Review: Y Wal Goch – Ar Ben y Byd, edited by Ffion Eluned Owen
Considering all the excitement, the thrill of seeing the Welsh football team make history on their adventure to the World Cup, it’s only natural that this tumultuous journey is recorded and celebrated by fans, journalists, broadcasters, historians and writers.
Yes this year’s venue is unfortunate to say the least, but that has often been the case when it comes to big sporting events, and having had to wait 64 years to get there, the desire to enjoy it all is impossible to ignore.
As such, those motivated members of The Red Wall – whether they have decided to go to Qatar or not – will follow every kick, every word, every goal, with a passion.
Ffion Eluned Owen explains in her preface that the definition of a wall means something defensive, closed. Yet this wall represents the opposite – something open, progressive and inclusive. The purpose of The Red Wall is not to keep anyone out, but to welcome, embrace and support.
The editor’s experiences mirror those of thousands upon thousands of other fans, the endless journeys – including Baku in 2021 – the disappointments and then the unique opportunity to celebrate amazing achievements.
This is not Owen’s story though, rather a collection of memories, of perspectives and emotions from a wide cross-section of members of The Red Wall. As Owen explains, these stories could fill a stadium and all of them deserve to be heard and remembered.
Considering the eighteen official contributors and the plethora of extra vox-pops from dozens of fans, it’s strange to consider that The Red Wall is actually only six years old, having come into being during those iconic Euros in France.
Yet the words themselves – Y Wal Goch – have captured the imagination to such an extent that the name is enough, it means so much now that no explanation is needed.
Journalist Iolo Cheung begins his chapter by tracing the origin of the name back to the city of Bordeaux and the match against Slovakia on the 11th of June, 2016.
The images were breathtaking – the fans formed a wall of bodies and shirts and a mythology formed round them. Cheung goes further, in following the evolution of The Red Wall from the singing and missionary work in France to the new awareness and evolution since.
He focuses on the positive role of social media (and one doesn’t say that often) in the development of the Football Association of Wales, The Red Wall itself, The Women’s Red Wall, The Rainbow Wall, and Amar Cymru.
The inclusion of key contributions from female and LGBTQ+ fans feels even more important when considering current events in Iran, whose team have made a stand of solidarity, as well as being outstanding on the pitch against Wales this week.
The ‘One Love’ armband controversy and the experiences of former Wales captain Laura McAllister in Qatar have also shone a light on hypocrisy in football’s high places.
Academic Penny Miles presents an uncomfortable assessment of the slow acceptance of women among the ranks of male supporters.
Gwennan Harries describes her experiences as an international player and as a commentator – both initially being very challenging. However, she now attends Wales’ games with pure satisfaction, whereas a trip to watch Man Utd for example, is still an invitation for trouble.
When talking about the modern, inclusive game though, Y Wal Goch also throws curve balls. There’s poetry here… and that poetry is in English! As it happens, Sarah McCreadie’s tribute to Gareth Bale is an undoubted highlight.
The words came to mind once again in the wake of the captain’s penalty against the USA, Wales’ first World Cup goal since 1958, and who else but Bale could strike such a perfect shot?
McCreadie presents our hero in the context of the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, John Travolta’s character in Grease, and the 80s American band REO Speedwagon. Remarkably, these references feel natural and unforced. They make for an absolutely gorgeous picture.
Of course, it’s impossible to focus on The Red Wall without focusing on music. The Barry Horns are here, as indeed they have been – faithfully and loudly – over the years.
David Collins picks out a list of his favourite fan anthems. Performer Sage Todz, who created a very modern version of Yma o Hyd this year, takes centre-stage, as indeed does Dafydd Iwan himself.
Over the past week, the whole world has been able to hear the unofficial anthem which means so much to the fans and the team.
It reflects renewed confidence, self-awareness and in the wake of the Football Association of Wales’ recent – and brave – video accompaniment, it’s impossible to ignore the inherent political message.
Amongst the unexpected pleasures of Y Wal Goch there are various memories of following Wêls Awê.
Meilir Emrys begins with the story of Billy Meredith at Craven Cottage in 1907, before paying tribute to the iconic ‘Tiblisi Eleven’ who witnessed the massacre against Georgia in 1994.
Greg Caine presents lessons on the history and geography of Pembrokeshire, the Lansker Line and ‘Little England Beyond Wales’, as well as comparing his experiences as a Welsh rugby supporter and football fan.
And after years of following his team, Garmon Ceiro promises he’s going to wave ‘ta-ta after Qatar’. We’ll see about that if the call comes from Germany in two years’ time.
There are a host of other valuable contributions, but the book is worth reading for one anecdote alone, by Rhian Davies, which is bound to elicit an involuntary laugh. It records the views of her father, former player and commentator Dai Davies, on the FAW’s selection of Bobby Gould as Wales Manager back in the 90s…
As a representation of Welsh football and its fans, Y Wal Goch captures the immense passion, pure innocence and unexpected rapture of recent years.
Make sure you read it in your red shirt and bucket-hat to get the full experience.
Y Wal Goch – Ar Ben y Byd, edited by Ffion Eluned Owen, is published by Y Lolfa. It is available from all good bookshops or is available here.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.