The Six Nations recommences today, and now that Wales v England has happened, things get a lot easier for me.
See, as an Englishman who lived in Wales for twenty years, my allegiances are always torn when it comes to matches between the two; although it’s almost ten years now since I lived there, I still love the land of valleys and song, and I want them to win every time they play, but I can’t quite stretch that to include when they play England.
For the first few years that I lived in South Wales, I was always terrified of being identified as an Englishman when the two teams faced each other. I really need not have worried, at least not when it came to the rugby crowd; the only time I got any hassle for being English was whilst either watching England play football in a bar (and specifically, the 1996 Euro Semi Final against Germany), or immediately after a Wales v Holland football match when I just happened to be in the vicinity of the stadium. But I can look to one event which made me realise that I wasn’t going to get the living crap beaten out of me by a Welsh rugby fan for having the wrong accent.
In the mid-1990s, I was making excellent use of my degree by working as the manager of a video shop in Cardiff, about five minutes walk away from Cardiff Arms Park; I would invariably work on a Saturday, including match days, and we would watch the crowds flowing past the shop window on the way to and from the stadium.
On one occasion, I was there with Matt, a student who worked the occasional weekend. After the game, the crowds slowly began to drift by, and you could tell who had won by their demeanour and drunkenness. This Saturday, England had won, so I decided to keep a low profile.
One of our regular customers came in, obviously under orders from his other half to pick up a film on his way home to watch that evening. He was a giant of man, mulletted, wearing the Welsh shirt with pride and not a few suspicions stains. He was also quite ridiculously pissed, swaying as he stood trying to focus on the new releases.
Finally he made his selection, wobbled up to the counter at which point Matt piped up: “Been to the game, have we mate?”
The bloke looked at him. “Yerrrr…”
“Perhaps you’d like to discuss the result with this Englishman here?” Matt suggested, gesturing towards me and stepping sharply out of the way.
The drunk guy stared at me, a puzzled look on his face, and I felt my blood turn cold. There was no doubt that even though he was drunk and there was a counter in between us, if he took against me I’d had it.
Instead, he held his hand out. A trap, I thought. If I shake that, he’ll pull me over the counter and cave my head in. His hand remained outstretched and unshaken for what seemed an age. In the end, I could ignore it no longer, and I offered my hand in return.
“Fair play,” he said as we shook hands, “your boys outplayed us.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Matt look so disappointed.
Years later, when I had stumbled into the line of work I’m in now, many of the blokes in the office would travel to see some of the away games, specifically the ones against Ireland or Scotland. They would often ask me to join them, but I always declined. By this time I had adopted a policy of feigning indifference to the whole sport; I found that meant I was spared the ribbing that English colleagues got whenever Wales were triumphant.
They would return regaling me of stories drunkenness and singing, not entirely unlike this, which, since many of them will be travelling up to Scotland this weekend, deserves an airing:
Have a great weekend, whatever the score, boys.