At a time when Gareth Bale’s name is being splashed across headlines regarding his new contract negotiations with Real Madrid, we caught up with the Wales international’s former PE teacher, Gwyn Morris, who taught Bale at Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, from 2002-2005.
In an exclusive interview with Pundit Arena, Morris discusses subjects such as Bale’s innate talent, unique personality and the other sport the 27-year-old could have pursued as a profession.
What was Gareth Bale like when he was in school, as a person?
“He was the same back then in 2002-05 as he is now. He was very humble. From what I remember of Gareth in school, he would always have time for you. He took everything on board.
“He was a top lad and a top player. He did everything in his power to help the school but knew what he wanted too.
“He wanted to be a professional football player from an early age – and that’s it.”
Was Bale a star from an early age?
“No, not really, to be honest. The person you see now, the physical aspects of him. Back then, he was small and light, but of course, he was talented. He worked on his game and he was getting better and better. He knew what he wanted from an early age.
“When he was playing for Southampton’s youths he was almost let go. But he had that never-give-up attitude, and that bit of luck got him over the line and allowed him to reach his star potential that we see today at Real Madrid.”
Were there any times you just looked at him in a sporting perspective and thought ‘wow, this kid’s going to be big someday?’
“There’s not really one standout moment. But I remember the last game he played for us here, his delivery was excellent. The crosses he made that day were exceptional. The passes, his footwork, his speed.
“That day everything went right for him. He was a class above.”
I read online that he was so good in PE that you got him to use his weaker foot – to give other players a chance. Is there any truth in that?
“Haha, that’s a story that seems to get out a lot actually. I don’t really know why. But yeah that’s true. I wanted the best for all my students, and I still do. Gareth was with Southampton youths at the time, and he could tell you himself that his weaker foot wasn’t great. So I got him to work on it.
“I wanted to challenge him like I do with all my students. It wasn’t about giving others a chance as such because it was a very sporty year. Sam Warburton, the most capped Welsh rugby captain, was also in that class, and he was an exceptional footballer back then too. I want my students to reach their potential, regardless of which sport that may be.”
Sam Warburton was quoted as saying that if it wasn’t football, Gareth would have made it in rugby. His exact quote was: “He’d have the speed, the footwork, the boot and the height to have made it as a pretty good full-back” – would you agree?
“Well, if Sam says that, then it must be true. One time he lined out for our rugby B team before. I think he was a full-back actually.
“He had the speed and footwork, there’s no doubt about that. He used to breeze through the sports days every year.
“But his heart and mind were set on football and making it big at Southampton. But, yeah, if Sam says that he’d have made a pretty good full-back, then, yeah, I’ll take his word for it.”
Did you ever think back in 2002-2005 that Gareth would be earning as much as £350,000 per week after tax?
“No, but I don’t think that what he is earning actually matters. He deserves everything he has, but he knows that money isn’t everything. I’m sure he enjoys the money mind you, but for him I think he looks around and sees that he’s playing for the best team in the world, amongst the best league in the world and that’s good enough for him.
“He was in love with the sport before money was a factor, but I’m sure he’s having a good time with it.”
How much of an influence has Bale got over the Welsh youth, as a role model?
“Ah, it’s massive. But we have others here in the school in Whitchurch too.
“Luckily for our students to find the motivation they don’t have to look too much further than the four walls of the school
“Gareth Thomas, Sam Warburton and Sam’s brother, Ben, are exceptional role models – just to name a few.”
In your PE class at present time, what would be more popular – rugby or football?
“I suppose that’s just down to the person’s own interests. Some like rugby, while others prefer football. We encourage our students to get involved in all sports.
“We tend to mix it up in PE, so we aren’t just focussing on one sport the whole time. I think that benefits the students, and they enjoy doing something different too.”
What advice would you give to young players hoping to follow in the footsteps of Bale?
“Simply, keep following your dreams and never give up. If you dream of becoming the next Gareth Bale, then do it. Don’t let anyone stop you. We see sometimes that kids don’t get to where they want to be because they’re too small, too light, too heavy or whatever it may be.
“But if you’ve got the talent, your possibilities are endless. With that little bit of luck, you’ll make it. Talent is first, and just keep up that work ethic. Work on your talent.
“Your athletic frame will come in time. But it’s talent that matters. Just never give up. That’s all I can say.”
Jason Redmond, Pundit Arena