Spirit of ’22: meet the filmmaker turning his lens on the Red Wall during the World Cup in Qatar
A new independent film will document Welsh football fans experiences of the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.
Spirit of ’22, the follow-up to 2016’s The Red Wall documentary, will capture the emotional ride and reactions of the Welsh fans as the Dragons take on the USA, Iran and England.
43-year-old filmmaker Nick Stradling, from Penarth, says filming his 2016 documentary in Bordeaux following Wales’ victory over Slovakia was “the best experience of my life”.
“I really think that Euro 2016 was the biggest moment in the history of the country. I can’t think of a time when more eyes in the world were looking on Wales – on its own terms – as Wales. I wanted to be out there to make a permanent record of that and to meet all the fans.”
Travelling to France with two friends, the affable Stradling arrived in Bordeaux ticketless, but armed with his trusty camera.
“I wanted to go to France to tell the fans’ story and experiences and catch what they call in storytelling ‘the catharsis’ – the emotional release of joy in that moment of finally being seen by the world. I wrote my dissertation on representations of Wales internationally, and this was perfect.”
Through thick and thin
Having experienced the nadir of Welsh football as a travelling fan, Stradling says that The Red Wall doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
“I think the Welsh supporters are ambassadors for Wales. I know that quote gets thrown about a lot, but to contextualise it, there were games in places like Tbilisi, Serbia and Tunisia where we were getting battered by rubbish teams in all sorts of weather. There would only be about 50-70 Welsh fans in the stadium. But for me, that presence is massive down the years, that presence in all those stadiums is a huge thing.
About ten years ago there was a story in The Telegraph where they found that a lot of S4C programmes hadn’t had any viewers. They tried to make the argument that the existence of public funding for S4C under those circumstances was pointless. I think that the Wales fans who were at those stadiums possibly kept the football team alive. Imagine if there were no Wales fans in those grounds, imagine the calls for a Team GB after that!”
One fan in particular who Stradling met in Bordeaux made a special impact on him, someone he says is the perfect example of a Welsh fan.
“In the film (The Red Wall) there is a fan called David Jones, who is still in disbelief that Wales have qualified for a tournament.
He says ‘I’m 50 years old and I never thought I would see Wales in a competition like this. We were in Osijek in Croatia when there were 52 of us in the stadium. And now there are going to be 25,000 here today – I’m buzzing.’ I was filming and David came over and called me a nutter and asked me what I was doing. I told him my story. He was quite touched by what I was doing, so he gave me his spare ticket to the Slovakia game! I got in the stadium by virtue of interviewing him.”
Stradling’s says his plans for Spirit of ’22 are ambitious, but that he is desperate to build upon the success of The Red Wall documentary.
“I’ve recently been made redundant, so I am going to go full-time on it. What I don’t want to do is exclude the fans who can’t go to Qatar from representation this time.
The ambition of the project is ramped up. I will be paying video crews to be in north and south Wales to capture interviews on the ground at home too.
This one won’t be going on YouTube, but the important thing is crowdfunding. This is going to be four months of full-time work. I need to get paid at least a little bit so I can make it better. It’ll be in cinemas in Cymru in 2023. Art centres and independent cinemas will be running events and things like that.
My main sponsors are Yes Cymru. However, the film, won’t be a drum-banging independence film, as we don’t want anyone to be excluded. But I do want the film to represent this growing confidence and unity that is coming out of Wales at the moment.”
Don’t Take Me Home
Another of Stradling’s sponsors is Welsh BAFTA-winning filmmaker Jonny Owen.
“Jonny chipped in straight away. I absolutely love Don’t Take Me Home. I watch it every two months! I reviewed it on my YouTube channel, I think that is why Jonny is helping out.”
He is not worried about comparisons with Don’t Take Me Home, as Spirit of ’22 is more focused on the experiences of the fans, rather than the team and the tournament itself.
“This film is going to be vox-popping, very much like The Red Wall. I will be trying to pick up the atmosphere in Dubai, Qatar and back home in Wales, but mainly it will be interviews and the stories of the fans. I want those faces and stories up-close and personal. Spirit of ‘22 is purely fans.”
Stradling says that the importance of the first match against USA should not be underestimated and hopes that the success of the film is not dependent on the success of the team.
“Just like The Red Wall was about Bordeaux, Wales coming out to the world in front of billions of people against the USA is so important. I want to capture the release of that moment of the first game.
“The result may dictate aspects of the tone of the film I suppose, but I think the result will be positive, at least a draw. A positive result would really help our national confidence. The US really fetishizes the Irish and Scots. You see films and programmes about them, they know about the culture and so on. Wales hasn’t really penetrated the US yet. I hope we can through football.”
The FAW and The Red Wall
Stradling wants to capture the unique togetherness and culture of Welsh supporters and how the FAW has supported and promoted this unity.
“The FAW need massive praise, as well as the fans. Ian Gwyn Hughes is a massive factor in that. He tells the players stories of Wales – Hedd Wyn, Owain Glyndŵr, and so on. These things might sound trite, but I don’t think you can disconnect them from how the team has been playing as well.
I remember listening to an interview with Hal Robson-Kanu in 2016. He was asked about his career and he said: ‘it’s not about me, it’s about the nation’, and that’s from a born Englishman.
That really hit home to me. They are on point and they are on brand. The FAW represent ambition for Wales, which can be rare. They have a genuine international ambition for Wales. I don’t think they can be praised highly enough.”
The film will be bilingual and inclusive, with Stradling set to release a star-studded trailer in the coming weeks. “We’ve got Michael Sheen, Huw Edwards, Laura McAllister, Bryn Law and many more. I want the film to represent Wales as a whole – unity and representation.”
The filmmaker says he wants fans to approach him in Qatar and that he will certainly be visible. “I lived in Scotland for a while, so I often wear my kilt and Welsh sporran, which is called an Ysgrepan. I wore it at the recent independence march.
One of my sponsors is the Welsh Tartan Centre, who’s owner is part of the Red Wall and approached me when I was in Bordeaux. He’d had a few bevvies and offered to sponsor me in the future when I met him in Bordeaux. He stayed true to his promise.”
Spirit of ’22 will capture a monumental moment in Welsh football history. It has been an agonising 64-year wait to witness the nation on the world stage. There have been so many near-misses and disappointments, but the ever positive and film-mad Stradling quotes the film Shadowlands: “the pain then is part of the happiness now.”
Qatar will be a celebration of Wales on the world stage. If you’re there and want to be part of Welsh football history, make sure to look out for Stradling and his Ysgrepan.
Sponsor the Spirit of ’22 here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/spirit-of-22#/
Wales in the Movies YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/WalesintheMovies
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