“Mae pawb yn Gymry nawr!”
The headline in my morning newspaper translates this as “We’re all Welsh now”.
Pardon me if I demur.
With all due respect to my Welsh friends – actually friend – I will not be rooting for Wales this evening. Wales meet Portugal in the quarter-final of the European football championship. Citizens of Wales are understandably abuzz with excitement, electrified by the exploits of a team that entered the competition as underdogs of the kind usually excluded from kennels as flea-infested strays, and proceeded to bring the tournament to life by thrashing Belgium, one of the teams most fancied to win it.
By the time some of you read this, the improbable Welsh ‘journey’ – as it is bound to be called by people who think passing an eye test is a journey – will either be at an end or about to enter a glorious new stage. I will be neither sorry if Wales are knocked out nor happy if they progress to the semi-final. Or, indeed, vice versa.
In other words, I am completely indifferent to the matter of whether Wales win or lose. (I should add that, this being football, I would be hardly less indifferent if the team playing Portugal tonight had been England.)
“Sour grapes!” my Welsh friend will cry. It is nothing of the kind. My grapes are, in fact, fat, luscious and simply piquant with flavour.
My attitude is informed not by jealousy but by the antics of the Welsh team, which last week, as England were ignominiously eliminated from the competition by Iceland, leaped and whooped with joy at the news. (Several members claimed that they had not known there were cameras present, as if that would have made a difference.)
They did not leap and whoop for any good tactical reason, say because England would have been their next opponents. Nor did they leap and whoop in sympathy for Iceland, say for having donated the entire proceeds of its annual catch of cod to Plaid Cymru. The Welsh team leaped and whooped with joy simply because they were Welsh and Welshmen are expected, and may be programmed, to celebrate any embarrassment or shame for England, sporting, political or otherwise.
(There is irony here. Nine members of the Welsh eleven were born, raised and reside in England, having qualified for Wales only by virtue of a Welsh-born parent or grandparent. I am not complaining, though, because England’s rugby and cricket teams regularly take the field stocked with ‘guests’ from South Africa and the South Sea islands.)
All of the above would apply if Scotland rather than Wales had been the beneficiary of England’s fall from football grace.
Scottish football (and, sadly, rugby) fans regularly cheer for whatever team England is playing, regardless of the sport; and that includes sports in which Scotland does not seriously participate. Some Scots I have little doubt would have cheered lustily last week if England had been playing ISIL, and cheered all the more loudly if ISIL had promised, in the event of victory, to behead every English player on the pitch in full view of the spectators, preferably live on television.
I hope you will believe me when I say that I am not angry at the Welsh or the Scots. They have been cackling over England’s pratfalls for centuries, usually invoking as an excuse some obscure medieval battle long beyond the recall of the English but burned deep into the psyches of their opponents. It is an attitude that reflects centuries of accumulated Celtic animus against their larger and more successful neighbour.
The Celts, I might add, are far from impressed that such bilious sentiments are not reciprocated. Nor are they even grateful that the English invariably cheer on their siblings in the family of nations called – with increasingly rich irony – the United Kingdom, probably on the grounds that by behaving in such a friendly, civilised manner the English as usual are up to something sinister.
Having said all that, I wish the Welsh well tonight. But then so I do their opponents Portugal (historically England’s oldest world ally, by the way).
And if nothing else, the Welsh have served a useful purpose: they have diverted the newspapers from those other silly games now underway in the political arena.