Wednesday, October 27

Football thrives in Wales as Bale and company raise hopes for Euro 2020 | Welsh

OROne boy wore a FC Barcelona shirt and another a Swansea City shirt. But the vast majority of the young footballers who trained on the flawless 3G pitch when a salty breeze blew in from Carmarthen Bay were in the red hot for their local semi-pro club. Llanelli Town AFC, or the shirt of the Welsh national team.

Eight-year-old Noah paused for a chat and named his favorite players as the Welsh team poster boys, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. “They are both brilliant,” he said. “It’s great to see them in euros.”

The success of the Wales national football team at Euro 2020 is taking over a nation traditionally best known for its rugby. At 5pm Saturday, the streets will empty and fans, the ‘red wall’ (and wal goch), will find a bar or lounge to watch Bale, Ramsey and their teammates take on Denmark for a place in the last eight. Expectations are growing that Wales can emulate, or even surpass, their run to the semi-finals of the competition in 2016.

“Football is thriving here and across Wales,” said Simon Thomas, Llanelli Town’s community development officer. “It’s great to see it.”

Born and raised in Llanelli, Thomas agrees that the southwest Welsh town is still predominantly rugby. Scarlet, one of the four professional teams in the country, is based in the city. “But soccer is becoming much more of a mainstay,” Thomas said. “There is more grassroots football than rugby in the city and more children play football than rugby.”

Llanelli Town AFC has more than 20 sides for youth, veterans, women, people with disabilities: 300 children and 200 adults. “Everyone is welcome,” Thomas said.

Youth training at Llanelli AFC
Youth training at Llanelli AFC. Photograph: Gareth Phillips / The Guardian

Parents who watched the session on the 3G field this week agreed that soccer was becoming as important as rugby. “It’s starting to change,” said nine-year-old Tom’s father, Stuart Northcote. “There are excellent facilities: 3G fields, soccer fields, etc. There is also the perception among parents that it is not as dangerous as rugby, with all the concerns about head injuries. “But it is certainly also being boosted by the success of the national team.” That certainly helps. “, He said.

In the center of town there is a mural commemorating the city’s most famous sporting moment, when the Llanelli rugby club beat the New Zealand All Blacks in 1972 and, in the words of Max Boyce’s poem commemorating the victory, “ pubs dried up ”.

But at a barbershop in the mall, Tammy Rees has created a display of soccer balls and Welsh flags. “I have kids, so I can’t help it. I can hug him too, ”he said.

Fisherman’s hats are out of stock at the Welsh market shop. “We can’t get enough of them,” David Beale said. He attributes the team’s success to inclusion. “You can see that the players are together. The fans see it and respond. “

Inclusiveness is the word Welsh fanatics use over and over again. Carys Ingram, Co-Chair of the rainbow wall The Wales supporters group for members of the LGBTQ + community said the team and supporters’ motto “Together Stronger” was not a short phrase.

“Wales are so successful on and off the pitch because of our union,” Ingram said. “Together Stronger is not just a strong slogan for our team, it is a way of life. We are only a country of 3 million, but the pride we take in donning our Wales jerseys cannot be described. We are a huge family, regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, gender, physical ability, or background. “

Hales Evans, who has created a business selling Welsh soccer jerseys for women, said supporting Wales was always a party. “There are never problems.” He has traveled extensively with Wales for 20 years. “We take an interest in the local culture, we do walking tours, we see the sights. Obviously, there is a lot of drinking too, but we can’t wait to represent our country properly. “

A Welsh fan in the stands during last weekend's game against Italy in Rome
A Welsh fan in the stands during last weekend’s game against Italy in Rome. Photography: Marco Iacobucci / PA

Charles Ashburner, who directs Mr Flag in Swansea, said he had noticed a change in what fans were looking for. In 2016 it sold countless generic Welsh dragon flags and pennants. This time people ask for custom flags. “There have been many more who want the word ‘independence’ on their flags, or slogans in Welsh rather than English.”

Ffred Ffransis, prominent member of the lobby describing the team as “Cymru”. “Football is increasingly a way for the people and communities of Wales to affirm their identity and their place in the world,” he said.

The Welsh team embraces the culture and history of the country. In recent years, players have visited the Aberfan disaster site and the poet’s grave in Welsh. Hedd Wyn.

For this campaign, Cadw, the historic environmental service of the government of Wales, It has been established dragon pedestals celebrating members of the Cymru 2021 squad at sites like castles and abbeys. Defender Joe Rodon is being celebrated on Llanelli Road at Kidwelly Castle.

The Deputy Director of Plaid Cymru, Rhun ap Iorwerth, a soccer fan who followed Wales into France in 2016, was wary of including politics in everything. But he said: “The belief in Wales’s ability to succeed intermittently is growing, and while there is always the danger of over-politicizing the sport, it is a positive platform for many to express our aspirations for our nation, while at the most immediate future looking forward to the ball entering the back of the net as football fans. ”

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