Current Clitheroe manager and former Wales striker Simon Haworth, who played for both Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic, recalls the time he took on the might of Brazil
Simon Haworth perhaps cannot get too angry with any of his strikers when they fail to make the most of a golden opportunity.
The Clitheroe manager possibly even affords himself a little wry smile in the dugout at Shawbridge once the initial pain and exasperation of a failure in front of goal subsides.
A frontman of some repute during his own playing days, the former Cardiff City and Wigan Athletic man remembers only too well the feeling of disappointment when a golden chance is allowed to go begging.
Indeed there still is – almost exactly 20 years on to the day – a rueful look in the eye of the 40-year-old when he recalls the ‘biggest sitter’ that he ever missed.
With the goal at his mercy and only the Brazil goalkeeper Taffarel to beat, Haworth somehow diverted a header the wrong side of the post.
The miss cost his country Wales an equaliser in Brasilia – the South American country’s capital – and the Samba Boys went on to make him pay as they eventually ran out convincing 3-0 winners.
“It was a golden chance, a header,” said Haworth.
“Taffarel never moved, not an inch, and I put it past the post.
“Honestly, I could have dined out on that forever.
“After that, they scored two stunning free-kicks and won 3-0.”
Haworth was just 20-years-old and had barely established himself in the first team at Cardiff when he was called up by then Wales boss Bobby Gould.
A substitute appearance against Scotland was followed by a full debut against Brazil, who had won the World Cup, via penalty shoot-out win over Italy in the final, just three years earlier at the Rose Bowl, in Los Angeles.
Boasting household names such as Cafu, Aldair, Zinho and the legendary Rivaldo in their line-up, Haworth admits he still gets goosebumps when he thinks about the match now.
Although he was not even born when the great Brazilian sides of the 1950s, 60s and 70s swept all before them, he had grown up watching clips of the legendary Pele and his Samba team-mates.
“The magic and beauty of Brazil would always capture your imagination as a kid, those exotic names from that 1970 side – Jairzinho, Rivellino, Pele and Tostao – it was dream football,” said Clitheroe’s manager.
“On the field, in every movement and slight, that team seemed as if they were celebrating a football mythology.
“As a kid, growing up in Llanrumney, a council estate in Cardiff, dreaming of a career in football, they were the football gods. It was always Brazil you wanted to watch and it is the same now.”
Haworth began the friendly partnering Dean Saunders in attack, with current Wales boss Chris Coleman in defence and the late Gary Speed, pictured below left, in midfield.
“I remember looking out of the hotel window the evening before the game and thousands of people had gathered outside, cheering and shouting, but it wasn’t for us,” Haworth said.
“Over the road the Brazil players were going up and down to their rooms in a glass lift you could see from the street. We went for a wander in the city and a cup of coffee, but not a soul knew who we were.
“The game kicked off at 9.30pm because it was too hot to play any earlier, and what struck me straightaway was that these guys were not just technically brilliant, they were strong and powerful physical athletes.
“I thought it would be a carnival of football, but they were dirty so-and-sos when they wanted to be. Cafu, who played for Roma and AC Milan and was South America Footballer of the Year, smashed into me early on and I was badly winded.
“There was one moment, though, I’ll never forget.
“Gary Speed, God bless him, went charging towards Rivaldo, but Rivaldo saw him coming and nut-megged him.
“Rivaldo then turned on a sixpence, sees Gary charging in again and puts the ball through his legs the other way and runs off.
“Gary looked at me and said, ‘Simon, mate, did you see that’ and we all started to chuckle.”
Haworth is intensely proud of his country, and nothing could have done more to warm his heart than Wales reaching the semi-finals of the European Championships in France last year.
“I never thought I would see it in my lifetime, and it was an unbelievable achievement by Chris Coleman,” he said.
“He achieved that rare thing, to infuse a club atmosphere into an international group of players.
“It is very hard in an international environment – you get little cliques of players from different clubs who stick together.”
Coleman, the former Blackburn Rovers defender, took charge of Wales following Speed’s distressing death, aged 42, six years ago.
“Gary Speed was one of the kindest men I ever met and there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and why he chose to do what he did,” said Haworth.
“I was in the Wales Under-21s side, and scored on my Premier League debut for Coventry against Everton, and the next time we were together for Wales, Gary let all the senior players know how well I’d done.
“A lot of them don’t give youngsters the time of day, but Gary was different than most because he chose to give his time and advice to everybody.
“He was a stand-out human being, a guy who could light up a room with his presence, and would chat with everybody from the kit man to the lady who makes the tea. Some people wanted Chris Coleman gone when the results were poor early on, but Chris finally put his own stamp on the side.
“But it was Gary Speed who built that foundation stone and made sure that Wales treated their players in the right way.”
After scoring more than 100 goals in nearly 300 appearances in professional football, Haworth was forced to retire through injury in 2004 at the relatively young age of 27.
He is currently trying to forge a career in the game as a manager.
In 2013, he took charge of West Lancashire League Premier Division outfit Eagley before being enticed to take up the managerial reins at Clitheroe last year.
In his first full season in charge, he guided the Blues to the semi-finals of the LFA Challenge Trophy and the NPL League Cup.
Clitheroe also came within a whisker of reaching the NPL First Division North play-offs, finishing two points behind fifth-place Colne.
And proudly for Haworth, his club were presented this month with the PFA non-league Fair Play award.
Clitheroe did not land a single booking for dissent, abusive language or violent conduct during the 2016-17 campaign – and the PFA recognised the achievement with a special prize.
“When we took over at Clitheroe, the chairwoman wanted us to improve the discipline because, apparently, there had been too much dissent and ill-discipline in previous years,” said Haworth.
“We put a marker down on the first day, stressing to the players about standards, arriving on time, looking smart, and then that attitude would hopefully be replicated on the pitch and it was.
“I was very proud of them for what they did, with their performances and the way they conducted themselves, and they proved to be great ambassadors for Clitheroe.
“It was a great recognition from non-league football and the PFA, and I dedicated the award to them and the Clitheroe chairwoman Anne Barker, who works so hard behind the scenes.”