Wales – Zombie Nation no more
Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock this past year, you’ll know that Wales have qualified for their first major football tournament since the 1958 World Cup.
It’s a privilege some teams and their fans might take for granted, but the Welsh are rejoicing after such an impressive qualifying campaign under manager Chris Coleman.
Now, for the first time in the majority of their fans lives, transport and accommodation are being booked for this summer’s Euro 2016 party in France.
Among those travelling will be Sky Sports reporter and proud Wales supporter Bryn Law, whose book Zombie Nation Awakes documents the Dragons’ long-awaited qualification.
“It has sunk in, planning has started for everyone, including me, so it is now ‘real’,” he told me.
Had he ever began thinking that Wales would never make it to either the European Championship or World Cup Finals again?
“I’m not sure about ‘never’, I always had hope, as did many others. Without that, you’d just give up wouldn’t you?” he said.
“Pottering around France for a couple of weeks as a fan – something I’ve always wanted to do”
“I’ll be heading to France and the ferry is booked, as are the hotels. I’ll be going as a fan.
“Sky Sports have no rights to cover the tournament, and Sky Sports News get very limited access so, having been right in the thick of it for all the qualifiers, I’d rather do it completely differently.
“That means pottering around France for a couple of weeks as a fan – something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Of course, two of the home nations ended up in the same group, with Wales meeting England in Lens on June 16th – a clash that’s causing Law some concern.
“The game I’m least looking forward to of the three is England,” he admitted. “Given Lens’ relative proximity, I think it could attract people from both sides who may be more interested in confrontation.
“Wales can lose to England and still qualify, and I’ll be very happy”
“After the events in Paris last November, France doesn’t need any added security concerns at the moment, and Wales doesn’t want any negative coverage from what should be a hugely positive experience.”
Law is adamant, however, that a loss against England wouldn’t take the wind out of Welsh sails.
“The full focus of the English-based media will fall on that one game, as if it were the be-all-and-end-all. It isn’t. Wales can lose to England and still qualify, and I’ll be very happy.”
After seeing his beloved national side fall short of reaching major tournaments time and again, Law is happy to see the book he was so desperate to write – about Wales actually making it – published.
For the fans
“I wrote it to be enjoyed by Wales fans, if anyone else likes it that’s a bonus,” he explained. “I’ve one guy having a bit of a pop on Twitter because we were all getting so excited about actually qualifying, that we felt the need to write books about it.
“I get that to an extent, it must seem strange if you’re used to seeing your country qualify for everything, but that’s actually the point of the book – for us it’s literally a dream come true.
“Plus, I’ve always enjoyed writing so having a book to my name is another dream I’ve had come true.”
For Wales as a nation, Euro 2016 qualification has been uplifting and uniting, a chance to finally be able to step up alongside some of the best national teams in the world.
“I think the qualification could be very important,” said Law. “Wales suffers from stereotyping, it’s all coal mines, choirs and rugby. But, of course, it isn’t.
“The football team’s success helps to debunk at least one of those three.
“Wales as a nation suffers from lack of recognition, so to be seen on what is a world stage could be very beneficial.
“Gareth Bale is one of the world’s most recognisable and popular sports stars, and he plays for Wales. If he tears it up in France, the country derives tremendous benefit.
“But all the Welsh players are potential stars, and they’re the sort of people a nation can properly be proud of.”
Law’s late friend Gary Speed, who died aged 42 during his tenure as Wales manager, laid the majority of the groundwork that Coleman built upon.
“I’m sure Gary would have done it [qualifying for a major tournament],” Law insisted.
“Gary’s death threw everything to the winds for a while and it’s taken a time to get everything set again”
“He was making rapid strides in improving the infrastructure, modernising the preparation and enthusing the players.
“The last campaign offered a great opportunity because of the expanded Euros format, but he might have done it sooner. I was in touch with him as the draw for the Brazil World Cup was taking place, he was out there for it, and we both agreed there was a chance of getting there from that group.
“Gary’s death threw everything to the winds for a while and it’s taken a time to get everything set again.”
Here we are though, on the verge of Wales’ first major tournament in more than half a century, with excitement building and confidence is high for a reason.
“You don’t make much money from writing books – unless you’re JK Rowling”
Law predicted: “I think Wales have a good chance of going through to the knockout stage. I’m not getting carried away, but it’s actually easier to go through than go out this time.
“Of the 24 teams, 16 advance, and we don’t appear to have the worst group. If we could get through round one, I’d be delighted but I think being there is enough for most of the diehards.
“But we do have players who can win tight games with something out of the ordinary, and that might be a factor in knockout football.”
With sights set on France now, we will be seeing a follow-up book on Wales at Euro 2016 itself?
“A few people have asked if I’m planning a book on the tournament in the summer and it is a possibility, from a fan’s perspective this time.
“If someone wants to publish it, I’ll probably do one. Beyond that, I am looking at writing more [books].
“You don’t make much money from writing them, by the way – unless you’re JK Rowling – but it is an enjoyable exercise and it’s nice to see your name on the cover.”
Zombie Nation Awakes by Bryn Law is available on Amazon.
Feature image courtesy of the Welsh Football Trust