Father to son – the well-travelled tales of a Wales away veteran
“It’s only a game” they said.
Where did it all begin? Did it begin on 7th January 1978 at Ninian Park against Ipswich Town in the FA Cup, when I went to my first ever football match, because at 14 I was finally old enough to catch the train to Cardiff on my own?
Did it begin with my first Cardiff vs. Swansea derby game on 7th April 1980? Did it begin in 1985 when I went on a football tour to the Netherlands with Bryntirion (now Penybont) for a few unforgettable nights in Amsterdam and scored my only international goal (a penalty) wearing Adidas flankers or did it begin on 14th September 1988 in Amsterdam for Netherlands vs. Wales; my Wales Away debut?
To be honest, I’m not really sure. It sort of creeps up on you and one day you think, I’m a football fan! Or maybe a fan of football trips.
Football – it’s a funny old game. What it has given me is enough memories and stories to last a lifetime already, and hopefully I’m not done yet.
If life is measured by deeds rather than words or materialistic things, then football gives you the opportunity to be rich, if you choose to embrace it.
I’ve been lucky enough to walk on the Great Wall of China, float on the Dead Sea, visit the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and the Kremlin in Moscow, experience Auschwitz and Chernobyl, and travel to countries that don’t exist anymore (Czechoslovakia) or don’t officially exist today (Transnistria), all because of my love for Welsh football.
I’ve sung the Welsh National Anthem (badly) on 75 occasions across Europe, North America and Asia, the best anthem in the world in my opinion, often with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat (if you were in Bordeaux, you were probably crying with me).
Who you share the journey with is so important. I have made lifelong friends because of the bond that is formed through football. Friends who have experienced so many adventures with me over the years, some we talk about openly when we’re together, but there are some that will forever be filed under the ‘what happens on tour’ category.
I have also been lucky enough to meet and marry a girl that loves football (a rarity in the 1980s) and it’s played a big part in our life together. We have numerous shared memories and experiences from rainy midweek nights at Notts County and Southend United, to sunny evenings in San Marino, Limassol and Bologna. We even owe the conception and birth of our son to a famously missed penalty, but that’s another story for another day.
One of the greatest pleasures for me is being able to share so many of these experiences with my son Ryan, since his Wales Away debut on 9th October 2004, and to watch him grow into a fine young man and a passionate football fan in his own right with so many memories and stories of his own, knowing that Wales will be in safe hands for many years to come.
The last few years have been unforgettable from a football perspective and have helped put Wales on the world stage but it hasn’t always been that way.
There have been years of poor performances and results where the football was the worst part of the whole trip, at times it was all about the trip and not the football
Dreams come true
I can still remember my first few away wins as they were so rare – Cyprus 1992, San Marino 1996, Denmark 1998 and Finland 2002. The shared experiences however are unforgettable and as we get older, the stories almost have a time travel quality about them, making us smile as they transport us back to another time and place, for example to a hotel lift in Sofia, Bulgaria with Gary Speed in 2011.
I think these lyrics sum it up beautifully; “Son can you play me a memory? I’m not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” If you know, you know.
Many of you will recognise this journey, some of you will have travelled some of it with me, and some of you will have taken a different path to the same destination.
A rainy night in Zenica, Bosnia when everything changed, dreams came true and Y Ddraig Goch roared. Fe Godwn Ni Eto. The rest as they say is history.
This article first appeared in the latest issue of football culture fanzine Alternative Wales.
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