BLOG Julie Brominicks

NWR Issue 111

Together Stronger

As the final whistle blew on Wales' UEFA Euro 2016 campaign on Wednesday night, the crowd in the pub burst into applause and I nearly burst into tears. I was prepared for Wales to lose their semi-final against Portugal and for them to be dignified in defeat. It was the applause that got me - probably because I grew up watching football in England.

While I've often stood in a crowd cheering gutsy defeats by Shrewsbury Town, it's no longer the custom in England to applaud the national team in defeat. Instead, fans and pundits alike lambast and pillory each player, lavish them with scorn and then disown them. No wonder they fall to pieces on the pitch.

Not so in Wales. True the team exceeded all expectations in this tournament by playing creative sometimes brilliant football, being intuitive in attack, poised in possession and brave in defence. Their victories were magnificent. And in defeat their fans still cheered them. The Welsh supporters, commentators and media were positive, proud and praiseworthy throughout.

I love football for all the qualities demonstrated by Wales. But those who loathe football for its association with corruption, aggression and racism were also proved right during this tournament. Russian fans incited violence in Marseille. Far-right Croatians disrupted their own matches with thuggery. And on the day that Wales bowed out, the supremely talented and popular Argentinian and Barcelona striker Lionel Messi received a jail sentence for tax evasion. All of these things made me sad for football. But it was something back home that made even me, albeit temporarily, question my joy in supporting Wales.

Analysts say the Welsh Brexit vote was a protest against Westminster and demonstrated ignorance as to how much Wales had financially benefitted from European money. There is a suspicion that it was also a vote against immigrants and foreigners in general.

What better platform than this tournament to confront those suspicions. Many in our country have traditionally until now, perceived footballs as being the wrong shape, and some fans at the UEFA Euro were new to the game and the team. Early in the quarter-final I heard some of them snicker that some Belgian players looked like they should play for Cameroon. But they shut up when they saw Hal Robson-Kanu and Ashley Williams playing their hearts out for Wales. Possibly realisations like this were being processed quietly across the country. Meanwhile Wales fans had a great opportunity to make new international friends, and they did.

Who wouldn't admire Gareth Bale in particular, for his generous passing rather than personal glory-grabbing? The Welsh players demonstrated teamwork, unity, humour, modesty, and passion. They were gracious in defeat and proud for all the right reasons. Their team spirit spilled off the pitch, into the crowd and leaked into Europe - time and again I heard emotional fans saying how much they've been welcomed in France and appreciated by people from other countries. England included.

Wales' last game was tough and tense. Both teams were equally matched in the first half, but in the second, Portugual scored two goals in quick succession and Wales were beaten. At the final whistle the applause in the pub was echoed throughout Europe, and the Welsh players and backroom staff stood on the pitch to applaud the fans who were singing the national anthem and applauding them back.

Yet despite the glory, there is always some sadness in losing. As the fans in Lyon sang 'Don't Take Me Home' one last time, my husband and I took a few moments before catching our train to walk along Aberystwyth seafront, beneath the flags of other European minority nations. All around us, other groups of fans in red shirts were doing the same. And we consoled ourselves with the thought that huge numbers of Welsh people hadn't really, actually wanted to leave Europe, and that we'll be missed by other nations when we're gone.

Julie Brominicks blogs on landscape, travel and football. She is learning Welsh.


previous blog: The Passing/Yr Ymadawiad
next blog: Elizabeth Brickell at TestBed


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