“It’ll be great to do it among the hard-core fans. It’s hard to put into words how they treat me. It’s something you don’t feel like you deserve because playing for Wales is my honour really.”
And that sums up Chris Gunter really. Even on the verge of legend, passing Neville Southall’s long-standing record of 92 international caps, he’s still humble and self-effacing and determined not to make it about him.
Thankfully there are others willing to make a bit more of a fuss about it, including Wales manager Ryan Giggs who, speaking after Friday’s defeat against Denmark, confirmed the 29-year-old fullback would break the record against Albania in Elbasan.
“Chris will start the game, I think he deserves to. lt’ll be an unbelievable achievement when he does it. (He’s a) fantastic servant and it was one of the hardest things leaving Gunts out early on in the campaign because he’s been such a good player. But he’ll deserve every plaudit he gets come Tuesday.”
Speaking pre-match in the Albanian capital Tirana, Wales captain Ashley Williams said:
“(It’s an) unbelievable achievement. I’ve been on the journey with him and I’ve seen it first hand. He’s an unbelievable professional and he’s mastered his craft. He looks after his body. He does everything right and is an example to the young players in the squad.”
And that camaraderie comes through so strongly. These players have been through so much together, grown up together, been through the highs and the lows together. It’s no surprise so many senior players, including one of Gunter’s closest friends, Gareth Bale, have made the journey for what would otherwise be a mundane and meaningless friendly. They are here for him and for Wales and intend to mark the moment in style.
Gunter made his debut against New Zealand at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground in 2007. A 2-2 draw against the Southern Hemisphere side who caused John Toshack’s side plenty of problems. Also on the pitch that day was Giggs himself, playing in what would be his penultimate international.
Since then Gunter has gone on to pass some of Wales’ greatest players down the years and his record includes 63 consecutive appearances. The soon-to-be former record holder, Neville Southall himself, tweeted his support and urged the Reading defender to become the first Wales male centurion. Ashley Williams believes it’s entirely possible:
“We’ve never had a player over a hundred caps and it’s something that we spoke about a couple of years ago that as a group of players we have that opportunity. I think it’s great for Wales and we’ve got so many young players coming through now. For them to see that it is possible to get a hundred caps for Wales is massive and it just goes to show that if you do things the right way, you can get there.”
That it’s in Albania is somewhat poetic as Gunter will be supported by the people who have probably travelled the furthest and seen more of the highs and lows than anyone down the years, the Wales away faithful.
Speak to any of them and they go all misty-eyed about the man who epitomised everything about the team under Chris Coleman, and of course that glorious summer in France where, along with helping the team reach the semi-finals and, in turn, give an entire nation a feeling of ecstasy they hadn’t felt for a long, long time, he also caused an outburst which has gone down in legend.
2-1 up against Belgium and with the game in its closing minutes, Gunter is rush8ng forward down the right and heading for the Belgian byline. Tens of thousands of proud Welsh voices in the stadium are urging him to keep it in the corner and waste some more precious time. But he doesn’t. He looks up and spies Sam Vokes in the box and at that moment, on the touchline, Manager Chris Coleman utters the phrase “Don’t cross the f*****g ball Christopher!”
But he did, and Vokes rose like an angel to slide a header past a stunned and stationary Thibault Cortois.
Immortalised in Jonny Owen’s epic documentary film ‘Don’t Take Me Home’, it made its way onto t-shirts and is just another facet of that glorious summer to be told and retold over and over again.
But anyway, back to Albania….
“It’ll be a special night. Seems like a long time ago that first cap in Wrexham. Never dreamed of getting as many caps as I have,” said Gunter.
Understated as ever.
But, just suppose for a moment, that Wales are 2-0 up. It’s the 89th minute and Wales are awarded a penalty. Would the man who is almost as famous for not scoring for Wales as he is for playing for Wales do the right thing?
“If there’s a penalty and I’m on the pitch then, no, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want to put myself in a position of missing and having that on my record and people asking me about that.
“Like I’ve said before it’ll be a really proud night for me, but in terms of the game, that is the most important. It’s not about myself and any number of caps, it’s about making sure we finish off this calendar year with a good performance and result and I would never disrespect a fixture.”
And that right there shows what a throughly infuriatingly decent man Chris Gunter is. There is not one person who begrudges him his 93rd cap and very few (Connor Roberts aside perhaps) who don’t want to see him make his tonne.
But many of us would love him just a little more though if he wasn’t so damn perfect.
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