Written by Scott Salter
Being Welsh. Being Welsh is an honour, a privilege and a way of life. Being Welsh is everything.
Gareth Bale struck a few nerves last week when he announced that the Welsh players have more passion than the English and that no player from the Three Lions side would make it into the Welsh side. Was the World’s most expensive player fishing in a bid to rustle a few English feathers? Of course he was. Was he right in what he was saying? Definitely.
You see, Wales are a side built on pride and passion. A team who have only achieved what they have due to hard-work and team spirit. This is a nation who have never qualified for an European Championship, a side who had failed to qualify for a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup and a side who were grieving following the death of former coach Gary Speed. Yes, Wales have the World’s most expensive player but there’s no way he could drag the country to success all by himself. Gareth Bale is just as important as Joe Ledley, Sam Vokes and David Edwards.
Being Welsh is all about togetherness and the Welsh national football side demonstrate that like no other could. The side is built to work together, to play for its fans and for its country. That’s what being Welsh is all about.
”As a nation geographically we’re small, but I think if you’re judging us on passion then we could be described as a continent tonight because that was amazing.” – Chris Coleman
Many on social media and in the press mocked one Welsh fan who was caught on camera crying after Wales had taken the lead against England in the group stage match. Few could understand how a man could be crying tears of happiness after his country had scored a goal against their rivals. For the Welsh, though, that was everything. To score a goal against our arch rivals at a European Championship was something few could ever imagine. Gareth Bale’s free-kick is the first time since 1984 that Wales have scored a goal against the enemy. It was a long time coming. Do Wales hate the English? No, but there is a deep level of resentment towards our neighbours. This resentment spans generations and goes far beyond football.
For it is the English who for too many years have belittled their neighbours, looked down on our people, our culture and our beliefs. It is the English who killed Llywelyn ein Llyw Olaf – the last prince of Wales. Despite the chance to surrender his country to the English and live a life of luxury, Llywelyn refused to abandon his people. Legend has it that he told the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was mediating between the two nations, that “he would not abandon the people whom his ancestors had protected since “the days of Kamber son of Brutus”.
It is this philosophy that is still instilled in the people of Wales. For the generations of today, it is the Welsh language that sits behind the resentment shown towards England. After invading Welsh lands, the English tried to rid of the Welsh language. In schools, children were forced to speak English – despite many have next to no understanding of the language – and those who were caught speaking Welsh were punished. The chosen punishment was the Welsh Not, a heavy piece of wood with the letters W.N. carved into it and tied around the neck with a thick piece of rope. Any child caught speaking their mother tongue was forced to wear the Welsh Not, with whichever child that had the Not at the end of the day beaten.
You see the language was brutally beaten out of the Welsh people, something that has a lasting effect today. As of the 2011 census, only 19% of Welsh people could speak the language. The effect of the Welsh not has been damaging for Welsh history, with the language’s future in doubt. These contributing factors have resulted in a deep resentment towards the English. Coupled with the pride for our country, the Welsh are passionate for their homeland and Bale was right in his comments. For the people of Wales, our country is everything. You can see it when the national anthem is sung – you’d struggle to find a Welshman not singing his heart out. Being Welsh is everything. Every single time we sing the national anthem Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, we pledge our hearts to our country.
“Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad.”
The direct translation of this line is “Land! Land! I am true to my land!” but the meaning is deeper than that. Like Llywelyn ein Llyw Olaf, like those who were forced to wear the Welsh Not and like Chris Coleman’s side, we put everything on the line for our country.
This passion, commitment and love for your country may be hard for English fans to understand. Whilst some are passionate about being English, I think it is fair to say that as a whole England is not a proud or committed country. I’ve lived in the South West of England for 5 years now and every single year I am surprised by how few people here know when it is St. George’s Day and furthermore how few celebrate it.
For the Welsh, St David’s Day is one of the most important days of the year. It is a chance for us to celebrate, honour and love our homeland. You’d struggle to find a Welshman who doesn’t know that it is St David’s Day.
So whilst Gareth Bale’s comments were no doubt intended to wind up a few Englishman, I believe he wholeheartedly meant what he said. Wales are more passionate than their English counterparts. That’s what has driven our success at this European Championships. We may have lost to England, but to top our group and be the highest scorers at the tournament is incredible. We’re a small nation, but for us being Welsh is everything.
Do Wales have much greater team spirit and passion than England? Let us know in the comments below!