I am a proud Welshman, but I’ve always supported all the home nations in sporting events. I have an English dad and have spent my adult life in England, so I can’t do tribalism credibly even if I wanted to.
I was gutted by Wales’ defeat in the rugby to France yesterday in one of the most gripping contests I can remember. In many ways, it felt like those sporting failures etched on my memory: heroic performances, outrage at a referee and our boys coming up just short again.
But, despite the familiar disappointment, this felt different from the despair dished out to England’s football and rugby teams. Above everything else, Wales can be proud of the way this team has represented the nation. Captain Sam Warburton after the game sounded like he spoke for the country when he voiced his disappointment at being sent off and watching his side lose from the touch-line. After being sidelined, he looked distraught and others were quick to criticise the decision. But he stopped short of lambasting officialdom, which has been a tiresome trait of many modern post match football interviews. He didn’t need to. We were all with him on that one anyway.
Wales will return as heroes, and rightly so. They can be proud of the way they have responded to adversity and of their conduct off the field. They have represented the country brilliantly and made many friends in New Zealand over the last five weeks.
Compare this with England’s tournament; poor on the field and badly behaved off it. Listening to the radio over the last week, it sounded like people had simply got fed up with England in the end. They had lost the hearts and minds of the English well before they were defeated by France.
England’s underacheiving, over-hyped football team faces a similar perception problem. Playing poorly doesn’t help. But behaving badly, critcising the coach to the media and slagging off the fans will never help. Check this out if you don’t know what I mean on the last point – it was Wayne Rooney’s biggest contribution at the last World Cup.
Before England kick off their Euro 2012 campaign, they could do a lot worse that look to Wales for a straight-forward PR lesson. They need to get some perspective. Deal with things in-house. Don’t go out on the beer between matches. Don’t make sexist comments to hotel staff. And try not to badmouth the fans who travel halfway around the world to watch you underperform.
If they can do that, then maybe the scandal that’s followed them around like a bad smell in recent years will drift away and leave them to concentrate on the tournament. Even if they go out, if they can get through it without upsetting the nation that would be progress.
And if anyone doesn’t think this is possible, they should look at the welcome that greets the Welsh team when they return from New Zealand later this month.