With Wales v Switzerland kicking off their respective Euro 2020 campaigns later today, Esyllt Sears shares her perspective as a longtime female fan, from years of waiting to see Wales perform on the international stage, to the thrills of 2016 following Wales around France while pregnant with a toddler in tow. Now, a nation waits to see if Rob Page’s team can rekindle the magic of five years ago.
Some of my fondest teenage memories include travelling from Aberystwyth to Cardiff Arms Park to watch Bobby Gould’s Wales play, before rushing back the same night in time for school the next day. My first in-the-flesh match had Southall and Horne and Pembridge and Saunders and Speed play against Germany where Klinsmann scored the opposition’s winning goal. Such a disappointing outcome but also, what a treat.
If I couldn’t get to a game, our living room would become a temporary fan zone with my dad as an unofficial commentator. Mam would rarely enter the fan zone and preferred to anxiously listen to games from the safety of the kitchen. On account of her nerves. She will probably do the same today when we play Switzerland.
As a family and a nation, we endured years of grey, drizzly matches, witnessed sparse crowds and even sparser score lines. And with no payoff of a glossy international tournament to reward us for our unwavering support.
I don’t follow club football. I don’t have time. At least, not since I became an ardent Everton supporter in the ’90s because I fancied a boy at school who also supported them. I didn’t get the boy and I no longer support the Toffees.
But international football is different. It is all-consuming. Almost like a call to arms but without the inflatable daffodils and red cowboy hats.
Summer of 2016 saw me, at 5 months pregnant, following Chris Coleman’s Wales around France. A stress-filled few weeks with a 2-year-old toddler in tow, but completely worth it to see the Welsh flag present at the semi-finals (and to be able to tell my kids – to differing extents – that they were both there).
My siblings and I were due to travel to Rome last year for Wales’ first game of Euro 2020. I should’ve been tipsy on Bellinis, crying into the arms of beautiful Italian supporters. Alas, we all know how that turned out.
Tickets returned and refunded, we will instead congregate at my youngest sister’s house to share our collective nausea. However, this time, with the added excitement of watching Rhys Norrington-Davies – a player my brother coached when he played for Bow Street under 13s.
Wales isn’t just a country or my home, it’s a state of mind. Being relatively insignificant on a global stage, we will once again be catapulted into the limelight for a short while. And we, as fans, get to enjoy what is inherently beautiful about the game – unbridled passion, local connections, supporters all coming together all to the soundtrack of my mother’s muffled screams from the kitchen.
Wales v Switzerland at 2pm today. You can hear a condensed version of Esyllt Sears’ Letter to Wales here.
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