I am not Welsh. I wasn’t born here; I’m not even truly sure I have any Welsh blood in me. I went to Anglesey once when I was a child, but until a fateful Cardiff University open day about five years ago… that was it.
Likewise, growing up, I didn’t care much about sport. Especially football; even with three brothers, it just wasn’t on my radar.
Today, though, it’s a different story. I’ve lived in Cardiff for five years, I have a lovely Welsh boyfriend, I can do an accent that’s pretty darn convincing and even string a few Welsh words together (though I’m not sure how far “fish and chips, thank you very much” will get me).
I wouldn’t dream of supporting anyone other thanWalesin the rugby (which I now watch), and am the first in line for the face-paint on a match day.
My friends at home (Bournemouth, England) tease me about how much I love Wales. I am roundly abused via text message during England/Wales games, and am often greeted with a dodgy-accented “What’s occurring?” when entering my local. Bournemouth will always be my home and where I grew up – but I love living here.
I even know a little bit about Welsh football, even though – and I’m ashamed to admit this – I didn’t even know there WAS a national team when I first moved here. Now I’ve been to matches, I can tell my Bale from my Bellamy – and I know who Gary Speed is.
This may be in part thanks to the aforementioned lovely Welsh boyfriend. A life-long Wales and Newcastle United fan, both former clubs of Speed, the man was something of a hero to him. They even went to the same school – though obviously not at the same time – and the phone call I received shortly after he bumped into him on a pre-Christmas night out in Chester, a couple of years ago, remains the most excited I have ever heard a single person sound. Ever.
Over the past few years I’ve come to learn something about Gary Speed for myself. He seemed like a wonderful, calm, quiet, family man. I still don’t care too much for football, but I liked him. He was a good man, and fantastic for the game. You couldn’t help but like him.
I first heard about what had happened to him via Twitter. I stared at my computer screen, and I felt a bit numb. Bizarre, you would think, for someone who didn’t actually know him. But the sadness I felt wasn’t for my loss. It was for his family’s loss, his parents, wife and his two sons. It was for my boyfriend’s loss – someone he really admired and looked up to. And it was for Wales’ loss. They’d lost one of their own – and a good one at that. And in such a tragic, seemingly incomprehensible way.
It’s my personal opinion that it’s none of our business why he decided to do what he did. But I can understand that the people that loved him, even if they didn’t personally know him, and they’d want answers.
I didn’t go to the memorial match last night, but reading the papers today, the atmosphere and the emotion that was in the air is palpable. Like I said, I am not Welsh, I am not a football fan, but seeing the pictures and reading the words you can’t help but be affected.
Obviously there is a huge amount of grief surrounding the gap Gary has left in so many lives. But while undoubtedly sad, the reports from last night’s memorial embody what I have come to love about Wales, the sense of community and of pride. People coming together in memory and respect, to give a member of that community, their community, a worthy send off.
You just don’t get that “togetherness” everywhere. People may say it’s a football thing, but it’s not – it’s a Welsh thing. Community, family, friends – welcoming everyone. Even if you’re the bloke in the England shirt down the pub on match day – you might get a bit of banter, but that in itself is a way to include.
Last night was a fantastic way to show people that. It’s St David’s Day today, and I for one am proud to be associated with this lovely little country, and for the welcome it has shown me.
Dydd Hapus Dewi Sant – see, even my Welsh is improving.