“Wales are now ranked below the Faroe Islands in 112th place in the latest FIFA rankings …. is it time for Wales to admit they will never qualify for a major tournament?” – TalkSPORT, 27th July 2011.
Anyone who classes themselves as Welsh and vaguely enjoys the sport involving 22 men, a spherical ball and 2 sets of goalposts therefore also truly understands sporting heartache.
Only once in the entire 141 years of Welsh football history has our nation qualified for a major tournament without being invited. Up until that point, supporters have endured not only heart-wrenching dispair but also a dwindling interest in the national side. By the early 2010s, we had fallen to 112th in the world – lower than such renowned footballing nations as Benin, Suriname and the Faroe Islands.
It was at our lowest point that a scheme was formulated to start again. Much like Alex Ferguson did with Manchester United in the early 1990s, many of Wales’ often popular names were fizzled out to be replaced with, to a large extent, a wholly new crop. It was an optimistic leap of faith to say the least. Players who had been on the teamsheet before an opponent was even decided were disgarded for a group of youngsters who had grown through the ranks of Welsh football together – rather than via dribs and drabs.
Despite being an avid supporter of the Welsh team (and of football in general) since the early ‘90s, Wales’ Euro 2016 qualifiers and finals tournament made me notice something I’d never before seen in football – the difference between, say, a centreback looking to his left and seeing a leftback, and a centreback looking to his left and seeing his friend.
This group of men were not teammates – they were mates. Perhaps one would sooner fail for a teammate than for a mate? Whatever the reason, my memories of Bordeaux in early June of 2016 prove it worked.
Trwy ddulliau chwyldro’n unig y mae llwyddo – John Saunders Lewis, Tynged yr Iaith, 1962
Who cares about the reason behind Wales’ rise in international footballing renown? Either way, one thing is certain – it took a radical alteraration to bring about change and, ultimately, success.
In honesty, there are many occasions that I notice in life that would benefit from a radical change in behaviour…. the whole Welsh political structure, for one!
Another is the Welsh language and the way it is perveived by the ever-declining (however slowly) numbers of young people who are not yet fluent in the language for whatever reason.
It’s no secret that the hearts and minds of young people are warming more to the fact our nation has two languages – especially when compared with the poor attitudes towards it for large parts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Even in the relatively short time I’ve been teaching Welsh to those young people not yet fluent in the language I have noticed a huge shift in openness and willingness to let the ancient tongue become a part of their lives in various capacities. It truly is heartwarming.
Not only hear it but understand it
Looking at the bigger picture, however, the teaching of Welsh through the medium of English is certainly not without its flaws. There is no doubt that huge numbers of students leave with positive outlooks on the language but rarely (if ever) do they leave fluent. All I ever wanted to do in school was to learn Welsh yet even memorising a Welsh dictionary from cover to cover prepared me for the leap between my knowledge of the language and my confidence to use it.
One thing I certainly do remember from my time as a youngster learning Welsh were the occasions, probably due to their rarity where I lived, when I heard the language spoken in the streets. The only thing that ever elipsed those feats werethe times when I first began to notice that I could not only hear it…. but undertand it.
The differences in the self confidence and pride for a young person to say ‘I heard someone speaking Welsh today’ and ‘I heard someone speaking Welsh today and I understood most of it’ are not only enormous, but they might just save our language.
Since my early 20s, when I first began to admit my fluency in Welsh and rid myself of the ‘dysgwr’ (learner) tag, I have strived to share the wonderful aura that comes not only from learning a language but from learning the formerly-declining language of the people who forged our fine nation across centuries.
Much like my taid (grandfather) used to say; “always leave a place tidier than when you found it,” I am committed to ensuring, not only that every one of my students leave my classroom with at least a little bit more Welsh than when they walked in, but that the Welsh language is in a stronger state when I snuff it than it was when I was born.
Young people are the key. They are the future of this nation and are paramount in the on-going mission of reinstating Wales’ prized cultural gem into the hearts and minds of those lucky enough to call Wales their home.
Can we not learn to speak two forms of Welsh – a Welsh for speakers and a Welsh for learners?
We, as Welsh speakers, must not only subtly yet obviously offer the provision for young people to hear us using Welsh but we must also ensure that they understand us too.
Now I could blindly proclaim to know all the answers and/or patroniaingly show off all the ways I’ve radically altered my life when using the Welsh language around others but, in the true values of revolutionary change, I instead implore those who speak our language to not only make changes in your use of the language in speech but to also take the time to ponder ways for yourself.
And to those who worry that natural Welsh will subsequently die a death were we all to use our language with non-fluent speakers in mind I ask this; Can we not learn to speak two forms of Welsh – a Welsh for speakers and a Welsh for learners?
Let’s not be the generation who tiptoed into the future and took our language no further than it was 30 years before. Let’s grab it and make it a part of who we are. Let’s be sympathetic and welcoming to others. Let’s not accept a Scottish handball in ‘77. Let’s not hit the bar against Romania in ‘93. Let’s not give away a free kick to Russia in 2003.
We are Wales – and whether it’s in football or in language, we don’t really do ‘nearly’ any more.