Thursday, 7 July 2016

The History Boys

1993 : I'm in a bar in Aberdeen. Wales are playing Romania in the final qualifier for a place in the 1994 World Cup. This isn't just any Romania side, however. This is the side of Dumitrescu, Raduciou and 'The Maradona of the Carpathians' Gheorghe Hagi in his pomp. But we're no mugs either...we've got Southall, Rush, Hughes, Saunders and a young Ryan Giggs. We're still in the game at 1-1.

   I'm speaking to my mate. I'm a bit worried, I say. I always swore to myself that - if Wales should ever qualify for a tournament - then I'd go. Wherever it was. And this one's going to be in the USA. It's going to cost me a packet.

   Minutes later, Wales get a penalty. And Paul Bodin's shot cannons off the post. Within minutes we're 2-1 down.

   My friend pats me gently on the shoulder. I think your money's safe Phil, he says...

2003 : I'm in a bar in Dublin. Wales are in the final play-off game for the 2004 European Championships. We played Russia to a goalless draw in Moscow. Only Giggs remains of the class of '93, but we now have Savage, Bellamy and Hartson. We're not a bad side. Win the home leg and we're through. And inevitably, within a few minutes, we're a goal down.

   It remains that way. A friendly English stranger buys me a pint and gives me a hug. Caroline phones me from Edinburgh. I'm all right, I say. And I am. Because I've just given up. There have been so many occasions like this now that it doesn't even hurt any more. There is just the dull sense of inevitability. And this time, there is a moment of clarity. We are never, ever going to qualify for a major tournament again. At least, never in my lifetime.

   And I'm right of course. Over ten years of failure follow, but we're not even close to qualifying for anything at all so at least there's no pain.

   And then...and then...suddenly I'm not right. Suddenly I'm proved wonderfully, gloriously wrong. Suddenly we've not only qualified for Euro 2016, but we've done it in some style.

   I'd always sworn I'd be there if we ever made it. But work is getting in the way. And maybe I'm too old now anyway. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, I tell myself, if we lose every game. At least we made it.

   But we don't lose every game. In fact, we win rather more than we lose. We win our group in some style. Next thing is, we're in the quarter finals and our neighbours are greeting me in the street with a cheery Forza Galles. And then we're in the semis couldn't be possible could it...?

   No. Not quite. But if we fell short at the last, then so be it. We graced this tournament. And I know this may never, ever happen again in my lifetime. That doesn't matter. It happened here, it happened now and I - and every other Wales supporter down through the years - was privileged to be a small part of it.

Thank you boys. The History Boys.

1 comment:

  1. Here's to the next time, Phil! They were magnificent.


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