerty. Helen Croft would take of the team administration together with Evans as initial trials were held across Cardiff, Caldicot and Liverpool to select the first 16-player squad ahead of the first official friendly fixture against Iceland.
The match took place at the Afan Lido Sports Ground in Port Talbot, and it was Iceland who enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges in front of a reportedly large crowd. Goalkeeper Susan Young twice denied Asta Gunnlaugsdottir before Adams cleared off the line from Margret Olafsdottir. Coached by Logi Olafsson, Iceland scored the only goal of the game after 67 minutes when Jonina Viglundsdottir beat Young, but Cymru could have taken something from the game with Vanessa O'Brien and substitute Ann-Marie Daniels both coming close before referee Alan Howells brought the match to an end.
Despite the defeat, a new era for the women's game had began. The first competitive match took place a couple of weeks later in Cwmbran as the side lost 3-2 against Switzerland in their opening 1995 UEFA Women's EURO qualifier. The side would lose all six games in that campaign as home and away defeats to Germany and Croatia, as well as in the return match against Switzerland, followed to emphasise the size of the challenge ahead for this new team.
Gemma Grainger is Cymru's third full-time manager, building on the work of predecessors Jarmo Matikainen and Jayne Ludlow. A veteran of 125 caps, Jess Fishlock has witnessed more change first-hand than anyone else in the history of the women's game in Wales. There are many others who have played a vital role over the years in establishing the team we see today but we cannot possible name them all. But it is the mutual love and respect between the players of the past and the present that shows the recognition for the part each has played in this incredible and far from finished journey. For them, we say thank you.