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The Night Welsh Football Culture became Welsh Culture

(A version of an article I wrote for International Wales magazine)

At around 7.30pm on Thursday 24th March 2022, Cardiff City Stadium saw a change in Wales. It was the time that Welsh football culture collided with Welsh culture. This happened forty-five minutes before the match kicked off and a full hour and ten minutes before Gareth Bale’s exquisite free kick nestled in the back of the net after dipping below the Austrian crossbar.

For the last six or so years at Welsh football matches around the world while heading to your seat and reaching Y Wal Goch you had to make your way through the sea of Spirit of 58’ bucket hats, there was already a certain way that Welsh fans were starting to dress with more and more Cymraeg being spoken at the games as well. There was a new football culture starting.

There were also different songs that were starting to be sung at matches, with Welsh language songs such as Calon Lan and Yma o Hyd being sung during games and since our victory over Belgium in 2015 Euro qualifier when Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was sung at the eighty-five-minute mark which helped push the players over the line.

Not only have the fans noticed this change but the people at the FAW have noticed it with Noel Mooney leading the way. Knowing the importance, the Austrian semi-final, the FAW asked for us all to be in our seats at 7pm because the players wanted us to be there when they came out to warm-up. Word definitely got around as the ground was almost full by this time and the singing started and did not stop until late into the night. 

With fifteen minutes left before kick-off, there was a stroke of genius from the FAW who are very much in tune with the fans. The stadium announcer introduced Dafydd Iwan to sing Yma o Hyd. In the far corner of the pitch next to the Canton Stand he took to the small stage to a standing obviation, everyone in the ground knew something special was about to happen.

Then with the first line of the song you could feel it happening, the culture that has been building around Welsh football suddenly became Welsh culture. 33,000 fans all started sing a Welsh language song at the top of their voices, when we got to the chorus you probably could have heard it in all around Canton. Dafydd Iwan who has been singing this song for over thirty years to Welsh language audiences now heard his words sung back to him by thousands of people in a football stadium. By the second chorus tears of pride started rolling down the cheeks of Dafydd Iwan and many many others in the ground and I’m sure watching at home. 

Then it was time for our anthem, in all the years of watching Wales play I never heard our anthem sung with such passion and at such volume. Even the two thousand Austrian fans who were to my left were all caught up in emotion as I glanced over at one point and what looked like every one of them had their mobile phones out filming the singing and trying to capture the atmosphere. 

Those fifteen minutes changed everything, it wasn’t football fans singing anymore,  it became part of Welsh culture. 33,000 Welsh men, women and children standing together singing a Welsh language song that wasn’t our anthem felt like the most natural thing in the world and we all knew that this was the moment that it all changed, this was the start of a new awakening for Wales, a new era for the Welsh language. Remember this was the Semi Final, imagine the noise, pride and passion for the Final this June. 

Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth

Ry’n ni yma o hyd!

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Missing More Than The Match

Now there has been a lot of sadness in 2020 and a lot of disruption to normal life due to COVID 19 and if like me you deal with depression and anxiety every day you know that small changes can affect you as much as major changes. One of these small changes for me has been not being able to go and watch football matches. I know a lot of people reading this will understand missing going to football matches, I know some of my friends do and I also know that some of my friends don’t like football and as one of my best friends described it as ‘it’s boring, just men kicking a ball around and falling over’ but I know that even so she understands what it means to fans of the game and especially us Cardiff City and Wales supporters. For the people who don’t like football or any sport come to that might not understand why we watch it, please stick with me as I will try to explain that it’s more than just a game and I am missing more than just the match.  

As I said please stick with me here, I’m not going to talk about the actual football matches as being a Cardiff and Wales fan for most of my life they have been heartbreaking with every 5 years or so you get one of the most amazing days of your life. I’m going to tell you about what I am missing and didn’t realise how much it has helped me over the years until it’s been gone for just over 8 months.  

I am a season ticket holder with Cardiff City and the equivalent with Wales, which in case you didn’t know what that means, it’s that I have a ticket for every home Cardiff and Wales match and in fact I even have the same seat every time for both. Cardiff plays at home normally once a week, so I have something to look forward to each week from August to May. I’ve mention at the beginning of this that the black dog of depression follows me with its friend anxiety. So, having something to look forward to each week is a major help when things are not going well or even just having a bad week in work. Now it’s the something to look forward to is what I am missing the most, with gigs being cancelled for most of 2020 there hasn’t been much I’ve had to look forward to with the expectation of the weekly Zoom Pub Quiz with my friends which has been great.  

We all need that something to look forward to help us get through the week; going out for a drink on the weekend, going to gym, gigs etc. Everyone as something, so hopefully you will understand what I’m missing. I will give you an example of what a day is like and don’t worry I won’t talk about football, so if you hate football please keep on reading. 

A tough week in work and everyone cannot wait till the weekend with the hope of doing something to let off steam. I know that if I’m feeling down during the week it’s only a few more days and I’ll get to have my day out. More often than not I go to a game on my own and I know it might sound strange that I would want to be on my own but an hour in the car driving to ground is relaxing, even when I’m stuck on the motorway. I will catch up on podcasts that I haven’t had time to listen to or play an audiobook (sometimes just play music loud and sing along).  

I park the car about 5 minutes’ walk from the ground and even though I’m on my own, I’m walking with a few hundred people and even though we don’t know each other there is a togetherness like when you are at a concert. Yes, walking with hundreds of strangers helps my anxiety, don’t ask me how but it does.  

As you can gather, I stick to a routine and it’s the routine that helps. My walk to the entrance I need to go to takes me through the players car park and I always say hello to the players on their way in and yes, I still get excited at meeting them as I did when I was a kid. 

Then I even miss this part, putting the card in the wall and the turnstile turning. The next part I know everybody will understand missing, buying a Vegan burger and chips to take to my seat to eat and usually dry off as it always rains and I normally get soaked. 

I mentioned that I have the same seat, well the same goes for the people around me. It’s almost like a big family in those seats, three generations sit behind me who always ask how I am doing and how my family and friends have been, the father and son who sits to the left of me who always makes sure we have sweets (mince pies at Christmas). It’s easy to see my I miss that part, hopefully they will all be there when we are allowed back. As it gets close to 3pm we all stand up and sing Men of Harlech (you know, the one from Zulu) and the players come out on the pitch. 

I promised I wouldn’t take about the game so I will stop there. Hopefully you can see what I meant when I said I’m missing more than the match. I’m missing the hour drive, the five-minute walk, the burger and chips, the togetherness of the seven people sat around me and the 33,000 other people. I know people are missing more important things like their family, but this was my light at the end of the tunnel and I’m sure everyone who is reading this has that light that they are missing.