A Bluebird’s Migration

Rhys Weston

LOST BOYO IN NORWAY (Viking FK, 2006) SCOTLAND (Dundee, 2010-2012) AND ICELAND (KR, 2012-)

OTHER CLUBS: Arsenal (1999-2000) Cardiff City (2000-2006) Port Vale (2007) Walsall (2007-2010)

WALES CAREER: Wales u21 (4 caps) Wales (7 caps) (2000-2005)

Davor Sukor, Thierry Henry, Juninho, Paul Ince and Paul Gascoigne – all legends of the game and all featured in the Worthington Cup Fourth Round tie between Arsenal and Middlesbrough on 30th November 1999.  The night would also be a huge night in the history of English football as another modern great would make his senior debut, coming off the bench in the 89th minute for an injured Ray Parlour: a young Englishman called Ashley Cole. As well as young Cole, there would be another young full back making his debut that evening at the Riverside who Arsenal had high hopes for. Rhys Weston would make his first appearance in Arsenal’s senior team coming on at half-time in the fixture for the Ukrainian Oleg Luzhny. Although Weston would make his name playing at right-back, Weston played as part of central defence pairing with another young future England international in Matt Upson. Weston had a good first appearance for the team, especially when confronted with experienced strikers such as Brian Deane and Hamilton Ricard (who scored twice on the night); although Weston did bring the lively Juninho down in the box and just escaped the referee giving a penalty. Arsenal would lose the game 3-1 on penalties, but with young players such as Cole, Jermaine Pennant, Tommy Black and Weston all featuring and playing well, the game was seen as a positive experience to bed in some young talent.

A young Rhys Weston at Arsenal

Rhys Weston would make his first start for the club at the on the last day of the same season up at Newcastle’s St. James Park with both clubs just playing for pride, although Newcastle won the game 4-2. Weston lasted 67 minutes before being replaced by another upcoming youngster at the club, Brian McGovern: this would be Rhys Weston only ever appearance in the English top flight. Weston would make one more appearance for the club, once again in the League Cup in a November 2000 fixture against Ipswich at Highbury. Once again, Weston would be on the losing side, as Arsenal sank to a 2-1 defeat. That was Weston’s last contribution in an Arsenal shirt.

In Cardiff, the enigmatic Sam Hammam was just beginning his new era as chairman of Cardiff City FC. Hammam had made his name after taking over unfashionable Wimbledon FC, guiding them through their ascendency up the Football League and to their ultimate triumph: winning the 1988 FA Cup against a much fancied Liverpool side. Wimbledon became known as the ‘Crazy Gang’ for their boisterous, ‘lad-ish’ behaviour off the field as well as their gritty and uncompromising style on the pitch. Sam Hammam perfectly fitted the mould of ‘Crazy Gang’ chairman with his eccentric and lively personality. Hammam would make the switch to Cardiff in 2000, with his usual idiosyncrasies such as suggesting Cardiff change their kit to green, change the club name to Cardiff Celts and only field Welsh-born players in a nod to Athletic Bilbao’s Basque-only policy; in the 2000/01 season Cardiff actually came close to fielding an all-Welsh XI as is noted on the excellent Welsh football blog Ffwtbol. One of Hammam’s first signings for the Bluebirds was Rhys Weston from Arsenal for a fee of around £300k, a player that was perhaps not best suited to the elegant style of football being etched into Arsenal team under Arsene Wenger and perhaps better suited to a team battling away in the Third Division

At the turn of the millennium Cardiff City found themselves lurking in the bottom division of the Football League, so the addition of a player that had been plying his trade at a Premier League club was a welcome addition to the squad. In November 2000, a year after his Arsenal debut, Weston made his debut for Cardiff City in a 3-2 victory over Lincoln City at Ninian Park. Weston was making a homecoming of sorts, as the Kingston-upon-Thames born defender returned to the homeland of his father and the country he had been representing at U-21 level under Brian Flynn.

Weston instantly settled into the Cardiff team and in his first season at the club he made a large contribution to helping secure Cardiff’s promotion from Division 3 to Division 2, with the club finishing in 2nd place behind Brighton and Hove Albion. Weston would feature in 32 games throughout the 2000/01 season, an impressive tally considering he only joined the club in November.

Rhys Weston in action for Cardiff City

As Cardiff made the step up to Division 2 for the 2001/02 season, Weston maintained his place in the Cardiff backline with impressive performances throughout the season once again. Weston was now playing as part of an impressive Cardiff City defence with the veteran Andy Legg at left –back, as well as Danny Gabbidon, Spencer Prior and Scott Young all featuring in the centre back positions throughout the season (with other future Wales star James Collins making 15 appearances in the campaign). Weston made 43 appearances for the club and helped to almost push the club towards back-to-back promotions, an achievement denied to them by Stoke City, who defeated Cardiff in the play-off semi-finals cruelly on away goals.

As the 2001/02 season developed and the 2002/03 season begun, Weston began to attract certain critics from the Cardiff fans, with many painting him as the scapegoat for several lost points. Weston was seen by some fans as merely a hardworking player and not one of genuine talent. Despite this, in 2002/03 Weston made another impressive haul of appearances for the club and helped Cardiff secure promotion to Division 1 via a play-off final victory in the Millennium Stadium. Rhys Weston would start in the play-off final against Ian Holloway’s QPR, in a game decided in extra time by unlikely hero Andy Campbell’s exquisite lob over QPR goalkeeper Chris Day.

During his first few seasons at Cardiff Weston made his debut for the Welsh national side, coming off the bench to replace Gareth Roberts in a 3-0 thumping by Portugal in June 2000. Weston also featured in 3 of Wales’ game in the Euro 2004 qualifying group, the campaign that the Welsh came so close under Mark Hughes’ management to qualifying for their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. Weston even started in the 1-1 draw with Finland (one of only two times I’ve seen Weston play in the flesh), stepping in for regular right-back Mark Delaney. Despite some promising displays for his country, Weston would not earn any more Welsh caps after 2005.

Weston gained 7 caps for the Welsh national team

Weston would remain Cardiff’s primary right-back throughout their first season back in the second tier after 18 years. Some criticism of his performances began to mount again, although many pointed to the two nasty injuries he sustained during the season as a key factor in his dipping performance levels. Things got worse for Weston at the start of the 2005/06 season. With Cardiff still in financial straits, Weston was one of the five players (alongside Alan Lee, Tony Warner, Chris Barker and Neil Alexander) that were asked and accpeted to take ‘substantial reductions in their wages’ so that Cardiff could sign Darren Purse, the strong centre-back who had impressed in the Premier League with Birmingham and then West Brom. Sam Hammam praised Weston and the other players for their decision and for the ‘spirit’ in which they had agreed to aid the club. Purse would be signed by new Cardiff manager Dave Jones, who would replace promotion winning manager Lennie Lawrence, and Jones managerial reign would spell the end of Weston’s time at Cardiff City. Jones never rated Weston and placed him on the transfer list. Although Weston was transfer-listed, there were no offers for him and he remained in the side for several games. In the summer of 2006, after no offers had transpired, Jones released Weston from his contract and opted for youngster Kerrea Gilbert, on loan from Weston’s old club Arsenal, to take the right-back berth. Weston’s next move was unexpected to say the least.

The man that would prompt the twist in Weston’s career was none other than the enigmatic former Southampton and Blackburn striker Egil Østenstad who was the managing director at Norwegian club Viking FK. Despite admitting to having never seen Weston kick a ball and with just references to go on, including one from Wales manager Mark Hughes, Østenstad decided to sign Rhys Weston on a half-year contract and thus beginning Weston’s first foray into Lost Boyo territory.  Weston’s short contract was a result of the club having not seeing him play and the fact that he was only really signed to cover for two injured defenders Frederic Lunqvist and Alexander Gabrielsen. Weston arrived in Stavanger, the town accommodating Viking FK, with the club in a desperate relegation scrap and he arrived in time to feature in the club’s crucial bottom of the table clash with Molde. Weston would not feature in the game against Molde.  In fact Viking’s manager was sacked 4 days into Weston’s time at the club and thus Weston’s postion within the club became more unsettled. Weston told one newspaper:

 “The manager was sacked within four days of me arriving. The new manager said to me, ‘I can see you are a decent player, but I can’t express myself fully to you in English, I’d rather stick to the players I know.’”

Weston would eventually feature for Viking in an end of season clash against Brann (a team featuring ex-Leeds player Eirik Bakke and future Portsmouth and Birmingham striker Erik Huseklepp) with Viking needing a win to avoid relegation from the league. Weston, having finally got his chance, lasted all of 13 minutes – the only minutes he would play in Norwegian football  – after dislocating his shoulder. Viking went on to win 5-0 and ensure that they remained in Norway’s top league for another season, but Weston’s contract was never renewed.

Weston returned the UK to continue his recovery from his shoulder injury and once again he began looking around for a new club. Weston still had his base in Cardiff and approached Cardiff City to see if he could train with the club to rebuild his fitness – a request denied by Dave Jones. Weston did go on trial at Yeovil and was training at the club; the club decided not to offer him a contract after he featured in a reserve fixture with Yeovil boss, Russell Slade, claiming that Weston, amongst several other trialists offered nothing new. Weston eventually ventured up to Port Vale in February 2007, signing a short term contract with the club after a trial period. Manager Martin Foyle clearly saw the signing as quite a coup and claimed that: “He’s a good addition if we want to attract better players to the club” with Foyle adding that he felt Weston was “Championship material.” Foyle gave the Welshman 17 games before deciding to released him with six other players. The word to Weston was that he wanted a more attacking full back but he reportedly claimed to the BBC that he did not like Weston’s attitude.

Weston’s years of unsettledness had begun to impact on his personal life, as his finances became more precarious. In the same interview cited earlier he said making the 75% wage cut at Port Vale led to ‘quite a change in lifestyle’ and he also discussed the unsettling effect the repeated rejection was having on his family life:

“We don’t have any money coming in until I get a contract. And it is a bad time. Connor (Weston’s stepson)goes to secondary school next year. That’s a daunting enough prospect in itself for a kid. It is a vital time in his life, the formative years. Kids are adaptable but to get the best out of themselves at school they need a settled home life. He doesn’t even know where he’ll be living.”

Weston goes onto to talk about how he was tired of football and if he had another profession to fall back on he would quit the game immediately. After several servings of frustration, he was signed by League One club Walsall under manager Richard Money. Walsall brought Rhys Weston some much needed stability in his career and he completed three seasons at the club (during this time was the only other time I’ve seen Weston play in the flesh – Swansea 1-0 Walsall at the Liberty Stadium in 2008: he came in for some stick for his Bluebird connections from an unforgiving Swansea crowd), before then manager Chris Hutchings denied him a new contract after the 2009/10 season. Weston completed over 100 games for the Midlands club and his release would lead to his second Lost Boyo stint.

After a trial at Motherwell, Weston signed a one-year contract with Scottish First Division club Dundee. Weston would have an impressive first season for the club, despite the club’s precarious financial situation. Shortly after joining the club, September 2010 saw the club entering administration due to an unpaid £365k unpaid tax bill. In November, Dundee were punished with a 25 point deduction leaving the club routed at the bottom of the Scottish First Division. Weston lamented on how the situation at the club changed rapidly since his arrival:

“It is difficult — not just for us as players but the office staff and everyone else as well. We are all in the same boat and the uncertainty is the worst thing. These things happen in life but it is hard when you don’t know what is going on. When I came here we were promotion favourites and everything was rosy, but next thing you know we are staring down the barrel of a gun. We probably know just as much as you (the media) but the general consensus is it is not good.”

The club persevered on the pitch and finished in 6th place (if they had had the 25 points that were deducted they would have finished a point behind first place Dunfermline). Weston had impressed throughout the season and earned himself a new one-year contract after featuring 32 games for the club. At the beginning of 2011/12 season, manager Barry Smith handed Weston the Dark Blues’ captain’s armband, after other players were trialled as captain during preseason, with Weston dubbing it a “tremendous honour.” Unfortunately for Weston he would pick up a hamstring injury early into the season and he would lose his place in the defence to Neil McGregor. Smith praised Weston for his patience and eventually he rewarded his manager in his comeback game against Ayr United with a solid performance capped with a goal. Smith said of his captain:

”Rhys has sat and waited his turn to get back in. Initially, he was out through injury but he has been patient and he came in and did well. He scored and we always want to get goals from other parts of the team but knowing Rhys, he will be more pleased that he has defended well.”

Rhys Weston scoring against Ayr United for Dundee

Weston had another strong year at Dundee and helped lead the team to a second place finish behind Ross County meaning the club just missed out on promotion to the Scottish Premier League. As the season was coming to a close Weston was told, along with 6 other team mates, that his contract would not be renewed. Weston, having been in this situation before, acted quickly and turned to Iceland.

KR – the most successful team in Icelandic football history – lifting the 2011 Icelandic Cup

Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur, or KR for people like myself who can’t quite get their tongue around the word, are a club situated in the Icelandic capital Reykjavík and they are the most famous and most successful football club in Iceland having won the league 25 times and the Icelandic Cup on 12 occasions. The club play at the 5,000 capacity KR-völlur (KR Stadium) in west Reykjavík  (the club’s nickname is “Vesturbæjarstórveldið” – “The West City Empire”) with the club easily attracting the largest attendances in the league. Onwinning the title in 1927, KR decided to adopt the colours of the team that would win the 1926/27 English First Division: thus to this day KR wear the black and white stripes made famous by Newcastle United. Most sports in Iceland are still at amateur level apart from football where players are signed to contracts with most clubs being semi-professional outfits. Before the Scottish football season had even finished Weston had signed a two-year contract with reigning Icelandic champions KR. Weston would be the first Welshman to play for the club, but he would be following on from a number of Scottish players that had made the brief flight north to Iceland. Jim Bett, Rangers midfielder and Aberdeen hall of famer, played for KR in 1994, as well as a number of lesser known Scottish players such as Joe Tortolano, Barry Levety and  David Winnie featuring for the club at different points in their career. The club also acted as the breeding ground for some of the Premier League’s Icelandic stars: Brynjar Gunnarsson, who achieved plenty of success whilst at Reading and the most successful Icelandic footballer of all time, Eidur Gudjohnsen, had a spell at the club in 1998 after returning from a disappointing, injury laden spell at PSV, where much was expected of him alongside a young Brazilian called Ronaldo.

The Icelandic league began in May and will run until October; the obvious reason for this is the harsh Icelandic Winter that would make any football match an impossibility. The disadvantage for Weston is the fact that he has entered the league straight after completing a full season at Dundee, not Weston is too bothered and how can blame him; after long spells of uncertainty during his rollercoaster career Weston is just happy ot be stable – whatever league or country it is in:

”I am quite fit anyway so starting another season straight away wouldn’t bother me at all. It is a short campaign — from May until the end of September — and the games will come thick and fast, which I like. I know a few Scottish lads have gone out to Iceland in the past and enjoyed the experience. Hopefully, I can do the same because it’s a two-year deal, with the option of a third if things go well.”

”I couldn’t turn down that kind of contract, especially at this stage in my career. The money is not life-changing but it’s life-sustaining in that it gives me a good basis for the near future. ‘I was shocked the way it came about. It happened through an intermediary who approached me a couple of weeks ago and obviously I would have been mad not to take it.”

As Champions of Iceland, KR have the opportunity to play in Europe. They have just been drawn to play Finland’s HJK Helsink in a tricky looking Champions League qualifier for the club.  I’m pretty sure a couple of seasons ago Weston would have welcomed the chance to play any sort of professional football fixture –  let alone a fixture in the Champions League.

Here at Lost Boyos,  we wish Rhys Weston all the best with his new football adventure.

You can follow Rhys Weston on Twitter at @rhysweston1980

One thought on “A Bluebird’s Migration

  1. Great article! He (and KR) had a bit of a tough start, conceding 7 in the first 3 games, but both he and the team are looking much better now. They’re second in the league, a point behind FH, with 8 games played and they’re into the quarter finals of the cup. KR are easilly favorites for both titles, although only once has a team managed to do back to back doubles, which is the task that awaits KR.

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