Wales away from your arm chair – as good as the real thing?

Posted on September 2, 2010

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By Luke James

TOMORROW Wales will take on Montenegro in their first and crucial Group G qualifying match, a game which pundits are billing as make or break in Toshack’s last crack at guiding his country to a tournament finals.

A few hundred dedicated Wales supporters will gather in the bars of Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital, to make that small corner of Europe, over 2000 miles from Cardiff, Welsh for the day.

As those hardy travelers adorn bars with Y Draig Goch and calm their nerves with the local lager ahead of the crucial clash I will be sat in work, in my Wales shirt, sulking.

Me blogging from Wales' trip to Poland in 2005

Whilst they arrive at the Pod Goricom Stadium and greet old friends in the away enclosure I will be settling down alone in front of a television listening intently to veteran sports broadcaster Rob Phillips’ every word as he describes the great occasion I’m missing out on.

And as much as I envy every single one of those committed fans that have cashed out to travel to the Adriatic coastline and will bemoan being stuck at home, I am comforted by the fact that over the years fate has conspired to put me in front of a television for some of our greatest victories in recent history.

I actually find myself holding a strange one-way love affair with watching the boys of the box – because that is how I became gripped by my duty to follow the national team growing up in a town where seemingly nobody else cared.

Leaping round my parents bedroom, where the small spare television was, when Bellamy’s late header saw Bobby Gould’s dragon’s take an unlikely three points from Copenhagen in another failed qualifying attempt, this time for Euro 2000.

Celebrating with friends as John Hartson and Simon Davies’ goals fired Wales towards a Euro 2004 qualification bid, which ultimately ended in heartbreak at the hands of Vadim Evseev, whose single play-off goal was enough to send Russia to the finals and keep us at home.

Dancing round with the dog and cheering so loudly that my old man heard it mowing the lawn, came inside and told me to keep it down when Ryan Giggs’ 86th minute strike against Belarus gave us, what was in the eyes of a enthusiastic 12-year-old, a memorable away win.

Even some of our side’s unmemorable moments have cemented this romance.

Our win in Qatar was probably my first conscious encounter with the Welsh language when the friendly win was broadcast on S4C.

I remember what seemed like staying up late to watch the Netherlands destroy my boyhood heroes by seven goals to one. With ten minutes to go I was still expressing to my uncle that I was sure we could mount a come back, an optimism that is responsible for my continued enthusiasm for the national team to this day.

Essentially watching Wales is a duty. Like many other Welsh football fans I have spent nights in airports, thousands of pounds on flights and tried to limit the expense of this call of duty by staying in some dodgy hostels and once a scary Warsaw baptist church.

There are some endearing elements to watching from home; the soviet-looking on screen graphics and adverts from the ‘home broadcasters’ gave you a taste of the host country when Wales were playing somewhere like Yerevan, Baku or Minsk and the previously mentioned Rob Phillips’ diminutive commentary style all added to the TV experience.

Bellamy's goal in Denmark, a bitter pill to swallow for some

But watching Bellamy’s winning strike in Copenhagen last year amongst a sea of England fans watching their game in my students’ union bar after paying about two-hundred quid for flights to Copenhagen only for the airline to go bust was not up there in my best Wales away memories.

Because lets face it, as much as I have tried to make a case in this blog that watching Wales get off to a flying start in Toshack’s last campaign from my living room tomorrow night can be as special as being there, that’s not the case.

It’s no slight on those fans who prefer to support our lads from home and my own memories of the beginnings of a love affair with Welsh football are no less special, however if I had the money and the choice I would be there, wherever ‘there’ is every time.

Happily, my flights to Switzerland are already booked.

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