Angelos Charisteas. That bustling centaur of a centre forward. The author of Portuguese nightmares 12 years ago, now releasing his sequel for Euro 2016; the sorrow of a Wales. As he plucked Chris Coleman’s side up and dumped them down into Group B, it condemned Wales’ European Championship debut to a side-act to the bi-annual England tournament Greek tragedy.
This ‘petite mort’ feeling felt by the Celts has very little do with the 90 minutes of association football which will take place on the afternoon of June 16th. Wales have a world class match winner, England do not. England though do have a collection of highly talented potential match winners. Both sides are very solid, have a strong spine and are difficult to beat. You can draw slight parrellels from England to the Belgian side who Wales have beaten in qualifying. As a footballing prospect, there is little fear.
No, the utter stomach churning sense of ”oh no” comes from an understanding of what the preceding 6 months to the match will entail. Wales. England. If you’ve ever slightly popped your head into the rugby union room, you’d have seen what this match does to people. What it does to the press. The all consuming black hole of fixture takes over everything. It becomes everything.
For Welsh football fans, the reaction has been of woe. For fans of Wales, it presents another opportunity to get one over on England. And herein lies the problem. Welsh sporting success for the general public too often is not celebrated outright, but celebrated and then contrasted with the comparative English team/athlete. There’s no self confidence to take pride in what you do just because you have done it.
To a certain degree this mindset understandable. When British shops have their Welsh branches stocking England Euro 2016 Panini sticker albums but not Welsh ones, you start to see a slither of the origin of the irritation. Adverts promoting the England rugby union team at Rugby World Cup 2015 beamed into the homes of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Tuning in to watch Chile vs Spain at World Cup 2014 and having 10 minutes of England chat instead of match analysis. England always the first news item in the sports section. England, England, England. Oh yes, and lets not forget the Celts.
There are reasonable arguments behind most of these media decisions, but it is also understandable how this incessant propaganda exacerbates and drives the ‘anyone but England’ mindset. It becomes more understandable why games against England mean so much for the other Home Nations. Why beating England at Twickenham in their own World Cup was Wales’ World Cup Final for a lot of people. A nation should have gone apoplectic when they failed score a try and beat a 13 man Australia. But no. Wales should have beaten South Africa and made it to a World Cup semi-final. But no. They were lauded as heroes when really they blew a great chance at making their first World Cup Final. That’s how much beating England means to the general population.
And the fear is now that what gets generated around an England and Wales rugby fixture will consume the general population and make Euro 2016 all about that match. But Wales have so much more to look forward to. The Russia match presents an interesting storyline dating back to 2003 when the Russians knocked Wales out of the play offs for Euro 2004 and Yegor Titov later failed a drugs test. There was no action and revenge is on the mind. Slovakia present Wales their first tournament finals opponents in 58 years and a real chance at a victory in a major tournament.
”England’s Group” has so much to offer Wales and yet ironically Group B is likely to be referred to as England’s group by both the media, whom the Welsh cite as bias, and those Welsh people themselves who perpetuate their own chip on their shoulder. It’s a nightmare scenario as this one match is going to be referenced and alluded to for the next 6 months and probably the 6 months afterwards.
What this draw also does is bring the two tournament story lines of England and Wales together. England quietly and efficiently won all of their qualifying games without any fuss which actually allowed the great success of Wales, as well as the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, to have their moments alone in the spotlight. Now, the Wales story is likely to be subsumed under the all encompassing ‘Team England’ umbrella. A supporting actor in what should have been a chance to solo and break away from the England rivalry.Wales must look to another Greek influence to avoid being a part of another’s bandwagon and must learn to ‘Know Thyself’.