Anthem lessons: how Wales bed in their players born outside the country

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·5-min read
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<span>Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

In theory, Robert Page could name a Euro 2020 lineup comprising players who were born outside Wales, from Adam Davies, the third-choice goalkeeper who was born in Germany, to the Torquay-born Kieffer Moore in attack. After Wales sealed their place in the knockout stages, Uefa posted the customary congratulatory tweet – the word “qualified” plastered across a stock image – but the photo was not of Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey but of Moore, a brute force and figurehead who, less than two years on from his debut, it is hard to imagine Wales without.

Of the Wales players who sealed passage to the last 16 in Italy on Sunday, five were born in England. It is thought Moore could even have played for China. So how does Page, who was born in the Rhondda valley and won 41 Wales caps, go about inculcating what it means to play for the nation to those born in, in Chris Mepham’s case, Hammersmith, or, in Ethan Ampadu’s case, Exeter?

Related: Wales ‘in for a tough one’: what Christian Eriksen told Ben Davies

“We made sure that IG [Ian Gwyn Hughes, the Football Association of Wales’s head of public affairs] gave a speech about the anthem,” says Page. “We translated it [the anthem] into English, what the meaning of it is, and it is very powerful. I [also] delivered that to the players in the first meeting before the tournament started. It was quite an emotional meeting but it makes the players understand the importance of playing for Wales.”

The FAW Trust’s technical director, Dave Adams, and the talent identification manager, Gus Williams, work with a team of 28 scouts and nine full-time coaches, including Page, to keep abreast of potential future internationals. Between them, in the regular season, they take in about 18 games across a weekend and 10 in midweek. They have recently discovered the eligibility of a Football League player with dual nationality and have a database with players in the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland who could play for Wales. The St Pauli defender James Lawrence, ruled out through injury this summer, came on the radar later than most, flagged up to the FAW by his father, Steve.

Adam Davies, via father
Chris Mepham, via grandparents
Rhys Norrington-Davies, via parents
Ethan Ampadu, via mother
Daniel James, via father
Joe Morrell, via mother
David Brooks, via mother
Matt Smith, via grandfather
Jonny Williams, via father
Kieffer Moore, paternal grandfather
Tyler Roberts, via grandparents

A possible XI (3-4-3) A Davies: Ampadu, Mepham, Norrington-Davies; Brooks, Morrell, Smith, J Williams; Roberts, Moore, James

“There are some really interesting ones that come through all the time, from the US, the Channel Islands, all different parts of the world, because people understand that if you’ve got a grandparent who was born in Wales you could play for us,” says Adams. “As we have become more prominent, getting to the semis of the last European Championship and reaching the last 16 of this one, it has put us on the world stage. It’s not just the children within the three million population [we are looking at], it’s a lot bigger and broader.”

Neco Williams has dual nationality.
Neco Williams has dual nationality. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Reuters

Ampadu and Neco Williams are among the squad members with dual nationality who were keenly wanted by England from a young age. More recently, the 18-year-old Brentford defender Fin Stevens, born in Brighton, pinned his colours to Wales. Ampadu, along with Harry Wilson, Tyler Roberts and David Brooks – one of several players in this squad who worked under Page in the under-21s – spent time on camp with England, with the FAW’s blessing, following invitations from the Football Association, but all pledged their allegiance to Wales. “From the moment I stepped into the Wales camp I didn’t want to go back,” says Brooks, whose mother hails from Llangollen. “I enjoyed growing up with Welsh heritage and the experiences I had in north Wales. It was a no-brainer when they came calling.”

Related: Wales team bond summed up by forgotten goalkeeper Danny Ward | Ben Fisher

Many have been embedded within the FAW setup for a long time. The FAW runs a development programme in north and south Wales for players aged 13-15 and 80% of this squad graduated through that. It casts the net as wide as possible, with the north-west of England a fertile patch; Williams and Manchester City’s Matt Smith are among those who play there. “We know that by starting it earlier we’ve got a better chance of keeping them at 15 and 16 when England come knocking on their door, because we’ve already built the relationships with the players,” says Adams.

When players arrive on international camps, welfare officers provide education on the cultural and historical background of the region – including the Aberfan disaster, the memorial site of which the first team visited shortly after Euro 2016. Learning the anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, is a significant aspect of a player’s development, young or old.

Every player called up to a competitive youth camp will be given at least one start, so they experience representing their country and singing the anthem. On Wednesday the FAW requested schools send clips of pupils singing the anthem to share before kick-off against Denmark in Amsterdam on Saturday. “We would spend a lot of evenings on camp learning the anthem, a kind of rehearsal the night before a game,” says Adams. “It’s a really important part of feeling part of a team and environment and getting to understand the people you represent.”

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