International rescue – Gareth Bale is Wales’ fifth emergency service
In Wales there is the police, ambulance, fire brigade and coastguard – and then there’s Gareth Bale.
Come Monday, I fully expect Mark Drakeford to officially recognise the Whitchurch wonder as Wales’ fifth emergency service.
Our very own superman once again came to the rescue of Wales as he has so many times during his 15 years as a Wales international, scoring a last minute winner to beat Belarus, and bag a hat-trick to boot.
The footballing superstar, a man sorely in need of his own Marvel franchise, is the sole reason why from Euro 2016 onwards half the children born in Wales are named Gareth, and that includes the girls.
There have been so many special moments, so many cherished memories made for a generation of football fans who never thought they would see their national side qualify for a major international tournament let alone produce a player that continually defies superlatives and in the occasional Champions League final – the laws of physics.
Elis James once said of Bale: “I never thought I’d see anyone better than Rush / Hughes / Southall, and then Giggs came along.
“At which point I thought ‘that’s it, he’ll be the best Welsh player of my lifetime.’
“But Gareth…it’s like he’s from space! He’s the first player to make me feel like I’m 10 years old since I was 10 years old.”
That’s it, Gareth Bale is a once in a generation player. Whether created in a laboratory or sent from Krypton as a baby, he operates at a level away above us mere mortals.
Crucially for his teammates, he is a talismanic presence that raises the performance levels of everyone around him.
To continually perform above and beyond expectation for Wales where he feels so comfortable amongst the friends he has grown up with underlines how much he pines for the green green grass of home (or at least the Cardiff City Stadium pitch)
His is the hiraeth of a love affair with his country, a grand longing to elevate Wales to even greater heights, a dragon’s fire that refuses to be extinguished.
As my former colleague Phil Blanche, now PA Welsh sports correspondent, so succinctly surmised post match: ‘Gareth Bale celebrated a Wales winner in an empty stadium in Russia as if he had scored a Champions League decider in front of 100,000. Tells you everything about the man.’
It’s all worth remembering that alongside the emergence of the greatest footballer Wales has ever produced, we are also witnessing something that has never happened in the 145 year history of the Wales national side.
This is a golden generation for any Wales fan.
Remember, it was almost 10 years ago – August 2011, when Wales were ranked 117th in the world. Frankly, I’m still giddy with the lofty heights we’ve scaled.
The last decade has witnessed an astonishing reinvention of Welsh football – the seismic effect of which is still being felt.
From the building of The Red Wall, the quality of the match day experience since moving to a permanent home at the Cardiff City Stadium, the perfecting of the anthem, the assimilation of language and culture that has given us an identity to be proud of, to those major tournament qualifications and a crop of talented youngsters coming through, we have plenty to be excited and thankful for.
Could World Cup qualification now be another achievement to add to that roll call of Welsh footballing revolution?
Wales finally qualifying for a major international tournament after so long, was in no small part thanks to the Welsh wing warrior – a slayer of hoodoos and a galvanising force for a nation.
Maybe with that Bale hat-trick and the style of that never-say-die performance in the 3-2 win in Kazan is a sign that our World Cup misfortune is also finally to be laid to rest.
Wales hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1958; the international football equivalent of a smashed mirror, walking under a ladder, putting your shoes on the table, opening an umbrella indoors and not saluting a magpie all rolled into one wretched stretch of bad luck.
There was previously more doom surrounding the history of Wales in World Cup qualifying tournaments than there is on the Sisters Of Mercy’s Greatest Hits.
Today a shard of light appeared to dissipate the impending gloom of what looked like World Cup qualifying ignominy.
Whether World Cup qualification is ultimately achieved or not, what is certain is that we’ll look back on these years and realise just how lucky we were to live in the age of Gareth Bale.
Bale currently has 98 caps for his country. When he reaches 100 surely it is advisable that a giant statue of him bestride the Taff is quickly erected in his honour.
When Wales surely achieves independence, Welsh leader Michael Sheen will no doubt bestow on him the title of Minister of Sport for life.
Of course the R word (whisper it quietly – retirement) is never far away from any Welsh fan’s thoughts. How the collective consciousness will cope when he finally does hang up his boots, well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
That it will happen one day is a certainty.
Until then, cherish him – and remember not all superheroes wear capes, but they do wear Wales shirts.