The Welsh national team have hardly enjoyed the regular trappings of success down the years. The country’s only appearance at a World Cup finals came in Sweden in 1958, qualification for the quarter-finals of the 1976 European Championship (although not the final tournament itself) coming eighteen years later. Since then, however, Wales have struggled to compete with any consistency on the international stage, but that is not to say that the country has never enjoyed a sustained period of high achievement. In fact, the 1930s were a particularly fruitful decade for the national side.
Established in 1883, the British Home Championship – a tournament which may be revived in the near future – was very much entering its prime during the 1930s. Pitting England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland against one another, the competition represented the primary international tournament for four countries which were initially sceptical of the newly-introduced World Cup. England and Scotland had largely dominated the first fifty editions of the competition, but the thirties saw Wales break their duopoly to come to the fore.
Having won the championship on three occasions during the 1920s, Wales continued their positive development by triumphing again in 1933. Armed with players such as Aston Villa’s star inside forward Dai Astley, Wales had no trouble breaking the opposition down as they dismantled Scotland 5-2 in Edinburgh before proving their defensive resilience with a tight 0-0 draw against England in Wrexham. Needing to win their final game to make sure of the title, Ireland were beaten 4-1 with braces from Astley and fellow forward Walter Robbins.
Winning the title was all well and good, but the Welsh had never before won back-to-back championships, that being the achievement they had in their sights when the following tournament got underway in the September of 1933. Their title defence began with an unconvincing victory over Scotland, Robbins and Astley again on the score sheet as Wales ran out 3-2 winners at Ninian Park. A draw with Ireland was to follow, but the historic consecutive titles were sealed in Newcastle on 15th November as an impressive England side boasting the great Cliff Bastin were surprisingly beaten by two goals to one, Astley (again) and Tommy Mills scoring the crucial goals.
A brief lull in the Welsh success was to follow in 1935 and ’36 as Scotland shared the title with England before winning it outright in ’36, Wales finishing bottom of the table and then third as they appeared to go through something of a transitional phase. The team was back in form in 1936/37, completely dominating the competition with three wins from three. Rising star Pat Glover was on target as England were beaten 2-1 in Cardiff, the Grimsby Town legend scoring another two goals as Scotland were overcome by the same scoreline six weeks later.
Only Ireland stood between Wales and a third title in five years, Glover bagging his second brace of the tournament as the Irish went down 4-1 at the Racecourse Ground. Shorn of the talents Dai Astley but led by the prolific Glover, Wales had sealed yet another title in what was undoubtedly the most successful period in the team’s long history.
A three-way tie for the 1939 title between England, Wales and Scotland brought to a close what was the final competition to be played before the outbreak of World War Two, but 1937 was to prove Wales’ last ever outright victory. Welsh football has not enjoyed such consistent excellence since, but during the 1930s the country was undoubtedly the strongest in Britain.