To our Warriors in Red,
As individual men whom have grown up in various towns and villages throughout our pleasant nation, each and every one of you will be aware of how the powerful yet graceful, simple but strategic game of rugby features highly in our collective psyche. We are a proud yet small nation for whom the chance to support our nation in the national sport is a rare chance for us to compete on an even keel with larger opposition, most of whom tend to be more dominating and imposing in matters of culture and economy. Rugby is Wales’ outlet to impose OUR culture and style on others as opposed to having theirs forced on us.
A story jumps to mind from a documentary I saw on the BBC post-2008 Grand Slam where it was mentioned that in order to entice Warren to take over the reins of the hottest job in Welsh sport he was flown over the Valley’s and couldn’t believe the plethora of rugby pitches that littered the Valley floor. Mile after Mile, Pitch after Pitch. Even from another similar Rugby nation in New Zealand, the sight was an incredible one for Mr Gatland. Maybe Warren could confirm this, but even if the story transpires to be mere media invention the point behind the tale remains relevant… South Wales in particular is a Rugby Kingdom. Let the RFU of Twickenham preach whatever they must in their public school accents, us Son’s of Wales know where the true home of Rugby is.
We have a good reputation in the standing of the world game for our illustrious history yet genuine success has always eluded us. We follow up individual spurts of domestic success with capitulation the year after. If there was a World Cup in the 1970’s then Wales may have a title to their name but alas, there wasn’t and therefore we don’t. World Cups have tended to come and go in a blur of underachievement and controversy. The promise is always clear, the actual practice lacking. When the inevitably embarrassing and heart wrenching defeats come during the World Cup’s, unlike the English whom seemingly enjoy unleashing their anger and rage in a myriad of directions we Welsh fans just skulk away and deal with our pain in a way we deal with Family deaths. We sink into ourselves, our eyes fill with tear, our stomach begins to churn and our hearts yearn for success.
But that was then. And this is now. For all those whom have grown disillusioned with constant underachieving during Rugby World Cups we have been suddenly and some might say surprisingly blessed with an abundance of success in the guise of you, the 2011 Welsh rugby World Cup squad. We watched as you departed to New Zealand with the usual fanfare to face a group made up of certain teams for whom many of us felt weighed down with the pressure of history. Yet you accepted the challenge and met it head on, a brave and almost successful battle against the reigning World Champions before dispatching decades of painful memories swiftly with victories of Fiji and Samoa. You moved onto the Quarter Finals and won, comprehensively and comfortably, against an Irish side many felt would dispatch us with the advantage of Experience. The Semi final loomed on us, an epic date with destiny versus France that had our country on edge for the longest week in our lives. Longer even than the 2005 wait for the Grand Slam decider vs Ireland. How must you have managed during that week? There was no outrageous partying; there was no scandalous behaviour in public; there was no arguments or brawls between squad members and there was no other negative actions. You were all business. You treated your adoring support with respect and humility and have given us belief in ourselves and belief in you. In an age of escalating disassociation between the public and sporting superstars you have remained by our side. Rather than arrogantly dismiss the incredible levels of support back home in the run up to the Semi Final you acknowledged with a degree of incredulity how closely you were being followed. You took to the press conferences and your twitter’s to thank us personally. Small things such as the tip of your hat to the fans means everything to us. You stared down the French with the support of 2.9 million people and in difficult circumstances gave it your all. You didnt dwell on the controversial decision, you didnt shy away. You took it in your stride and did all you could to carry us over the finish line but alas, it was not meant to be.
We will welcome you home as heroes. This is what you are. Through all the heartbreak, lows and downfalls the Welsh public have suffered in our lives supporting you from the terraces we have never been as optimistic or proud as we are now. You have performed with incredible talent and style, impressing all whom have viewed us. To do so in a way that extols youthful exuberance with the touch of humility is incredible and capable of moving even the toughest of old school, cauliflower-eared props from bygone eras. To honorary Welshmen Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards, the part you have played in the rebranding of Welsh rugby as not only talented but more importantly winners cannot be understated. Your position in the pantheon of Welsh sporting heroes was safe with the incredible 2008 Grand Slam campaign however with the creation of such a promising young collective you have ensure a rapturous applause whenever you should return to the confines of the Millennium Stadium.
Whilst I cautiously instil a word of warning not to revert to old and undo all the good work as previous generations have in recent years by losing focus off the pitch, nothing I or others have seen during this competition suggests this will be the case. You have been a credit to your country both professionally and personally and a credit to yourselves. You are not merely a rugby team but the personification of the Nation itself and have made every Welshman once again happy to stand up in the face of the world and say “I’m Welsh”.
The Welsh Public.
If there is one thing guaranteed in this country apart from taxes, rain and death it is the constant and disgraceful meddling and interfering of the national press into sensitive subjects. In a year where the actions of the tabloid press has already drawn the ire of the people through the phone-hacking scandal, it is never a surprise to see the industry as a whole up to their usual tricks in an attempt to get and create stories through an “any means necessary rationale.
The public have always been aware that sections of the national press lack moralistic integrity and have often been found to lack empathy in their pursuit of stories. Controversial topics sell papers, regardless of the accuracy to the story. Whilst papers simply can’t concoct stories out of thin air to fill copy, descriptive usage of certain phrases such as “such and such understand that…”, “a source close to the family stated…” or “it is believed that…” often can be found to substantiate any claims. There have been innumerable instances where celebrities or public persona’s have taken legal action against the press for misinformation that could be consider libel, although somewhat ironically the court action itself tends to become newsworthy. The Sporting sections of newspapers themselves tend to be littered with un-sourced stories that become major news through the re-publication of the articles through social media and forums. Many “exclusives” tend to be mere gossip passed off as fact and this alarming comic-ness tendency of the press simply passing off ludicrously un sourced material as hard-hitting investigative journalism seems to be rising.
In the passing fortnight the media has once again crossed the line in its disgraceful reportage of a sensitive and possibly volatile event. Any media reporting which can inflame the emotions of a section of people with such intensity it can directly be the cause of further violence is irresponsible and sanctions need to be taken against the writer and broadcaster. As most Sports fans are aware, not least Welsh football fans, on Tuesday 6th September Cardiff City and Wales supporter Michael Dye was killed outside Wembley Stadium prior to the much-hyped England vs Wales Euro 2012 Qualifying Match. With the match being between two countries with an amount of historic animosity between the sets of fans the chance of trouble was always a possibility. Whilst the event in general passed without incident on a vast scale, in circumstances still not completely understood at time of press, Mr Dye appeared to have been struck on the head before suffering a heart attack outside the Welsh turnstiles at the ground. News of the death quickly reached social media with rumours quickly escalating that first English fans were responsible for the attack before blame quickly turned to other Welsh supporters, the incident quickly bringing a plethora of comments from all sections of the public on Twitter and Facebook. The vast majority contained outbursts of anger and repulsion from both English and Welsh fans whilst a sizable minority blamed the other side for involvement, some even going so far as to rejoice in the death as seems to be the norm on Social Media these days. The key thing with all comments however were that they were mere rumours and gossip from groups of people with no real insight into the incident and whom were jumping to miscalculated conclusions.
With the alarmingly tragic scenario of a man visiting a major sporting event and never returning home to his wife and children, the incident quickly attracted national media attention whom were no doubt sensing a welcome return (story-wise) to the dark days of Football Hooliganism. There is no doubt that the Media industry loves tragic incidents such as natural disasters, death and public disorder as it allows them the opportunity to file numerous amounts of copy and related copy to keep the news ticking over for a few more days. Major events equal papers sold which equals money. Death at the football is undoubtedly a newsworthy topic evidenced by how many tabloid’s featured the story. Whilst it is difficult to demand complete privacy for the family to grieve considering the events surrounding the story it surely isn’t too much to expect the reporting to be done in such a way as to respect the family’s pain by reporting with a decorum of sensitivity. What is not acceptable is mere gossip and fabrication reported in such a way that it is surely a breach of common morality and press regulations. Mike Dye tragically died on the night of the Wales vs England game on 6th September in an apparent attack by persons unknown. Whilst personal opinions and rumours were readily broadcasted across social media the press themselves operate in a professional capacity and therefore have a responsibility to report only things that are based in solid facts, after all such an influential industry holds the power to concoct people’s opinions which in itself can have many positive or negative effects.
The reporting of the death before the facts surrounding the case became clear was a dangerous move by the press that thankfully has been roundly condemned, yet we have yet to see if such irresponsible reporting has had any direct effect on persons whom have read and digested such lies and fabrication. After initial reports that the assailants on Mr Dye were English aggressors the finger of blame quickly transferred to fellow Welsh fans and this is where the press got involved. As a Swansea City fan aware of the dangerous and vicious nature surrounding the South Welsh derby with Cardiff City, of whom Mr Dye was a supporter, the first thought that cross my mind after being outraged that apparently a fellow Welshman could murder another at an event where we should be extolling the virtues of actually BEING Welsh was one of dismay that this could yet be another disturbing addition to the scrapbook of Cardiff-Swansea violence. At the time it was broadcast on Social Media however there was absolutely NO clear evidence it was a) Welsh attackers, b) English attackers or c) which Club they supported. For certain media outlets to go to the presses alleging that the murder was committed by Swansea City fans was an outrageous act of irresponsibility and could have (and perhaps still could) result in ‘revenge’ acts from disgruntled and misinformed Cardiff City fans. There have been constant acts of violence and revenge attacks throughout the history of the Welsh derby and although things have gotten relatively better in recent memory the stigma of one club’s fans murdering another is not something that needs to be added. The following are a selection of quotes that appeared in the press AFTER it was announced by the Metropolitan Police that they were not looking at Swansea/Cardiff as a motive, all unsubstantiated and without merit.
“One theory was that the flare-up involved fans of Cardiff and Swansea City, who have a history of hostile rivalry. Six men arrested in the Wales fans’ end of the stadium were quizzed yesterday by murder case detectives before being bailed pending further inquiries”
“Tributes on a Facebook site set up for Mr Dye included one reading: “Can’t believe Swansea/Cardiff football rivalry has ended in a man’s death! WALES were playing. Fans should be on the same side.“ (The Sun, John Coles, 8th Sept)
“A father-of-three died after being attacked by fellow Welsh soccer supporters when Wales played England at Wembley last night. Cardiff City fan Mike Dye, 44, was caught up in a fight with fans of arch-rivals Swansea City before the big game. He suffered head injuries in the fracas which triggered a fatal heart attack – and he died in hospital later. Six men were arrested – none of them England fans – and are helping police with their inquiries today. Police believe the bitter rivalry between Swansea and Cardiff fans may have led to council official Mr Dye’s death” (Daily Mail, Emily Allen, 8th Sept)
“A FOOTBALL fan battered to death before England’s clash with Wales had links with a notorious hooligan firm. Cardiff City fan Mike
Dye was left to die after a bloody punch-up with supporters of arch-enemies Swansea.
The dad-of-three suffered head injuries in the assault, which triggered a heart attack. He died later in hospital” (Daily Star, Paul Robins, 8th Sept)
”A FANATICAL Cardiff City supporter killed at the England-Wales match was in a fight with Swansea City fans, murder cops believe” (Richard Smith, Daily Mirror, 8th Sept)
After such sensationalised media attention in the national press, which was read by millions of people with no deep or personal knowledge of the rivalry or event, Cardiff City Football Club felt the need to release a statement contradicting the stories from the journalists whom were essentially lying to their readers in an attempt to draft a “juicy’ story. Cardiff stated they “were disappointed to read articles in three national tabloid newspapers this week whereby we feel insensitive and unfounded connections were drawn from the tragic events at Wembley Stadium on September 6th 2011“. They continued that “it is our opinion that The Daily Mirror, The Sun and the Daily Mail have acted insensitively towards the memory of Mike Dye at a time when his family are still in the early stages of mourning their loss. It is also our view that the tabloid attempts to draw TENUOUS connections of possible clashes between Cardiff City and Swansea City supporters at the Wales vs England match come without any direct evidence or basis for doing so, using this as a means to cite ‘Rivalry fury“. The club ended the statement by announcing they would be banning the culprits from the ground as well as reporting them to the Press Complaints Commission in a move no doubt supported by Swansea and Cardiff fans.
To hope that the media change their modus operandi and simply stick to reporting un-sensationalised facts is unreasonable. The industry is too powerful to give even the slightest consideration to people’s feelings and whilst recent censures and court action may ensure drastic lengths such as phone-hacking will seemingly be consigned to history, their method of using gossip and social media rumours to create stories appears to be here to stay regardless of the consequences. To all Swansea and Cardiff fans reading this I personally will be boycotting the above newspapers due to their reporting and hopefully if enough of us do so, although the dent in the companies’ profits may be negligible or minor it will be a display of our unhappiness at how the Media constantly bully their way towards influencing opinions and thoughts of the general public. The death of a man in itself is a tragic event that doesn’t need the stirring of the media to make it into an explosive event that its not. The newspapers quoted above and the respective journalists need to apologise to the fans of Swansea City and Cardiff City for the way they have slandered their reputations and essentially accused them of involvement in a murder, more so since the persons arrested on suspicion of committing the crime are from Worcestershire with no obvious link to either club. As expected however, it appears they will merely refuse to accept any blame for their disrespectful and volatile behaviour. RIP Mike Dye and commendations to Cardiff and Swansea football club and the respective club’s fans for the sensitivity and respect that has surrounded a disastrous and tragic passing of a passionate football and family man.
So I have a random hobby; A hobby that seems utterly left-field considering the macho, sports-driven and party-loving entourage I am often found relaxing with; A hobby that tends to be more popular amongst middle aged tourists from afar with huge paparazzi-like cameras than a local 20-something utilising the full benefits of a small trendy mobile to capture images. The hobby is random, this fact is inescapable.
In pursuit of my hobby the looks I get from dishevelled and sweaty couples struggling with the castle’s demands as I push past them are sometimes bewildering. Despite the fact I’ve barely come 20 miles and they’ve sometimes travelled thousands, I tend to be the person totally out of place best displayed by my lack of cliched tourist baseball cap, packed lunch and various guide books. Yes indeed, Castles appear to be the sole domain of geeks, pensioners and amazed foreigners lost on the historic trail from London.
Curiously I don’t remember having a particular fixation on castles as a child. You do sometimes see children running around dressed up as Knights, with toy swords defending their imaginary kingdoms, but I can’t say that I ever did. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and then Football were the dominating creative outlets throughout my childhood, both of which just reinforces the randomness of this adult obsession of mine. This was evident not many weeks ago on a night out where I grew excited at some ancient ruins in a city centre, captivated by the way this behemoth of a previous time was now absorbed by the modern buildings around it. It did strike me that this is a castle I had previously spent almost two decades aware of, yet totally ignored. Now I can just stop amongst the hectic throng of the inner city crowds and just concentrate fixatedly on the one-time impressive structure. This is no longer an isolated incident, it happens regularly. Every reasonable journey I now take involves Google maps and Wikipedia, pinpointing whether exactly there is a castle worth visiting in the vicinity. If there is one thing working in my favour it is that every night I lay my head to rest in a nation acclaimed as the ‘land of castles’. Wales is readily acknowledged as having more castles per square mile than anywhere else in Europe, a permanent memorial to its turbulent and storied past. The majority of castles that now stand in ruins along the rugged and mountainous terrain of Wales are an acknowledgment of its oppression by its larger neighbour in England, most of them being English creations in the bloody and eventually succesful attempt to bring the Welsh people under their control. Symbols of power, the looming structures were built in many historically strategic points and were the bastions of strength that represented the English Crown in an unruly and hostile area.
Having become initially entranced with this turbulent history of our fascinating nation, researching and enjoying tales of Welsh rebellions and Princes it was natural that the sites of so many of these stories would come to the forefront of this obsession. With a burgeoning feeling of pride in the country, the logical step was to take advantage of the plethora of local history sites during my prolonged absence from work. Everyone in the region where I live is aware of Carreg Cennen Castle but this amazing ancient structure remains almost unloved and lonely within its community, especially amongst the ignorant adolescents. This generation fails to take interest in the architectural wonder that sits almost perilously on a crag cliff high above the fields and hills of rural Carmarthenshire. Sitting on remains on the edge of the deep and dramatic cliff face is a moment of immense serenity, the kind people in the cities pay outlandish fees to receive from their masseuse. Apart from the gale of the wind and the occasional sound of local wildlife, the quiet is intact. If wildlife-inclined, there is also a vast array of various animals that can be sighted, from the high soaring Kite’s or the wild Rabbits that loiter perilously close to the edge of the abyss. Even the breathless walk up to the Castle brings the inevitable contact with rural Welsh sheep, one having to almost chase back the dozens of fluffy ewe’s that block your access to the rubble. The base of the outer walls still stands, entrenched into the limstone precipice onto which it was constructed, and although barely standing a few feet high in many places it does allow one to mentally picture where the castle actually began and ended. Whilst the castle itself (view notwithstanding) is very much the typical norm, one popular part of Carreg Cennen is the dungeon, a sloping descent into darkness made notable for the fact that as one descends into the cliff the small lookholes in the cliff-face again allow magnificent and as yet unrivalled views across the Brecon Beacons. Naturally built with defence and not scenery in mind, the castle stood up to a siege from Owain Glyndwr and his rebellious forces in July 1403, extolling the virtues of building such a structure high above any risk from attack. With the sounds of bowmen, cavalry charges and dying screams long gone, if there is a place to get away from the troubles of the world, to relax with ones thoughts, then on top of a cliff looking out over the Brecon Beacons is up there with the very best National Geographic can offer.
With my local castle undoubtedly being my favourite, there are numerous others I have come across on my travels that deserve some column space. Barely a matter of miles across the Carmarthenshire landscape also lies another castle which whilst not having the scenery of Carreg Cennen does possess a standing of greater historic importance to the region. Dinefwr Castle is situated in the grounds of the National Trust-run Dinefwr park which lies on the edge of Llandeilo town centre and rises above the Towy valley. Noted as the seat of the Principality of Dehubarth, Dinefwr Castle was basically the Medieval equivalent of Buckingham Palace for the Kingdom in which it was situated. Amongst those giants of Welsh history whom came into possession of the esteemed Dinefwr Castle included Hywel Dda, Rhodri the Great, Rhys ap Gryffudd as well as both Llewelyn the Great and Llewelyn the Last. Similar to its sister castle at Carreg Cennen, Dinefwr was yet another castle that was unsuccessfully beseiged by Owain Glyndwr during his attempt to free English rule from Wales. The castle itself is reached by yet another tiring walk to the top although a pleasant one and the castle itself is still in decent shape, the main attraction being the spiral staircase to the top of the keep that allows extensive views of the valley floor that is spread out below the castle. Whilst less to see and do than at Carreg Cennen, Dinefwr is a melancholy place where Kings and Princes used to roam and is therefore worth a visit any time.
North-East Wales can be considered the ‘goldmine’ of Welsh castles, the magnificently massive Conwy Castle and Caernarfon Castle considered national treasures and two infamous tourist destinations. In their shadow somewhat is Harlech Castle, forever immortalised in the military march “Men of Harlech”. Similar to Carreg Cennen, Harlech is also based atop a gigantic cliff albeit a cliff that is not only at the foot of Snowdonia but on the edge of the Irish sea, a strategic position that has played a vital part in the castle’s history. As soon as you step into the town of Harlech the castle dominates the skyline, rising unimaginably high above the street in a way that must have been terrifying for a mediavel people unaccustomed to skyscrapers and their ilk. Build by Edward I as part of his conquest of Wales, the castle was one that was actually captured by Owain Glyndwr who held it between 1404 and 1409. Later still, during the War of the Roses between the vying Royal Houses of Lancaster and York the castle came under siege for Seven Years, the longest such siege in British histor and which thus formed the inspirational basis for the ‘Men of Harlech’ song that has remained in the consciousness of the Welsh to the present day. Perhaps the greatest attribute that Harlech Castle posseses is the impressive and complete gatehouse that greets the visitor, an hulking mass of brick that allows yourself to be transported back to a bygone era as you climb the steps into the castle. A mythological castle in the true heart of Wales.
Travelling further across the green and sloping lands of this small nation, signs for castles are a regular occurrence. Despite the many dozens to choose from and regardless of when they were built, each structure offers a unique and individual history, adding to the poignancy as you explore the remains of what used to be living quarters, prisons and kitchens to whole generations of families. One of the redeeming features for many visitors is the scenes you usually find in Hollywood epics – the castle siege. Every castle has its war history, particularly during the decade of Welsh rebellion at the cusp of the 15th century, led by the aforementioned national patriot Owain Glyndwr. During this period castles were lost and recaptured, and thousands were killed in the process. Indeed these castles are long lost graveyards to the fallen men given the unenviable teak of breeching the mammoth and imposing stone walls in the face of fierce attack. Aside from the symbolism of what these castles stand for, the brutal subjection of the peasants to a higher ruling class, they also offer the chance for childish adventure, a playground of epic proportions for child and adult alike. From discovering the ancient weapons of Caerphilly to climbing the skyscraper-like towers in Harlech, there is nothing like discovering passageways and views for the first time. Yes, a random hobby. But one I truly love.
- Caerphilly Castle
- Cardiff Castle
- St Fagan’s Castle
- Carreg Cennen Castle
- Carmarthen Castle
- Dinefwr Castle
- Dryslwyn Castle
- Kidwelly Castle
- Laugharne Castle
- Llandovery Castle
- Llansteffan Castle
- Harlech Castle
- Raglan Castle
- Carew Castle
- Haverfordwest Castle
- Pembroke Castle
- Picton Castle
- Tenby Castle
- Brecon Castle
- Oxwich Castle
- Weobley Castle
- Oystermouth Castle
- Pennard Castle
- Swansea Castle
- Manorbier Castle
- Llawhaden Castle
- Narbeth Castle
- Lamphey Palace
- Skenfrith Castle
- Ludlow Castle
- Chepstow Castle
Whilst last season’s Swansea City season preview began in a much more sombre and contemplative mood after yet another managerial change, there is indeed only one way to begin the preview for the 2011-2012 season.
“We Are Premier League say We Are Premier League!!!”
An understatement when I say I could chant that for hours on end, the forthcoming season will be one that will never be forgotten by those fans about to witness Swansea’s maiden Premier League campaign. Whilst the initial unabated furore and ecstasy may have dimmed post-Wembley in the midst of what is seemingly the longest pre-season in history the City and County of Swansea has been slowly building up in its excitement at the coming season. No doubt all of this pent-up impatient at the longevity of pre-season is going to erupt in one big explosion of joy at the first home match against Wigan on August 20th. Pre-season has so far consisted of ticketing worries, queues, new merchandise, transfer targets, wage structures, capacity increases, contracts, relegation worries, money worries, tactic questions and much more. Eager doesn’t quite cover the Swansea fanbase’s feelings towards the first game at Manchester City on August 15th.
So what can we expect from this season? Club wise, Swansea City Association Football Club is arguably in its strongest position ever which is an incredible achievement by both fans and board considering it was under a decade when it seemed all was lost. The club is unrecognisable from the mess at the turn of the last decade be it on the pitch, in the stands or in the bank. The Liberty Stadium (capacity concerns or not) is firmly established as the home fortress of the Jack Army and there is surely not many fans who have not become accustomed to the relatively plush and comfortable surroundings that we now enjoy. A reasonably attractive stadium with good views, facilities and structure is just the first embodiment of the new found success of the club. The board are also still in place and whilst the Premier League may be the home of boardroom squabbles, wars and takeovers by foreign investors Swansea City is the admirable exception. With figurehead Huw Jenkins leading the same group of men whom saved the club in 2002 the Club remains in safe and secure hands with the fans still having a major say via the ever-incredible Swansea Trust. The fans have also played their part and although accounting for some loyal fans missing out due to a plethora of reasons the fact that 16,000 season people have signed up to Season Tickets for this coming season is incredible when one recall’s the dreary nights down the Vetch when barely a few thousand people would be present. Voices of discontent have been raised about the new Season Ticket holders and those accused of jumping onto the promotion bandwagon but from a club perspective new fans equals new streams of revenue and all season tickets sold does essentially mean guaranteed income regardless of performance over the next 38 games. What is important and imperative is that entire fanbase remains united for the coming campaign, both with each other and also behind the team and players. Everyone will have to pull together for Swansea to have a fighting chance of remaining in the league and to this end any targetting of certain players will need to be rethought. Another aspect of crowd behaviour will be the need to transform the Liberty into a fortress, an intimidating arena to pampered Premier League stars visiting for the day in any small attempt to throw the opponents off their stride. Who are we?! Jack Army!
Whilst having stability and support in the boardroom is a positive in establishing firm roots for a successful campaign the most important component of any football club is no doubt the playing staff and the management staff. Somewhat ironic considering the trepidation surrounding the start of last season regarding yet another managerial upheaval, Brendan Rodgers’ 12months in the hot seat has been a unanimous success. Essentially a back-up choice when appointed last summer amidst a plethora of managerial candidates that came and went from the interview room, Brendan has seemingly found the perfect position to display the potential he first showed on the backroom staff during the Jose Mourinho Chelsea era. There have been a few murmurs of disapproval during a couple of games here and there but the vast majority of his maiden campaign was almost flawless in its implementation, two notable but ultimately irrelevant losses being the League Cup exit to Wigan and the home loss to arch rivals Cardiff. Rodgers came with an impressive pedigree only slightly tarnished by a 6-month spell at Reading. With a tactical nous cultivated under the tutelage of Mourinho in his previous guise as Chelsea coach, “Buck” Rodgers has managed to seamlessly blend the attacking qualities of Roberto Martinez to the defensive strength of Paulo Sousa’s style. The football is once again a joy to watch with a generally stern defence adding a secure base from which to launch wave’s of attack via the midfield. With Rodgers’ impressive grounding at Chelsea an obvious advantage, it has also exposed Swansea to his contacts and the opportunity to increase the calibre of transfer targets, imperative to help the club move onto the next level. With Sousa’s European super-pedigree it was a disappointment that his so-called contacts never materialised, Rodgers already proving himself in the acquisition of Scott Sinclair and loanee Fabio Borini. Almost everything Rodgers does at the moment is impressive, including the courteous and personable way he handles the media. Friendly, accessible and even charitable, Rodgers is a manager building his reputation not just as a footballing coach but also as a man the Jack Army are happy to have leading them. A further plus to the Rodgers appointment appears to be his man-management skills, in particular re invigorating peripheral players such as Mark Gower and Alan Tate as well the continued progress of Joe Allen and Neil Taylor. The coming season is no doubt going to see the man from Carnlough in Ireland further cement his burgeoning reputation as a manager on the rise whatever happens and with that first trophy in his repatoire he will undoubtedly be eager to test himself against greats such as Kenny Dalglish, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson. Manager-wise, Swansea are in the best position they can possibly be in my opinion; a manager whom feels at home in the area and respects the local working class mentality, a manager whom understands the fabled “Swansea way” of free flowing and attacking football and finally a manager whom has already been more successful than any other in history in reaching the top division (Toshack withstanding ofcourse and even that wasn’t the treasure chest that is the Premier League).
Moving onto the squad, its a big ask for any team coming into the Premier League from below to instantly have a squad of proven top-level quality and the gulf in class will normally point towards a swift return whence the club came from without substantial outlay. That being said, Swansea’s style is very much based on the overall quality of the team rather than the component parts. Mediocre players elsewhere are transformed when put into the Swansea system and equally seemingly spectacular performers lose their way once transferred out. Looking at the retained basis of the squad first of all, a major plus is the retaining of defensive colossus Ashley Williams. Strong as an ox and a vocal point in the start of Swansea’s passing game out of defence, Welsh international Williams has improved with each season he’s been in a white shirt and has seemingly come into his peak in time with his first opportunity at the top level. Captain Garry Monk and loyal servant Alan Tate remain ever present within the club although playing time this season may be restricted to a rotation and substitute basis which in itself still ensures they remain an integral part of the coming campaign. Either side of the central defence will see Angel Rangel in the right back position he has undoubtedly made his own in the last 5 years whilst the improving Neil Taylor will start on the left. Despite his now fractured relationship with the fans over the flirtation with Newcastle Taylor is a player on the rise and his attacking mentality from the back always adds another facet to the Swans offensive. A minor worry is that cover for the wing backs is scarce and Jazz Richards seems to be MIA under the Rodgers regime whilst other defensive cover will come in the guise of the club’s youngsters such as Daniel Alfei and Joe Walsh. The midfield is undoubtedly the strongest part of the Swans team, normally the section of the squad responsible for the majority of the wins last season. The fulcrum of the team will include the ever impressive Leon Britton who has been a man rejuvenated following his mediocre 6-month spell in Yorkshire last season as well as Joe Allen whom is again progressing into an important homegrown talent that will hopefully be at the heart of Swansea and Wales for years to come. Kemy Agustien has also been impressive in pre-season and there is a hope despite alleged issues with his mentality that this is the season the tank of a Dutchmen fulfils the obvious potential he has, whilst Thomas Butler, Shaun MacDonald, David Cotterill will take a backseat. Regardless of signings there is a feeling that the most important newcomer to the squad this season will be the seemingly fit Ferrie Bodde, returning hopefully for the last time from yet another disastrous knee injury. Epic pre-injury, there has always been a sense that Bodde was always a Premier League quality player trading in leagues below his talent and his comeback could prove to be absolutely vital in adding some steel to a team expected to be in a relegation dogfight. Mark Gower has been retained and whilst age is now beginning to work against him as well as the promotion possibly being one too many the basic usefulness of the utility player (he played 42 games last season) will once again ensure he will be as vital to the match day squad as Tate is to the defence. Coming to the club from League 1 will be Ryan Harley and although clearly a talented player the step up of two divisions may initially prove too big to expect match-winning displays immediately, the substitutes bench possibly becoming a regular haunt for the ex-Exeter man along with Andy Orlandi.
With the attacking third being where Swansea’s patient build up play turns dangerous and manifests itself in relentless punishment, the importance of central attacking midfielder Stephen Dobbie with Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair either side can’t be underestimated. Farmed out on loan two seasons ago to Blackpool, Dobbie has been recreated as an exciting and creative force, the Glaswegian becoming the vital conduit between the ball-winning midfielders and the goal. After last season’s goalscoring exploits and more importantly the Wembley hat-trick Scott Sinclair is the poster boy of the club and the man with all the media attention but for actual displays Nathan Dyer arguably outperformed the former Chelsea trainee last season albeit without the end product, an ongoing issue that is thankfully rendered somewhat irrelevant by sheer chances created. The pure pace and skillful ball control from both will be an important tactic in achieving victories this season, their penetrating runs past confused and humiliated wing backs often the source of Swansea goals. Whilst lacking an out and out goalscorer last season up front was Swansea’s weakness until the inspirational loan signing of Fabio Borini added an extra impetus however he was lost to Parma during the pre season with the Swans unable to clinch the signing of the loanee. Still on the clubs books but looking at reduced playing time this season injuries and suspensions not withstanding are Craig Beattie and Luke Moore, both of whom in my opinion will not offer the goals needed.
Whilst the core of the above squad is in place signings this pre season have also been imperative and if the unreliable national press are to be believe it has been a busy time for Swansea, the board and related agents. Speculation aside there have been a number of new recruits secured, each of whom can expect to be in contention for the first team. One glaring omission from above was the lack of Goalkeepers and this has been the most worrying position. With the shocking defection of Dorus de Vries to Wolverhampton Wanders for no discernible reason other than financial the club have been scouring Europe for a replacement. One signing has been Jose Moreira from Benfica whom comes with an impressive pedigree however if short pre-season outings are anything to go by the Portuguese looks to be a back-up keeper and no more albeit definitely ahead of youngster David Cornell. Not confirmed at time of press, it appears that Swansea’s number one this season will be Dutch international keeper Michel Vorm, a player with an even more impressive resume and whom was part of the Holland World Cup squad whom were beaten finalists in South Africa 12months ago. Coming into defence to slot in next to Ashley Williams is on-loan Steven Caulkner from Tottenham Hotspur, a tall and solid centre back tipped as a potential future England international and looking to get vital Premier League experience in a similar way to Jack Wilshere at Bolton two seasons ago. Although only 19 years old, the 6 ft 3 was considered to be one of the best performers in the Championship last year whilst on loan to Bristol City and has all the credentials to be an impressive performer over the next 38 games. As consistent and dynamic the wingers were last season there was no credible back up or replacement on either flank which has been rectified with the eventual signing of Wayne Routledge from Newcastle. Although never quite living up to early promise at Crystal Palace, the utility winger has still built a solid career at lower Premier League, top Championship level and will clearly contribute a number of goals and assists in the coming season as well as being one of the few players in the squad with valuable top tier experience. With the aforementioned issues up front from last season strikers were also another priority and the early and record signing of Championship top-scorer Danny Graham went some way to establishing the intent of the club to do all they can to retain top flight status next season. £3.5m clinched the signing and with his first goal in the pre-season game against Real Betis showing the lethal finishing that made him head and shoulders above the rest of the Championship last season even in a struggling squad, hopes are high for the North-Easter to make the increasingly difficult step up in class that has been too much for many previous hotshots. Another striker signing from the Championship albeit with Premier League experience is the enthusiastic bundle of energy that is Leroy Lita. Whilst not the most prolific of strikers, a roughly one in two tally throughout his career is enough to qualify Lita as a legitimate threat and he will battle with Graham for the sole striker slot in Rodgers’ formation.
The squad does require fine tuning in certain areas such as wing back but with the goalkeeper situation seemingly resolved the team that will be Wales’ first ever Premier League combatants is now shaped. Fourfourtwo magazine predicted the Swans will finish 17th whilst almost every other preview has them down before the season begins, seemingly comparisons to Blackpool going up and down being enough to satisfy most pundits. This Swansea team is better than last years Blackpool team and whilst I personally think a season of highs, lows and ups and downs will eventually result in a close-fought relegation battle we have as much chance of staying in the league as do around 5 or 6 other teams. One worry is that last season the relegation battle went down to the last few minutes of the season and with that in mind Swansea’s last two games of their maiden Premier League campaign are against Liverpool and Manchester United. A strong start is imperative to build morale but April is going to be a month that will make or break the season. The first 6 games include, amongst Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, three winnable games in Wigan, Sunderland and West Brom and points in these games are a must. As Blackpool established last season winning at the big boys and losing to the perennial struggler’s is by no means a way out of trouble. The free flowing possession game that has become the Swansea way is here to stay however there will be a need for increased doggedness and the ability to grind out results more than ever before. Will the Swans do it? Can they do it? Either way, its going to be an historic and exciting campaign unlike one we may ever experience again.
A controversial subject that has gone through many ups and downs over the last few years has once again erupted into a verbal battlefield this month as the opposing factions play a game of ‘he says, she says’ over the contentious issue of a united Great Britain and Northern Ireland football team.
Some are for, some are against. All have opinions. The core of the issue is whether the four separate Football Associations within the United Kingdom should combine to field a representative team at next years London Olympics with the argument being that it would be a popular attraction for the fans to see a “fantasy” team represent the British people. First raised as a possibility in the run-up to and immediately after the 2005 announcement that the British Olympic Association (BOA) had won the race to host the 2012 Olympics, the United Kingdom team has been anything but united. Supporters of the team have regularly stated that this would be a one-off opportunity to put forward a competitive team in a home-based international tournament that would no doubt capture the support and goodwill of the entire nation whilst casting aside any regional differences. Surely if the British and Irish Lions can come together every four years and battle courageously why can’t the football teams join for a one-off competition they argue.
As a Welsh football fan, like many but it must be said not all Welsh fans, I am firmly against this team being created and if it must go ahead then it should have no Welsh representation or be on behalf of Wales. There are various reasons for this and I must admit here that as a Welsh nationalist and someone with separatist leanings with regards to the British union I personally can not and will not support a combined representative team. My own politics will not allow me to follow and support a premise that is against what I passionately belief in. That is for another article however and concentrating on solely footballing matters there are other, more valid reasons for the rejecting of a tacky, politically and geographically-incorrectly named TeamGB football team. The biggest concern to those against the idea is that it can be detrimental and perhaps even fatal to not only the independent status of the Welsh national football team but also to the English, Northern Irish and Scottish team as well. Dismissed by some as paranoia and scaremongering by others, the threat is a very real one and is more than capable of being carried out by the powerbrokers that waddle through FIFA headquarters in Geneva.
The four constituent nations of the United Kingdom each have their own football teams and have had so since the inception of international football in the 19th century. What many people on this isle don’t realise is that according to the FIFA statutes this shouldn’t necessarily be the case as to become a FIFA member each nation must be ratified and recognised by the United Nations as an independent country. In our case the nation is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and not the separate nations that make up the state. The fact that the so-called Home Nations not only play sanctioned and therefore official international football but can also compete in World Cups and European Championships is a bitter issue for many of the World’s burgeoning and newer nations who feel they are losing out on qualification spots to nations that shouldn’t be competing. There are also additional feelings of anger towards the status the home nations have from the various autonomous but not independent regions throughout the globe whom are left on the sidelines playing meaningless unsanctioned friendlies, examples being the Spanish duo Catalonia and the Basque Country, both of whom arguably have greater power within their respective state’s than any of the home nations have. Each dissenting nation or would-be nation feels it is unfair that the UK essentially has four attempts at qualifying for tournaments in their various guises and if they have to play by the strict rules then so should the home nations. The main reason that the home nations are each permitted to field individual representative sides, apart from the obvious historical fact of being existing and competing teams decades before the game took off on a global status, is that in 1947 the four associations collectively saved FIFA from bankruptcy in the post-war environment and therefore were rewarded with an official FIFA statute protecting their privileged status as independent footballing nations.
The second controversial aspect of the existence of the home nations as separate, competing nations is the fact that the four associations are integral in maintaining the laws of the game and are therefore de facto leaders of the World game along with FIFA. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is a committee that determines how the game is run and the council consists of the Football Association (England), the Football Association of Wales, the Scottish Football Association, the Irish Football Association and FIFA. The home nations each carry one vote each and FIFA carries four. What this essentially means is for a law to be passed FIFA requires the other nations to agree in order to reach a majority vote and as such is powerless to enact any changes it feels are warranted without the input of the other associations. Naturally for an organisation such as FIFA this is a wielding of power that it would rather it could do without and the obvious way around this would be to render the separate associations extinct by combining them into one association. Tied into this issue is the envious fact that the home nations automatically provide the FIFA vice-president, essentially the number 2 man below the incumbent President which is currently the controversial Sepp Blatter.
Regardless of Blatter’s recent quotes suggesting FIFA would be willing to accept a one-off British team with no consequence to the home nations, the words of a man currently in the midst of a major corruption controversy are not something we will accept in good faith. Particularly when Blatter has contradicted his own promises on numerous occasions previously, not least in March 2008. He claimed “If you start to put together a combined team for the Olympics, the question will automatically come up that there are four different associations so how can they play in one team?”, reinforcing a point he had previously raised about the unusual status of international football within Great Britain. As head honcho within FIFA and naturally power-selfish, Blatter has a vested interest in ended the individual British teams. It would end the influence and hold the historic associations have over FIFA via their positions on the IFAB board as well as enabling Blatter or his successor to input their own man as Vice President as opposed to having a Briton foisted upon them. It is foolish to even consider FIFA have not explored this possible outcome and considered it attractive. Voting and supporting “TeamGB” premise is comparable to the old adage of Turkeys voting for Christmas. If the team goes ahead and is successful then FIFA has the ammunition it needs to put forward a motion to disband the individual teams. If TeamGB can obviously work together for an Olympics tournament then surely it can work together on a permanent basis they will argue. From an English FA and English supporters point of view this doesn’t seem to be of particular worry. As the largest and most well known association there is the obvious worry that they will dominate the future TeamGB in a similar way they do with the England Cricket Team where all Welsh involvement has been absorbed and deleted. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish are no doubt proud of their individual cultures and will not want to see it eroded into an English-concept of Britishness on the national football stage. Which anthem will be played? Which badge? Flag? Kit colours? Home ground? Fans? A British national team will become the English national team in another guise and will leave the other home nations excluded. If you are a passionate supporter of your country and want to continue supporting your own team like generations before you then you should be against this outrageous gimmick. No to Team GB.
After months of searching for an artist or band that is worthy of our loyal and supportive fans, Party on the Pitch 2011 is proud, pleased and excited to announce the new headline act for this year’s event – teenage sensations Twenty Twenty!
With their status as a band on the cusp of exploding onto the nation’s psyche, the Party on the Pitch committee are undoubtedly optimistic about the appearance of Britain’s hottest new band and are confident they will indeed rock the crowd under the summer Sun come June 18th! Previous headliners have tended to be well known names who are no longer at their artistic peak and whilst they have ensured each year has been a memorable event this year it is felt that will go with a band who are on their way up as opposed to the way down. Indeed, if respected music critics are to be believed we may well soon be remembering the day we saw superstars Twenty Twenty at Party on the Pitch before they hit stardom!
Rapidly rising through the underground since their formation in 2009, Twenty Twenty consists of bass player Jack, his guitar playing brother Sam and Sunny on the drums with all three sharing the vocals. Very much a combination of pop-rock and pop-punk, the band have quickly built up an image as a group with a similar style and sound to chart-toppers McFly and Busted and are considered by afficionados to be primed for even greater success than their trend-setting predecessors.
Hailing from Essex and Cambridge, the band was created when drummer Sam was introduced to the Halliday brothers in early 2009 and their similar styles have subsequently meshed into such an addictive and mellow pop-rock sound they have quickly amassed a burgeoning reputation for their live show best encapsulated by their 72,000 faithful fans on Facebook, in addition to 25,000 followers on their Twitter. Creating the name Twenty Twenty as a in-joke relating to the time on the clock (it was 7.40pm, 20 minutes to the 20th hour!), the 3 eager lads have built up an impressive resume as an independent touring band and have immersed themselves into the music industry with hard work and preservation. As well as their own headline tour across the nation the boys also have supported an array of British stars on their own tours, including The Saturdays, The Wanted, JLS, McFly, Selena Gomez and The Sugababes.
As well as achieving hits on music TV channels such as The Box and Chart Show TV with their own independently created music videos the band also reached number four in the UK Music DVD charts with their own release “Get Down Live With Twenty Twenty”, rubbing shoulders with mega-money releases from U2 and Michael Jackson. Impressing sufficiently with their artistic performances and music, the band have now been snapped up by major label Geffen Records and with a professional organisation between them the band are aiming for chart domination. Their quest is underway with their new single “Love to Life” being released on 17th April followed up by a mini-album they put out at the end of the month. As described by one entertainment website, ” ‘Love To Life’ is an infectious cocktail of rock and pop featuring an indelible melody, an anthemic sing-along chorus and soaring guitar riffs”.
We’re excited to have the up-and-coming band performing and to see a performance you may one day be telling your grandchildren about, they will be live at Tycroes RFC’s annual Party on the Pitch this June 18th. We’re not the only ones excited about the performance. Lead singer Sam stated that he “Really excited to get back to South Wales to play to our Welsh fans!”, suggesting a sensation set from a band riding a wave of public support to the top of the industry.
Tickets will soon be made available through numerous outlets, with a strictly limited number of Early Bird Tickets priced at a bargain £15 for adults and £10 for children, a saving of £3 per person compared to Standard Tickets(6 and under can even go free!). Judging by the significant interest already experienced, the tickets are expected to sell quickly, therefore it is recommended to pick them up soon to not miss out on the place to be this June 18th. More information can be found on the official Facebook site (
) or the Official website at www.thepartyonthepitch.com
At its heart, Wales is a socialist country with a history and culture steeped in the advancement of equality regardless of background or class. The valley’s are old Labour strongholds and the country is the home of the great health reformer Nye Bevan who initiated the NHS to allow free medical care for all. It is therefore not unusual to encounter that old bastion of socialist control that is rife throughout Wales in the guise of a committee and its members. With rugby union being vastly played across the South Welsh region for example, every club is seemingly run by the omnipresent and mysterious “committee”, a gathering of people elevated to such a position to ensure the smooth running and advancement of their organisation whilst ensuring no one person gains total control and thus preventing any dictatorships.
Committees and their purpose are not only restricted to rugby union. Indeed, there are committee’s to be found in politics, corporations, academia and even organised crime in an effort to quell any issues or to make decisions upon a vote. With the amount of members varying accordingly depending on size of the committee or organisation involved, nevertheless they are designed to ensure the best possible action is taken on the basis that most, if not all, voting members concur on a specific issue.
With this in mind, why does the Football Association of Wales continue to be controversial in both its policies and actions. Surely a committee or council-based organisation is designed to eliminate such sentiments and ensure the smooth running for the good of its aims. The FA, that is the English Football Association, is no stranger to controversy itself but as a whole the organisation tends to do its job well without bringing the sport into blatant disrepute. Its points of criticism tend to revolve around everyday footballing matters such as yellow cards, goal line technology or manager disobedience regarding refereeing decisions.
The most recent outrage regarding the FAW was the ridiculous ticket fiasco for the European Championship qualifier between Wales and England. With the clubs employed as “ticketing agents” for the fixture to ensure all stubs were sold to genuine Welsh football fans, Newport County and Wrexham were outraged to learn that the tickets they had sold to their fans did not actually exist and due to a system error the FAW had in fact oversold 1,500 tickets. These phantom tickets no doubt caused a lot of consternation amongst both Welsh and English fans who were under the assumption that they had secured entry to the highly anticipated international derby match in Cardiff and ensure the credibility of the organisation took yet another large hit.
Indeed, regarding an England-Wales qualifying game this is not the first time the FAW has received a plethora of negative press. During the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign the cross-border rivals met at Old Trafford and a trip to the Theatre of Dreams was once again high on all Welsh fans lists. Instead of pandering to this demand from hardcore and loyal Welsh fans, each of the 27 men were given 50 tickets each of an already limited away allocation to distribute as they saw fit. An outrageous and very generous gift indeed.
A further criticism levelled at the FAW is its questionable disciplinary processes. Bangor FC are currently in dispute with the organisation after they took seven weeks to hit captain Jamie Brewerton with a 5-match ban. The outraged club point towards their English equivalent’s 2 day process to ban Wayne Rooney and have demanded answers into why it has taken so long to ban their integral defender. The most infamous of the FAW’s disciplinary methods occurred in 2008 and revealed to the majority of British football what Welsh fans were already aware of. An accusation levelled at the FAW for a long time has been that they are pro-Cardiff City and they did not help these claims with the overturning of Cardiff captain Darren Purse’s ban just before the club’s appearance in the 2008 FA Cup Final. Sent off for a challenge on Burnley’s Andrew Cole in a league game, it was very much expected that the defender would justifiably miss the season showpiece and thus greatest day in his club’s history due to a warranted suspension. The tackle itself was described as the worst tackle the ex-Manchester United and England star had received throughout his illustrious career and left Cole needing 10 stitches. With all Welsh clubs coming under the jurisdiction, including those whom play in the English pyramid, the suspension and discipline was left to the FAW as in all previous and subsequent cases. In an astonishing and seemingly blatant occurrence of bias and favouritism the expected 3-game suspension was evaporated as the FAW rescinded the red card and overturned the referee’s decision, cue incredulity from cup final opposing manager Harry Redknapp. Their cause was not helped with the allegations that of the three-man panel, at least one was a Cardiff season ticket holder and had been a regular for the past four years.
A further inflammatory action of the FAW and yet another feather in the caps of Anti-FAW protesters within close confines of the Liberty Stadium is the 3-match banning of Swansea’s Alan Tate in December 2010. Tate was dismissed after a fracas with QPR’s Clint Hill and whilst the sending-off is technically a ban the FA decided common sense was needed after QPR appealed and Hill’s red card was rescinded. Tate’s however was not after their equivalent appeal was put to the FAW, raising the ire of Brendan Rodgers.
The FAW have an un desired reputation of amateur idiocy as well as very much being a “jobs for the boyo’s” environment. They fail to run the Welsh national team with any confidence or professionally and treat its member clubs within the English football hierarchy with any respect. Rodgers himself was distinctly unimpressed when he received an invite to an awards dinner from the FAW with an invitation addressed to previous incumbent Paulo Sousa, who had vacated the Swansea hotseat four months previously. Swansea City and Cardiff City have in recent times become contenders for promotion to the FA Premier League and should either or both be successful, it will be interesting to see how the FAW’s procedures cope under the immensely stressful spotlight that accompanies the world’s most infamous league. Time to leave the FAW for the big two? As someone who identifies as a Welsh nationalist I find it sad that I feel for the advancement of Swansea City and Cardiff City they need to throw away the shackles of a dinosaur organisation and look towards getting on a more sound footing with the FA, who whilst may not be perfect at least treat their member clubs with something approaching professionalism, clarity and equality. Corrupt? possibly. Amateurs…definitely
Wales vs England. England vs Wales. An historical rivalry that has bred centuries of enmity, hatred and banter in one of the United Kingdom’s many internal cultural quirks. With one nation dominating the other in all aspects from Politics and Economics to Sports and Media the rivalry between both is intensified depending on which side of Offa’s Dyke you emanate from. Those from England tend to view the Welsh as irritating serial moaners with a passion for sheep whilst the Welsh view their neighbours with the kind of hatred often seen in such situations where a smaller people are in the shadow of their larger counterpart. Basically outright hatred of all things English.
And so the Anglo-Welsh hostilities begin again this weekend just a mere month after the equally vicious rugby version ceased in the aftermath of the Six Nations opener on February 4th. The Millennium Stadium will play host to the first of two Wales vs England games in Group G of the Euro 2012 Qualifying game and prove to be an invigorating renewal of an ancient duel. On paper England win this tie every single time without exerting too much effort such is their superiority in population and financial terms, the Premier League the juggernaut of talent for which sustains England’s standing towards the upper echelons of the football world. Yet this is a derby regardless of importance from the English point of view and in all derby’s it becomes a more complicated issue rather than just who is technically better. Passion plays a big part be it from within the player’s makeup or via the terraces. A vitriolic atmosphere can even affect even the greatest of players and be a big turning point in any game. One only has to remember how unfancied Northern Ireland defeated England 1-0 at Windsor Park in 2005 with a squad full of lower league journeymen.
So let’s take a look at the game itself. With the first 72,000 sell out at the Millennium Stadium since the last game vs England back in 2005 a lot has changed in the intervening period. Wales is very much a team attempting to rebuild after the ultimately disappointing reign under John Toshack where they fell 50 plus places down the FIFA ratings and have already played and lost 3 games in the current campaign. A little more than a shambles would be polite about the state of Welsh football and fan antipathy has led to dwindling attendances and interest in the national team. England are also somewhat a team under pressure. Their World Cup campaign was a disgrace as is the baffling decisions of Fabio Capello in making controversial decisions such as recently re-installing John Terry as his captain after previously sacking him. Going back to the emphasis of this game being a derby, Wales will certainly feel they have a chance by capitalising on the uncertainty and continuous media barracking of their opposition.
Although strength is lacking, the Welsh first team, when fully fit, is certainly a team that should be punching a lot higher than it currently does and with a new manager in charge in Gary Speed expectations are becoming slightly more optimistic. The headliners in the new forward-looking Wales team are unsurprisingly Gareth Bale and new captain Aaron Ramsey, one of whom is currently considered one of the best players in the world and the other not far from reclaiming his pre-injury status of the most promising youngster in British football. With Bale out injured for this game the focus will be on Caerphilly-born Ramsey and his ability to handle the magnitude of pressure that is going to be placed on his young shoulders as leader is going to be imperative if Wales are to come close to getting anything out of this game. He will be relied on to be pulling the strings and will have ensure he dominates the centre of the park to nullify England. With Bale now out Wales’ attacking options have become limited. Craig Bellamy will be hyped up more than usual for this game and the man with an Owain Glyndwr tattoo on his forearm will be vital to Wales’ goalscoring prowess even if his career appears to be a decline from even 2 years ago. If Bellamy has a good day on the peripheral of the Wales attack then he is capable of anything, his pace no doubt a worry to a lacklustre and at times creaky England defence.
Going through the Welsh team, all players will need to have the game of their career for the Red Dragon’s to come out of this with at least a point. Wayne Hennessey is already a seasoned Premier League keeper at the relatively young age of 24 and is the possessor of 29 caps making him a solid and dependable link in the Wales team. Nottingham Forest’s Chris Gunter is equally another relatively safe and dependable youngster with a large amount of caps for his age but will need to ensure he isn’t dragged out of position as the game wears on as even once will see him punished fatally by a rapid England midfield including Adam Johnson and Aaron Lennon. The same can be said of the full Welsh defence whom ever starts, all dependable and consistent at a lower Premier League or Championship level but all whom will have to raise their game dramatically to keep Rooney and Friends quiet. Ashley Williams will want to prove that he can handle top level attackers with ease as he has consistently managed to do at Championship level with Swansea City and James Collins and Danny Gabbidon will be looking for another infamous addition to their international repatoire to add to victories over Italy and Germany back in 2002.
It is in midfield that the Welsh are particularly blessed and providing maximum potential is fulfilled they will have a middle of the park to rival most countries over the next decade. 20-year-old Ramsey has fellow youngsters Andy King and Joe Allen pushing for starts on the back of impressive club form for Leicester and Swansea respectively whilst it is often overlooked that experienced Celtic player Joe Ledley is still only 24. This is made even more impressive when you consider that West Ham’s quality youngster Jack Collison is out injured for this game as well as the aforementioned Gareth Bale. Backing up the kids on saturday will be the rejuvenated David Vaughan who is catching a second wind as part of Blackpool’s fairytale season and will be the player keeping everything ticking along nicely and keeping possesion whilst the flair players around him attempt to unlock the English gate.
Upfront Wales have always had a stellar cast of Championship level strikers but its not since John Hartson retired that they have had a true top level goalscorer. Starting on Saturday will most likely be Londoner Steve Morison who has been impressive for Millwall this season and will be aiming to score against his birth-country. A great finisher but not the quickest, if Morison finds himself through on goal Wales will find themselves with one on the board and his energy and workrate will be vital in finding free space.
Man for man Wales fall short but with a new regime in charge who have worked with the team on matters of Welsh pride and the national anthem, the Dragon’s fans will no doubt be quietly confident of a calamitous upset to be talked about for generations. The English players will have played in a sold out Millennium stadium in the past during club cup finals so it is imperative the fans provide a hostile and partisan welcome to unnerve the opposition. Every little advantage will need to go Wales way as well as 100% from each and every player. Saturday proves to be a wonderful occasion and a rare moment to look forward to in an international calendar that has been lacking outside of championship years.
An upset or a thrashing? The bookies will no doubt be going for a comfortable England victory and common sense would suggest this is the likely outcome but the underdog has come out victorious before. In 7 previous World Cup or European Championship Qualifiers the English have won 6 and the other was a 1-1 draw back in 1973 and despite two infamous victories in the early 1980′s history is also against the men in red. With an emphasis on the lack of passion Welsh footballers apparently have for representing their country I gladly point them to an infamous pre-match pep talk given by Rugby legend Phil Bennett minutes before the England vs Wales clash in 1977.
“Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and only live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon”.
Pob Lwc Cymru!
Charity is a subject close to the hearts of many. With the 4th annual Party on the Pitch event taking place on June 18th the community based event will once again strengthen its bond with the local people by teaming up with a local charity to ensure that despite the amazing growth and success of the event, it will never lose sight of its humble beginnings. A great by-product of the way Party on the Pitch has expanded is that the event is now in a position to support local charities that do vital work in the surrounding area as well as endeavouring to help in any way possible.
Noticing the work she has done in recent times and wishing to provide an ample platform for even further magnificent efforts, this year Party on the Pitch is proud to announce that our official charity will be the sensational Sue Ladd and her wonderful charity “Sue Ladd and Friends”. Sue is a local woman who is well known in the community for the amazing fund-raising she has done on behalf of Breast Cancer, her efforts resulting in thousands of pounds being raised to help battle the disease.
Sue’s journey began with the shattering discovery in July 2004 that she was suffering from Breast Cancer and she was understandably shaken from the diagnosis. Undergoing treatment from specialist Breast Care nurses at Llanelli’s Prince Phillip Hospital as well rigorous Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy at Swansea’s Singleton Hospital, Sue was remarkably cleared to return to work a mere 8 months after her operation. After her brush with the condition as well as her debt of gratitude to those whom treated her, Sue was spurred on to help in any way she could and subsequently “Sue Ladd and Friends” was born. As she herself states, “There are many ways you can react to this experience but I felt I had to do something positive such as fund raising. This was to have a two-fold motive: raising money for Prince Phillip and Singleton as well as raising public awareness of this condition”
Sue and her friends have been successful in achieving both of their aims. As well as increasing awareness of breast cancer in the Amman Valley they have raised substantial amounts of donations for the Prince Phillip Breast Care Unit and the Chemotherapy Unit of Singleton in order to help other sufferers of the disease receive the best possible medical care available. Medical equipment is very expensive and in these difficult times charitable donations are vital to help provide top level care. At time of press, Sue Ladd and friends have raised £76,000 and the charity has handed over an astonishing £45,000 between Prince Phillip and Singleton. More is sure to be raised from future activities, including the well-supported 2011 Charity Ribbon Race. Not only that, Sue has also got together with a few friends to create a wonderful support network within the area for people who have suffered from Cancer, the Penybanc Breast Cancer Support Group meeting on the last wednesday of each month to give help, advice and information to those in need of support. On top of this exemplary generosity the charitable exploits don’t stop there. They have also generously donated to other local charities as a thank you for all the help and support they themselves have received and to give something back to the local community from which they are based.
Breast Cancer can afflict women of all ages and is therefore vital that women know of the signs. Sue Ladd and Friends will have a stall at this years Party on the Pitch to help publicise their cause as well as raise awareness amongst attendees about the importance of regular check-up’s. The wonderful volunteers that help Sue reach such impressive goals will also be wandering around the field so if you come across one of the pink shirts please give generously as we all know of someone affected by such a disease and all donations are vital in the eternal battle against cancer. The stall will also be prominently featured so pop over at any time for a chat with Sue for information on how you can help, or be helped.
For further information on the work that Sue Ladd and Friends undertakes in their valiant fundraising attempts please visit http://www.sueladdandfriends.co.uk and pledge any support you can for a fantastic and worthwhile cause. As the charity motto states, “together we can find a cure”. Information on Party on the Pitch in general can be found at www.thepartyonthepitch.com .
On Thursday 3rd March, Wales will once again flock to the polling booths to place their votes in the 2011 Welsh referendum and will have a big say in the way future generations of their families are governed. Conveniently taking place just two days after St David’s Day, the occasion will go a long way to determining the current mindset of the Welsh people after years of London-imposed policies have greatly affected the nation and not necessarily for the better. Self-rule or remain on Westminster’s leash? Decisions are to be made.
There is no greater threat to the democracy of a nation than the apathy of the voters, low turnout occasionally helping to transform election results that otherwise may have gone differently had people used their voting right. Such an issue may creep up with this referendum next week, low voter turn out becoming an accepted inevitability due to the confusion and perhaps ignorance of the people about what exactly the vote is for. There appears to be a feeling of nonchalance towards the voting by a vast cross-section of those eligible to voice their opinion via the ballot, many unsure of what the National Assembly for Wales exactly does and how voting will change this. Surely all politicians are merely fiddling their expenses, the Yes vote is for sign-painting nationalists who occupy hillside farms and the No vote is what normal realistic folk who understand how Wales would crumble without England is for?
The reality is of course radically different from the stereotypes the general public may have pictured and for a campaign in which no public funding has been made available it has been hard work to change these opinions although the Yes For Wales group have worked tirelessly through leaf-letting and social media. So why vote Yes?
Perhaps the most clear indicator to the newcomer of why Yes is the correct way to go is by viewing the political allegiances of the campaigns. Whilst the No campaign, entitled TrueWales, encompasses independents and a few rogue Labour and Conservative members the Yes for Wales campaign is headed by a unique and extremely rare alliance of all four major political parties. Perhaps one party can be misguided. But can all four?
Yet what is the vote actually for and why are the parties so eager to throw away traditional rivalry to cooperate for a Yes vote? The current incarnation of the National Assembly for Wales was inaugurated following the 1997 referendum and was created to devolve certain powers from the Welsh Office and Secretary State for Wales to Cardiff. Recognised as a possible tentative step towards further or full law making powers by many, the truth is that the Assembly has remained limited in what it can do and is essentially kept on a close leash by the puppet masters in Westminster. Currently, Scotland and Northern Ireland have the power in their devolved to act without input from the UK Government. Although granted certain decision-making powers in some aspects of Welsh governance, any requests to change laws or to establish new ones must currently be escalated for authorisation by Whitehall, an expensive and time-consuming process that can take years to grant. This process is currently entitled Legislative Competence Orders (LCO) and were introduced four years ago as a way for Wales to propose its own laws in the fields that were devolved to the Assembly a decade ago. The 20 devolved areas that the Welsh Assembly currently has power to propose legislation for includes Education, Health, Tourism, Transport and Agriculture, important subjects that have a direct impact on many Welsh citizen’s lives.
Voting Yes on 3rd March will be enable the Assembly to gloriously consign these restrictive LCO’s to the political scrapheap. Allowing decisions to be made and actioned in the Senedd without begging Whitehall for permission will enable Wales to grow in all aspects, particularly in allowing Welsh laws to be tailored to the needs of Welsh people and implemented instantly as opposed to lengthy three-year hold-up’s at the back of the Whitehall priority queue.
Essentially, voting Yes for Wales will enable the nation to stand on its own two feet as well as allowing the nation more responsibility to govern itself in a way to guarantee Wales receives what Wales needs as opposed to what London allows. Wales needs a stronger voice to help defend her people against the outrageous recent UK Governmental cuts which has severely affected the already suffering working classes of the country. Such vital public services like the Newport Passport Office or environmental projects like the Severn Barrage have been ruthlessly axed from London with no input from the Welsh people affected from such actions. Only Welsh people use the highly regarded S4C channel and in many cases this provides a vital and necessary service to certain sections of the population in a way that BBC1 does for the rest of the nation. This has not prevented the savage cuts imposed on the flagship Welsh language channel from being interfered as there is no one in a suitable capacity with the power to offer a guiding hand.
Wales requires someone to stand up for her, to ensure her political equality within the rabid world that is United Kingdom politics and to ensure the people of Wales receive the fairest deal available. The National Assembly for Wales has many detractors but they have implemented many valuable pieces of legislation, including but not limited to free NHS prescriptions; Free Bus Passes and Student Tuition fee grants for Welsh students. This is next natural step in the progression of devolution. For the first time in a while the Welsh people have the opportunity to empower themselves to protect future generations from mismanagement from Westminster.
John Hartson has said Yes. Shane Williams and the Welsh rugby team has said Yes. Olympic medallist David Davies says Yes. Max Boyce says Yes. So should you. Stand up for Wales. Vote Yes for Wales on March 3rd. Pleidleisiwch Ie dros Gymru ar Fawrth 3ydd.