Welcome to a continuation on the regular series on The 94th Minute, called “Starting XI”. This is where I ask various people, who are fans of football, a number of questions to get to know them better! The majority of the questions will differ for each person, but the final question will always be:
“Who would be in your all-time, favourite starting XI?”
This is a question where anyone can be put into their starting eleven, whether they are famous footballers, football legends, past or unknown players who had an impact on their childhood, or even players they have played with or coached. Anyone is acceptable in their XI providing they give a reason for their inclusion!
The twenty-eighth instalment of the series is with Dave Jones, one of the most experienced and well-respected journalists in North Wales, who covers the northern Welsh football scene, as well as other sports. He created the excellent northern Welsh football and sports website, Grassroots North Wales / Chwaraeon Y Gogs. In his website, you will find lots of information, news articles and results from all of the football leagues in North Wales, both male and female leagues. In addition, he has branched out into other sports which are played within the northern counties of Wales.
I was keen to discover how he first got involved with journalism, how the website came about, what are his best memories throughout the years, and the changes that have been made during his time of reporting on northern Welsh football. Finally, I wanted to know his all-time, favourite eleven players.
Q. Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Dave! Firstly how did you get involved in journalism?
I was very lucky. After finishing a two-year business studies course, I wrote to my local newspaper asking for a job. Whatever I wrote must have impressed the group editor as he called me in for an interview and I was taken on. It wouldn’t happen like that now. This was 1987. Nowadays you need to have studied journalism in university and possess all the necessary qualifications.
Q. If someone wanted to get into journalism, what would be the best piece of advice you would give them?
You need to study journalism in university and get a degree. That’s the entry requirement these days. Then visit media sites on the internet and get applying. You might have to relocate to get a job. It never does any harm to ask various newspapers for work experience, also be prepared to do so ‘freebies’ for a while, perhaps offer free football reports or interviews to newspapers and if you get them published you can build a good CV. Get your name known.
Q. Your website, ‘Grassroots North Wales’, is an excellent source of news for northern Welsh sport, especially local football. How did it all come about in being established?
Having worked in journalism for 31 years and reaching the age of 54, it was time to go it alone and see if I could make a success of it. It was time to do things my way, work on what I want to work on instead of being told what to do by others less able. It is something I should have done many years earlier. I decided to start my own website covering grassroots sport in North Wales as that is my specialist subject. I could have started a scone-making business but I can’t make scones, so it was always going to be based on what I’m best at. There was a massive gap in the market for covering local sport well, so I decided to try to fill that gap.
Q. During your time covering North Welsh football, what would you say are the biggest changes that you have seen throughout that time?
When I started in 1987, there was no Welsh Premier League or Cymru Alliance. The pyramid started where tier-three is now, the Welsh Alliance/Welsh National League (Wrexham Area). The bigger clubs played in the English system. The Cymru Alliance began in 1990 and Welsh Premier in 1992. So one of the biggest changes has been the establishment of a Welsh pyramid, and a national league which offers its clubs a route into Europe.
The other major change has been the internet. As technology has advanced, journalists have been able to source and publish their information quicker and quicker. When I started it was typewriters and sourcing was done via the local library or newspaper back copies in the office. Reports were delivered into the office hand-written or you phoned up club contacts for information.
Also, women’s football was nothing more than a novelty for so many years, but over the past 10 years or so it’s profile has really risen and I’ve been one of the few in Wales to drive that.
Q. What improvements would you recommend to North Welsh football or Welsh league football in general?
Invest more in grassroots football. The FAW plough plenty into the national side, but not enough into grassroots. They are constantly urging clubs to upgrade their facilities, and some grants are available, but they don’t seem sufficient enough.
The Cymru Premier is a ‘national league’ but it’s not truly national without our best clubs involved. Imagine the English Premier League without Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea. A total farce! Same with the Cymru Premier – how can it be a national league to be taken seriously without Swansea City, Cardiff City, Newport or Wrexham?
We’ve improved results in Europe in recent seasons, but still haven’t had a team qualify for the group stages of the two major competitions and I can’t see it happening. No way will the likes of Swansea or Cardiff join the Cymru Premier though, why should they? It would ruin them financially.
The domestic Welsh football scene is nice for what it is, personally I love the grassroots level 100 times more than the English Premier League, but we’ll always be a small fish in a big pond.
The FAW also need to invest more in women’s football. We now have a women’s national league comprising entirely of South Wales clubs and Aberystwyth Town. All North Wales clubs have withdrawn because they cannot meet the demands of so much travelling per season. In the north, as things stand, we are better off on our own.
I believe there are moves in the pipeline to shorten the gap between the south and the north, so we’ll see what they come up with, but at the moment on a senior level North Wales is totally isolated and we are probably better off on our own, building a strong North Wales League.
I still think we need to regionalise the leagues in women’s football – have the South (and parts of Mid) and North (and parts of Mid), have champions crowned in each and then play off for a national title at the end of the season, therefore still having a national champion.
That would be a good idea for the FAW to adopt, but they don’t seem to adopt good ideas.
Q. What has been your favourite game you have watched or reported on? Are there any particular moments that stand out?
Best game ever was the 2012-13 North Wales Coast FA Challenge Cup final between Rhyl and Prestatyn Town. It ended 5-5 after extra time and Prestatyn won on pens. The quality of the goals were scintillating. Denbighshire could feel truly proud of this event. A few years on, neither club is in the Cymru Premier, although Prestatyn look a great bet to win the Cymru North and return to the top flight next season.
Another stand out moment was the NWCFA Challenge Cup tie from 1992-93 between Denbigh Town of Clwyd League Division One and Caernarfon Town of the English HFS Loans League (Northern Premier). No-one gave Denbigh a chance, they were from 3 or 4 levels lower, but somehow they beat the Canaries 1-0 with a 62nd minute goal from Alan Anderson. I worked for the local paper in Denbigh at the time and I had, and still haven’t, ever witnessed an occasion like it.
Best personal moment was being chosen as Wales’ media judge for the ‘Best Player in Europe’ awards in Monaco in 2012 and 2013. This was a massive honour as I was able to mingle with greats like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. I made a few headlines myself by nominating Les Davies of Bangor City as one of my 5 top players for the season in Europe. There was nothing in the rules which said I couldn’t do so and when Les made the top 32 it was worldwide news. Great publicity for Welsh football at the time.
Q. If the readers wanted to watch some northern Welsh football, where do you think are the best grounds or clubs to visit?
Caernarfon Town is the most atmospheric ground and the welcome is always warm. The football is good too, with the Canaries now established in the Cymru Premier. Holywell Town is also a great club to visit, their fans are phenomenal and the football served is always great quality. Everywhere is worth a visit, all clubs are doing their best and are often run on a shoestring by volunteers who do it for the love of the game. That’s the aspect that appeals to me most.
Q. Are there any players who you think the readers should keep an eye out for in the region, either currently or for the future?
The finest player around at the moment is, in my opinion, Darren Thomas of Caernarfon Town. He is finally getting the recognition he deserves for his amazing goals and great football brain. Bangor 1876, a new club, also possess some really exciting talent like goal machine Dylan Summers-Jones, tremendous to watch.
Q. What are the plans for the future for Grassroots North Wales? Do you hope to cover other sports?
Well, first of all I need a future! We’ve been running seven months and the response has been excellent, but it’s a business and to run a business you need sufficient income. I’m doing okay, but I need more sponsors and advertisers to back me, otherwise we’ll need to call it a day and I’ll have to learn to make scones.
We already cover local football extensively, with particular emphasis on tiers 3-6 as the higher leagues already get good coverage elsewhere, so I’m always looking to focus more on those who do not get the exposure they deserve very often.
I’m already covering netball, occasionally rugby union, do in-depth cricket coverage over the summer and also focus quite a bit on MMA and boxing with the help of those involved. The door is open to anyone, but there is a limit to the amount of work I can do as I’m a sole pilot at present.
My aim is to expand and build enough so that in time, I may be able to employ people. An American DJ once said: “Keep your feet on the ground, but keep reaching for the stars“. That’s my motto too.
I’ve battled with depression since my early teens and with both my mental and physical health not at their best, I have to look after myself too and try to strike the right balance between work and relaxation time. This has never been easy for me and it’s proving far from easy now. End of the day, you can be dedicated and work hard all your life, but it can all be taken away from you in an instant. People just don’t care any more, output is everything, the person themselves is not important.
It’s tough, but you have to battle on. I really love what I’m doing now, I’m building some great relationships and in many ways, I’ve never been happier.
People should never forget, however things look, we are all fighting our personal battles and more understanding and support all round would be really beneficial. There is so much spite and evil going on around the world, and those leading us are, in general, setting a terrible example, so we need to look out for each other more than ever. Talking is so important, it really does help massively.
Q. Finally, who are in your all-time favourite eleven, and the reasons for your picks?
1. Peter SCHMEICHEL
All the trophies Manchester United won in the 1990’s and 2000’s were not just down to the goals they scored, but the huge amount of goals their amazing goalkeeper prevented. No-one will ever come near him in my book.
2. CARLOS ALBERTO
I am just a little too young to remember the 1970 World Cup Final, but THAT goal which made it 4-1 to Brazil in the final has been replayed a million times and the scorer was the great Alberto. The best attacking-right back ever.
3. Nathan CRAIG
Local football is my bag and here my choice is the Caernarfon Town great. Formerly with Everton and Torquay, this amazing left-sided player, either left-back or left-midfield, is already a Welsh Premier legend in my book. I love his commitment, class on the ball, deadly set-piece deliveries and his being a perfect role model for youngsters.
4. Bobby MOORE
Whenever I think of the word ‘defender’ England’s 1966 World Cup winning captain immediately springs to mind. His perfectly-timed tackles, ability on the ball, positional sense….Again, I was very young when he was in his prime, but I’ve seen plenty of footage and read endless material on the man.
5. Michael JOHNSTON
Might as well put one legend alongside another at centre back! The year before I nominated Les Davies in my top 5 for Best Player in Europe, I voted for Bangor City great Johnno, so he could have made history before Les, but that year there must have been more than 32 total nominations! Not the tallest, but made up for it with his brilliant tackles and ability to snuff out danger.
6. Mike JAMES
Talk North Wales football anywhere around the town of Denbigh and Mikey’s name will likely come up within the first few minutes. A genius of a player, who could play anywhere. his long-range goals were legendary as were his leadership qualities. Shy, modest, unassuming, but an amazing man to know, he was like a hero character from a football comic, just a complete footballer, and people say with more dedication, he could have been a lot, lot better.
7. Darren THOMAS
Nicknamed ‘the Cofi Messi‘ and easy to understand why. Since Caernarfon Town returned to the Welsh Premier, he has been phenomenal. Stunning goals, raking passes and an ability to so often be one step ahead of the opposition. Great to see his wonder goal against TNS ranked Best of the Decade by Sgorio viewers, unbelievable talent.
8. Steve WALTERS
Best player I ever saw perform in Rhyl colours, a true star of the 2003-04 quadruple-winning side. Previously a major success with Crewe Alexandra before he entered Welsh football, Steve was a midfield general, tireless from box to box and always capable of scoring goals. I’ve seen some amazing players at Belle Vue, Steve will always be the best.
9. Peter O’BRIEN
Someone once asked me who is the best Denbigh Town player ever. I answered Mikey James or Peter O’Brien – I couldn’t split the two. Peter was one of a few Liverpool-based players brought over to Denbigh by Roy Cook-Hannah when Bill Dawson first took charge at Central Park in 1992. Peter was a stunning player up front, heading, shooting, passing, he had everything. Probably his spectacular goals were the most memorable aspect of his game. It was a privilege to have seen him play.
10. Les DAVIES
Well I can’t choose him among Europe’s elite and then not pick him for this! His biggest asset is his uniqueness – unplayable in the air, very astute on the deck and a tremendous ability to hold up the ball in attack. His all-round ability as a striker probably cost him a few goals, because he was helping others score, but he’s still netted more than 100 in the Welsh Premier. Still working the magic with Bangor 1876. Sgorio Player of the Decade 2010-19.
11. Eric CANTONA
Better make room for one more famous one. Cantona was a genius. He transformed Manchester United from a nearly team into an all-conquering machine. Yes, he was controversial and did not do everything by the book, but what a footballer, goals, passes, strength, he had it all. And a personality which inspired everyone around him. Will always be my favourite footballer.
A massive thank you to Dave for answering my questions on northern Welsh football, and his excellent website in general, which is superb for tons of information for North Wales sport. I would highly recommend checking it out! Dave was one of the people I had initially listed to interview when I first started this series, so I am glad I am finally able to interview one of wise men (if not, THE wisest man) of North Welsh football!
To find out more about Dave, the links to his website, and social media accounts can be found below:
- Website: https://nwsport.co.uk/
- Twitter: @DaveJon96123799
- Facebook: Dave-Jones-North-Wales-Sports-Blog
To read or catch up on the previous Starting XI episodes, they can all be found at the following link HERE.
If there you have any feedback, comments or suggestions who I should interview next in the series, let me know either below in the comments box, tweet me @The94thMin or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! It would be good to hear what you think about the series, and what have been your favourite episodes so far!
Finally, I am currently in the depths of doing a charity challenge of staying sober for the entirety of 2020! It’s not easy but I am hoping to raise a lot of money for the mental health charity, MIND. So if you would like to see how I am progressing in my challenge, or even be kind enough to add a donation, the link is here: