Four Nations Fun

24 05 2008

Saturday 24th May
Wales V England

So here was the big one; The dreaded Saes, the Saxons, the Imperialists, the devils in white shirts were here and they were ready to slay the dragon. This time however, the dragon would be ready, after Thursday it’d be breathing fire.
Only the most ardent nationalist could get worked up like this over a semi-professional international. For a start non-league football feels more hospitable. The England C players may be pros but they wouldn’t be earning much more than the average; it was eminently possible that they may act in the manner of “yer man on the street”. It’s difficult to get worked up when the only thing you know about the players is that they will be a team wearing an England kit, in short they won’t be an England team with Terry, Lampard, Ashley Cole, Bentley etc etc. I found it difficult to summon up any dislike never mind hate. It would be nice to win, as Wales would win the tournament, but if Wales lost it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
During the short and sunny walk from the station I quickly became aware that today’s fixture was the most attractive, especially to people from Halifax. As I waited with baited breath for the commencement of today’s festivities I glanced toward the other end. Halifax flags were blossoming like flowers catching the first rays of sunshine. The other end was soon a blaze of blue and white.
I remarked, in a whimsical fashion, to a fellow devotee of the finer arts of football; “Are Wales playing England or Halifax?” His response was a blank expression. The programme article about Gibraltar’s history was more evidently more interesting. Now, who said non-league fans were more hospitable?

As Wales were attacking the colourful end I thought It’d be nice to catch some of the action so I went down to that end, as is the usual manner. The Halifax fans held their ground. I went to the side. I fell into a chat with some Halifaxians. Non-league fans are hospitable after all. This weekend was viewed as some kind of last hurrah by some; their club could be going out of existence. As I chatted I became aware of one terrace wag. “Sheep, Sheep, Sheep!!!”. Then he held an inflatable sheep into the air, who says men can’t multi-task? Well done Peter Kay. I felt cold all of a sudden so I moved into the sunlight. The sunlight can have funny effects, the Rhyl fans didn’t sing one anti-Bangor song.
I bumped into a few faces from Bangor and they dropped the bombshell, Hulsey was leaving Rhyl. We were too shocked to carry on talking about it. Not long after this England scored via a penalty. They doubled their lead with a near post headed goal after a corner. England simply looked better. It didn’t help that Pennock had changed the team; Les was dropped, as was Llanelli’s Craig Jones. Lucklily Rhyl’s Craig Jones was on the pitch so we had some hope. Europe’s top scorer, Griffiths, didn’t feature much and Caersws’s Evans missed a chance that Les may have buried.
The second half meant more warm sunlight. After pleasant chats and some frustrating Welsh play England scored their third. Idzi kicked the ball against the striker and the striker caught the loose ball up and stroked the ball into the empty net. Overheating and media related paranoia about cancer made the cover of the stand seem appealing. I sat behind Joey Jones.
Pennock finally brought Les on and Wales started to look more dangerous. Les had a typical thrilling run at the defence but his shot lacked power. Wales now offered a little more excitement but England remained a little more professional. This weeks’ results may have offered Wales hope, as England only gained two 1-0 victories, but you could see England were the more clinical team. Maybe it would have been different if Pennock had’ve played Les and Llanelli’s Craig Jones from the start but he didn’t so we’ll never know.
After the match we saw Adebola and Trundle narrowly fail to become the next ex-starlets from the Welsh Premier League to play in the Premier League.

Thursday 22nd May
Wales 6 Gibraltar 2

As we walked through Sunny Rhyl, steadily dampening, the same question as Tuesday played in my mind; would Les get a game? As Tam, DO and I made it to the ground in time for the anthems we could see that Les was playing. Les was playing!!!

You could say it was an inspired decision in the end. It won’t have taken much thinking to realise that we need to try something different in this game in order to gain a positive result. Gibraltar promised to be tough opponents as well; they’d restricted professional England to a single goal defeat.

Les’s impact was almost instant; his second minute shot was parried but the ball went straight to Rhyl’s Craig Jones. He stroked it home in the manner of a greengrocer caressing a peach. “Viva Les Davies!!!” I cried. The Rhyl fans came back with “Something Incomprehensible”. Jones scored a second a few minutes later. Sunny Rhyl were winning 2-0 apparently.
Then Les scored. He leapt, in the style of Nureyev, to meet the arcing ball; “Viva Les Davies!!!”. He scored a second 2 minutes later in roughly the same fashion. The score was outstanding considering Tuesday’s results and the fact the we still had about 10 minutes of the half to go. There were no more goals in this half.
The second half was just waking up when Gibraltar scored a penalty. About 10 minutes later they’d scored 2. Al Green’s soulful shot meant love and happiness for his teammates. He stroked home the ball and turned to his teammates. It was as though he was saying “Here I Am”. The embraces clearly perked up Gibraltar; they were tired of playing alone, they now seemed to think “let’s stay together”. Gibraltar nearly made it 4-3 shortly but Idzi’s belly was still full of fire and he denied them. Gibraltar were still so in love with the possibility of winning.

Wales regained their voice when Bond, Chad Bond, scored their fifth goal. Craig Jones scored a penalty to end the match with a hat-trick. The award so enraged the Gibbers’ manager that he was sent to the stand, he interpreted the order to mean that he could stand directly behind the dug-out, a whole three yards from where he had been standing. With about 20 minutes left Les was substituted. Something strange happened; Rhyl fans clapped. After this most surreal of events all that I could concentrate on was hoping my shoes weren’t ruined by the rain..

Tuesday 20th May
Wales 1 Scotland 1

I travelled with a question, would Les get on to the pitch? He warmed up; that was a good sign. He was wearing number 11; that was a good sign. However, when the teams were announced they had obviously made a mistake; Les had been omitted. I waited for them to realise their mistake. The anthems were played, the match started and the play flowed but Les wasn’t on the pitch. This was a cock-up of biblical proportions. How could they leave him out?

I put the flag up, as soon as it’s vibrant colours were visible the Rhyl fans started with their sparkling wit, “Don’t Invade the pitch!!!!!!!!!!!” Quick nurse!!! Soothe my sides. They hadn’t finished with their tirade. “We hate Bangor, we hate Bangor, We hate Bangor!!!!” then a few minutes later the follow-up hit; “We Hate Bangor!!!” Then they hit audience with the subtle punchline; “Kick it at the Bangor Scum”. I thought we were watching Wales.
Despite almost losing control of my bladder I managed to keep on eye on the match; Wales were doing well. Rhys Griffiths looked good, he put the ball in the net but it was disallowed. The left winger looked good, whoever he was. The kit looked good. I looked good. Evans of Caersws slotted the ball home. Everything was almost perfect. Unfortunately it was all a little too perfect. Scotland equalised when it had looked unlikely that they’d string a few passes together.
The second half was almost 5 minutes old when anguished cries were heard and frantic hand gestures were seen. Wales’ keeper was down after a 50:50 situation went wrong. About 5 minutes later he was leaving the pitch with a nasty injury, it looked like a broken leg.
The second half threatened to be a goal feast up until the crossing stage, almost as soon as hopes were raised they were dashed. I rued our manager’s decision to leave Les on the bench, surely he could have done something. My hopes were raised about Les coming on to play every time a sub was readied but he remained benched. Craig Jones of Rhyl did come on and he looked good, very direct. Unfortunately he couldn’t help fashion a goal. We had to settle for a point in this contest.

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