This article originally appeared VICE Sports UK.
On Thursday afternoon, the majority of London's football fans were preparing to throw their support behind England. In a wave of midday patriotism, vast swathes of the capital's workforce downed tools and trooped off to the nearest pub. People daubed themselves in red and white facepaint, wrapped St. George's flags around their midriffs and roared a primal roar of utter Englishness. Every single pub, bar and restaurant in the city seemed to be playing Fat Les' Vindaloo on repeat, while the air crackled with chants about Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and our collective, newfound prejudice towards Russian people.
Having drawn their Euro 2016 opener against Russia, England's second match against Wales was about to kick off. There were England fans everywhere, England fans flooding the streets, England fans rushing forth like a giant tidal wave of lager and nationalism.
Meanwhile, standing quietly in the corners of the city's pubs – unassuming, unobtrusive, and in general good cheer – there were Wales supporters. There they stood, each of them an island in a sea of Anglo-Saxon fervour. Not wanting their experiences of the Euros to be submerged in an ocean of English triumphalism, I went to meet the capital's Gareth Bale aficionados at one of London's prime locations for Welshness, the Famous Three Kings in Fulham. When the Welsh rugby union team are in town, it's the pub of choice for travelling fans. I wanted to find out if the same held true for the football, and so went off to find the Wales supporters watching the game away from home.
When I arrive at the Famous Three Kings, it quickly becomes apparent where the proprietors' footballing sympathies lie. Despite its close association with Welsh rugby, despite the fact that they serve Brains (colloquially known as 'Skull Attack') on tap, the pub has been given a distinctly English theme ahead of the game. St. George's flags drape much of the interior, while "Come on Eng-er-land" has been painted onto the front window. The pub has even undergone a temporary name change to "The Three Lions", a move which seems to have been encouraged by those infamously canny (l)advertisers and distributors of horrible, horrible lager, Carlsberg.
Nonetheless, there are no shortage of Wales fans inside. The pub is packed to the rafters with supporters from both sides of the Wales-England divide, and the atmosphere before kick off is electric. Things are generally friendly, though chants from the two sets of fans vie for supremacy, rising up under the high roof. Once the game actually gets under way, there's a little more antagonism, especially after Gareth Bale smashes a free kick past a flapping Joe Hart to give Wales the lead.
In the warm glow of Welsh optimism that follows, I chat to Rhys about what it's like to watch Wales at the Euros, the country's first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. He tells me: "It's incredible, I've never known anything like it. I've never been to a pub to watch Wales at a major tournament in my life." As for how it feels to support Wales behind enemy lines, he says: "There's been a bit of to and fro but, all in all, it's great to watch the game here. We supported England when they played Russia, we hope England support us when we play against Russia later on. It's great, all the home nations being there."
There's certainly been plenty of camaraderie between home nations fans in Lille and Lens over the past couple of days. In stark contrast to the violence which seems to ensue every time England fans cross paths with their Russian counterparts, English and Welsh supporters have mingled without problems. Though there is a rivalry between the two countries, it still needs time to mature on the footballing front. Wales and England had very different expectations going into the tournament, and that seems to have helped keep friction to a minimum.
While Rhys tells me that "anything beyond where we are now is a bonus", Welsh expectations have been raised at this point. After their opening win against Slovakia, Chris Coleman's men only need a point from the England game to essentially guarantee their place in the knockout stages. In a cruel twist of fate, however, Wales are downed by a Jamie Vardy equaliser and a late, late winner from Daniel Sturridge. The pub explodes with Englishness at the final whistle, as lager practically rains from the sky. The Welsh fans in the Famous Three Kings are left heartbroken. Still, they certainly haven't lost hope.
When I speak to Will after the final whistle, his optimism for Welsh football seems unshaken. He tells me: "Wales have been absolutely brilliant so far. Not only at international level, but at club level, Welsh football is taking huge strides. I'm a Swansea supporter, and it's great to see the Swans in the Premier League. It's a good time to be a Welsh football fan."
While Three Lions drones out from the overhead speakers and England fans leap about in ecstasy, most of the Welsh contingent take the defeat in good spirits. Before I leave, I speak to Jo and Catrin about Wales fans' renewed enthusiasm for football. Jo tells me: "I never thought Wales would actually get to a major tournament. After years and years of missing out and getting nowhere, it feels amazing." In terms of what it's like to support Wales in London, Catrin suggests that the Three Kings' football fans are a little less agreeable than the rugby crowd. "I like to think that as Wales fans we are very gracious in defeat," she laughs.
Though the exultant strains of Vindaloo – now playing in the pub for roughly the fifth time – might be something of a nuisance, this certainly isn't the worst place to be a Welsh football fan. From the ashes of defeat, optimism rises once more. "Gary Speed's looking down on us," one fan tells me as I make for the exit. "I still think we're going all the way."