The last time I watched a game on a TV in a stadium was at Ninian Park about five years ago. Cardiff’s fans had been banned from Molineux, so the game against Wolves (which City won) was shown on tiny portable sets by the bars in Cardiff’s ground.
A slightly different context today, here in the Millenium Stadium, amongst tens of thousands packing out both stands and pitch for this Rugby World Cup game.
As a football fan, I’m used to hearing scorn poured on “egg-chasers” – even singing hymns such as “Bread of Heaven” and other rugby-related songs at football games (even Welsh internationals) is very much frowned upon by some. But I wasn’t simply jumping on the bandwagon today – I spent years as a boy playing rugby, and followed Bridgend home and away. Rob Howley – Wales’ backs coach – even went to my school, so I think my place in the stadium was justified, despite the fact that I now usually favour football.
Balding men watching rugby on telly
Despite the numbers however, the place lacked the atmosphere of a pub, and from where I was sitting, the big screen was, well, quite small.
So, with the score at 6-3, and Wales having so cruelly had their captain sent off, I nipped out to walk over to my local at half-time.
I wasn’t sure which was the more incongruous – me with a Welsh scarf walking the half-empty streets, or the shoppers I passed who surely should have been watching the game somewhere.
I passed a church offering free prayers, and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. I popped in, and a waiting priest invited me to close my eyes as he placed his hands on my head and said an impressive-sounding prayer, which gave me a boost as I marched on with fingers crossed (not sure if there is a need for that after a prayer), hoping it would also positively affect Wales’ performance.
The pub’s atmosphere was definitely better, and being on my own and with no peer pressure, I ordered my third coffee of the morning.
People watching the end of the match in the pub
I’d been there not longer than 15 minutes before Phillips went over for the sole try of the match, and the priest’s prayer-giving abilities rapidly rose in my estimations. Sadly, Wales were unable to convert the try, and despite Welsh pressure, and Halfpenny going heart-breakingly close with a kick from halfway, Wales, as I’m sure you all know, did not quite make it, and back we went to swearing about the lousy half Irish/half French referee.
Into the pub came the football fans ready for the Man U v Liverpool game, self-congratulatory over their decision to spurn watching the sport they’ve been indoctrinated to avoid.
I went home for a breather and to watch the second half of the Wales game again on ITV+1, before heading out once more (sans scarf) this time to the Westgate, for the second game of the day. Walking past rugby fans on the way, all looking truly distraught, was not a pleasant experience. Sometimes on my way to watch football, I turn my nose up at passing rugby fans, but this time, I felt genuine apathy – although at least I had something else to look forward to, ie. the Cardiff v Ipswich game later.
Before that was the small matter of another televised match in the form of Liverpool v Man United, which was frankly something of an anti-climax after the Wales game, and which ended 1-1. Possibly it was the only football match in recent history during which football fans will have been able to discuss rugby throughout and feel quite comfortable about doing so.
I had expected to see a friend here who had been very proud of his each-way bet before the start of the World Cup on Wales at 80-1. I’d intended to also put this bet on, but hadn’t got around to it, so I must admit, in one sense, I was secretly relieved Wales didn’t make the final, so if the priest had subsequently wondered why God had not delivered the Welsh victory I’d told him I craved, it may have been because God knew that I may have preferred a defeat! Well anyway, Neil, who’d put the bet on, was notable by his absence.
The Cardiff game also ended in a draw, which for me was a good result against an Ipswich side which will quite likely finish in the top 6, even though it was at home. Ipswich’s manager, Paul Jewell, ranks as one of the best in the Championship for me – he did after all emulate Toshack’s achievement with Swansea by taking Wigan from the lower leagues to the Premiership. This Ipswich side was good without being spectacular, forcing us to play quite defensively in the first half, but had players of note including Lee Bowyer – particularly disliked by Cardiff fans due to his spell at Leeds – plus Chopra, who many felt should not have left Cardiff, and who scored for Ipswich today (only making up for it by doing The Ayatollah after the end of the match). They also had Jason Scotland. Not much to say about him, except that he was a Jack.
As ever at CCSC, not a wonderful atmosphere – if we don’t look out, we will gain that awful reputation of being a set of fans that “only sings when we’re winning” – but an OK-ish game. One or two suspect refereeing decisions could have earned him the tag of “Allain Rolland in disguise”, but we did get a penalty which Whittingham tucked away to settle the result at 2-2.
I walked back home through Bute Park to this time avoid the site of suicidal Welsh folk. I had intended to also later watch the Nathan Cleverly fight, but the 7am start that morning, and the bitter disappointment, meant that I was perhaps not in the mood for any more sport. At least Cleverly did it for Wales by defeating the previously undefeated Tony Bellew, and a shame I missed it in a way, as it was apparently a great contest.
But anyway, like around 2,500,000 other Welsh people (the entire population of Wales, minus cynical Saturday morning shoppers, and perhaps the odd ultra-cynical football fan), I was left to reflect on how near yet so far Wales had come. Near in so many ways – if Jones’ conversion attempt had just not hit the upright, if Halfpenny’s free kick had just gone over, if they had just taken the chance of a drop-goal – but mainly having to reflect that if we hadn’t been made, as one TV reporter amusingly put it, “short-staffed” by that idiot ref, we’d have surely romped home. Possibly the team of the tournament, Wales would have even given the All Blacks a good testing. At least us 2.5million have the prospect of seeing France get thoroughly flattened in the final to look forward to.