Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Welsh Dragons Are Breathing Fire

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Welsh Dragons Are Breathing Fire

Article excerpt

JOHN EDWARDS has taken over speaker's corner again in the Railway Inn and his mates begin to groan. "I tell you what. No, listen. England think they own the f***ing football world and they don't. Michael Owen? No, listen.

All that hype about Michael Owen? Is he fit? Will he play? I hope so because the man couldn't score in a brothel at the moment."

A colleague tries to get a word in and fails. "And another thing.

Remember this," says John, not breaking stride. "I was there when we beat England 4-1 in 1980 and no one thought it was possible. I was there when Leighton James scored to beat them at Wembley and when we played last at Wrexham 20 years ago and Mark Hughes got the winner.

D'you know, nobody gave us a chance in any of them games, either."

This stirring rallying cry does not seem to be convincing his pals. Or himself come to that. I ask if any of the genial crew here from Cwmfelin Press FC feel Wales will beat England in their World Cup qualifier in Manchester on Saturday and there's only one taker. It isn't John. Most just look forlornly into their post-training beer as if they've just experienced another defeat in the Pic-up Spares Swansea Senior League First Division.

Which they have done this season. Regularly.

Steve Jones, the injured " playerlandlord" of this hostelry who has CYMRU tattooed into his arm, mutters his suspicions. "Mark Hughes? Look, this time next week, he's going to be sitting behind his desk at Blackburn. So he's not exactly going to be losing sleep over what happens, is he?" he says. John, quiet for one millisecond, nods in agreement.

Clearly, what Wales need is for their garrulous lucky charm John to be transported to Old Trafford so he can again say a la Max Boyce that "I was there" when Wales achieved what the Cwmfelin lads reckon would be the greatest triumph for the national team since Ian Rush sank the German world champions at the Arms Park in 1991.

The only trouble is that no one can get a ticket for love nor money. The lads mutter darkly about half the paltry Welsh allocation of 6,000 ending up with Welsh FA officials rather than die-hard fans. So on Saturday, it will have to be back here to the Railway for the big one. On the screen in the back room. I suggest to landlord Jones there are no visible signs of the impending national happening. "You mean, apart from the 15 Welsh flags draped behind my bar," he counters. Er, good point.

It will, he predicts, be hot, packed and mad in here, a scene to be repeated all across the country. For on Saturday, every fixture has been cancelled.

This neck of south Wales ought to be the best place to take the temperature of the game before this historic fixture. It's football country even more than rugby country, the lads boldly claim. …

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