Dreaming the impossible dream

11 06 2016

I awoke with an excited start this morning. As I said to my wife “This isn’t the time for soundbites dear, but I can feel the hand of history upon my shoulder”. To which she replied “That’s actually my hand, I knew you shouldn’t have watched that Tony Blair documentary last night”. Near misses and outright folly have deprived me of the chance to watch Wales play tournament football but this state of affairs will be rectified in a couple of hours.

Naturally I’m rather excited at the glorious prospect of “Wales in tournament football shock”. Last week I realised that there were only ten days until Wales’ first match in Euro 2016 and the fervour started. Instead of half-heartedly hoping that Slovenia, Germany, France, Argentina or Italy win or vehemently hoping others lose I’ll be supporting my own team.

I’ve only ever experienced tournaments on TV and it’s wonderful to think that I’ll finally be able to see my team on my TV, IN A TOURNAMENT!  I would finally be able to see “WALES” written in a tournament font at the bottom of my TV screen. In my own way I’m more excited than all those that have gone to France and have tickets for all Wales’ matches until the final.

Yeah of course I’m just as excited, I didn’t even want tickets anyway.

Before the fervour arrived I felt slightly differently about watching my national team. I’d become one of those bystanding matchgoer types – people that are obviously doing something else rather than going to a match – I see on the way to matches. Now I was a bystander too. I always wonder why bystanders aren’t going to a match and then what their day will hold. Will they spot a bargain? Will they buy any world cinema DVDs? Why aren’t they going to a match? How can they not even want to go to a match?

I used to feel part of it all. I used to love going to Wales matches and the train journeys to Cardiff that were full of drinking or reading, depending on the company. Where once I joined the non-existent clamour for Wales tickets I now sit at home resigned to inaction.

A few weeks ago I enjoyed reading Bryn Law’s book about Wales’ qualifying campaign. Even though I was familiar with everything, and I’ve actually met several of the people mentioned, I felt removed from it all, like I was reading Fever Pitch or something similar.

I tried to join the bandwagon during qualifying but it didn’t make any difference. The internet streams were sketchy at best and I only saw one match on TV, Israel away, because only one match took place directly after a Bangor away match in a ground with a Murdoch enabled clubhouse. I had to make do with twitter and the livescore app the rest of the time.

I tried to enter the first class section of the post-qualification bandwagon by buying stuff; Spirit of ’58 merchandise, Panini Stickers and the commemorative Welsh editions of Four Four Two and the Radio Times, but that didn’t make a difference. I even tried looking at old match programmes and tickets but that didn’t make a difference either. Something was still missing.

Circumstance has allowed ennui to replace ardour. Matches have been on the wrong days for years now, I refuse to pay Murdoch for televised emissions and there isn’t a pub within six miles of my house. I’ve lost the habit of watching Wales and without that habit I still don’t know what some of the players look like.

I’ve been going to watch Wales since 1985 and I’ve been to more than a few matches in a virtually Millenium Stadium so I feel like I should be in France with the people I know but I’m not. I suppose I could feel bitter about this and missing out on so many memories but bitterness is a distant memory.

I didn’t even bother to consider making a ticket application. I hadn’t been to any qualifiers, I wasn’t a club 1876 member and I’d be working during most of the tournament. When my social media was filled by photos of tickets part of me longed to be going through the same stresses of looking for accommodation and cheap flights but most of me wasn’t even remotely unhappy, or jealous, about missing out.

I was really happy for everybody else that was going and especially for the away match hardcore. You’d be a complete curmudgeon if you were anything other than sincerely happy for the people that have travelled to almost every one of UEFA’s members in the hope of that momentary glimpse of hope. It’s already fantastic that their years of patience have finally led somewhere, it was even better that qualification was secured at an away match that only the away match hardcore would have been able to get to.

I refuse to feel sorry for myself about the way I feel for a simple reason; my time as a matchgoing Wales fan has passed. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, or how many matches I’ve seen, the powers that be will never revert to the Saturday / Wednesday scheduling.

Please don’t cry for me Mark and Tina either. It’s partly my choice and I’m so used to my physical disconnection from Wales’s matches – five years without watching a qualifier and I’ve never consciously bought anything owned by Murdoch – it has become almost painless. There’s no point moaning or tilting at windmills anyway. My concerns aren’t important and I’m not important. The world certainly doesn’t care whether I’m at matches or not, they will still take place whether I’m there or not.

Anyway I’ll be able to watch it on TV and when you think about that was preferable anyway. I’ve never been to a tournament and I always wanted to see “WALES” in the tournament font on televisual graphics. LOOK AS I’VE ALREADY EXPLAINED….. In my own way I’m  more excited than someone that’s going to all the matches, yeah of course I’m just as excited, I didn’t even want tickets anyway. ALRIGHT?

Anyway why do I care I’ll be having a proper tournament experience, I’ll be watching Wales in a tournament from the same position I’ve watched every other tournament. Anyway don’t worry about the likes of me, I didn’t want to go anyway, who wants to watch their national team play in their first group based tournament for 58 years anyway?

People should be more like me, I radiate an air of relaxed acceptance in my miniscule place in the cosmos. Naturally I wanted to go and watch Wales in the tournament but I always knew I wouldn’t be able to go. While everyone was fretting about tickets and flights I stood aloof, it was actually liberating to be freed from the stress of caring about it all.

However now that I’ve seen all of the photos and videos of France on social media I can’t say I wouldn’t love to be out in France with the people I know. But here I am typing this in my blissful state of relaxed acceptance. YEAH I’M REALLY RELAXED ABOUT MISSING THE THING I’VE HOPING TO GO TO FOR YEARS. Yeah, even though I’m sure I could have found a way to go today.

Sadly not everyone is the relaxed accepting sort. For some people everything’s “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME”. For example if you were a self-described “top top Wales fan” and you missed out on tickets what would you do? Well as an adult you could accept that you’ve never demonstrated much desire to go to away matches, and therefore didn’t earn enough loyalty points, or you could write a look at me letter to complain about the “horrid horrid unfairness” of the situation. Stoical acceptance is a stranger to some.

Someone may be shouting  “FANZONE! GET YOUR TICKETS FOR THE FANZONE!” in the coming days. We Welsh people were going to suffer the embarrassment of doing without one until someone set up that panacea for society’s ills, the online petition, to demand that we had simply had to have one of these fanzones in little old Wales. Why has everything got to come with a sodding petition these days?

I can see the point of fanzones in the countries that are hosting tournaments. They enable like minded people from various countries to mingle and the ticketless to experience a bit of the atmosphere. A fanzone in your own country is a poor poor substitute. It will never make up for not being able to go a tournament.

It’s bad enough spending time in a confined space that’s been annexed by a rapacious multinationals, to be herded there with people you’d normally avoid like the plague is a numbing prospect. I suppose you could enjoy a fanzone if you turned up with your mates but you can enjoy anywhere with the right sort of people. The problem is the others that will turn up. Imagine spending time next to any old Tomos, Dyfrig and Harri as they radiate “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!! I’M A TOTAL LEGEND ON A MISSION” gamma waves. See how they goon “COME ON CYMRU!!” at a passing TV camera. I’m cringing as I type this.

Some people can’t help themselves. Last year I witnessed several people try to to prove that Wales is dead ace by attempting to unfurl a Welsh flag at the Super Furry Animals gig in Manchester. Even though the Super Furry Animals are known to abhor such behaviour, it still happened. These people turned up to prove just how Welsh they were, Alwyn and I were surprised they weren’t wearing sparkly cowboy hats boyo. You’re either Welsh or you’re not, support your team and do it quietly, and don’t get angry when your newly acquired  hopes and dreams don’t come to pass..

Fanzones are even worse when the inevitable defeat happens, the point where peoples’ new minted desires and reality part ways. During the 2011 Rugby World Cup Wales played France in the semi-final on the same day that Bangor player an away match in Llanelli. I thought it might be fun to go and watch the match inside the Millennium Stadium.

Wales lost narrowly and the amount of anguish and tension caused a nasty atmosphere, I was wearing a replica of Argentina’s Mexico ’86 away shirt and I couldn’t help but feel the accusative glances in my direction. I had more grief on the train. This is supposed to be a fun event but them people’s expectations had been built up and then dashed.

The fanzone seems to have joined the annual cycle of marketable communal festivities – New Year > Valentine’s Day > Pancake Day > Mother’s Day > Easter > Bank Holiday Season > Football Tournament > Summer Barbecue Season > Halloween > Christmas – that allows businesses to encourage us spend money on their essential products.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t enjoy themselves or celebrate Wales’ massive achievement but how does this forced communal jollity add  to  the enjoyment of a sporting occasion? There’s something deeply irritating in the forced jollity of organised celebration, and it’s not just their urgent hashtags like #BEPARTOFSOMETHING or #GETINVOLVED.

If you want to “get involved” or “be part of something” fine but you don’t have to involve the rest of us in your capers. Why do we all have to congregate to have an authentic experience? People experience proper matches in relatively small groups of friends or acquaintances rather than as a monolithic group of thousands. It’s not embarrassing to be deprived of a fanzone, it just means that we have to watch it in a pub or god forbid, at home. What’s wrong with doing things the old fashioned way?

Having said all that Wales will be playing on in a major tournament today and it’s all very exciting. I won’t be leaving my house and I’m really excited. Hurrah for football! Hurrah for resigned acceptance!

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