Two hundred years ago, at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather changed sides. No, he didn’t join the French. He had arrived with a Welsh regiment and left with some Scots, going back with them to Scotland, becoming some sort of retainer to the Duke of Argyll. And there he stayed. Which is why I am called Davies, a pure-bred, pedigree Welsh surname, not to be confused with those phoney pholk called Davis.
“COME ON, YOU WELSH!” I’ve been singing all week. So much easier than: “WAY-ULS! WAY-ULS!”
Supporting a one-syllable national team is jolly hard. You do need at least two syllables to get your tongue round a chant, preferably three, which is why English supporters shout ING-GER-LAND when they are at WEM-BUR-LEE.
It’s been a bit confusing all these years, being Scottish born and bred, with a mother from Motherwell and a father from Cambuslang, when clearly I’ve inherited a Welsh surname. My wife used to complain about being called Mrs Davies, wishing I’d been called McGregor or McDonald, because at least then we’d have been assumed to be Scottish.
We did call our first-born Caitlin, after Caitlin Thomas, wife of Dylan, thinking that a Welsh Christian name would go with the Welsh surname. But we later found out that Caitlin Thomas, born Caitlin Macnamara, was of Irish extraction.
The Waterloo connection has just been discovered by one of my genealogically obsessed Scottish relations in Canada – the further away you move in life, the closer you want to be. It was perfect timing, just as Gareth Bale was heading in that goal against Cyprus. Immediately, I became totally Welsh and will support Wales ever more, land of my, er, grandfathers, tra-la.
I’ve been to Wales, oh yes, several times, visiting two architectural highlights. I once went to Portmeirion to interview Sir Clough Williams-Ellis – he was awfully English – and more recently I was in Port Talbot to visit the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence. It’s in an upstairs room in a council house and is awe-inspiring.
The Welsh love hymns, so now I sing them all day. On Sunday mornings, lying in my bath, I no longer turn Radio 4’s Sunday Worship off – only the sermons – putting it on full volume for the hymns, all of which I know, yet I’ve not been to church for 60 years. I do something similar with Match of the Day. Turn off the sound for the talking, but up the volume for the action.
You can’t beat the hymn singing from the Welsh crowd when Gareth comes out. OK, I’m joining a bandwagon, but it’s absolutely remarkable. Four years ago Wales were ranked 117th in the world – now they are ninth, one place above predictable, boring England. I’ll definitely be cheering them on, if and when they make the Euro finals. Should they meet England, passing them as they stagger home in the dark after three defeats, I will sleep on a bed of daffodils.
I have eaten a daffodil. It was in 1978 at Sharrow Bay, a posh hotel on Ullswater, when our children were small. The staff were terribly late bringing the main course and I was fretting and fuming, as I always do, my aim in life being never to wait, so I decided to eat one of the daffodils on the table to show the waiter how impatient I was. Our son wet himself laughing.
So, how have Wales done it? As with all good teams that overachieve, what you need is three to four very good players and the rest can be average, competent enough not to make stupid mistakes. Wales have Bale and Aaron Ramsey, who are excellent; a very good goalie in Wayne Hennessey; and a first-class defender in their captain, Ashley Williams. That is the spine of the team, quality in positions where it matters. Poor old England have only one excellent player, Rooney, who at the moment is not playing excellently.
How far will Wales get? They could do well, as quite a few other so-called minnow countries should be there. Such as, oh my God, Northern Ireland. Must ask my Canadian rellies to get working on my Belfast blood . . .
This article appears in the 09 Sep 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: the world order crumbles