THE MATTHEW TIPTON COLUMN: Playing against Pirlo and unwanted records

The Matthew Tipton column.
The Matthew Tipton column.

Matthew Tipton has signed up to write a weekly column offering his views on football. Now in his first season of management at Warrenpoint Town, Tipton’s professional playing career started with Oldham Athletic as a 17-year-old striker and included caps for Wales under 21s alongside appearances for clubs in England, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

ITALY 2 WALES 1 (Modena - April 22, 1998).

ITALY: De Sanctis, Zanchi, Daino, Cristante (Bianco, 61), Grandoni, Gattuso, (Diana, 67), Longo, Ambrosini (Firmani, 46), Zambrotta (Foglia, 50), Pirlo, Rossini (Bonazzi, 59).

WALES: T.Williams, A.Williams (Price, 73), Hughes, Green, Roberts, Bellamy, Oster, Ramasut (T.Wright, 61), D.Williams, Llewelyn (Tipton, 65), Haworth.

Scorers: Rossini, Zambrotta, Haworth.

Red card: Oster.

Watching last week’s international between Wales and the Republic of Ireland had me thinking back to my own career for my country.

Although it never reached full international standard, I was selected to represent Wales up to the under 21s.

The above match in Italy was my debut for the under 21s and, looking at that list, so many of those players went on to enjoy highly-successful careers - easily the best I lined out with and against in any one game.

That call-up came about out of the blue - so unexpected in fact that my dad didn’t believe it was Wales manager Bobby Gould on the phone and told him to “F**k off”. Three times.

In fairness, I had just returned from Italy with Wales under 18s and my dad had been out with his friends the night before the phone call, during which he had been telling his mates about my call-up.

Therefore, when his house phone was ringing on the Sunday morning and the voice at the other end of the line told him it was Bobby Gould he naturally considered it to be a mate on the wind-up.

The confusion continued when he immediately phoned my house and all I could make out in his state of panic were a few random words like ‘Bobby’, ‘Wales’ and ‘Italy’.

I took it to be a conversation about the under 18s so was cutting him off when eventually it became clear that the Wales manager had been calling my house in Oldham then my parents (I had ignored all calls) to get me on the plane from Heathrow that night as I was selected for the under 21s.

It turned out to be an amazing experience, despite the surprise selection and phone call confusion.

I had caught the eye of Mr Gould during the previous week’s trip to Italy with the under 18s.

I was 17 at the time and a first-team player with Oldham Athletic - initially I was placed on standby and none-too-pleased given my senior progress compared to many of the players in a squad operating in youth teams considered below our standard.

Obviously my own opinion of my ability has not changed much in the past 20 years!

Mr Gould was the senior squad manager and pulled rank to call me into the panel for the Italy trip for what proved a brilliant week in and around Milan.

It goes down by far as the best experience I had away with Wales due to the quality training, standard of games and good weather.

I came home happy with my performance and in the knowledge Mr Gould told me I was under consideration going forward for the under 21s.

Of course, that call came much sooner than expected!

Unfortunately, I never really enjoyed much success at international level across a career of call-ups from the under 15s up to under 18s and under 21s.

That early period with the under 15s meant Victory Shield. I was part of an 18-strong squad across the whole tournament but never made a matchday panel of 16 despite finishing the regional games played previously as top scorer.

Missing out on those games remains a disappointment, especially as the Victory Shield back then was broadcast live on Sky Sports.

I will never forget making the trip over to Dublin as a 14-year-old with the Wales squad and how 16 players out of the 18 spent much of the ferry ride from Holyhead leaning over the railings and vomiting into the Irish Sea due to too many free refills of Coke and 7 Up.

I also remember the smell of chips from the vans that seemed to be on every street corner during our evening walk.

Finally, that first trip sticks out because it was my first time getting cramp - I had no idea what was happening to me when it felt like two red-hot pokers stabbing my hamstrings during the post-match meal.

The chips and Coke probably had something to do with it, hardly the ideal fuel for a budding international leading up to a game.

Following that Italy trip with the under 21s I spent around another four years representing my country at that level.

I will always look back on my time as an international with real pride and still consider my caps and jerseys with a sense of achievement.

One footnote to my international career, however, is I was part of the Wales set-up during the longest losing streak in the history of our nation’s under 21s.

We went from 1996 to 2002 without winning a game.