A cold wind whipped across the bay, ruffling the roof of the giant marquee that had materialized at the edge of Singleton Park, but the atmosphere inside couldn’t have been warmer as the Swansea section of the ‘Red Wall’ roared their support for the Welsh Football Team.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” said diehard Paul Cullen, 34, drinking in the sights and sounds of a bustling fan park with his three young sons, who all play for Swansea academy. “This competition is massive for Wales. We are the smallest nation in our group, but that means nothing when you have fight, passion and conviction. I love it.”
When Gareth Bale equalized against the United States in Cymru’s first game in a World Cup final since 1958, the fan park erupted. Strangers hugged, kissed and danced. Polite advice not to throw beer in the air was outright ignored. The match ended 1-1 but few disappointed.
“It means so much,” said rosy-eyed Paul Carroll, 40. “I may never see this tournament again with my children. It’s the best feeling. I’m so proud.”
Just being at the World Cup after so many decades felt like a win. Before kick-off, fans had hopped onto the tables and joined in on disconcerting versions of Delilah and Yma or Hyd (Still Here), the defiant Welsh-language folk song that was adopted by the team and became a fan favourite.
The rendition of the national anthem threatened to do more damage to the tent roof than the freezing wind ever could, as 2,000 fans here – and 3 million more across the country – united in chanting .
Some wore lucky shirts that they vowed to keep throughout the group stage, no matter the beer or sweat stains. Others followed rituals they hoped would bring fortune – the same pub, the same curry house they went to during Wales’ qualifying campaign.
Few remembered Wales’ adventure in the 1958 World Cup (they lost in the quarter-finals to Pelé’s Brazil). Alun Jenkins, 75, was there but said he had just failed his 11-over. “So I had other things on my mind. I don’t think it was that bad at the time.
It’s definitely a big deal now.
Former Welsh goalkeeper Neville Southall, who was on hand to kick off this Swansea fan park, said he hoped the World Cup would lift the nation’s mood. “It’s good for people to have some hope, some joy in these pretty dark times,” he said.
Southall hasn’t shied away from tackling sensitive issues, blaming Fifa for threatening to sanction players wearing the OneLove armband: “Why penalize someone who promotes inclusivity? Football is for everyone.
The situation got a bit worse when Laura McAllister, a professor of public policy at Cardiff University and former captain of the Welsh women’s football team, tweeted from Qatar that her rainbow bucket hat had been confiscated . “We will continue to defend our values,” she said.
Before kick-off, McAllister explained the importance of the World Cup for Wales. “The whole Welsh football scene has been a reflection of a newfound self-confidence in the nation, especially among young people,” she said.
“It gives us a chance to show what our strengths are, our USP. It’s a huge platform. We will do everything we can not only to win matches, but to make the most of our profile, notoriety and knowledge.
Evie Jones, 18, left the Swansea marquee beaming. “We have the best flag, the best anthem, the best fans. I can’t wait for the next game.