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.


Anonymous said...

Welsh Rugby is so false.

I hate everythinmg about this miserable game.

Bring on the wooden spoon.

Anonymous said...

Last weekend Wales played a rugby match v France. By the amount of the coverage this game attracted in the welsh media from monday onwards, culminating in 16 pages of the Western Mail devoted to it, and BBC spending thousands of pounds of licence fee money sending jobsworths out there, one would have imagined it was a game of real importance.
But the table showed Wales had lost 2, not scored a try and France had done the contrary. Wales could not win either the championship, the triple crown nor the grand slam so why was this meaningless match (a dead rubber for Wales) afforded such magnitude by the welsh media?
No doubt the Western Mail will devote pages and pages of analysis on this expected defeat, and the whole media hysteria and circus will move onto the next match (v Italy I believe).
Can anyone really contend rugby is the national sport? Hardly anybody watches it at club/region level. Plenty of people play it granted but at amateur level,and way less in number than play football at equivalent level. The national team get full houses for their games, and loads travel away BUT (and this is a huge but) a large proportion of those do it for the social aspect. Think of it, several days away from home on the lash in a top european city. How many of those men and women who adorn themselves in embarassing fancy dress, and at home only go so they can have a day out on the lash in Cardiff actually watch club/regional rugby or understand it? Cannot be many as otherwise they would need bigger stadia rather than the embarassing trickle who watch these games..
Football is the poor relation of rugby largely due to the social stigma - a so called working class game watched by working class people.
This has fed itself to the media who take every upooortunity to laud their beloved rugby (much better jollies), and cock a huge snook at football.
It would help if the national football team had more suces at the presnet but it needs the backing of the welsh media to highlight its present standing in world football and do all it can to assist its progress. Its capital city's football club is on the cusp of something big but l the media do is knock it, try to find soemthing to denegrate it etc. (Watch come the time the new stadium is up, and Cardiff City are playing Liverpol the media luvvies will lap up the jollies coming their way).
I am fed to the back teeth of rugby dominating our lives. People abroad look at me strangely when I say I prefer football to rugby. That is the stigma Wales has, everyone in Wales must like rugby.
I am not against the game per se, but the way its rammed down our throats so much.
Something has to be done to redress this imbalance.

Eric the Red said...

I am aware if the arguments for football as a National Sport. i refer to them in the blog. But the fact is that most kids wear rugby shirts to school on St David's Day.
It is plain to see. You're in denial.

Away from football and the little world we cocoon ourselves in, the general Welsh public are more interested in rugby.

Or at least they are interested in the social opportunities offered by the game, as you correctly say. But so what? Life's too short. Go and enjoy yourself. And don't buy the Western Mail.

Gary said...

I can't comment on Felinheli, Eric, but here in Y Fali, there was just one rugby shirt in my kids' classes ... and that was worn by a girl! Every other kid in the classes wore either a traditional Welsh lady costume or a football shirt - red, white and even that horrible blue one!

Joe said...

A point you made in your post was the fact that national identity is shown mainly through sport. I agree, although I very much grit my teeth at the fact. I know full well as much as it pains me as a real follower and believer in Welsh devolution, the terraces will always trounce the ballot box in Wales.

But why is it that we as Welshmen and Welshwomen cannot even support the two mainstream sports of rugby and football? In Wales and especially in Cardiff as you may know, battle lines are usually drawn over whether you follow rugby or football. The Cardiff Blues fans berate the Bluebirds and vice versa, yet they represent the same city. The possible stadium share in Cardiff between the two teams highlighted the sheer hostility between the fans of the two sports.

Now I'm not saying play nicely here - hell, I love a bit of passion. But in Wales the general impression i get is that you are one or the other. You cant like both, you cant support both. I really don't see how a diehard Welsh football fan can wish ill to the campaigns of the Welsh rugby team, it just seems illogical and wrong. If you support the nation, how can you condemn it at the same time?

I do support both sports, although i do prefer my football and would choose a trip to Sloper Road anyday. But this is not to say that I hate the Blues; I wish them well for the good of the city.

Maybe thats where Im going wrong; as demonstrated by the national identity point. Maybe its not about Cardiff or Wales. Maybe its just about the sport you know and love, which is better than any other sport in the world. Dare I say it, again gritting my teeth, nationality and civic pride is just a label its attached to.

Penguin said...

May I also dispute the Welsh Rugby's claim to be the 'National Sport' when it so blatantly isn't. Only a handful of North Walians have ever represented their country at this sport but even then Dewi Bebb, Arthur Emyr and Robin McBryde had to move to South Wales in order to be recognised. There are a few lads from the north playing for Sale in the Guinness Premiership but of course the Welsh Rugby Union's Sat Nav only takes them along the M4 corridor. I have been told that the Scarlets link up with Coleg Menai is an act of tokenism so as the Welsh Rugby Union awards them the franchise for north and West Wales. If rugby is our national sport then why did it take over 100 years for them to play an international match up here? The north had to wait until 1997 for their first internaional match = and 6that was only becuase Cardiff Arms Park was being demolished/Millennium Stadium constructed. Welsh Football on the other hand has for years played matches all over the country - reflecting its status as our true national sport. I won't bore you with the official statistics, suffice to say that football pi55es on rugby's claims to the title of national sport. The Assembly recognised that football is the most popular sport in Wales.

Gareth said...

I can't really add to what anonymous said. Totally agree with the stigma that's involved in not liking Rugby much. Was at a house party last Saturday while the Rugby was on, and the number of people that came up to me quietly (in case anyone else heard) saying they don't like Rugby much either, was unbelievable! Everyone has a right to follow whatever they like, but an even playing field please! The social stigma and unbelievable media coverage of the oval ball must be addressed!

Livzy said...

well you weill probably not be at all surprised to hear that at work - based in Bangor - Dydd Gwyl Dewi was marked only by a sudden overwhelming need to scoff down platefuls of welsh cakes.

i'm a football fan maainly but do take an interest in the egg chasing when the six nations is on or maybe a world cup but thats about it really.

my eldest son - who through no fault of his own was born in England - actually wore an 3 lions shirt to school yesterday and refuses pretty much point blank to "adrodd" whereas my eldest daughter proudly wears y Draig and is repersenting her school at the regional Urdd heats tomorro in both cerdd dant and adrodd.

and - in all honesty - i;ve discouraged one and encouraged the other - and not the way round you'd expect!

Anonymous said...

I understand that, because rugby is given such precedence in the media, many Welsh football fans resent and dislike it. But is it really that difficult to rise above that and just enjoy both sports? I'm an absolute football nut, but I enjoy watching club and international rugby as well. It doesn't have to be either/or.

Anyway, I remain unconvinced as to the merits of being all mature and getting on with the English. It just wouldn't be any fun, that way.

Jet Set Matt said...

I'd like to think that there is more to being Welsh than hating England. We do have things in common; areas of England suffered as much as the valleys under Thatcher.

I know that Wales is more connected to rugby than football as it showers us in more glory. Where's the fun in that? To me being Welsh is just as much about the hope and ultimate frustration of qualification.