Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Russell Todd; Pêl-droed

(December 01, 2016)

A warm welcome to Russell Todd and his inaugural article for Cymru Culture. Russell is a founding member of the Podcast Pêl-droed collective, a podcast and blog dedicated to the Wales football team. It discusses the fortunes of the national team from historical, cultural and political perspectives; "Sometimes," he says, "we even discuss the football itself". Russell works in community development and has a strong belief that "collective action in and by communities themselves must underpin the radical change that Welsh society needs to see if we are to reverse decades of managed decline."

Originally from Dinas Powys, Russell now lives in Cardiff with his wife and three children. He has learned Welsh as a second language and enjoys music, horror cinema and real ale.

In the first of his regular columns on Welsh football, Russell looks back at Euro 2016 in France and at Wales' prospects in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

 

 

Pêl-droed: the beautiful country's beautiful game

Cymru-Wales, at Cardiff City Stadium

 

Let's be honest, on many levels 2016 has sucked. Brexit, a Tory election victory, Trump, a tanking economy, and the deaths of too many giants in their field: Bowie; Ali; Cruyff; Harper Lee; Victoria Wood; Prince, to name a few.

But a heady few weeks in the summer of 2016 will forever be ingrained in the memories of Welsh football fans.

Much has been said about the team's astonishing achievements in France: semi-finalists; the best ever performance by a European Championships debutante; Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey's inclusion in the Euros team of the tournament; eye-catching goals; playing with a combination of panache, camaraderie and resolve. All underpinned by a bond between fans and players that is surely unparalleled anywhere in professional sport, as shown in the extraordinary documentary film Y Wal Goch.
 

Y Wal Goch
courtesy of and © Wales in the Movies, 2016

Since then, it is fair to say that the 2018 World Cup campaign has not matched the heightened expectations. A solitary win against the weakest country in the group and a trio of draws, in each of which Wales has failed to hold onto a lead. The small chorus of boos heard at the end of the Georgia in October game betrayed how expectant some fans have become off the back of the summer's exploits. These were accused of being bandwagoners, ‘plastics’, Johnny-come-latelys whose recent conversion to the cause meant their support hadn't been tested by much bigger disappointments and embarrassments.

Perhaps. But everyone has a first Wales game and those formative moments when you realise you have a national team; a team that you do not pick, rather one which picks you. Nevertheless, the welcome to the fold will be warmer the sooner these fans realise that 'Gorau Chwarae Cyd Chwarae' applies as much to them as the players bearing the crest.

For many of us, more used to campaigns already over by this point, there is a more pragmatic recognition that as often as the sum of the team's parts has been moulded into something greater, those parts need to number Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey among them. Without them we can be considerably less than the sum of the parts. For all the talismanic efforts of Gareth Bale – and he is still the team's totem – if Allen and/or Ramsey are missing, the team's fluency is sorely affected. In the 180 minutes of October's double header - away to Austria and at home to Georgia - the influential pair were absent for 124 of them. Arsenal's ham-fisted impatience in managing Ramsey's post-Euros recuperation had deprived Wales of his services for the first three games. In Vienna, Allen limped off with a hamstring strain, which fortunately proved not to be serious. Sadly, it is a great shame that, at the time of writing, the prognosis on Bale's ankle injury (a "traumatic dislocation of the peroneal tendons of his right ankle") sustained on Champions League duty is much worse and he could be out for three months following surgery.

None of this should be news of course. Wales sorely missed Ramsey's guile and craft in the Euro semi-final and his absence is probably the key factor in the relatively pedestrian campaign to date that sees Wales four points adrift of the Republic of Ireland, to where we head next March. A loss will surely leave Wales aiming only for a play-off place against other group runners-up. But with nine groups, one runner-up - the country with the most inferior points tally - will be a bystander when the play-offs take place. This is likely to be a team from a group comprising evenly-matched teams and lacking a San Marino or Gibraltar type minnow; like Wales’s.

Ramsey has recently been linked with Real Madrid, and though this may be no more than paper-talk, that he is being spoken of in relation to elite European clubs is testament to his exquisite performances in the summer. He has been loyal to Arsene Wenger who supported and nurtured the Caerffili-born player back into the first team at Arsenal after his horrific leg-break. But accusations of inadequate injury prevention and management at the London club persist and it would be understandable if Ramsey's patience with the club's medical staff were to wane. The prospect of him turning up at the Bernabéu is absurdly, ridiculously mouthwatering. Imagine not one but two Dreigiau Coch parading the Champions League trophy on a lap of honour. Incidentally, I have no doubt that Gareth Bale, notwithstanding injury, will drag Real Madrid to a Cardiff Champions League final in a similar manner to how he dragged Wales to France.

Elsewhere, players who invariably impress whenever they turn out for Wales curiously remain on the fringes of their clubs, players such as George Williams, Jonny Williams and Emyr Huws. Wayne Hennessey, such a rock in the summer, continues to the do the hokey cokey with the Crystal Palace first team. Hal Robson-Kanu, a Puskas award nominee for the best goal of 2016, is lucky to get on the pitch for West Brom before the third official has announced how much injury time is to be played. Neil Taylor looks to have a difficult season ahead of him with Swansea.

But... Sam Vokes is among the goals for Burnley. Joe Allen has scored as many EPL goals for Stoke in weeks as he managed in his entire stay at Liverpool, not to mention his first for Wales. And though it seems strange not to see Ashley Williams in Swans' white or Dragons' red, it is encouraging to see him finding his feet on Merseyside. Ash remains critical to the cause.

So all is not lost. Reaching Russia remains a realistic possibility. But if it doesn't happen we will always have Bordeaux... and Lens and Lille and Toulouse and Paris...

Russell Todd, December 2016

Russell Tweets as @llannerch
his website is: independenttropicalwales.wordpress.com
and he is one of the team Tweeting on Podcast Pêl-droed

Podcast Pêl-droed's website is: www.podcastpeldroed.cymru

 

cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan:
Caregos Cyf., 2016

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