When legend Pele broke Welsh hearts
THERE have been plenty of ifs, buts and maybes in the history of Welsh football, though few spark debate like the World Cup in 1958.
It remains the only time Wales have qualified for a major tournament, with the national side only rarely coming close to doing so again in the years since.
But even that one cherished showing on the world stage is shrouded with regret, as it could have been so much better for Wales.
A team featuring four Swansea Town players and another two who were born in Swansea impressed on their march to the quarter-finals in Sweden.
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Their opponents in the last eight, however, were the mighty Brazil, who had a 17-year-old Pele in their side at that time.
Wales, meanwhile, had to contend without their talisman John Charles after the Gentle Giant was injured in the previous match against Hungary.
The absence of the Swansea-born Juventus and Leeds legend was a bitter blow for Wales, who succumbed to a 1-0 defeat thanks to a goal from Pele.
To this day, Welsh players and supporters who participated in or watched the game maintain that a Welsh side with Charles in their ranks would have beaten Brazil.
Had they done so, some still argue, the World Cup would have been theirs. But, as it is, the prospect of further progress stays only a tantalising hypothetical which still haunts Welsh football.
Wales has never since produced a team blessed with such an array of talents, with the likes of Charles, his brother Mel, Terry Medwin and the Golden Boy — Ivor Allchurch — all playing in Sweden.
And for one of their leading stars of that era, Cliff Jones, Wales's solitary World Cup appearance is still a vivid memory.
Born and raised in Sandfields, Jones's spellbinding performances on the wing for Swansea earned him a move to Tottenham in 1958, and he made more than 500 appearances for the two sides.
He is remembered as a great at both clubs, but it is his achievements with Wales upon which Jones reflects with most pride.
"Playing at the World Cup was very special," he says.
"One of the greatest honours of my career was to pull on the Welsh shirt.
"It is still the only time we have qualified for a major tournament, and we covered ourselves in glory.
"One of the great things about that Wales team is that so many of them played for Swansea or were from the town. It was almost a Swansea team which could have gone on to win the World Cup.
"With Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters playing for England in 1966, West Ham fans like to claim the Hammers won that World Cup and I think it was similar for Swansea and Wales in 1958.
"The way we went out was unfortunate. We played Brazil in the quarter-final and came up against this 17-year-old chap called Pele. That was the tournament in which he announced himself to the world, and it was a privilege to be on the pitch on that occasion.
"We could have won. John Charles didn't play and we really missed him at centre-forward.
"In the previous game, Hungary had really targeted John and he had to be carried off the pitch.
"Terry Medwin and I were playing on the wings and, although we were putting crosses into the box, we didn't have someone of John's quality to finish them.
"We could have got something from that game, and I really think we could have gone on to win that World Cup.
"It was a shame, but it's not something I regret — it was just an honour to be involved with that team."
Much like the Welsh side of 1958 is considered the country's greatest of all time, the Swansea team of the same era is also one of the finest in the club's history.
"That was a great Swansea team, a real golden generation," Jones adds.
"Ivor Allchurch was the star of the team, Mel Charles was the big personality. The team was packed full of local boys.
"The Vetch had crowds of more than 20,000 almost every week. It was a different ground entirely to the Liberty, but it was a brilliant stadium.
"Whenever I come back to Swansea, Mel Nurse and Mel Charles are the first two people I look to contact.
"I've been to the Liberty a few times recently and it's a marvellous ground.
"The current side have done brilliantly to reach the Premier League, and they must be considered as one of the club's best ever teams.
"As a team, they compare very favourably to the sides of the 1950s and early 1980s but, individually, nobody comes close to Ivor Allchurch.
"Even the likes of Bobby Charlton and John Charles were not quite at his level. I don't know what John's best position was, but he was certainly the best centre-half and centre-forward I came across.
"I've played with and against some great players and then watched many brilliant players since, but I have never come across anyone as good as Ivor."
It was a remarkable period for Swansea Town, who were churning out exceptional footballers with the mechanical frequency of a factory production line.
This was before the age of academies, and professional clubs were by no means awash with plush training facilities.
A far cry from the modern era of computerised analysis and advanced physiology, players honed their skills amid far more modest surroundings.
And for Jones, his humble beginnings served him well.
"In those days, Swansea used to provide a conveyor belt of players for the Welsh team," he says. "As children we used to play on the beach in Swansea, 20 players on each side.
"I was a winger who liked to dribble, and I learnt how to keep possession and run with the ball during games on the beach. Because there were so many players, you had to make sure you kept hold of the ball or you might not see it again for a few hours!
"It's a bit like how children learn to play in Brazil. Working class kids and people from the shanty towns all play on the beach, and it was similar in Swansea."
Swansea's beaches may not evoke images as glamorous as Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana sands, but there is a certain aptness to Jones's comparison.
The current Swansea side earned widespread praise for their intricate passing in the Premier League last season, some likening them to Barcelona.
Those analogies may have been a little tongue-in-cheek on occasions, but Jones believes Swansea's success could inspire Wales.
"I think Swansea players can form the backbone of the Welsh side for years to come," he adds. "The likes of Joe Allen and Neil Taylor have done very well, and it's nice to see a Swansea boy, Chris Coleman, in charge.
"What happened to Gary Speed was tragic, but it looks like Coleman is continuing his good work.
"It's great to see the Swans doing so well in the Premier League. They play excellent football and hopefully they can stay in the league for a number of years. If they can do that, their players could be the nucleus of the Wales team and help them to kick on."
Jones lives in Hertfordshire these days, having stayed in England after joining Tottenham in 1958.
Regardless of his ties to White Hart Lane, there is no doubting where the former winger considers home.
"I'm still a Jack at heart," Jones says, his Welsh accent intact despite living in England for more than 50 years.
"I was back in Swansea recently and it lived up to its reputation — it rained constantly but I loved it. It was great to be back. I've lived in England since 1958, but I'm still a Swansea boy.
"I work for Tottenham on the corporate side of things, but Swansea's result is the first one I look out for.
"They were brilliant last season — they were the team everybody wanted to watch. Even at Tottenham, their match against Swansea was sold out weeks in advance.
"It was a privilege to play for Tottenham in the 1960s, a time many of their fans consider to be the glory days. But my happiest memories are my time with Swansea Town. I still think of them as Swansea Town, the team I grew up with."
Tomorrow: Alan Curtis's golden Swans moments.