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Jess Fishlock: a Cymru GOAT tribute

09 Apr 2024 6 minute read
Jess Fishlock celebrates scoring against Northern Ireland. Photo Nick Potts PA Wire/PA Images

Iwan Williams

Today (9 April) marks a special moment when Jess Fishlock wins her 150th Cymru cap against Kosovo in the second Euro 2025 qualifying game.

An incredible achievement and a testament to an exceptional player who has raised the bar and inspired everyone around her for years.

The places where Jess has reached her landmark caps encapsulate her. She made her debut in Stighag, Switzerland as a 19 year old in March 2006. She reached her 100th cap in 2017 playing against Northern Ireland in Ystrad Mynach.

And her historic 150th cap takes place in Podujevo, Kosovo’s ninth largest city. These are small, modest and non-flashy places that typify Jess’ attitude.

She emphasises in her interviews that it’s “not about me, it’s about the team”. That honest and grounded attitude is a wonderful attribute in a global superstar who has never forgotten her Llanrhymni/Llanrumney roots.

Jess is her own player, but she has much in common with two fellow Cardiffians, Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale, and the current Cymru men’s captain, Aaron Ramsey.

All four have captained their country. All four share that passion and desire to reach the highest standards. Playing for Cymru means everything to Jess, as it did to Craig. Whilst others retired and departed the international scene, Craig stayed on to share his knowledge and experience with the younger generation.

Jess is doing the same now, and I can only imagine what it means to Carrie Jones, Elise Hughes, Mary McAteer and others to be playing alongside her and benefiting from her invaluable advice.

Composure

Wearing that Number 10 shirt, Jess and Aaron share that unique ability of finding pockets of space, delivering that killer pass, dictating the tempo of a game and ice cold composure in front of a goal.

Both Jess and Aaron play the game like continental players, and Jess’ Messiesque ability to escape tight situations in possession is a joy to behold.

And then there are the obvious comparisons with Gareth. At club level, both have enjoyed glittering careers. Jess has won the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar, the Division 1 Féminine with Lyon, the W-League Premiership with Melbourne Victory and City, and UEFA Champions League with FFC Frankfurt. With her current club, Seattle Reign, Jess has won the NWSL Shield and The Women’s Cup.

She also won the NWSL Most Valuable Player award in 2021. Incredible achievements, but like Gareth, you sense that she’d swop it all for international success with Cymru.

Both are arguably Cymru GOATs – The Greatest Of All Time – and both deserve to feature in finals tournaments. Gareth managed to achieve this before calling an end to his career. Hopefully Jess can do likewise.

Looking back over her eighteen year international career, you appreciate the immense sacrifice, the dedication, professionalism and strong will to turn up, play and keep going.

Jess Fishlock in action against Greece. Photo Nick Potts PA Wire.

Whilst the Cymru women’s team have equality now in terms of playing kit, media coverage, hotel facilities, staff resources and equal pay, it was a very different story when Jess began in 2006.

For the previous campaign, the FAW withdrew the women’s team from the Euro 2005 qualification campaign for financial reasons. Playing in men’s kit with inadequate facilities and sub-standard resources in places most have never heard of with near zero media coverage, some of Jess’ standing in the game would have walked away.

But she kept going despite it all, flying in from America, Australia or wherever she was based at the time.

There have been numerous setbacks, hard defeats and bitter disappointments, with qualifying campaigns over before they really began in earnest.

She recently admitted that ending her Cymru career following the heartbreaking World Cup qualification defeat to Switzerland in October 2022 was on her mind.

Determination

But Jess’ determination to carry on and motivate those around her to get up and try again is quite incredible. “The Dragon on my shirt. That’s all I need” was Gareth’s motivation, and it’s the drive that compels Jess to jump on a plane in Melbourne or Seattle and make it to Llanelli, Nantporth, Astana, Faro or wherever the Cymru call takes her.

Working out Jess’ air miles for the Cymru shirt and representing the national team would be some challenge.

And then there are the goals. Jess’ first Cymru goal came in her third cap, a 1-1 with Israel in Cardiff in March 2006. She reached her 42nd goal on Friday against Croatia and will undoubtedly pass Helen Ward’s record 44 goals this calendar year.

Time after time, when Cymru have looked for an equaliser or match winner, she’s delivered. She’s scored twice for Cymru on six separate occasions and scored hattricks against Turkey and Montenegro in 2014. Friendlies, Euros or World Cup qualifying games, the Algarve or Cyprus Cups: Jess has been present, and chipped in with countless goals and assists.

An incredible stat following the Kosovo game is that Jess will have played in 150 of 229 games, meaning she’ll have featured in 65% of all Cymru games since the women’s team were fully endorsed by the FAW in 1993.

Injuries

Were it not for injuries, and particular that serious ACL injury in 2019, that percentage would be higher. A truly incredible achievement.

When Jess finally hangs her up her boots (and let’s hope that we’re a few years away), I do hope that her immense contribution to the game and to Cymru will be acknowledged. Given everything that they’ve done, it would be fitting to see Jess Fishlock and Gareth Bale statues in Cardiff. GOATs deserve nothing less.

But the tale isn’t over yet, and there are new chapters to complete. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful Cymru finale if Jess made it to next year’s Euros in Switzerland, the scene of her debut cap all those years ago and the recent heartbreaking defeat.

How fitting would Swiss footballing bookends be to an exceptional and gifted player who has put Cymru on the map and inspired generations of girls?

Watching the smiles on fans faces as she happily signed autographs and posed for selfies in Wrexham on Friday night. Both of my daughters wanted to be Jess as we kicked a ball on the weekend.

The confidence and reassurance she’s given members of the LGBTQ+ community off the pitch. That’s her legacy. That’s what she leaves behind. But for now, let’s get Jess to the Euros. The Llanrhumney girl and Cymru legend deserves it. 150 caps and 42 international goals (and counting) ain’t bad.

Llongyfarchiadau / Congratulations. Diolch Jess.


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