Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blood and tears

He had just scored an underserved goal to take the lead against Bethel Under 7's when it happened. Around about the half way line, there was a ball to be won and in he went. Bethel's biggest and best player had the same idea. There was a clear and horrible "krakk" and my son stopped moving.

He had his back to me and I couldn't see his face. But the look of shock on the ref's face, and the quick sprint of the opposition manager told me enough. He started screaming before I got to him, but that's not unusual. At this age, I have seen players scream when the ball hits their thigh on a cold day.

He was already shaking when I arrived, his right leg hanging limply before he slumped. I lowered his sock to see the damage, and there was blood, and swelling to the area between shin and calf, and it had turned a shade of blue/green.

I am the sort of Father who deosn't believe in mollycoddling. A quick glance and get on with the game is my usual tactic. Even now, I wasn't convinced of the severity and asked him if he wanted to play on. We've never beaten Bethel, and with him back on his feet, I thought we might be able to hold on. When he just looked at me and cried, I softened a little.

There is something about carrying your wounded and weeping son off a football pitch that changes a man. I can fit my hand around his skinny little bruised leg, and he clung tightly to me as I cradled him. I can't remember feeling more responsible and more paternal since the day he was born and the whole ward cheered because he wasn't a ginger.

His injury was worse even by the time I approached the touchline. As the parents all stared with concern, I imagined myself as the Irish priest carrying the wounded back in Derry on Bloody Sunday. Luckily, his opponent's Dad is a Doctor and was able to examine him pretty quick. We took him inside and put some tiptops on his leg - strawberry, rasberry and cola flavours.

After an hour, his face had gone white and the swelling was no better. The Doc didn't think it was a break, but we couldn't be sure. I took him off to Casualty.

As usual, the Casualty department was full of people in adidas leisurewear. It should come with a health warning, as there is obviously a higher chance of injuring yourself if you are wearing adidas trackies. We waited about 45 minutes before we were called. I realised I had been stroking his hair for most of that time, and blushed.

My son looked pitiful. He barely looked at the Doctor and answered in mumbled single syllables. Though it doesn't help that he was unable to communicate in his first language - Welsh. Eventually the Doctor asked him if he could walk. "Don't know". "Haven't tried".

At which point, my little cherub rose, placed both feet on the ground and paced around the ward like Iolo Williams climbing Snowdon. A full recovery and a very sheepish parent.

We spent the afternoon in Llanystumdwy watching Felin lose comprehensively to the League leaders. My son spent the whole game playing football with the locals behind the goal. There's a lesson there somewhere, but I'm not sure what it is. At least the injury brought out a side of me that I didn't realise was there. I do care after all, even if Bethel did equalise in the second half.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Koumas - from ridiculous to sublime

Well the game went as expected in many ways. San Marino shouldn't be playing football at this level, Wales were profiligate, and 18,000 turned up to vindicate the FAW's decision to use the Millennium. Yes, the atmosphere was poor, but what can you expect with such a non-event.

The return of Jason Koumas was the big story for me. Koumas is now such an influential player in this side that he outshines Giggs, whose star is sadly on the wane. If he had been available in Dublin, I doubt that we would have lost that game. He is now a real talisman for this Welsh team, otherwise devoid of creativity.

The ninety minutes last night demonstrated the full gamut of Koumas' game. He won Man of the Match, but he might also have been booed off the park, such was his shocking attitude to the game, and to the people who had paid to watch.

He started showboating in the twentieth minute. He abused his talent, sprayed wild passes around the pitch, dribbled backwards, shot with disdain, and generally tried to humiliate his opposition. He tried a couple of back heels, and chipped a penalty down the middle with the force of a blancmange. He took two corners which were belted towards the half way line, for Carl Fletcher..(yes..Carl Fletcher), to chest down and volley well over the bar.

And before all this he managed to get himself booked for kicking the ball away after a Steve Evans foul. On the half way line. Against San Marino. When 2-0 up.

Jason Koumas is a flat track bully. He thrives in the Championship, but won't share the limelight with other players at a better level. He has turned down moves to top level clubs because he knows that he won't look so good up against top quality defenders. But against Lichtenstein and San Marino, he has been the best player on the park. By far.

If somebody could sort him out, get his head straight , then I think Jason Koumas could be World class. But until that happens, he offends me. Natural skill and ability come easily to some people, but without the application, you are insulting your own talent. And that's what Koumas does.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It has to be The Mill Stad

Wales midfielder Jason Koumas says Wednesday's game with San Marino should
be at Cardiff's Ninian Park. The Euro 2008 qualifier will be held at the
72,500 capacity Millennium Stadium in the city, but, as of Monday, just 15,000
tickets had been sold. "It'll be surreal, none of us can understand why the
game isn't at Ninian where the atmosphere would be better and more
said Koumas.

Thank you Jason. Very helpful. I look forward to your post-playing career when you use all that knowledge and experience gained to become a successful football administrator. I would love to hear that phone call to the Millennium Stadium.

"Oh Hello. It's Jase. Yeah that's right mate. Hi.'s about that match we booked next week. I don't know if you saw our game in Dublin, but we were a bit crap. Yeah, I know... Anyway, um, we won't be needing the stadium on Wednesday after all. It's a bit over the top to be honest. What's that? You've printed the tickets? Oh....can't you use them for the Germany game?"

People in Wales have short, but pink-spectacled memories. The Millennium Stadium has to be booked well in advance. Remember when we couldn't get it because there was a Rolling Stones concert or something? This isn't a village hall we are talking about. And the FAW had every right to imagine that we would still be going well at this stage of the competition. It was a bet that didn't seem like a massive gamble at the time.

At a similar stage a few years ago, it was difficult to find a ticket for our home game v Azerbaijan. Even if results had been half decent, we could have expected 30,000 at the match. That's almost twice the attendance we'd have seen at Ninian. Did I say Ninian? Why would we even consider Ninian as the alternative venue for this game? It's about to be knocked down isn't it? Not good enough fo Cardiff, but fine for Wales eh?

Koumas' assertion that Ninian Park would be "more intimidating" is bizarre. History tells us otherwise. Apart from a good atmosphere at our 3-2 win over Belarus, which was wholly created by that pulsating match, the atmosphere at Ninian for Wales games has always compared badly to Wrexham, particularly when the opponents are not major nations.

Swansea have a claim to be rewarded for their ambitious new stadium with a competitive match. It certainly ranks higher than Ninian in the pecking order. I know that they didn't turn out to support the Bulgaria friendly, but let's face it, neither did most of the players. That was an Indian gift to the Jacks.

But the most deserving case has to be Wrexham. Swansea fans can make the Millennium Stadium in less than an hour. It's practically impossible for anybody North of Newtown to make a midweek game without a stopover. Wrexham is still 90 minutes away for a lot of us, but we would welcome the game hungrily. And Wrexham are a club who are desperate for finances. The FAW would be far more magnanimous to take the game up North than to feed the swollen belly of Cardiff City.

The history of Welsh international football at Swansea is inconspicious to say the least. It reached its nadir with the "Swansea Disco" when the lights failed and a 2-2 draw with Iceland ruined our qualification hopes in the 1980s. And more importantly, everyone knows that a biggish game at Swansea would be played out in a nervous atmosphere with a guarantee of crowd disorder at some level. Not Swansea's fault necessarily, but it would happen.

But all this talk is hypothetical. The match had to be booked at the Millennium and so it should be. If Koumas feels that San Marino need to be intimidated, it shows what a low ebb we've really reached. We are an international football team, and the Millennium is our home. Our children need that to aim at. Our youth teams need the carrot of that home debut dangled in front of them.

And for Koumas to talk of a "surreal" atmosphere is lazy. There will be 15,000 people there. Most of them will be die-hard supporters. Show a bit of respect eh, and understand that very few people in this life will experience wearing the red shirt in front of 15,000 at The Millennium Stadium. This is the attitude that makes me so angry about the current team. There is no connection with the Welsh population, and no appreciation of their responsibility to represent us with at least an ounce of integrity and humility.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Choose Wales

Choose pitiful. Choose apathetic. Choose pathetic. Choose unimaginative. Choose impotent. Choose guileless. Choose clueless. Choose amateurish. Choose negative. Choose unambitious. Choose limited. Choose bad. Choose sad. Choose criminal. Choose lifeless. Choose shameful. Choose embarrassing. Choose destitute. Choose hopeless. Choose talentless. Choose directionless. Choose spineless. Choose gutless. Choose ungrateful. Choose slothful. Choose selfish. Choose mollycoddled. Choose millionaires. Choose indolent. Choose uncaring. Choose invisible. Choose abominable. Choose atrocious. Choose disrespectful. Choose dreadful. Choose slipshod. Choose pampered. Choose undeserving. Choose unacceptable. Choose to stay at home on Wednesday night.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dublin's Fair City

This is how football should be. Four thousand Wales fans travelled to Dublin for yesteday's match and received a welcome from their hosts that I haven't experienced in 32 years of following football. From the moment our party stepped off the early morning ferry at Dun Laghoire till we boarded the slow boat back to Holyhead late in the evening, we were enbosomed into Dublin's thriving pub life with open arms.

A few weeks ago, Croke park's polite response to the English anthem astonished observors. It was an epoch-defining moment, which forced the rest of us to re-assess our petty behaviour when visitors are in town. They received the Welsh anthem yesterday with nothing less than enthusiastic fervour. It was a humbling moment which was repeated after the game when the clientelle of a rough-arsed pub in a Dublin back street cheered our rendition to the rafters.

If you like a drink, then Dublin is Nirvana. As a new visitor to the City, I wasn't too sure what to expect. The City doesn't have the best reputation amongst its countrymen, and some Welsh friends of mine dispute its status as the party capital of Europe.

There is a pub in Liverpool called The Philharmonic which is legendary amongst pub fans. Well Dublin has a hundred Philharmonics. Intricate tilework, mahogany bars and marble toilets are ten-a-penny. You really feel like you could dance to the architecture.

But it is the manner of the Dublin drinker which I found most satisfying. Before mid-day, the Brendan Behans were ensconsed in their bum-dented chairs, emitting an easy, comforting aura of contentment and companionship that isn't so easy to find now on the mainland, where snugs have been replaced by leather settees. If I was a Dubliner, I would find it difficult not to drink all day, and so it seems, do many of the natives.

The approach to Croke Park was not unlike so many big English grounds. The sun was out, and it was a pleasant stroll to the ground buried deeply in a residential area. It reminded me of Highbury in that respect.

Inside, it was the biggest looking ground that I've visited. The field is so large that it seems the stand opposite is situated on the other side of the City. The football field was marked out with about 3-5 metres still available to use on the touchlines.

Welsh fans were placed on Hill 16, which was built from the rubble of the Easter Rising, and which has had temporary seating installed for the football. Some fans complained of the view. It was difficult to get a good perspective of the game from such a deep viewing position. But in truth, this proved to be more of a blessing than a hindrance, as both teams served up a shameful display of ineptitude.

Such was the paucity of entertainment and the distance from the field, it was difficult to stay involved. The atmosphere was akin to watching a village cricket match. Between two villages you've never been to and don't care about. But I got a sun tan and looked forward to the pub.

The trip back was a chore, particularly thanks to the performance given by a group of 15 lads from Llangefni, who spent the whole 3 hours with their shirts off, arms stretched wide, inviting all and sundry to "come and 'ave a go", insulting the Polish barstaff, and generally making me look whistfully towards the West, where the Irish once again set a standard of civility that we can only aspire to. "Ceud Mile Failte". Never a truer word was spoken.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Has The Hawk lost his Talons?

Every Thursday morning I pore over the results page of the Caernarfon & Denbigh Herald like I once did the South Wales Echo. A single league table can keep me fascinated for an hour. And occasionally a statistic peeks out of the print that conjurs up a story of drama and intrigue that makes me want to investigate further.

And there it is today: The Silver Star Holidays Gwynedd League.

Cemaes Bay
Played 25
Lost 25
Scored 10
Conceded 158

One hundred and fifty eight goals conceded, in twenty five matches.
On average, they lose 0-6 every game. That is some record, and all credit to the lads who turn up every week to face a hammering.

I wonder what Colin Hawkins makes of it all?

Colin Hawkins is legendary in Welsh football circles. Previously manager at Bangor and Porthmadog amongst others, Colin is variously described as "colourful", "roguish", and a "**** "**!!"$*". His passion for the game is infectious and he is the only Cockney Welsh Nationalist that this blogger is aware of.

I had business dealings with Mr Hawkins for a couple of years, and they were eventful to say the least. His favourite trick involves liberal use of his phonebook full of Welsh legends. In his company, do not ever, ever say that you admire a particular player. The phone will be whipped out, speed-dialled, and you will find yourself mumbling embarrassed greetings to a bemused Joey Jones, Ian Rush, or Neville Southall, who though naturally irritated will sound strangely accustomed to this kind of impostition.

Colin Hawkins has worked hard for Welsh football, and I've yet to met anybody in North Wales who doesn't have their own particular anecdote about the man. I can sense some regular readers already sharpening their pens.

The name of "The Hawk" is synonymous with Cemaes Bay Football Club. And something tells me that he's now manager of that desperate team. In which case it might well be worth taking the kids along to School Lane. If the football isn't pretty, at least they'll pick up a few new phrases to add to their vocabulary.

Don't worry lads, The Hawk will turn it round. He always does.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lampard Lamped

At about 10pm last night, a million pairs of half-interested armchair football fans opened their eyes a little wider as it became apparent that Chelsea's millionaire golden boy, Frank Lampard was about to be whacked by a skinny Tottenham supporter. (Oops, I mean "so-called" supporter, because these people are not true fans blah blah).

Another tedious affair between glove-wearing nancy boys was about to be raised up into the level of unmissable television. You could see the Spurs lad wheel onto the pitch, his arms spread wide like an extra from Green Streeet. He was obviously too slight to cause any real damage and it appeared to be one of those "yoo-hoo look at me I'm on telly" moments. But at the last minute, he took a swing at our Frank, and down went the West End playboy in a crumpled heap.

"Oh dear", bemoaned Mottie. "Disgusting" said Frank. "Go on son, get in there", cried most of us, spilling our lager as we suddenly lurched towards the television.

The young thug was soon surrounded by a number of Chelsea players, blocking our view of the pummelling that his Henri Lloyd windcheater was surely taking under the cover of Didier Drogba's bare back. John Terry looked alert, on tiptoes, facing up to a second invader. To be fair to Terry, he looked calm, in the manner of a man used to petty brawling.

It was an interesting scenario. Footballers are notoriously scared to death of football fans. You only have to catch their eye on the street and they're off. Pat Heard once nearly fainted when I say next to him on a train.

Of course, fans have been attacked by sportsmen before now. First we had Cantona, and then last month, Ireland's Trevor Brennan dived into the terracing to whack a harmless looking Ulster chap who had criticised the quality of beer in his bar. And in both cases, only the authorities didn't shout "good on you". Even the media backed Brennan, who was rewarded with a lifetime ban which he trumped by retiring a day earlier than it was announced.

But footballers are not so easily provoked. They know full well that even the slightest rebuke to an aggressive, foul mouthed fan will turn that spectator into the most sensitive, litigious, pussycat that ever entered the ground. A few years ago, Millwall's goalkeeper Tony Warner flung his water bottle towards some fans who had been abusing him at the Canton End in Ninian Park. Within hours, the police were called and Warner was accused of second degree murder. "It was terrible" cried the indignant skinhead. "I feared for me life".

Things are not so straightforward in the Welsh Premier. I was at a match at Jenner Park watching the sadly missed Barry Town play against Carmarthen. A friend of mine from Barry spent most of the game abusing the Carmarthen centre-half, a large, shaven-headed veteran, whose legs had gone some time ago, seemingly replaced by tree trunks.

The defender was substituted with ten minutes left. It was a strange decision to say the least, as he was replaced by a 17 year old winger with acne and red boots. I swear to this day that our legend had requested the swap. No sooner was he off the field than he was pacing the stands looking for his tormentor. Luckily, my friend, who I'll call Brian because that's his name, had seen this coming. He gave one last mocking salute to the furious hulk, and sprinted through the exit gates, probably saving his life in the process.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Time for technology?

There has been much discussion recently about the use of a "3rd eye" to adjudicate on crucial decisions in football matches. If the recent history of rugby is in indicator of the potential success of this idea, it should be consigned to the scrapheap.

Firstly, we had the Wilkinson try against Scotland. At a crucial juncture of the game Wilkinson took a curving run on the outside and placed the ball for a vital try for England. After consultation, the Television Match Official (TMO), Donal Courteney awarded the try despite pictures clearly showing that Wilkinson had been in touch.

I could take the decision, but I wanted accountability. I wanted to see the whites of Courtenay's eyes. I want him to talk us through the pictures and explain the bit where he looked away, blinked or fell off his chair. He must receive a fee, paiod for out of my ticket money. I have a right to an explanation. But somehow, Courtenay was allowed the right to silence.

Then on the weekend, Wales were denied a last minute try scoring opportunity by an independent timekeeper, Geoff Warren. After indicating 10 seconds left to play, Warren instructed the referee Chris White to blow for time. In the dreadful confusion,the tape recordings of their conversation portray a blustering, pompous panicking TMO leaving poor Chris White in an inextractable position.

If White had honoured his word and allowed the line out, which Wales then scored from, Italy would have had an even stronger case for complaint. Time was up, White had been instructed, how could he let play go on?

Don't get me wrong, I have no love for Chris White, who is a referee that seems to hate the game, such is his desire to stop any passage of play that might be deemed entertaining. But he was left out to dry by Warren, and had to make a public and embarrassing semi-apology.

But it's Geoff Warren I want to hear from. I want to know why he lost 3 seconds of his life. I want to know why he failed to offer any constructive advice to White except to bellow "I have time, I have time!!" Give me accountability. Give me Warren's head. In front of a camera. Explaining himself.

When you lose a game and you suspect a poor refereeing decision you feel indignation, persecution and bitterness. When you lose a game and you know that you have been unfairly denied by a man who has exactly the same viewing position, the same stopwatch, and the same audiovisual tools as yourself, then you feel more than that. You feel helpless, numb and debilitated. I'm not sure that football fans aren't better off without that knowledge.

Club v Academy

There is a pressing issue that is arising through Junior football in Wales that is causing much anxiety and confusion, not to mention a good helping of scepticism amongst the people running the teams.

The word is spreading that from next season, the one player - one club rule will be strictly enforced at Junior level. From next August, and player that is registered with an academy will not be allowed to play for his regular club.

The general feeling is that the rule is unworkable, and that it cannot be beneficial for any party involved. The issue is sitting there like a dark cloud waiting to burst, with little guidance, discussion or information reaching the junior club administrators.

At a League meeting a few weeks ago, nobody really belived it will ever happen. But without discussion, communication and consultation, the rule will pass, and the FAW Trust will find itself bombarded with crisis calls from clubs and players who find themselves in disarray.

There are some tricky issues to be resolved here. Let's look at some likely scenarios.

* Player A is a star player for Felinheli U13s. He is on the fringes of the Bangor City Academy side. Unable to play for Felin, he sits on the bench for Bangor's games.
Frustrated at the lack of football, he goes back to Felin, and no longer benefits from the Academy training.

* Players B, C, and D are outstanding in the Waunfawr 15s and represent Caernarfon Academy. Unfortunately the rest of the Waunfawr Squad is very weak. Without players B,C and D, they regularly lose heavily, the players become disenchanted and the team disbands.

* Player E enjoys playing for his club alongside his schoolmates, but he also appreciates the training he receives at the Academy. His parents do not drive. He leaves the club and finds himself making regular long trips with the academy to away games in Liverpool, Cardiff and Swansea. Disenchanted with the travelling and finding it increasingly difficult to make travel arrangements, he leaves the Academy.

Now I am not familiar with the Academy situation. My players are too young. (Though the Academy age group and qualifying procedure has never been very clear to those of us who aren't in the know.)

But I am confused about what is going to happen. Will the Academy play regular football for their contracted young players? If so, against who? Will Bangor travel to the English clubs? To South Wales? If so, how can this fit into the travelling guidelines set down for young players?

Currently the whole thing is a hotpotch of rumour and speculation. It is causing unrest amongst the junior clubs and should be addressed sooner rather than later.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Welsh Cup Weekend

I was disappointed for Port Talbot yesterday. For years, Afan Lido were the main club in the town. It seems strange to think that Lido, now playing in the confusingly named Welsh League were one of the early European qualifiers from the early days of the League of Wales.

But I have always preferred Port Talbot, though I can never remember if they are Town or Athletic these days. Lido was never a great place to watch football, despite the big stand that sits in isolation on one side. I always felt that Lido was a club run for its players, and home games would see dozens of youth players milling around, watching the senior team.

Port Talbot on the other hand are a much more ambitious club. Chairman Andrew Edwards runs the club like a child would run a toy shop. His enthusiasm is infectious and he tries to do things properly. The club and stadium develop every year, and its always fun to see the madman Hela with his drums and flags on Clwb Peldroed. I found it a shame then that Port Talbot won't be rewarded with a Welsh Cup Final, but all credit to Lido who celebrated with panache.

A shame too for Porthmadog who lost out on penalties at Carmarthen despite their first ever overnight stop. Port are another club who punch above their weight, but they have good local support, and in big Les Davies, they have the League's most exciting player.

The match was notable for a nasty stamp by Carmarthen's Sacha Walters which rightly earned him a red card. But it was a proper stamp at least, not a little nibble that would be perpetuated by someone like Rooney or Beckham. No this one was aimed at the gut, and came from a height of about 4 foot. Now you can't grow up in Port Talbot with a name like Sacha and not expect to mix it occasionally. But if I had that name, I doubt that I would grow a mane of blonde hair and then gel it up like a petrified Tomcat.

An excellent point for the Cofis at Rhyl. It's always good to see anyone take points from Rhyl, but I think it's vital for football in Gwynedd that Caernarfon stay at the highest level. Let's hope that things improve for the Canaries.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sunny Frustrations

One of the disadavantges of following a grassroots team is the amount of postponements that you suffer throughout the season. The slightest shower, frost, or dark cloud, and a game is likely to be called off, such is the standard of playing field below semi-pro level.

And so it was that Felinheli's game at Machno United was postponed ealier this morning. With clear skies and a sunny day, we were all looking forward to the long trip South, but the weather must be different down there below the equator. I discovered an hour ago that Liverpool were playing Man United on Sky at 1pm. It's amazing how many games are called off when there's a big match on the telly.

My own game at Deiniolen was called off due to the number of my players competing in the Eisteddfod this morning. At 10am, my centre half was making funny faces on a stage when he would normally have been winning a 50/50 challenge.

Desperate for football, I made the trip to Y Fali to watch our talented Under 17s side play. There is no Under 17 league in Gwynedd. By that age, the lads are starting to discover beer and women, and many villages struggle to raise a side. So Felin play across the sea in the Anglesey League.

It's a good 20 minutes to Y Fali, which gave my six year old ample time to ask some very difficult questions. Here's a sample. See if you could have answered them:

Q. Can Bangor play against Arsenal in the Premiership
A. No. Bangor are Welsh. Arsenal are English.
Q. So why can Cardiff play in the Premiership?

Q. Why is Y Fali called Valley in English?
Q. If everyone spelt it the same way, then they wouldn't have to write it twice. Why do they bother spelling it differently?

Q. Robbo was Bangor's best player wasn't he?
A. Yes
Q. So why doesn't the new manager want him?

I arrived in Y Fali in a foul temper as you can imagine. Eric Junior was impressed however. "Uw, mae hwn yn lle braf Dad". He wasn't wrong. Y Fali has even got a bank which is a rare commodity these days.

The unpromisingly named "Cae Mwd" was also pleasing. Two decent fields in open ground with good facilities. This morning, there were over 50 young teenage lads making good use of the field. It is so depressing that politicians don't see the evident benefits of sport for this most difficult of age groups. When gang culture is the current hot topic, it is still difficult to find a field to play on. When Thatcher sold off the school fields, she created an irreversible situation, the evil witch.

The game itself was enjoyable enough. A strong wind dictated the play and Y Fali coped better with the conditions. We are the Arsenal of the League, and more physical sides enjoy playing against our pretty football. Still, we came away with a 2-2 draw which was a fair enough result.

A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to defend referees. The past few games I have sen have been well reffed and as a result there have been no problems. Maybe I was wrong. Good refs can enjot themselves. Today's game was well controlled again, and I made a point of praising the ref at the end of the game. I try to do this every game. Refs get enough stick, and if they have a good game, we should let them know about it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Happy St David's Day?

So today is St David's Day. And all across the country, little children are being sent to school in National Costume. Which used to mean a pointy hat for the girls , or a waistcoat and cravat for the lads. But more and more our national identity is being expressed through sport, a point that politicians would do well to heed.

The school yard is full of red shirts. Some football, but overwhelmingly rugby. Whatever statistics we can quote about numbers of players and spectators at professional level in the respective games, there can be no doubt that rugby is the sport which has entered the psyche of the Nation. When people want to wear the Welsh heart on their sleeve, they turn to the three feathers and not the Ddraig Goch.

There are other factors which turn St David's Day into a rugby fest. Primarily, the quality of rugby clothing is far superior, and on a chilly March morning, only the cruellest parent can wrap their child up in a low cut football shirt which positively shimmers with synthetic material. It's the thick cotton of a rugby shirt which ones out for the concerned Mam every time.

But the casual patriot, not the fan, will always go with rugby over football. The national rugby team give occasional cause for celebration. That helps. We saw in 2000 that the football team can win over the country when the National team does well, but memories are short. The 2005 Grand Slam elevated rugby back to its former position as the National Game, despite its shameful exclusion of the Northern clubs.

As for the rest of St David's Day, well you can keep it. Not for us the raucous celebrations of St Patrick. We go for hymn singing, tea drinking and the occasional ex-pat dinner where they wear kilts and play harps.

It's Dewi's fault. St David was a famous teetotaller known as "The Water Man". HIs primary achievement was to round up the fun-loving pagans in the area we now know as England, and teach them to work hard, live frugally and dedicate themselves to a lifetime of self-deprivation. What a guy!

This afternoon, I will watch large groups of children reading poems out loud with exagerrated mannerisms. This is called "adrodd" and people compete to see who can be the campest and most absurd poem reader. Even adults. And that is really our National Sport, not rugby or football.

This isn't a Cymru that I feel like celebrating. Where are the pub crawls, the festivals, the holidays? Even the new parade through Cardiff makes me feel slightly embarrassed with its forced patriotism.

Last week, I was given another reason to look West across the sea. The England rugby team visited Croke Park and were given a tremendous welcome by their hosts. That was a shock and a disappointment for me at the time, but in hindsight, I can only admire that country and reflect on my own small-mindedness.

When the Irish respected the Queen last Saturday, I think back to our own treatment of that anthem during the last football World Cup Qualifiers. I had been waiting since 1984 for that opportunity and I booed their miserable tune as loud as anyone. Perversely I never boo it during rugby internationals, and I certainly won't boo it when we play England in a few weeks time.

Remember, the last Englishman to set foot in Croke Park had been driving a tank which killed 14 civilians. And still they didn't boo.

But us? We still lay it on thick. And an Englishman hasn't murdered one of us for a good few centuries now. I'm still not sure how the Irish can have moved on so quickly and so admirably. But it was a stunning tour de force that demonstrated their country's self-confidence, and an attitude to which we can only aspire.

Let's stop defining our Welshness by our hatred of England. It's time to move on. Let's be happy in our skins, and in our cotton, or polyester shirts. Forget the inter-sport rivalry, we're not big enough for that. And let's look towards Croke Park for our inspiration. We are Cymraeg, and that's enough reason to celebrate. Happy St David's Day.