BY LAURA BURNIP
“We should go early, not to avoid disappointment because that’s inevitable”. These were the wise words of warning from my companions with which I made my way to the Cardiff City stadium on Friday night.
Despite this being my fourth year of living in Wales, this was to be my first ever real experience of watching my new national team so, while my expectations were pretty much non-existent, I was curious.
We arrived at the ground about half an hour before kick-off, and I was surprised to find that there were no queues for the ticket office. I can’t imagine being able to turn up just before an England qualifier and swanning into the ground for £20.
The attendance was announced as 14,000 but I’d be very surprised if there were more than 10,000. I couldn’t decide whether it’s because of the timing of the game and obvious difficulties for anyone coming from the rest of Wales after work, or whether the Welsh fans have just given up on their team.
It felt more like a friendly than a crucial European qualifier. Nobody in the crowd (except me) stood for corners, or when Bulgaria attacked, apparently having accepted that nothing would come from the former and something would almost certainly come from the latter.
Saying that, there was some atmosphere, and I tried my best to join in with the always rousing national anthem despite knowing none of the words.
In footballing terms, the game was absolutely Danny Dyer. Wales had a few chances but seemed to lack any drive or organisation on the pitch. Their main strategy seemed to be to pass it to Bale and hope something would happen. The defence in particular were sluggish and lazy, with James Collins providing the worst performance on the pitch.
After 45 minutes I was craving a drink, only to find that the bars were closed due to UEFA rules. There was a slightly more inspired period after Bulgaria’s goal, and the scoreline could have been different but for a couple of accurate headers.
In spite of all of this, I was still more impressed than I thought I’d be. This in itself says a lot for Wales’ biggest problem. The Toshack years have dealt such a blow to supporter morale that only the most dedicated fans bother to fork out for entry, and even most of those seem to view it more as a duty than an enjoyable way to spend an evening.
It’s obviously a difficult time for any team awaiting the appointment of a new manager, and it will almost certainly not be Flynn. Hopefully once a bit of stability is installed, Wales can start to rebuild belief in their chances. There are some good players in the side. They need to realise they shouldn’t just rely on Gareth Bale to carry them while they await the return of Aaron Ramsey.
I hope that this is not the last time I see Wales play, but I hope it’s the last time I see them play like that. It will be a real challenge for them to qualify now but I think what’s more important is that whoever is appointed raises expectations.