by Chris Dunlavy
AS Wales gear up for their first major tournament in half a century, you could forgive Paul Bodin a pang of regret.
Gareth Bale had not even started school when Bodin blasted a vital penalty against the crossbar at Cardiff Arms Park, costing his place a side at USA 94.
From immortality to infamy in the space of a few short seconds – no wonder the 51-year-old Port Vale coach ranks that wretched qualifier against Romania as the lowest moment of his career.
Yet Bodin, a full-back and set-piece specialist, had other experiences to savour, not least a stunning promotion to the Premier League with Swindon in 1993.
Here, he recalls that fateful night in Cardiff, plenty of tough ones in Swansea and how it felt to do what England famously couldn’t – beat the mighty German side of Matthaus and Klinsmann.
I was a schoolboy at Chelsea until the age of 14. I used to travel up and down the train line to Paddington every weekend. But they didn’t offer me an apprenticeship and I eventually joined Newport.
I played with John Aldridge, Tommy Tynan and Mark Kendall, the keeper who sadly died a few years ago. It was a very decent team.
A few days before I joined, I watched them play in the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup and they drew with Carl Zeiss Jena, a big East German team who eventually finished as runners-up.
It was 2-2 at Somerton Park and there were about 18,000 people there. Cardiff showed a bit of interest but that night swung it for me.
Len Ashurst was my first manager at Newport and the standards he set stayed with me my whole career.
But, from a purely technical perspective, it has to be Glenn Hoddle at Swindon. In 1991, everything he did was revolutionary. His tactics, his focus on mentality and psychology, his ideas on nutrition.
I know he came under criticism from some people for his man-management but, to me, he was always great. He also had a great No.2 in John Gorman, a fantastic man who I still keep in touch with to this day.
I was lucky to play in the great Welsh team of the 90s. Neville Southall was in goal, young Gary Speed in the middle. Gary and I actually made our debut in the same game. We had Dean Saunders, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes. And, of course, Ryan Giggs.
But it wasn’t just their talent. They were also a fantastic bunch of people. I was someone who hadn’t played at the top level but the way they welcomed me into the camp is something I’ll never forget.
But, in terms of pure technique and ability, Glenn was unbelievable. In training, the keepers couldn’t get near his shots. His passing range, either left foot or right, was beyond anything I’d ever seen. If you made a run, he’d put the ball exactly where you wanted it. What a gifted player.
Cardiff, in 1982-83. I’d followed Len Ashurst there and made my debut against Wrexham as a 17-year-old in August 1982. By the end of the season, I’d played 34 games and we were second in Division Three.
We had some great players, like the Bennett brothers – Gary and Dave – who went on to play for Sunderland and Coventry.
It was also my first experience of how football can bite you. We were flying in the league and we somehow managed to get beat 3-2 at Ninian Park by Weymouth in the FA Cup.
In the Welsh set-up, Dean Saunders was – and is – a laugh a minute. Full of jokes, full of Tommy Cooper impressions. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he’s still so enthusiastic. He can’t stop talking for a second. But, once you get him calmed down and away from football, he’s brilliant company.
At club level, the old Scottish striker, Duncan Shearer, was a prankster with a really dry wit. Not everybody got him, but I found him really funny and we became pretty good friends. We had a reunion at Swindon last year and he was exactly the same.
Swindon were playing against Leeds at Elland Road, in the days when they were flying under Howard Wilkinson.
I had a reasonably long throw and was lining up to take one on the edge of the box. As I came running in, my target turned his back. I tried to pull out and keep the ball in my hands, but the momentum was too much. I literally fell flat on my face on the touchline. You can imagine how Elland Road reacted to that.
Another one involved Jan Age Fjortoft at Swindon. One day, we had a little passing circle going in training and Jan jumped to try to intercept the ball. He missed it and caught John Gorman right on the shin.
John started kicking him and Jan just curled up on the floor to protect himself. It was a bizarre sight and all the lads were in raptures.
Representing my country and beating Germany at Cardiff Arms Park. It was 1991, just after they’d won the World Cup and they had everyone you can think of – Matthaus, Voller, Brehme, Klinsmann.
I clipped the ball through to Rushy with about ten minutes left and he put it away for 1-0. To do that in front of 45,000 passionate Welsh supporters doesn’t get any better really.
At club level, it has to be scoring the winner against Leicester in the 1993 play-off final to win promotion to the Premier League.
We’d been 3-0 up and Leicester pulled it back to 3-3. At that point, you were thinking ‘This is their day’, but, in fairness, we’d never stopped creating chances. We rallied, won a penalty and, thankfully, I put it away.
Missing that penalty for Wales in 1993. It was 1-1 against Romania at the Arms Park and, if I’d scored, we’d have gone to America for the World Cup. I smashed it off the crossbar and they went on to win 2-1.
I remember coming off and looking round the dressing room, seeing all the lads’ faces. They all said it wasn’t my fault but, to me, it was like the end of the world.
We had world-class players in that dressing room and, for many of them, that was probably their last chance to play in a big tournament. I was devastated.
Still, what happened afterwards put everything in perspective. As we were walking off the pitch, I saw a flare fired across the stand. We found out later it had hit a guy – John Hill, a postman from Merthyr – in the chest and killed him. You go to a game full of hope and you leave with someone having lost their life. It was a traumatic night for a lot of people, but what his family went through dwarfed everything.
Toughest place to go
Being a Welshman who’d played for Cardiff, the Vetch was always hard work. I went for the derby three times and once with Swindon – and they still hadn’t forgotten.
The Swansea-Cardiff rivalry is intense and you’d take stick from the moment you walked through the gates to the moment you left.
They’re right on top of you and, as a young player, it was very intimidating. But I have to say it never crossed into anything sinister.
One that always sticks in my mind is Mark Chamberlain, dad of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Mark and his brother Neville played for Stoke and I came up against them as a very young player at Cardiff.
Mark was the quickest I ever saw. As a full-back, you’re taught to get out quickly, jockey your winger and try to slow him down.
But, every time I went towards him, he seemed to be disappearing in the opposite direction. The pace, the touch and the movement – it was incredible and it’s why he ended up playing for England.
Favourite place to go
Nothing beats Cardiff Arms Park, which is now the Millennium Stadium. We’d spent a lot of years arguing about where to play.
In the end, the committee just said ‘Right, let’s play at a neutral ground, in Cardiff city centre, which everyone can get to’. And, to be fair, everyone seemed to embrace it.
I’m assistant manager at Port Vale these days. In the short-term, my ambition is to get in the play-offs.
I also coach the Welsh Under-21s and we’re unbeaten in the first five games of the qualifiers. I’d love to make the European Championships.