A weekend journey into the hockey heartland of North Wales ended with meeting who we believe to be Wales’s oldest living international player. Driving up from Bristol to North Wales on a crisp Autumn morning and along beautiful coastline, I was reminded of North Wales’s rich hockey history; passing places where Wales had played many international games in the 127 years since the first game at Rhyl: Hawarden, Colwyn Bay, Bangor, Shotton, Denbigh, Wrexham and Llandudno - where the first ever Women’s international was played in 1899.
The search for Beti Wyn Burnell, or Beti Wyn Jones when she first represented the senior Wales team in 1953 had taken some time. We had originally tracked and contacted Beti in Anglesey approximately four years ago and was due to visit. Like so many parts of recent modern life the pandemic prevented the meeting and the trail went cold.
It was at our inaugural cap presentation at Sophia Gardens in July last year that a plan was formed. Both Michelle Thomas and Wendy Banks, as local North Walians, offered to attempt to find Beti so we could organise a cap presentation. Michelle located Beti, still on the Isle of Anglesey, but shortly after Michelle’s visit Beti became very ill; it wasn’t until when her son Simon contacted us that we were finally able to arrange a visit.
Beti Wyn Jones was born near Menai Bridge on 18th June 1931. Beti recalled that her first experience of hockey was at the ancient Beaumaris Grammar School - founded in 1603. She remembers breaking her nose playing hockey in those early days. Beti started to get noticed by the National selectors during her time studying to become a PE teacher at Bangor College. She first represented Caernarvonshire in 1949, played for North Wales in 1950 before being selected to represent Wales against Ireland at Penarth Athletic Field on 28th February 1953 – an incredible 69 years ago! With no internet and phones scarce, Beti learned of her selection by letter.
Her debut game against Ireland was a fairly predictable 2-0 victory for the Emerald Isle, as Wales had not beaten Ireland since 1934. Two further defeats, 6-2 against England at Sunderland’s Ashbrook Ground and a more surprising 7-1 defeat against Scotland at Llandudno ended the 1953 Home International Season. Beti did taste Welsh victory in her first season as she was selected for the 1953 IFWHA Folkstone Festival; she played in all 6 games, winning against Belgium and Austria but losing to South Africa, Denmark, New Zealand and Australia. Later that year a 6-2 win came against the touring American’ s at Stradey Park, Llanelli.
1954 brought joy to Beti when she married Gerry on 30th December and from this time she played as Beti Wyn Burnell, with the white number 7 on her red shirt. Beti played for Deganwy HC then Bangor Ladies Hockey club, who she represented throughout her international hockey career.
From 1953 to 1963 Beti played in all of Wales’s 33 Home International fixtures but it wasn’t until the 1957 season that positive results came: a 2-2 draw with Scotland at Margam and a rare 3-2 win at Colwyn Bay against Ireland. Asked why Wales started to turn the tide of defeats from 1957-63 Beti believed it was because the back line had become stronger with the introduction of new players, Wales leaking too many goals in her early career.
Beti shared two particular memories against England at Wembley. This was the era when England played their home games at Wembley in front of huge crowds cheering them on, often up to 80,000 spectators – a concept alien to the modern game! On March 12th 1955 Wales arrived by team bus to Wembley Stadium but the gatekeeper would not let them in, citing that he was waiting for the English and Wales teams to arrive. In stepped Mrs Roberts, a formidable lady on the Welsh Committee.
Mrs Roberts informed the gateman in no uncertain terms that if they were the Welsh team, if he did not let them in there would be no game, there would be thousands of disappointed fans and he would have to answer to her! This was supported by Mrs. Roberts husband who was a burly police Chief Constable. Sadly, Wales lost 6-1 but Beti’s second memory was an iconic moment in Welsh hockey. On 3rd march 1963 Wales stunned the hockey world with a 1-0 win against the English at Wembley. Beti remembers the stunned silence from the crowd when Sheila Gray Williams scored the only goal and then the battling performance from Wales kept the English at bay – the first time in 64 years of Welsh women’s hockey that Wales had beaten England. Beti’s international hockey career ended on 16th March 1963 at the Recreation Ground, Newtown with a 1-0 defeat to Scotland.
Over her 10 - year career Beti played in eleven Home International Championships, winning 33 caps. She also toured France, Demark and Holland – touring games being uncapped in Beti’s era. Programmes also show that Beti’s interests at the time were tennis, reading, gardening and rowing – the latter a sport still pursued by her son and daughter-in – law on the North Wales coastal waters.
Beti received her Welsh cap from GB and Wales international Michelle Thomas on Sunday 27th November 2022 in front of family and a close circle of friends. Although now frailer, her mind was still razor sharp, and she remains one of the iconic Welsh players of the post-war era, representing her country with pride, humility and passion.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to meet and talk with Beti about her life and career.