Delme Parfitt talks to David Bishop about the day one of Wales’ great­est ‘never was’ scrum-halves met foot­ball leg­end Craig Bel­lamy – and sparked an un­likely friend­ship which has lasted decades...

South Wales Echo - - Front Page -

WHEN you ask David Bishop what ac­tu­ally be­came of the soli­tary Wales jersey and cap he won play­ing against Aus­tralia in Novem­ber 1984, noth­ing can pre­pare you for the an­swer.

“Mounted in a frame and hang­ing on a wall in Craig Bel­lamy’s house,” Bishop ex­plains. “It’s in be­tween two framed foot­ball shirts. One be­longed to Lionel Messi, the other to Cris­tiano Ron­aldo.”

Once that star­tling in­for­ma­tion is pro­cessed, and the for­mer dual code scrum-half opens up about his re­la­tion­ship with ex-Liver­pool and Wales striker Bel­lamy, the lo­ca­tion of his most prized sport­ing pos­ses­sions doesn’t seem so ran­dom.

Bishop struck up a close friend­ship with Bel­lamy al­most two decades ago, to the ex­tent that he was best man at Bel­lamy’s wed­ding.

One day, out of the blue, the now Cardiff City academy boss asked Bishop if he would give him what, by any Welsh rugby stan­dards, are col­lec­tor’s items. Bishop was happy to oblige.

“All my stuff, in­clud­ing my boxing vests and my Great Bri­tain rugby league jersey, are housed at my club, Old Ill­ty­di­ans,” he ex­plained.

“The Wales cap and jersey I gave to my daugh­ter but when Craig asked for them I cleared it with her and then popped down to the club­house and just asked for them. You could say they have gone to a good home.”

Bishop is not the type of man to en­trust such mem­o­ra­bilia to any­one, but then to him Bel­lamy is not any­one.

Their rather un­likely dou­ble-act has set many a tongue wag­ging on the Cardiff so­cial scene and yet a more cir­cum­spect ob­server prob­a­bly wouldn’t see them as that odd a cou­ple.

Leav­ing aside an age-gap of 19 years, both were out­ra­geously tal­ented in their cho­sen sports and both hailed from tough sub­urbs of the Welsh cap­i­tal, Bishop from Adams­down, Bel­lamy from Tre­morfa.

Bishop re­calls vividly the first time the pair’s paths crossed, a mo­ment which very nearly ended in a fight in the toi­lets of a night­club on Cardiff’s Mill Lane.

“I was in a cu­bi­cle in the toi­let and all of a sud­den there’s a loud bang­ing on the door,” said Bishop. “I opened it up and there was Craig – who I didn’t know at the time – with some other bloke. I was an­noyed at his in­ter­rup­tion, so I got hold of him, dragged him up against the cu­bi­cle wall and told him I was go­ing to smash his head in. He didn’t know me ei­ther at the time, but he soon did.

“Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and a few of the other Wales boys had to come in and calm ev­ery­thing down. It was dif­fer­ent times. That sort of thing would have been cap­tured on some­one’s phone these days.”

Once hos­til­i­ties had ceased, Bishop and Bel­lamy ended up shar­ing a drink that night and the rap­port de­vel­oped to the ex­tent that they now speak two or three times a week by phone.

But while there are clear life par­al­lels be­tween them, the now in­fa­mous ex­tent to which Bishop was os­tracised by his coun­try sets him well apart from Bel­lamy, whose in­ter­na­tional foot­ball con­tri­bu­tion in leaner times was of­ten tal­is­manic.

Bishop’s punchy rep­u­ta­tion – he ac­tu­ally boxed for Wales as an ama­teur and was a Welsh school­boy cham­pion – went be­fore him in the eyes of the se­lec­tors.

He was 24 by the time he got his cap against the Wal­la­bies, but de­spite scor­ing Wales’ only try in a 28-9 de­feat and ac­quit­ting him­self well on an oth­er­wise hugely dif­fi­cult af­ter­noon for the host na­tion, there were to be no more chances. An 11-month ban and sus­pended jail sen­tence for break­ing the jaw of New­bridge lock Chris Jar­man while play­ing for Pon­ty­pool the fol­low­ing year sealed his fate. Bishop, once al­lowed to play again, con­tin­ued to wow ev­ery­one with the qual­ity and fe­roc­ity of his dis­plays for Pooler, but the clos­est he got to an­other Wales chance was a place on the bench in a Prob­a­bles v Pos­si­bles trial match in early 1988. No­body from the WRU ever saw fit to ex­plain the stance to his face. By the end of that year, so disul­lu­sioned had he be­come that Bishop ac­cepted an of­fer to move to rugby league with Hull Kingston Rovers. His part­ing gift to the great Pon­ty­pool coach Ray Prosser was a brand-new colour tele­vi­sion. When he handed it over, Prosser wept. But for all that Bishop’s union legacy is tinged with frus­tra­tion, the mem­o­ries of Novem­ber 24, 1984 will not fade eas­ily. Even now, when Aus­tralia come to town – vir­tu­ally an an­nual event in the mod­ern era – minds inevitably turn to Bishop’s all-too fleet­ing break­through. Lis­ten­ing to him speak now about what would be­come a one-off ex­pe­ri­ence trig­gers rue­ful­ness. A stel­lar tal­ent went un­der-used for sure, but also a war­rior­like ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what it meant to go into sport­ing bat­tle on be­half of not just your club, but your coun­try.

“The squad was stay­ing at St Mel­lons Coun­try Club be­fore the game and I re­mem­ber play­ing golf with Mark Ring on the Thurs­day,” said Bishop.

“I didn’t get a lot of sleep in the nights be­fore the game and then when the day ar­rived it seemed as though it was over in a flash.

“I re­mem­ber walk­ing into the dress­ing room be­fore kick-off, see­ing my jersey. I lifted it off the peg and kissed the badge. Whether it was base­ball, boxing or tid­dly­winks, if it was for Wales I al­ways kissed the badge.

“Then you put that shirt over your head, you let it slide down your back and you just think, ‘hey, I’m rep­re­sent­ing my coun­try to­day.’ There is no feel­ing like it in the world. Through­out the whole of the na­tional an­them be­fore the Wal­laby clash, I cried.”

It seems log­i­cal to ask Bishop how he felt im­me­di­ately af­ter scor­ing the try. The way he re­sponds is jolt­ing.

Bishop ex­plains how, run­ning back af­ter the touch­down, he looked up at the stand of the old Cardiff Arms Park na­tional ground, to where his late fa­ther David Bishop se­nior was sit­ting, to see him openly sob­bing with pride.

The thought prompts a sud­den surge of emo­tion. Bishop’s eyes widen in an at­tempt to ward off a fresh batch of tears. He is briefly un­able to talk.

It is a mo­ment that re­veals the sheer size and na­ture of the heart that beats be­neath a tough ex­te­rior.

Af­ter com­pos­ing him­self, Bishop re­calls how, as a breath­less day turned into night, he wan­gled a ticket for his dad to get into the post-match func­tion in the An­gel Ho­tel on West­gate Street. Be­ing able to pose for pic­tures with him af­ter re­ceiv­ing his cap was some­thing he saw as the per­fect foot­note to his proud­est rugby mo­ment.

Bishop se­nior, a renowned Cardiff pub­li­can, was keep­ing the Ad­mi­ral Napier in Can­ton at the time and so later on, tired of the for­mal­ity at the

An­gel, Bishop strolled the halfmile or so to his dad’s pub with Aussie full-back Roger Gould to round off the evening.

“The lo­cals gave us a great re­cep­tion,” he re­called. “We just chilled out, talked to peo­ple, downed a few pints.

“I’d told the press ear­lier that the re­sult clouded the ex­pe­ri­ence of my first cap, and it did be­cause I hated to lose. But I couldn’t re­ally talk to them about how I re­ally felt.”

It’s ap­prox­i­mately two years since Bishop lost his fa­ther.

He says the death of his mother, Kath­leen, in 1997 af­fected him more deeply and the large tat­too of her name on his right arm is tes­ta­ment.

But the in­flu­ence of his ul­ti­mate male role model was nev­er­the­less pro­found.

“I re­mem­ber when I was six years old, kick­ing a ball around on a patch of green by our house and my dad would say, ‘kick with your left foot,’” said Bishop. “He told me to keep prac­tis­ing and that’s how I be­came able to kick with both feet. I see Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions play­ers now who can’t kick with both feet. Some of them can’t pass off both hands ei­ther.

“For me, play­ers don’t work hard enough on their weak­nesses and that’s what my old man drilled into me. It

meant that when I was play­ing se­nior rugby, if there was some­thing I found dif­fi­cult or didn’t like do­ing in train­ing, I would do it first. So if it was fit­ness, I’d do burpees first.

“To be hon­est, I think I was nat­u­rally gifted when it came to fit­ness.”

What Bishop achieved in his ca­reer was all the more re­mark­able given the back­drop of a bro­ken neck sus­tained at 21 years old play­ing for Pon­ty­pool against Aber­avon, fol­lowed by med­i­cal ad­vice to end his rugby days.

To this day he in­sists it was only a bless­ing from his lo­cal priest and a bot­tle of holy wa­ter, which he was in­structed to dab on his neck be­fore ev­ery game, that en­abled him to defy doc­tors’ or­ders. The true ex­tent of the risk he took will never be known.

But Bishop came out the other side. These days he ad­mits to hav­ing strug­gled to come to terms with life af­ter he stopped play­ing and openly ad­mits his re­gret that el­e­ments of his life­style cost him his mar­riage to child­hood sweet­heart Kate.

One of his daugh­ters, Sa­mara, now lives in Aus­tralia, and there are three grand­chil­dren to fo­cus on as well, but you sense Bishop has enough time on his hands at present to en­rich the rugby pun­ditry land­scape in Wales should fresh op­por­tu­ni­ties arise.

Typ­i­cally for such a strong char­ac­ter, he has forth­right views on the cur­rent game, which in­clude the be­lief that Rhys Webb’s predica­ment over Wales se­lec­tion is “an ab­so­lute dis­grace”.

Bishop rates Toulon-bound Webb “prob­a­bly the best scrum-half in the world” and says he can­not fathom how he will be un­able to play for his coun­try at the end of this sea­son be­cause of the WRU’s re­cent se­lec­tion pol­icy change. He also be­lieves War­ren Gat­land has “done won­ders” for Wales be­cause he’s been forced largely to pick play­ers who com­pete in PRO12/14 com­pe­ti­tion, which he be­lieves does not pre­pare them ad­e­quately for the step up to Test com­bat.

Bishop was an out­spo­ken op­po­nent of the move to re­gional rugby and be­lieves there is now an in­ex­orable drift to­wards blan­ket WRU con­trol.

“We can dress this up all you like, but the PRO14 is very poor,” he said.

“If I am a rugby coach I want my play­ers play­ing in the best com­pe­ti­tions, and that isn’t one of them.

“Wales used to be the only coun­try where clubs would play against teams like New Zealand and Aus­tralia. Not even Eng­land did that.

“The WRU are al­ready in charge of the Dragons and I think they will grad­u­ally as­sume con­trol of them all – we’ve al­ready seen the sug­ges­tion with the Blues.

“As for Rhys Webb, I’m sure there must be a case for re­straint of trade. Play­ers want to win sil­ver­ware, play for the best teams. You can’t stop them from do­ing that. It’s rugby. It’s life. Webb has to look af­ter his fam­ily fi­nan­cially as well. For that, what hap­pens? He has to for­feit his Welsh jersey? It’s un­be­liev­able how this could hap­pen.

“I don’t know the kid, but if I was Rhys Webb I’d be heart­bro­ken...but I’d also be stick­ing two fingers up to the WRU.”

Bishop, of course, knows what it’s like to do that.

Per­haps his big­gest tri­umph is the level of re­spect he still com­mands for what he brought to rugby de­spite a cap tally that never got close to do­ing him justice.

Bishop only got one, Webb has 28. But if the Os­preys No 9 is as revered as this par­tic­u­lar pre­de­ces­sor by the time he hangs up his boots, he will find any re­gret far eas­ier to live with.

Craig Bel­lamy

For­mer Wales rugby in­ter­na­tional David Bishop

David Bishop’s big mo­ment of glory in 1984

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.