The Football Association of Wales (FAW) was founded in Wrexham in February 1876 by a group of businessmen who wanted a representative team to play against Scotland. They wished to emulate the matches between the Scots and the English that had begun four years before.
The game against Scotland eventually took place in Glasgow in March 1876. The Welsh side, comprising ten players with connections in north Wales and a solitary player from the south, lost 4-0. The return match the next year in Wrexham ended in a 2-0 defeat.
Football in Wales would be dominated by the north in the early years of the FAW, as clubs such as Wrexham AFC, Oswestry Town FC and Chirk AAA FC rose to prominence. In 1877/78 the Welsh Cup was introduced with the initial aim of finding players of international calibre. Wrexham were the competition's first winners and soon the tournament became a force in itself, though it was not until 1912 that a side from south Wales, Cardiff City FC, lifted the trophy.
The game finally started to take hold in south Wales in the 1890s, and in 1902 the Welsh Football League was formed. At the same time, however, many Welsh teams began to join the English leagues in search of a higher standard of opponent.
When football resumed after the First World War, then FAW secretary Ted Robbins tried to single-handedly revolutionise the way the sport was run in the country. The difficulties were immense as most top Welsh players were with English clubs and their release and availability for international matches never guaranteed. Nonetheless, Wales won the British Championship in 1907, with subsequent triumphs in 1920, 1924, 1928, 1933, 1934 and 1937.
Wales entered FIFA World Cup qualifying for the first time in the 1950s, and it was during this period that Herbert Powell, the FAW secretary, emerged as an influential figure with the fledgling UEFA organisation. However, the nation's sole success to date in reaching a World Cup final round came in Sweden in 1958, with the 1960s proving uneventful in comparison.
In 1976 Wales got to the quarter-finals of the UEFA European Championship under manager Mike Smith, and over the following years they developed into one of Europe's most improved sides, under first Mike England and then Terry Yorath. However, a second qualification for a major finals was to remain an elusive quest.
Some great Welsh players have performed with distinction on the world stage, including John Charles, who became an idol in Italy; Ian Rush, a feared goalscorer for Liverpool FC; Neville Southall, the Everton FC goalkeeper; and Ryan Giggs, who won the UEFA Champions League with Manchester United FC in 1999 and 2008.
Wales also came agonisingly close to qualifying for UEFA EURO 2004, losing to Russia in the play-offs, and with a new crop of talented youngsters having emerged – foremost among them the planet's most expensive footballer Gareth Bale – there is considerable optimism that Welsh football will be on the rise again.
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