I woke up in a good mood this morning. But it didn't take long to change. I read something that mentioned Wales final match in the Qualifiers for The World Cup in USA 1994.
In the book I'm reading, Tom Humphries of The Irish Times is watching the Republic get the point they needed at Windsor Road in 1993. During that game he hears that "Wales go a goal down, but now they are clawing for air".
The Romania game that he refers to sits lodged in my memory as a traumatic experience which waits to sneak out and smother the few fond memories of my football-watching career.
There have been other disappointments. Lots of them. But for many reasons, that Romania defeat remains the most painful. Probably because it came at a time when I was investing so much of my life in football, but also because of the huge pre-game optimism (remember the Echo's Countdown?"), the swell of public support, the missed penalty, and then finally the tragic death in the stadium which caused me to re-assess my priorities. I was never the same after that match.
I had been gutted before then of course. Joe Jordan and Rudi Glockner have a special place waiting for them in Hell. And I have since become used to defeat, like everyone else who follows Wales. When we lost to Russia in the 2003 play-offs, I was more reflective. This is what I wrote to the WalesAway Mailing List on the morning after the game;
OK, a lot of that gush can be put down to post-match blues, but it shows a changed attitude. Gone was the fierce anger, the sense of injustice that followed the Romania game ten years earlier. It had been replaced by a dull defeatism, a complete and utter resignation that Wales will never qualify for a Tournament.
One of the most difficult things about nights like last night, is that it
can often seem like nobody cares as much as you do. It had been one of the best
pre-matches that I can remember. It felt like my life was flashing before me as
I saw face after face of people I know who had been through all of the
disappointments since 1976.
In my block there were people who laughed, people who left with 10 minutes
to go, and people who had quite apparently gone as a "fab midweek jolly", (and I
quote that word for word). I was determined not to be as affected as I was in
'93, but nonetheless felt unable to move on the final whistle, and struggled to
take it all in. We are like the classic gambling addict who is convinced that it
must be red this time, because black has come up 7 times in a row. The casinos
all know that it's still a 50/50 chance.
As I sat there, the stand emptied around me and eventually I made a move to
take my flag down from the railings. I turned round and sitting in the empty
stand 20 rows back I saw a face I recognised. It was a girl that I had met
briefly in Moscow after the first leg, and she was sobbing. Those of you who travel away regularly will recognise the need to share these experiences with somebody who understands. We embraced, and without wanting to get too sentimental - it was
We walked together from the stadium in silence. We had a few more tears on
the ramp down to Westgate Street, and I asked her how old she was. She's 23. I
told her patronisingly that she had plenty more nights like this in front of
her, that our day would come, and that it would be all the sweeter for
disappointments like these. "No", she said, "THIS was our day. This was it".
I couldn't argue with that. I don't know her name, but she's a
friend for life because of what happened last night, and if we can take anything
from days like this, it's that sort of companionship and bonding experience.I
know some of you will read that and think that I'm a sentimental twat.You're
probably right, but the past 28 years have been difficult, even for someone like
me who hasn't invested nearly as much as the regularly away supporters. You need
to get something back, and that is the realisation that comradeship is worth
more than football.
That's what it does to you. Game after game. Scotland '77, Iceland 81', Scotland 85', West Germany 91', Romania 93', Russia 03. If we had won any one of those games, we would have qualified. Six Cup Finals. Didn't win one. Yet we were outplayed only once -Nuremberg in 1991. The rest could have gone either way. We just didn't have the rub of the green.
There - good mood gone. Yours too I expect. Note to journalists - don't mention Romania again. It sets of a chain of thought which ruins our day.