World Cup 2022: Football legend Cliff Jones says Wales will 'take some beating'

Cliff Jones remembers the 1958 World Cup - and describes himself as a 'better looking' Gareth Bale

Cliff Jones may be 87, but he still has a sparkle in his eye.

A ready humour that emerges throughout the morning we spend together at his home in Hertfordshire.

“I was like Gareth Bale...”, he says, when I ask him which modern player he most resembled.

“Except I was better looking!”

In those moments you get a sense of the young man Cliff must have been in 1958 – when Wales reached its one and only World Cup finals – and the team spirit which bound that squad together.

A team which featured some talismanic players – not least the great John Charles. 

“I’m not sure if John was a defender or a forward,” Cliff says, remembering the famously versatile Charles. “But he was the best defender I ever saw, and the best forward I ever saw!”

But it wasn’t only on the field where Wales made its mark during that tournament in Sweden.

“The locals took us to their hearts, if you like,” Cliff told me, proudly sporting his brand new Wales jersey. 

“We became part of the community to the extent that we were cheered when we went away and cheered when we got back.”

Cliff was capped 59 times for Wales during the course of his career.

There wasn’t a huge amount to cheer during the group stages, which saw Jimmy Murphy’s men battle out 1-1 draws with Hungary and Mexico, while picking up another point in a goalless encounter with hosts Sweden. 

But they pulled out the stops in the play-off match, again versus the Hungarians, securing a 2-1 win courtesy of goals from Ivor Allchurch and Terry Medwin.

That meant Wales were through to the last 8, where they’d come up against a Brazil side featuring a galaxy of stars, including one they - and the world - hadn’t even heard of yet.

“Of course we’d heard of Didi and Garrincha and Vavá. And we knew their qualities. But nobody had heard about Pelé.

“And of course we played, and I can always remember vividly Pelé picking the ball up deep in his own half and going past 3, 4 Welsh defenders and cracking this ball and Jack Kelsey managed to tip it over the bar.

“And we all looked at each other and said, ‘Who is this kid?’”

The kid, just 17 at the time, proved the difference, scoring the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory, with Brazil going on to win the tournament.

But Wales still had plenty to be proud of – not that everyone back home knew about what they’d achieved.

In fact, when Cliff and his team mates arrived back home in Swansea, it seemed some didn’t even know they’d played at all.

“When we got off the train, there was one of Mel Charles’ mates there, and he said: ‘Hi Mel, been on your holidays again?’

“Mel said, ‘what do you mean, have I been on my bloody holidays?’ 

"‘We’ve just got back from the World Cup, we got to the Quarter Finals and we were knocked out by Brazil!’”

Cliff played all five of Wales' games at the 1958 World Cup, helping the side reach the quarter-final.

As ever, it’s a story that Cliff tells with a smile on his face. 

During my visit, he shows me his memorabilia room, packed with mementos from his time as a footballer with Tottenham Hotspur and Wales.

A photo of Cliff, taken alongside the legendary Pelé, is one of the treasures on the wall.

Despite winning the league and cup double with Spurs in 1960-61, it’s clear that a big part of this Swansea boy’s heart remains in Wales.

And he’s convinced Robert Page’s men have what it takes to emulate the heroes of ’58.

“They’ll take a little bit of beating in this World Cup.

"They’ll be going there full of confidence that they can do something and achieve what we achieved all those years ago.

“That would be something, wouldn’t it?”

It certainly would. And no one would be happier to see it than this Welsh hero of yesteryear.