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Eddie Butler: ‘Rugby is a false symbol of what Wales is all about’

06 Sep 2021 3 minutes Read
Eddie Butler giving the inaugural Gwyn Alf Williams Memorial Lecture for YesCymru Merthyr Tydfil.

The game of rugby is a “false symbol of what Wales is all about”, according to the commentator Eddie Butler.

The former Wales international rugby player, who was capped 16 times between 1980 and 1984, made the suggestion while giving the inaugural Gwyn Alf Williams Memorial Lecture for YesCymru Merthyr Tydfil.

The former Pontypool player suggested during Wales’ internationals that you “bring out your Welsh defiance and you put it on display briefly, and you take it down again”, adding there’s “something hollow about all this”.

He said: “Rugby has this hold on us. I remember when I first joined Pontypool the wonderful Ray Prosser said to me ‘Edward’ he said, ‘rugby is in Pontypool is much more than a game’, and in a way he was right, so that it shaped our lives and it defined the town of Pontypool. But ultimately it is only a game, and there are greater forces at work.”

He recounted the clash between Wales and England at Twickenham in 1980 which became infamous for its bloody violence. It went down in history has the game that ‘shamed rugby’

Eddie Butler said: “I remember in 1980, I was fresh into the Welsh team and we went to play in England. My second game was away in England, 1980. It went down in history as the Paul Ringer game. It was spectacularly violent. Even for somebody coming from Pontypool, it was very violent.

“The match in 1980 coincided with a steel strike back home and so you can imagine in the dressing room, the talk, it’s almost cliched now, but the talk was ‘the English do this do that to us, they take that from us, and we do hate them, and let’s get out there and smash them’, and the game went its way. We lost by a point.”

‘Serious’ 

He went on: “But afterwards I remember the very next day talking to the lads, I said ‘all that stuff about the distinct defiance of Wales in the face of England, is it heartfelt, is it serious?’.

Eddie says he was told: “Oh no Eddie. It’s just all part of the theatre, all part of the drama of the weekend.”

Eddie continued: “I remember feeling distinctly disappointed that somehow it’s like, it’s like Christmas lights, or you know a mothering Sunday card. You bring out your Welsh defiance and you put it on display briefly, and you take it down again.

“There’s something hollow about all this and so rugby in a way is a false symbol of what Wales is all about. So it begs the question then, well what are we all about and where are we?”

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GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
20 days ago

And this is why I prefer our national football team by far and why I think it represents Wales much better. It’s defiance 365 days of the year, not just 80 minutes and then going back to the pathetic sycophancy and imperialism.

CJPh
CJPh
20 days ago
Reply to  GW Atkinson

What an excellent way to get Cymru moving towards our emancipation – hate on rugby! Iesu wen tragwyddol, this is becoming farcical.

I’ve seen more butcher’s aprons flown at Welsh football grounds than at any rugby match, and I still think that it is mostly jiust posturing, mostly tribal sporting rivalry. 99% of the conversations held at and after sporting events are about the sport, internal politics and the best place to get a drink afterwards – An unwavering pro-indy rugby fan.

GW Atkinson
GW Atkinson
20 days ago
Reply to  CJPh

You mean that one union jack at Swansea’s ground put up by some britnat? Because if that was flown at Wales matches it would be burnt down within seconds. Its the rugby that has royalty at the head of their organisation, its rugby that ignores that Wales has its own language, it’s rugby that uses the emblem of a foreign prince, its rugby that cripples itself for the Lions tours and its rugby that lets itself be used as propaganda for the British army. Everything opposite to what our national football team stands for.

Last edited 20 days ago by GW Atkinson
CJPh
CJPh
20 days ago
Reply to  GW Atkinson

The people of pontypool, Maesteg, Bridgend, the Swansea Valley, all of west Wales will really fancy voting indy after this sales pitch. Plus, One flag? Good deal more than that, both at the vetch and now at the liberty. But, as I stated, that’s mostly an anti-Cardiff dig. Most other swans fans I know are ambivalent towards politics. It’s about the club and the game. Same goes for rugby – Lions tours are mostly an exercise in building a ‘dream team’;only a strange subset of rugby-illiterate English journos see it as a British thing. I mean, the Republic of Ireland… Read more »

Last edited 20 days ago by CJPh
Gruff Williams
Gruff Williams
20 days ago
Reply to  CJPh

Where is your club?

CJPh
CJPh
20 days ago
Reply to  Gruff Williams

Lower Swansea Valley for all 3

Rob
Rob
20 days ago
Reply to  GW Atkinson

But then in football there are Welsh clubs playing in the English Pyramid, and I have known some Welsh fans have to shout for England during the Euros final or past World Cups, which is something Welsh rugby fans would never do.

FYI I support for Wales in both football and rugby & don’t buy into this football vs rugby pettiness.

My gripe is with Cricket. That sport recognises us as nothing more than a region of England.

Dafydd ap Robart
Dafydd ap Robart
19 days ago
Reply to  Rob

Rwy’n cofio, yn yr Ewros cyn yr un diweddar, gweld cefnogwyr pêl-droed meddw o Gymru ochr yn ochr â ffasgwyr meddw o Loegr yn ymosod ar bobl gyffredin yng Ngwlad Belg. Ble mae’r balchder yn hynny?

Glen
Glen
20 days ago
Reply to  GW Atkinson

……..and cheering on the British Lions.

Egg chasers are a strange lot.

Cai Wogan Jones
Cai Wogan Jones
20 days ago

I admire Eddie for saying this. We should of course celebrate our vibrant rugby clubs and the success of our rugby teams. But if we immerse our identity in the sport of rugby to the exclusion of all else, we are turning on our backs on a unique and remarkable heritage, culture and history stretching back millennia.

Go into any seaside souvenir shop and look at the icons of Welshness presented there. Rugby and beer. Beer and rugby.

What a travesty!

CJPh
CJPh
20 days ago

Eddie certainly has a point, and you add to it very well here. But I’m not certain how pervasive this idea of our identity being wrapped up in rugby actually is – it’s one of those national symbols that every nation has – the fact we have it (along with many others) is a (admittedly weak) proof that we actually have a national identity. If anyone bases their idea of heritage on the stock held in a seaside souvenir shop, then that is surely their problem? Still, those cheap knickknacks are quite different to those found in Southend. Or in… Read more »

Gavin
Gavin
20 days ago

The Welsh know and love their rugby and where we stand in the world with it.

Yet most are completely unaware of our history, our language, and where we stand in the world as a nation. We are blinded by a union flag that we wear as a hood over our heads.

Mbu
Mbu
20 days ago

There were times when some of the stuff in rugby union really was serious, like touring in Apartheid South Africa or Ceausescu’s Romania. You can reflect on Eddie’s actions then as being what he was all about, without him facing up to this, makes his points now sound a little hollow.

arthur owen
20 days ago
Reply to  Mbu

Of course no one can in any way develop over the years.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
20 days ago

Eddie makes a good point about some people’s belief in Wales not going much further than supporting the country on the rugby field (but the exact same same claim could doubtless be levelled at some followers of the national football team – or of any team which represents Wales in international competition). Rugby union seems to have become synonymous with welsh identity because it’s a sport in which we’ve enjoyed some measure of success on the international stage down the years. Indeed it would be no exaggeration to say that some people in the world will only have known of… Read more »

Last edited 20 days ago by Leigh Richards
Wilfy
Wilfy
20 days ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Chwarae teg, Eddie. Dw i’n caru rygbi Cwmraeg acos fy nghelu ymgasglu ar un. My family gather together as one am y pencampwriaeth chwe gwlad. For the six nations Championship. Dw i’n cytuno – more culture than that which is uniquely Welsh. As a patriot I am not at all fearful of my culture being erased as our family, and lots like it will keep it alive. Like Eddie I grew up (wedi tyfu lan) in Pontypool and watched him on the terraces in the unbeaten season 84. We were never taught Welsh at school in Pontypool. That has changed.… Read more »

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
19 days ago
Reply to  Wilfy

I think the patriotism’s already there, and not just at the Millemium or in front of the telly on match days. Likewise with football. Eddie Butler’s right, of course, that many of those at a Wales match, of either code, are “weekend Welshmen” to a certain degree. but they’ve taken their patriotism with them to the match and not just bought it with their half time paned. Rugby is embedded in Welsh culture — increasingly in the gogledd as well as the south — and Eddie Butler is perhaps wrong to downplay its cultural significance simply because it doesn’t have… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
19 days ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

Da iawn ‘to, Wrexhamian, some much needed nuance. The sporting dimension, much as with the cultural dimension and the party political dimension of the independence movement, should always be secondary to the overall principle of attaining a separate Welsh state. We should be careful not to push the ‘weekend welshman’ away, causing them to be a totally checked-out, apathetic Welsh man. Rhyddid i bawb yng Nghymru yw’r nod, Beth bynnag yw siap y bel ma’ nhw’n cwrso

Last edited 19 days ago by CJPh
Robert Hughes
Robert Hughes
19 days ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Rugby union is the game of Empire with the exception of Argentina, Japan and France. Travel Europe and you realise Wales is far more well-known because it has an International team and most people aren’t sure why.

Robert Hughes
Robert Hughes
19 days ago
Reply to  Robert Hughes

*Football team

hdavies15
hdavies15
20 days ago

Any nation that has its core identity wedded to a single sport or any other activity is in serious trouble. Fortunately as we have recently witnessed Wales literally punched above its weight at other sports – good to see those 2 young ladies from Caerphilly/ Gwent being driven around the borough to hail their success. Similarly Aled from Bridgend still showing an appetite for success in the field events at Paralympics. More like a broad based sporting nation than just narrowly fixated on rugby which was just as bad as being seen as beer swilling choirs. A few decades ago… Read more »

Redmond Mocke
Redmond Mocke
19 days ago

What a lot of b******s. True rugby fans go into depression (not real depression) after the last game of the season. For EB it might have been 80 minutes but for true rugby fans it is 365 & 1/4 days a year. Rugby is in our blood.

LGriffiths
LGriffiths
19 days ago
Reply to  Redmond Mocke

You’ve completely missed the point fella. It seems that you’ve taken much of what Eddie has said completely out of context in order that you can take umbrage, and have a dig. He isn’t talking about rugby, he’s talking about the servile attitude of those that produce a febrile patriotic atmosphere for an international rugby game, yet revert to a cowed servitude immediately afterwards. Patriotism should not be switched on and off like ‘Christmas lights’, as Eddie put it, it should run through you like the red blood in your veins. Sadly, many in Wales, for some unfathomable reason, see… Read more »

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