You love us: The romance between the Red Wall and the men in red
In Macbeth, Shakespeare spoke of ‘A heart to love, and in that heart, Courage, to make’s love known’. For the sake of this article, I’m going to proceed as if he was encouraging us to remind those closest to us that we love them, and not speaking about the murder of King Duncan.
In 2022, the Red Wall cannot be accused of playing their cards close to their chest – we are generous, vocal and passionate with our love. As some of our most iconic players reach the twilight of their careers in a red shirt, it feels as if we are counting down the number of appearances they have left. You’d be forgiven if you thought the response from the crowd for their remaining games would be reflective or nostalgic.
But the zest that us fans still have for singing their names, doesn’t feel like we are paying tribute to veterans. It’s more akin to that burning, obsessive, hormone-fuelled teenage love. Scrawling Gareth Bale’s name over our schoolbooks.
And they know it. They feel loved. They are driven by the uninhibited, unashamed love from the Canton stand and her three sisters. The stands of Cardiff City Stadium have formed a protective bubble around players, in particular our captain Gareth Bale. The stands of Santiago Bernabeu, still a building site on the lower tier – closest to the players, are now a cold, isolated place for their forgotten star. The embers of their holiday romance now totally gone. But, when Bale returns home, that old fire from the dragon he wears on his chest burns white-hot.
The skipper’s performance against Austria was like stepping back into a time-machine. The searing pace to take him past defenders, leaving them flailing in his slipstream, the breathtaking free kick to break the deadlock and the sheer determination to drag us over the line, completing 90 minutes for the first time in what felt like years.
This performance was fueled by the reciprocal love and respect between players and fans. A respect he isn’t granted in Spain, either in the stands or in the newspaper columns. You assume the man from Whitchurch has long abandoned any hope to be loved in his adopted country. But to be so disrespected is jarring to the player and his devoted countrymen, who simply cannot fathom how a player with almost comic-book ability to win games can be so derided.
The perverse depiction of a four-times champions league winner with a hundred club goals as a villain is pure pantomime, with Madrid mouthpiece Marca branding him a ‘parasite’. His response, aside from that brace, was to clutch the red dragon on his chest, stare straight down the camera and declare ‘suck on that’.
Jubilant, juvenile, but most of all justified.
In the aftermath of the historic win against Austria, Gareth Bale insisted that he had no message for his detractors. In truth, actions speak louder than words, and it’s a task for a writer far beyond my capabilities to articulate what it meant for Bale vanquish any lingering doubts about his abilities as he fired Wales a step closer to the World Cup.
The sublime freekick that seared through the Cardiff sky, viciously dipping at the last minute, and crashing in via the crossbar was struck with venom. The snarling expression in celebration depicted a man boiling over with nervous frustration – but in the brutality of the moment was beauty. The anger towards the camera soon dissipated, replaced by jubilation. As he’s stated numerous times and displayed on the pitch; Gareth Bale loves playing for Wales.
Once the 90 minutes were over, and with the Welsh team a step from Qatar 2022 – the lights came down and the familiar sound of Zombie nation pulsated through the stands. In moments of celebration, the lines between supporter and athlete blur. The delighted Welshmen in red shirts on the field were indistinguishable from those in the stands, pogoing in a mosh-pit of jubilation to the tune of Kernkraft 400. Admittedly, minus the bucket hats and beer bellies.
Perhaps this explains why this squad is so loved by the red wall. We see ourselves in them and we want to be them when we grow up, even if they’re twenty years younger than some of us. A group of friends travelling the world, putting Wales on the map.
The unapologetically ambitious, unashamedly patriotic, independent football nation.
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