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Dave Snowden; Life, work, rugby (September 2011)

(September 01, 2011)

Between times

Fans by the Millennium StadiumThe River Walk, by the Millennium Stadium, on match day

World Cup years always have a strangeness to them. They break the normal cycle of pre-season friendlies, autumn internationals and the like. Instead, there is the hope and fear that comes with anticipation, elation and, all to often for the Welsh supporter despair. Four years ago I witnessed the recovery against Canada in Nantes, having driven over with the ferry. Then a flight and train saw Huw and I return to witness Martin Williams' try against Fiji, followed by the utter foolishness of playing 7s against the world champions. Despair, deflation and destitution summarised the mood on the train back to Paris. This was briefly made worse by the type of English fan one normally sees at the round-ball game; raucous, union-jackbooted and gloating. Some Irish fans, also down for the match, demonstrated Celtic solidarity by stripping the idiot, so he had to hide his shame in the toilet. But for those of us in red, this was but a brief interlude of pleasure, before the Slough of Despond captured us again.

Now, four years ago I was not optimistic. I had never rated Gareth Jenkins highly as an international coach, and had been relieved when Ruddock was pulled in for the job in 2004 … and the 2005 Grand Slam followed. I bought my debentures that year to secure tickets for the final match against Ireland and was directly above the line as the blessed Gethin Jenkins intercepted an O’Gara kick, and set us on the path. That was the first year in many I had been to all the Six Nations matches; and with the added pleasure of having my son Huw with me. A scalper got me tickets for the England match and 'that' kick; Gav from 77 metres. Italy had seen a family holiday, good food and a victory. We had frozen for the first half in Paris, then hadn't noticed the onset of frostbite with that wonderful second half start. And I was part of the emptying of Wales for the Scottish match and the try fest of the first half. In Toronto, I had sat in front of Ruddock hearing his instructions as Wales crushed Canada despite their reducing the width of a pitch and providing a pitch which would have disgraced the worst excesses chronicled in Green’s Course Rugby. Then Ruddockgate, and a terrible and regrettably justified, feeling that we had, as a nation, once more turned triumph into failure.

Snowded Sept 2One of the pre-World Cup warm-up games: Wales v Argentina

This year, despite my son’s cynicism I am optimistic to the point of betting on a Welsh victory; at good odds. If we beat South Africa, then the prospect of Ireland, and either France or England en route to a final with the All Blacks, is more than achievable. The big if is that first match. Win it and we have momentum, with the Samoans likely to target their encounter with the Boks rather than their match with us. Four years ago we were scraping to find 30 international-class players. This year we have had genuine competition.

The omens were also good as the season started. Huw and I booked a night in Cardiff to watch the Blues play Bath, followed by the Argentine Match. Four years on and entering the second year of a Chemistry course he is a different creature than when in France. If nothing else he fails to truly appreciate the wisdom of age, the need to ban jumping in the lineout and a few other things. He also has a girlfriend; the good news is that she and her family are avid rugby fans, the bad news is that they support Gloucester/Northampton and England. Despite this she was with us for the first match.

Now to beat Bath with your internationals absent is a good feeling. Yes I know Bath were too, but the Welsh teams loose a higher percentage. The two-try blitz at the end of the first half showed a Welsh team that can manage its time. The two previous matches against England I had had to monitor by text, in Verona and San Antonio; so it was good to be there to watch. The stadium was also graced by over 50 thousand spectators which is good news for Welsh rugby overall.

Southerndown, Bro MorgannwgSoutherndown; on a bleak August morning

The loss of girlfriend after breakfast on the Saturday left us with some time to spare, so I decided to take Huw on a nostalgic trip. First to Penarth (I wrote of that last time) and then to Southerndown beach (I know it has a proper name, but that is how we knew it as children. Now its important to understand that although I grew up in North Wales, I was brought up as a South Walian. My father was frequently left to fend for himself during the school holidays and we were taken back to Cardiff so that we understood where we came from. Being in Cardiff was always a like joining a clan, having been somewhat isolated from relatives in Mold, condemned to cross the border to Chester for entertainment.

That clan was, and remains, a matriarchy; our lives dominated by a consortium of mothers and aunts throughout those holidays. Male figures were largely absent. Uncle Ron who lived there and Uncle Harry, retired and around the corner in the far more upmarket Pencisley Rise, were occasionally cajoled into providing a lift to Southerndown, or to the Aust Ferry to see the first Severn Bridge in construction. Uncle Ron had been a fitter in the RAF and following a period as a mechanic with the Co-op was now a Field Water Engineer. He drove a Reliant Robin, which believe it or not could take three adults and four children if necessary in those days when seat belts were unknown and traffic was light. We avoided the Uncle Harry option if possible. For a start he had been a Coal Factor and was a leading Mason, which made him anathema to the majority socialist position of the family. However for us children the problem was that his house and car were pristine in the way that only a childless, but status conscious family could be in those days.

Celebrating rugby fans, inside stadiumWales fans celebrate another try against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium

The family was proud of that house, having saved for years to escape from the docks. My great grandfather had been Head Gamekeeper to the Bute. In those days a very respectable position, and we have pictures of him with the King on shoots. However he was still a servant, and on his death the family had been thrown out of the tied cottage to survive in the ironically named Bute Town. A savagery of the indifference of class distinction which my mother never forgot; to her dying day she would never grace the Bute’s chambers in Cardiff Castle with her presence. Pencisely Avenue was the ambition of the respectable working class, back in the period leading up to the Second World War.

At the age of five we had moved to north-east Wales; my father was moving from private practice to the state veterinary service and had been assigned to Flintshire. My mother, Cardiff born and Cardiff bred, ensured that we returned to the family home two or three times a year, to ensure our identity remained rooted in the social mores and politics of the industrialised south rather than the rural north. In later life she developed a love for the seven volume Land of the Living sequence of novels by Emyr Humphreys which encapsulate the tension between north and south. Interestingly my father adapted faster, he was the first in that generation of the family to learn Welsh, it had been driven out of the previous generation via the Welsh knot. He was the pragmatist, and had to deal with small farmers for whom English was very much a second language, and more or less non-existent when they needed to talk about their crops and cattle.

Man in Wales rugby shirt walking on pebble beachHuw Snowden at Southerndown

So the trip to Southerndown and the beach at the foot of Dunraven Castle was an opportunity to remember all of that and to pass it on to the next generation. Initially unappreciative, he eventually listened and enjoyed the beach as we always had at his age and younger. We made it back in time to grab lunch and get into the stadium before the anthems. From now on its all about hope and anticipation. My diary is planned around the matches. I will be in Australia the week of the final, just in case. It is but a short hop across the Tasman.


Dave Snowden1 September 2011
Founder & Chief Scientific Officer
Cognitive Edge Pte Ltd


If you liked this, you'll also enjoy:

     Life, work, rugby; 1 June 2011

     A sense of belonging: Wales and rugby; 25 August 2010

     Dave Snowden's blog at Cognitive Edge


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