The seats are plush red velvet. The cinema is intimate, and almost all of the fifty something seats are full. The background music builds in tempo, adding to the excitement. The flower beds out front are bursting with nasturtiums, and the cafe is full of craft beers. Do you know where we are yet? Chapter Arts Centre of course…
It feels like a big deal. We kick off by talking about why this film is important. Because it’s the first film that really looks at what it means, what it feels like to be Welsh. First and foremost its about the Wales fans, the ‘red wall’ as they came to be affectionately referred to by the Welsh team during the Euros this summer. The 30 minute film consists of a series of candid vox pop interviews with fans (in varying degrees of endearingly drunken euphoria) punctuated by a moving clip from the first match against slovakia, featuring a stirring rendition of the Welsh anthem, and a fabulous sequence documenting the hysteria after the Hal Robson-Kanu goal. The footage at this point is literally dizzying. Clearly the hand that held the camera was attached to a wildly leaping and celebrating body. ‘You’ll never get a job with Sky Sports’ I whisper. Film maker Nick Stradling is sat next to me. He smiles.
As we watch the film, we laugh (some of the scenes are delightfully comic) some of us cry (it’s moving stuff). For many, there are familiar faces on screen – the film has captured the spirit of an epoch, we reflect afterwards. Many of those featured are ‘regulars’ in the Wales travelling fan-base, and the film serves as a record of this heady era. An unforgettably euphoric high point – many of the audience were in Bordeaux for that first match, and there is agreement in the room that the atmosphere those three days was the best of the tournament.
After the film, I kick off the questions to Nick by asking ‘Why?’ Why, when everyone else was celebrating and putting away large quantities of French beer, did he decide to make this film? What inspired him to do it? ‘Well, I was drinking quite a lot of beer too…’ he acknowledges with a wry grin, and goes on to explain his motivation for making the film. The opportunity to record this moment in history, the moment when finally, Wales existed in the eyes of the world. We were visible. We were on the map. These interviews, the words and tears and emotion of the Wales fans, captures something unforgettable – a basking spotlight of attention on Wales as a Nation. An independent Nation…
(As I write, Wales are playing Serbia. Robson-Kanu passes to Bale, who scores – GOOOOAAAAL!!!!!! *Dances around the living room*)
Where was I?
As you can probably imagine, there was a lot of love for Robson-Kanu in the film. At one point Nick splices repeatedly between a vox pop interview and a scene in which seven or eight fans are dancing in the street (they appear to be delerious – extreme happiness mixed liberally with beer). They are singing a song they have improvised, dedicating it to their man Hal… The effect is brilliant, giving the impression that they have been at it for hours (it’s possible they are still there…)
There are many memorable moments in the film, some because they are funny (those two blokes in the background, they are peeing, right?!) and others are simply very moving. At one point, a man describes the experience of coming out of the stadium, and wondering why everyone was taking photographs of them:
‘What’s that about like? I said. And then we got to the bottom, and I turned around – there was this wave of red coming over the top, and my God, I nearly broke down and cried…’)
Nick has cleverly sequenced the clips so that a number of themes emerge. The first part of the film features a lot of comments about the sense of one team. That no matter where in Wales the fans are from (Merthyr, Llanelli, Newport, Colwyn Bay, Penarth, Pembrokeshire, Ynys Mon, Swansea…), they are all in it together (Cardiff fans admit, with more than a hint of surprise, to hugging Swansea fans – no divisions, just all proud to be supporting their National team). Some of those featured have been waiting over a half a century to see their team reach the finals of a major tournament, and everyone is united in their sense of Welshness.
Many of the fans speak Welsh on the vox pops. Some of those interviewed switch between Welsh and English. There are no subtitles – Nick explains, he didn’t feel they were needed – even if you don’t speak Welsh, you get the gist. The body language of pride and joy is universal. Also the word ‘map’ is the same in Welsh and English. ‘We are on the map’ is by far the most frequently spoken phrase in the film, I lost count of how many people say it. It’s important to people. (My son has drawn a line on his wall map between Wales and England, in permanent marker pen. ‘Why isn’t Wales on the map?’ he had asked me). In June, suddenly, practically overnight, people knew who we were.
Wales existed. We were on the map.
Later on in the film, there are a lot of reflections about Wales as a Nation. Interspersed with amusing clips in which men are trying to say, without actually saying it, that this experience is even better than the birth of their children…
The overwhelming impression is of pride.
At this point, watching the film, you start to realise that very few people are actually talking about football anymore. They still are, in context at least, but they have stopped using the words ‘football’, and ‘our team’, and they are now talking about ‘Wales’, and ‘our country’ and ‘our Nation’.
There is a stream of quotes that taken together, constitute surely one of the most confident expressions of raw pride and confidence in Wales as a country, ever captured on film:
‘I am just so proud to be Welsh right now, so patriotic’
‘This is Wales. We are Welsh, and we are so proud’
‘This promotes us as a country, and make us proud. Wales IS an independent Nation’
‘We’ve gotta be proud to be Welsh, we are represented as a country’
‘We’re a small country, stuck on the side of Britain, but we are coming out strong!’
‘Mae pobl yn son am annibyniaeth’ (people are talking about independence)
‘Wales can do anything we want, anything we believe in’
We talk about the experience in Bordeaux. And then we talk about what all of this means for Wales beyond football. Because there is something very striking about all of this – the sheer strength of feeling, the confidence and the belief, and the sense of identity. It’s all the things that we need. The missing ingredients that we need to give people in Wales the belief that we can do this all of the time. We don’t have to wait another generation (or two), for Wales to exist in the eyes of the world. We don’t have to rely on football to put us on the map. We don’t have to rely on FA Wales to raise awareness of our culture abroad (although they rightly deserve the warm praise they have received for the way they promoted and showcased the Welsh language throughout the campaign). We don’t need to wait for footballing success, in order for us to come out strong. We can be an independent Nation. Full stop. Not independent in football, just Independent.
We talk about the uproar over the summer when some MPs called for a UK football team in the Olympics. It was inconceivable to Welsh fans to imagine Wales not representing ourselves on the world footballing stage. And yet why are we so content, in the main, with our lack of representation on the world stage in general? Why are we happy to accept in everything else, what we will not accept in football? Why is it that until June, people in other countries hadn’t heard of Wales, or didn’t know where it was, or that it was a country in its own right, or that we had our own language? Why have we collectively reflected on this and concluded that the main reason is because we had not previously achieved this level of footballing success?
Football has of course helped enormously to boost Wales’ profile this year, supported by the fabulously lovable way in which Welsh fans conducted themselves. In essence, that is what ‘The Red Wall’ is about. Our team and our fans promoted Wales exceptionally well to the rest of the world, and we are right to be proud of every one of them. But the reason that people didn’t know much about us until then isn’t a footballing thing. Its not a sports thing. Its not because we are a small country, stuck on the side of Britain. It’s because we don’t represent ourselves on the world stage. Its because we are not yet an independent Nation.
But if we believe, then one day we will be.
Lastly, we reflect on the legacy of the Euros. How for 90 minutes in each of those games, and for days afterwards, we felt empowered. What could we achieve if we could transfer that feeling, that belief and confidence, beyond football? What would it take to do this? Leadership. The vision and the belief that we can do it. A Welsh media, so that we can reflect on the progress of the National Project. That’s all stuff we can do something about. Its all achievable.
We leave on a high. Its been a great team event – it feels good to be part of the Yes Caerdydd team, supported by some of the Yes Abertawe crew (we’ll be supporting them right back next week by attending their rally – 12 o’clock, Castle Gardens, Swansea).
There’s interest in the room in putting on more showings of ‘Y Wal Goch’, people have friends who also want to see the film (today was a sell-out). It seems that Nick might be going on tour…
Its been a good day for Welsh football. Its been a good day for Wales.
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