Finding Spikey Watkins, the Wales rugby captain who was feared like no other

So Spikey, who was the best hooker you ever played against? "Well, there's no f***** better than me, I can promise you that. I'm serious, I'm serious. None of the f******!"

Say hello to Mike Watkins, former Wales captain. Interviewing the man known throughout the game as "Spike" has always been a colourful experience. It was no different when I tracked him down this week in Bangkok, where he has lived for the last 15-odd years.

He's still as straight-talking as ever, with my asterisk key coming in for a heavy workout. Given his reply to my opening question, the obvious follow-up was whether he'd ever wondered what it would have been like to play against himself? : The untold story of Jerry Collins' wonderful act of kindness to a homeless man while playing in Wales

"It would be mayhem, wouldn't it?" he replies. "My own players used to say to me that I was nuts. Holmesy used to say it all the time. "But that was just me.

You know when you talk about your Pontypool Parks, I didn't give a f*** about going up there, you've got to be joking. "I played with a lot of players who would turn a curly. They would have Pontypool-itis, dropping out with a pulled something or other.

They didn't fancy it. But I had no fear of anyone, on or off the field. Myself I worry about more than anything.

"You have got to take it full on, otherwise there's no point. I would expect everything. You'd go up to Tredegar or Abertillery on a Wednesday night, they'd all want a bit of you and rightly so.

"If you are expecting to be the best, you've got to take on all-comers, haven't you?" Where, I wonder, did his toughness come from? "My dad was a really hard man. Hard, hard, hard," he replies.

"He was an ex-Regimental Sergeant Major. He was in Burma for five years, let's get that out of the way. He won a military medal out there, it don't come easy.

He was a tough old cookie, like with myself. "That's why I got on so well with Holmesy. He was a rough old diamond, Terry.

He's a real good guy and a great friend, but he's a tough character."

Hooker Mike Watkins gets the ball away for Cardiff in a game against an Overseas XV in September 1976

Watkins has no hesitation in picking out former Cardiff team-mate Terry Holmes as the best player he played with. But while the Lions scrum-half was first choice for Wales for some eight years, it was a different story for Spikey. He was limited to just the four caps, all in 1984 and all as captain, more of which later.

Given his thoughts on his hooking credentials, one wonders what he puts that down to? Well, to start with, there's a certain Bobby Windsor, who monopolised the Wales No 2 jersey from 1973 to 1979. "I sat 17 times on the bench for Wales without getting on," recalls Watkins. "Bobby would never come off, the b*****d!

The only person I was ever on the bench to, thank God, was Bobby. I wouldn't sit on the bench for that Alan Phillips. Never.

Honest, I wouldn't." That wasn't to be the only time Phillips' name cropped up during our hour-long conversation.

To his chagrin, Watkins' long apprenticeship under Windsor was not to be followed by promotion, as others leapt ahead of him. "When Bobby finished, it should have been me then logically," he said.

"Put it this way, I will just say it how it is. If I'm not better than Alan Phillips and Billy James, there's something wrong, you know what I mean? Let's not kid ourselves."

So why does he feel he was overlooked for so long? "It's because I was always direct and people don't like directness," he said. "If I thought something was wrong, I would have to say it's wrong. "I was sometimes mispresented.

All I ever wanted was the best for all concerned. The boys used to use me and say 'You tell them Spikey'. "So I would say things weren't right and then I was perceived in a certain way.

I think my reputation went before me. I suppose it was give a dog a bad name and all that caper."

Finding Spikey Watkins, the Wales rugby captain who was feared like no otherMike Watkins, left, runs in to block Scottish scrum-half Alan Lawson in a Cardiff-Barbarians match at the Arms Park in March 1978

And that cost you caps? "Of course, of course," he insists. "It was very political then with the Big Five." Watkins also points to a costly occasion when he was charged with drunk and disorderly after a nightclub incident in Cardiff in 1979, which led to him being axed from a Wales B international against France.

"To be fair, it was absolutely something and nothing," he says. "I had a sheepskin coat which I had bought down in Glastonbury. They were popular at the time. "I had it in one of these bloody locker places and the bouncers wouldn't let me get it, telling me to leave.

It was only a bit of a push and a shove, it was nothing else. I got my coat and left. "But they called the police and I was banged up for the night.

The worst thing I did was pleading guilty. I was under the impression if I did that nobody would know anything about it. "But it got into the press.

Nobody from the WRU rang or spoke to me. It was just a telegram saying 'Your services are no longer required'. "There was no human touch.

They never asked what happened." Watkins says it's not the only run-in he had with the law during his playing days. "I was in Newport this one Saturday afternoon and went to help this elderly lady who'd had her bag snatched," he reveals. "I had words with this copper there and I ended up getting chucked in the back of a Black Maria.

I was only shopping! "The old lady, God love her, made her way all the way down from the precinct to the police station to tell them they had got it wrong and I had been helping her. "I had a lot of problems with the police.

I would get stopped at least once every two or three weeks going home from training. "Whether they thought I'd had a beer after training I don't know. A couple of policemen I knew through rugby had told me to be careful because there were a few coppers out to get me.

"I don't know if that was my reputation going ahead of me, or they didn't like me or I might have upset them for some reason. I have been my own worst enemy loads of times, but not all the time."

Finding Spikey Watkins, the Wales rugby captain who was feared like no otherMike 'Spike' Watkins in typically determined action for Newport

As the years went by, Watkins remained in the international wilderness, before finally getting the call to make not just his debut, but captain Wales against Ireland at Lansdowne Road in February 1984. "I got selected with the help of the press and supporters and, in particular, Charlie Faulkner, who was my coach at Newport at the time," he recalls.

"Charlie wouldn't let me give up hope. He used to say 'Look, you are a lot younger than when I had my first cap'. "He lobbied and lobbied and lobbied.

He was a great ally. It had been a long wait. I was 32.

I can say that now. I wouldn't say it at the time. "I would tell them I was about 29.

I used to be a bit vague. Charlie always told me to lie about my age. He would say 'Don't ever be over 29 mind, because the b*******s won't pick you.

They will write you off'. "He was very protective like that."

Having captained Newport for the past couple of seasons and led Wales B to a first ever win in France, Watkins was deemed the man for a crisis as he was handed the reins for the trip to Dublin. "They only picked me because they were in the s**t.

Let's not kid ourselves about that," he declares. "They had lost to Romania over there, which was a humiliation, and lost at home to Scotland in the first game of the Championship. "They had to go across to Ireland and I was thrown to the wolves in many ways."

But Watkins proceeded to lead Wales to a notable 18-9 victory, with his long-time pal Rob Ackerman scoring the only try of the game. "It was like an out-of-body experience really," he says. "From a youngster, I always dreamt of playing for Wales. The icing on the cake was the uniqueness of being captain on my debut and winning, which overrides all the disappointments that went before."

However, the garden wasn't entirely rosy. Throughout his playing career, Watkins had worked for his father as a truck driver. But now, come his proudest moment, the relationship had fractured.

Finding Spikey Watkins, the Wales rugby captain who was feared like no otherMike Watkins pictured skippering Newport in December 1983, just two months before he made his Wales debut

"My dad and myself had partied company," he reveals. "Because of the training with Wales and everything, he had said 'Son, it's either got to be the lorries or rugby'.

"I chose rugby. So I was captain of Wales and he wasn't talking to me, for God's sake. My father never watched me play one game for Wales."

The fall-out also left Watkins without any income. "I was unemployed when I was captain of Wales out in Ireland," he said. "I wasn't working and I couldn't claim the dole because I was self-employed and hadn't been out of work long enough. I had no income coming in at all.

"So I am captain of Wales, it's like winning the lottery but the cheque never comes through the door." Watkins also led the national side to victory over England at Twickenham the following month, while there were further outings at the helm against France and Australia, as well as an uncapped game versus a WRU Presidents XV, before the curtain came down on his Test career. There were also two appearances for the Barbarians in that memorable year of 1984, while he played 118 games for Cardiff from 1976 to 1981 and then 229 for Newport from 1981 to 1987.

"I grew up in Abercarn in the Gwent valleys. Rugby gave me the opportunity to open up my mind and travel," he says. "I made so many great friends through the game as well.

So I have got no regrets. Well, perhaps there's one. When I played for Newport against Cardiff in the 1986 cup final, I booted Alan Phillips in the head and he went off to have stitches.

I should have kicked him harder! "In all seriousness, the one real regret would be not going on the Lions tour to South Africa in 1980. "I was first choice in Cardiff and yet Alan Phillips got picked to go.

That was down to RH Williams. When we were out in France for a Wales B game, the boys were messing about with bottles and I told them to stop and took the bottles, but one of them fell. RH looked over and thought I was to blame.

"Before he died, he told me he was the one that had blocked my path to go on the Lions trip. He said he was sorry and that he knew me better by then and I was a good guy." There had at least been some consolation for Watkins later in 1980 after missing out on the Lions tour.

"Even though Alan Phillips was the current Welsh hooker, Cardiff still picked me to play against New Zealand," he said. "I respect them for being a big club to do that."

Finding Spikey Watkins, the Wales rugby captain who was feared like no otherMike Watkins' hooking rival Alan Phillips lifts the Welsh Cup after Cardiff's victory over Newport in the 1986 final

When Watkins eventually hung up his boots, he found it difficult to come to terms with life after playing. "It took me a long, long time to wean myself off the rugby drug," he admits. "I started at the age of 11 and played until I was 36, 37, without any breaks.

It was difficult. It's like a rug being pulled from under you. "One minute you have got the adrenalin and all that and then it's gone." He did stay involved in the game, having spells coaching Pontypridd, Rumney and Newbridge.

"It wasn't really a substitute for playing, because it frustrates you, doesn't it?" he says. "I enjoyed the coaching when I was putting my own ideas in, but they made you go on these courses. "I found they were picking my brains more than I was picking theirs. The people who were doing the courses were just walking robots.

There was no human approach. I am more into getting into people's heads. "With coaching, if you are not in the gang, you are not in the gang, if you know what I mean.

I was never going to be part of that." It was not long after he had finished coaching that Watkins' life took a decisive turn. "I was living in Basseleg, I had a lovely place, but I was going nowhere really," he admits. "I was 50 odd years of age, I'd had a few relationships that had failed.

These things happen. Anyway, I got invited over to stay with a friend in Thailand, near Mabprachan Lake. "I went out for a month and that's where I met Maew."

Finding Spikey Watkins, the Wales rugby captain who was feared like no otherFormer Wales international Mike Watkins on a visit to the Harrow School in Bangkok

That led to him making the "big, bold move" to emigrate and he has now been together with school teacher Maew for close on 15 years, with the happy couple getting married four years ago.

"She is the light of my life, she's my everything," he said. "We have been called the Posh and Becks of Bangkok at times because we are pretty good socialisers! Of course you miss home. I am Welsh through and through and I love Wales.

"But I have done very well over here. I do a lot of PR work for different companies, but primarily RSM Thailand. "I look after clients who come in from Australia, New Zealand, we play some golf or go out for a meal or just entertain them.

"I do a lot of speaking, a lot of charity stuff. We have got a St David's Welsh Society over here and we have a ball every year. I have got Owen Money to come over.

"It's nice here, it's different. You don't have the negativity you have in the UK. People will judge you on what they see, as opposed to what they have heard.

"In Wales, people hear something about you and they assume it's true, but it's complete rubbish."

Finding Spikey Watkins, the Wales rugby captain who was feared like no otherMike Watkins, right, with his friend Chris Deffence at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok

The larger-than-life Watkins still keeps close tabs on Welsh rugby and retains strong opinions on the game. "You could sort all these dropped scrums out overnight if you do what we used to do," he declares. "If them tight-heads keep dropping the scrum, get the second rows to boot them in the head.

They will soon stop dropping the scrums, I promise you. "The game is easier now than it's ever been. People go on about the size of these guys now, but if you've got one guy who is 19 stone and another guy who is 19 stone, it just equals itself out.

"The players have got to realise they are very, very well paid for the job of work they do. If you are not happy in the employment you are in, find another job. This is all they do all day, mind.

They ain't down the pit doing a shift. "They got all the grub, all the supplements. Good on them, but get on with the b*****d job and stop moaning about it.

"When I was playing, I would go to Manchester and back in my truck some days before going training in the evening. It was professional without being paid. It was never just a bit of fun.

There was a lot of expectation on you. "It wasn't like people think where you just turned up like a bloody ramshackle outfit. You had to be on time, you had to wear certain clothes.

"The clubs wanted to own you without paying you any money. You weren't in paid employment, but these people still had jurisdiction over you." He continued: "I can quite categorically say to you, with my hand on my heart, on my mother's life, children's life, I never had a bean, not a copper for playing for Cardiff or Newport, I swear to God.

I wish I had! "They even scrutinised your mileage. "From where I lived in Cwmcarn to Cardiff, I used to say 25 miles there, 25 miles back, 50 miles.

"They would say 'No, no, no, the Ordinance Survey route is 21 miles'. So they would cross it off and put 42 miles, at about three and a half pence a mile."

Finding Spikey Watkins, the Wales rugby captain who was feared like no otherMike Watkins, far left, at the Welsh Rugby Supporters Clubs Dinner in 1987, with prop Stuart Evans the award winner with the trophies

I wonder then whether Watkins wishes he could have played in the professional era? "Oh God yes, bloody hell aye," he replies.

"I would have absolutely loved it. I am one of them. I still train five, six times a week now.

"I have got dumb-bells and bar-bells in the garden. The temperature here is 40 plus degrees, but I will still do a good hour and ten minutes most days." Having conducted the interview via Facetime, I can confirm that Watkins is looking in damn good nick.

He also remains an absolute one-off, as his parting words confirm. "It's been absolutely fabulous talking to you, Simon," he says.

"Write what you want, but don't make me look a ****!" Cheers Spikey.