Esyllt Sears reflects after the World Cup qualifier on Wales’s date with a first finals tournament in 64 years, and what it took for players… and fans… to get there.
At the final whistle last night, I was stood between my 4 year old nephew and my dad who would’ve been 6 years old when Wales last qualified for the World Cup; both of them jumping up and down and shouting for utter joy.
So many thoughts ran through my head all at once.
How pleased I was for Bale and Ramsey (I would’ve been heartbroken for them more than myself had they not qualified).
How I wished I hadn’t drunk a cup of tea and a diet Fanta (I did eventually pee myself dancing to Zombie Nation).
How I longed for the lads from the 2016 campaign (Ledley, Robson-Kanu, Ashley Williams, I thought of them all).
How my mam was coping at home watching on her own (not well… apparently she couldn’t bear to watch the second half and just had the radio on in the background).
How I was going to get absolutely soaked on the way back to the car (I didn’t have a raincoat and my shirt was see-through by the time I got to Cornwall St).
How glad I was that I had Monday off (which I’m spending doing the only sensible thing – trawling social media for all World Cup qualifying-related posts).
How I don’t want to go to Qatar but knew I’d consider it over the next few months (I’ve already looked at flights…just out of interest).
I hadn’t wanted to go to the game yesterday. I drove four hours from Brighton to reluctantly get there in time. A sense of dread in the pit of my stomach, a “why do we do this to ourselves” headache brewing. At half time, I declared to my sister that if it was to go to extra time, I was going to have to leave. And when the win came, it wasn’t the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. Playing Ukraine was never going to be easy. And in my opinion, they played better than us.
This morning, a lot of the conversation has been centred around the significance qualifying will have on Wales’ profile as a country on the world stage. It’s huge! Millions around the globe haven’t heard of Wales (yet). Those who have usually think it’s in England. How many of us have learnt how to say “I’m not English, I’m Welsh” in seven different languages or wheeled out John Charles, Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones in order to trigger some sense of recognition in people. Following yesterday’s win, dare I say it, Dafydd Iwan will have gained global stardom.
I have written about my relationship with Welsh football a few times over the past seven years and it’s very easy to get caught up in sentiment and nostalgia and be lured in by expectation. But indulge me, even if just for one day. The football team I supported as a child would rarely sing the national anthem and here we are, 30+ years later and they’re now singing what was originally penned as a protest song.
Never underestimate the power football has to ignite a sense of national identity and confidence. In Wales, at least, it’s become an unstoppable force.
Esyllt Sears is a writer and stand-up comedian from Aberystwyth.