Sports

Why I Didn't Shed a Single English Tear For Wales After Their Euro 2016 Exit

Sure it's nice to be nice, but isn't football about suspending the norms for 90 minutes and instead indulging our unhealthiest, most irrational impulses?
July 11, 2016, 1:45pm
Georgi Licovski/EPA

It's been a good week for Portugal. Roundly mocked for their inability to win a single game in the group stage of Euro 2016, which was genuinely funny, they awoke this morning as continental champions. They're not popular with neutrals – far from it – but there is no denying that they deserved their title on the night.

France are their latest victims, while a few days before it was plucky little Wales who suffered the agony of defeat. When Ronaldo and co. callously booted the Welsh out of "dreamland" and back into reality, the footballing community rose to a man and saluted Gareth Bale and the boyos. But I did not join them.

A brief disclaimer is necessary here: my middle name is Rhys, I am half Welsh by blood, and from an early age I arbitrarily decided that when it came to rugby, something I have at best a passing interest in, I'd support Wales. This isn't rugby though, it's football. And, as will become very clear, that is the whole point.

When it comes to international football, I am for better (or, as the case may be, for worse) 100 percent brazenly English. The routine is always the same: a few days before a tournament starts I run through the familiar playlist of the Lightning Seeds, New Order and the rest. The anticipation builds. I drink a few cans and turn into a jingoistic caricature of my actual sane self, singing of God and the monarchy – two things I do not believe in. Thankfully football is the only space in which this version of me exists, but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. In fact the opposite is true.

My dad – raised in England by two Welsh parents, but not a partisan supporter of either – is for the most part a reasonable man, and one not prone to the violent emotional swings that football brings out in most. After Wales topped Group B, he asked me why I was getting wound up by Gareth Bale's playful remarks about how he believed no English players would get into the Welsh team. He couldn't understand why an obviously weak attempt at mind games had riled me, despite clearly having the requisite common sense to see it for what it was. When pushed for an answer, I grunted something about Bale being a dickhead.

Bale celebrates his goal against England, the dickhead // Shawn Thew/EPA

The video of the Welsh squad celebrating England's loss to Iceland irked me in much the same way. These are the sort of things that bubble under the surface, insignificant enough in and of themselves, but in the context of another early England tournament exit they begin to take on meaning. Even if Anglo-Welsh relations aren't exactly toxic there is, by geographical necessity, a relationship between the two countries that inevitably extends into football. In their first tournament for 58 years, Wales have gone one better than any England side I have memory of seeing and are set to leapfrog them in the FIFA Rankings. An objectively decent, well-drilled team sticking to a system they know inside out have eclipsed a few decades of hype in one fell swoop.

READ MORE: Jagger, Ronaldo & Fuckloads of Moths – The Euro 2016 Review

A more succinct way of putting it would be: I am bitter. You've prodded me, Wales. Your team has well and truly shown up my own and I don't like it. Yet I feel like some kind of pariah for admitting to the charge when everyone else is falling over themselves to laud the fairytale, and Match Of The Day change their name to Match Of The Dydd on Twitter in an excruciatingly 2016 tribute to the Welsh side. I'm not saying that Alan Shearer should be flicking Vs at Dean Saunders in the BBC studio, but has the #RESPECT movement really taken such a hold that the common man can no longer partake in a bit of good-old-fashioned schadenfreude?

Sure, it's nice to be nice, but isn't the great thing about football being able to suspend the norms we abide by in day-to-day life for 90 minutes and instead indulge our unhealthiest, most irrational impulses? Before the Portugal match the accepted wisdom was that Wales had done brilliantly to get to the semi-finals and, while the game was eminently winnable, everyone was #ProudOfTheLads whatever happened. A quick-fire Portuguese smash-and-grab later, though, it was a different story. The rhetoric of optimism from Mark Bowen, Ryan Giggs and indeed my own father turned into one of resentment.

Ronaldo ascends to the sky and heads home against Wales // Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

But I was relieved. Yes, this is what it's about. In football there is pleasure, pain and not a whole lot else. As much as I enjoy listening to James Horncastle fetishizing Serie B liberos and pronouncing all their names properly on Football Weekly, that is the way it should be. Frankly, the day that I stop feeling this way is the day you can start carting me off to watch Rugby Union. Terrace adapted versions of 'I've Never Felt More Like Singing The Blues' testify to the fact that if your side can't win, the next best thing is seeing your rivals lose. It's rivalry – not heat-maps, tactics blogs or mild-mannered consideration of proceedings – that provides the lifeblood of the game and makes it so bloody good. In my mind that is what Wales now are: rivals. Perhaps they always were and we just needed to be reminded of it. They certainly reminded us we were foes when they sang "Are you watching England?" Yes lads, I was watching – and I won't apologise for not being upset when you went out.

Would you really have it any other way? I suspect not. You pissed yourselves laughing when England lost to Iceland, and rightly so. Thus, I in turn enjoyed the dark cathartic release of watching Nani send you home. What good is my sympathy or support in the face of such an upsetting result? None at all. By contrast, my banter and taunts are validation, in a roundabout way.

Consider this my "wanker" gesture from behind a row of stewards. It's not big, it's not clever, but since when has football been about logic and levelheadedness?

@JackHarry