Inexorably, excruciatingly and eventually Wales football team have done the seemingly impossible and qualified for a major tournament ..by losing! Yes only Wales could do it that way.
I awoke bleary eyed to the result Bosnia 2 Wales 0 coupled with the bizarre scenes of jubilation, manager Chris Coleman (my age) and players scattered across the pitch floor (not the green grass of home but of a side that still remains unbeaten). What and how on earth could this be?Apparently the Cypriot’s had beaten Israel away (the latter feature in Wales only previous success in the World Cup of 1958 during which Brazil’s Pele not only eliminated us but would jinx us for a long time, a very long time).
And so began six decades of misery. In my case the story begins in 1978. Like many youngsters I had a stickers book of all the teams making the World Cup of that year. For some reason this also included Wales, albeit only 6 or 7 players in the legendary and hideous seventies strip, even though only Scotland qualified (at the expense of Wales through a much documented hand ball incident).
1982 was again a scene of disappointment as Wales had stalled three goals short of the Czechs – though seeing England, Scotland and the northern Irish celebrate didn’t dampen my enjoyment or enthusiasm of the Spanish world cup.
A couple of years later the familiar air of failure meant farewell to the French Euros. Remembering a billboard in the crowd ‘MIKE’S THE ONLY ENGLAND GOING TO FRANCE’ was an early lesson in not to count any chickens too soon. Mike England was the manager. He provided a valiant effort in steering the good ship Wales but with aching certainty it hit the rocks short of navigating the final path to France.
And so the curse of Pele continued throughout the eighties, nineties and noughties. Ian Rush, Neville Southall, Ryan Giggs and many others, the nearly men, missed their cue on the big stage. And we, the long-suffering people, missed out too. There were games to see, great fixtures but ultimately the soul of the show was absent with no-one to truly support ..until now!
There are as always nagging doubts – complacency being a black dog that still haunts and is still present; they still haven’t beaten Bosnia, they could only draw against Israel at home and struggled twice to beat minnows Andorra. This doesn’t leave one feeling truly convinced of their composure, longevity and hence abilities to go anywhere further than the first round. I can only hope they prove me wrong but the recent past suggests otherwise.
So, it has been a long time coming and ironically after almost 60 years and 30 since the last Euros there, Wales are going to France (albeit with England and the northern Irish). This time it’s the unlucky Scots who’ll be absent through the kind of luck normally reserved for our men in red – a late equaliser from the powerful Poles put paid to a place in the play offs. So sorry for Scotland but for us the future is indeed the brightest RED. And let’s hope they glow!