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. 

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