From the moment it was announced up to, well, this very moment right now I’ve been absolutely buzzing about the Wales vs Trinidad & Tobago International Challenge Match (ie pointless friendly football game) at the home of Welsh football; the Racecourse, Wrecsam.
Any Welsh football fan will tell you they get excited about any Welsh game. It’s in the blood and in the soul. We never enjoy the games – that’s impossible – but we definitely anticipate them with excitement.
But this game was different for me. Wrecsam’s Cae Ras (Racecourse) is my soccer place of worship; my football church. I’ve been going there since I was around 5 or 6 years old and I don’t plan on ending that tradition any time soon – no matter how much emotional pain it causes! So to learn that my national team were to play there was, well…. my wife will happily tell you that I’ve been “fatha plentyn bach!” (like a little kid!) waiting for the big day.
Wrecsam resident + full time teacher has frustratingly proved to be an awful mix for me as a Wales fan. With zero time off allowed outside of school holidays and UEFA putting matches on Sunday and Tuesday evenings during term time, even getting to Cardiff can be a struggle for me – never mind getting to Azerbaijan and back before registration the next day. I still get to most home games (and Bordeaux) mind…. my students are very forgiving and understanding in my ‘under-par’ state the next morning!
So, after 11 years, football was coming back to its spiritual home of Wrecsam. The place where the Scots stuffed us 2-0 in 1877 and in the same stadium as they put 3 past us in 1879. Up until before the Trinidad & Tobago game, I’d seen Wales play at the Cae Ras the same amount of times I’d seen Wales use Anfield as their home ground! This was huge for me.
And despite the ocassion being bliss and our anthem belted out in a beautiful north eastern accent, a few things about the game p*ssed me right off. Here are said few things I heard before and during Wednesday’s game;
- “Feels like an away game up ‘ere, munn”
Does it? Long drive, was it? Welcome to our world.
- Duw, do you guys do that drive EVERY home game?”
Pretty much, my friend. Pretty much.
- “Bit scouse up ‘ere, inni?”
Bit ‘Valleys’ down there, isn’t it?
- “Always look out for Wrexham scores, I do”
So you should. We’re from the same country playing in a foreign nation’s league system. There are only FIVE exiled teams – of course we should stick together!
And the one I was most looking forward to hearing sung from the terraces of the Cae Ras (which is in Wrecsam; which is in WALES):
- “Don’t Take Me Home”
YOU ARE BL**DY HOME!
And there I was. Filled with bitterness. So I stopped myself and reconsidered. Herein lies the problem of our football supporters and of our nation at large. We simply cannot bring ourselves to ‘ymfalchïo’ (to find and express pride) in one another.
It’s weird. It’s like finding out your dad’s been learning Welsh and then trying to change your English-speaking habit of 27-or-so years with him. It’s never as natural as you’d like. Or it’s like trying to be proud of the Great Wall of China as an achievement of humans, rather than of only the Chinese people. Or being Russian and taking pride in Apollo 11’s successful moon landing – even though we’re all from the same planet sharing that same moon!
I know it’ll be hard but try this little test. Find your locality and take pride as a Welsh person in the subsequent peculiarites;
To anyone from north east Wales: Alright, la? Gareth Bale (Cardiff) is from your country and you live in the same land as Yr Wyddfa [Snowdon] (Gwynedd).
To anyone from south west Wales: Shwd i’ti? Owain Glyndŵr (Clwyd) considered himself the same nationality as you. At least a few times a year, the Cardiff City Stadium (Cardiff) is your home.
To anyone from the north west Wales: Iawn, mêt? Your country has the highest canal aquaduct on the planet (Clwyd) and a man from your country (Pembrokeshire) first introduced the equals sign.
To anyone from south east Wales: Orite, butt? You hail from the same land as Saint Patrick of Ireland (Pembrokeshire) and your country is home to one of the longest place-names in the world (Ynys Môn).
ALL of these things are ALL of yours! Success, grief and burden alike.
There are, of course, more sombre elements to this. For example, when Tryweryn was drowned, we all drowned. We were all stood against a wall in Mold in 1869 when 4 men were murdered for wanting to speak Welsh in the mines of Leeswood Green. We were all frantically searching for the children of Aberfan. We were all victims of the Gresford disaster. We are all blue books and Welsh Nots. We are all Taffy the Welshman. Every single one of us.
We share in so much collective sadness and beauty but are plagued with a feeling that we can’t fully identify with ALL of Wales because it’s not from our ‘milltir sgwâr’ (our locality; our square mile). Don’t blame our appalling transport links – this problem is one of the mind. The last time the Welsh fully united they crowned their own prince after over a century wanting, and then set up their own parliament with a view to establishing a national church and two powerful universities. How very dare they! But nowadays we are intrinsicly taught that we are seperate; for example, we believe that north Wales and south Wales should be spelt with capital letters (ie North Wales and South Wales) so that we look at these places as seperate regions rather than part of one and the same entity. Would you ever write South Scotland or North England? But you’ve probably seen North Cornwall, right? Figures.
If you consider yourself Welsh – regardless of whether you’re a Barry Town fan or a Swansea City fan or a Caernarfon Town fan or a Wrecsam AFC fan – you’re country is home to the oldest continuously used international football stadium on the planet. Your nation has the biggest stadium in the world with a retractable roof and, sometimes, our national team plays there too! YOURS!
Next time you read one of these facts and your brain suddenly makes you a bit jealous of the people who live within 15 minutes of these places, stop. That’s the oppression in you and you must oppress it. These things are OURS – no matter your home address.
We are already home. Let’s start acting like it.
BELOW: Wrecsam, Cardiff and Swansea supporters meet outside Saith Seren to discuss independence for Wales with passers by;