While the Wales senior team have two crucial Euro 2020 qualifiers this week, there is also an important fixture for the Under-21 side, as they face Moldova in qualification for the 2021 European Championships.
Lining up in goal for Paul Bodin’s side will be Barry Town United goalkeeper George Ratcliffe, on loan from Cardiff City. “It feels amazing,” the 19-year-old said when asked about being named in the squad. “I’m just glad that they’re seeing how well I’m doing with my club. Getting selected is an honour, as always.”
Having earned 11 caps for the Under-19 side, Ratcliffe made his debut for the Under-21s in June before featuring in both of their qualifying games against Belgium and Germany in September. “It’s been challenging,” he said. “I’ve made the step up from the Under 19s to the Under 21s now, so it’s a challenge, but I’m happy.”
Ratcliffe joined Barry in June, just as the club was preparing for the UEFA Europa League preliminary round tie against Cliftonville. It gave the goalkeeper the chance to bond with his new teammates straight away, as he explains: “It was a bit strange. I was a new boy and I hadn’t even trained, but I had to go away with the boys for the friendly out in Northern Ireland and then the European games. Obviously I didn’t play, but it was just about getting used to the team and gelling with the boys.”
Now, after four months at the club, Ratcliffe is loving life at Jenner Park. “It’s been amazing really,” he said. “I’ve settled in really well, getting to know the boys has been really good. I knew Gav before I came here so I had a relationship with him, and the same with Kends [Lee Kendall, goalkeeping coach] because he was my goalkeeping coach at Cardiff when I was younger. I think I’ve performed pretty well with the games I’ve had and enjoyed it.”
He has certainly impressed in his seven games so far, helping Barry hold the joint best defensive record in the JD Cymru Premier with three clean sheets. But Ratcliffe was keen to applaud those in front of him first and foremost: “I feel like the defence has done very well. They’ve been very organised and defended as well as they could, throwing their bodies on the line when they needed to. I’ve had to pull out a few saves here and there, but I haven’t had much to do to be honest, so most of the credit goes to the defence.”
The goalkeeper was also quick to praise the efforts of supporters so far this season: “They’ve been amazing. Home and away. Every away game feels like a home game because they’re so loud. They’ve been class to be fair, definitely the loudest fans in the league, I know that.”
One of Ratcliffe’s best performances so far came in the 1-0 win over The New Saints, as he made a number of impressive saves to keep out the perennial champions. “It was amazing,” he said of the victory at Park Hall. “I don’t really know the league as well as everyone else, but the way we talked about TNS before the game, I thought if we get a win then I’d be happy, never mind a clean sheet. So to come out with a clean sheet and a 1-0 win, there was no better result.”
Ratcliffe is one of a number of young players currently playing key roles at the club and spoke about playing senior football for the first time: “It’s a lot different to what I had when I was playing at Cardiff as I was playing Under 18s a lot. It’s a lot more physical, such as when you come out for crosses, that’s what I’d say is the biggest difference.
“It’s not so much quicker or more technical, but you’ve got to be more sensible with your decisions because every game is important. You have to be careful and try not to make any mistakes or do anything stupid.”
Last season, Ratcliffe was named as Cardiff City’s Academy Player of the Year after helping the Bluebirds’ Under-18 side win the Professional Development League 2 South title for the first time. Speaking about winning the award, he said: “To be honest I didn’t quite expect it. We won the league, so obviously you’d expect one of our strikers to get it. So when they did say that I’d won it I was surprised, but I felt like I had a good season, I was solid throughout and consistent in my performances. I was really happy.”
Despite the accolade coming as a surprise to the teenager, it showed him that next on the agenda should be securing experience in senior football, as he explains: “I feel like I needed to make the step up to senior football. Whether I was ready or not was irrelevant.
“I want to go right to the top, and I know you can’t just jump there straight away. You need to build your way up, and I feel like this was the right time to make the first step.”
Ratcliffe is clearly a determined individual, with his sights set firmly on accomplishing all he can in football: “I’ve been at Cardiff since I was eight, and my first aim is definitely to break into the first team. I aim to go to the top really, and you try not to settle for anything else.”
It’s an ambitious goal, but one you would not bet against Ratcliffe achieving.