9 Oct

Wailing in Wales
by Tracey Nelson
9 Oct 2007

Red ShoeI’m not going to start with the rugby yet, first I’ll fill you in on the rest of my week in Wales. Then we’ll get to the Wailing bit. I am ensconsed in Swansea, which is where I am doing some work this fortnight. Swansea is not exactly a “happening” place, so on the Friday night before the quarter final I jumped on the train and headed for Cardiff to catch up with a few people. That in itself was mildly amusing, because I had to take a bus to the train station and when I asked the driver if he went that way for the life of me I couldn’t understand what he said. So I begged his pardon and asked again. Still I couldn’t understand. Was he speaking Welsh or just had a broad accent? I was too embarrassed to ask again, so just got the ticket and sat down in the hopes I was going the right way.

The trains between Swansea (which is the end of the line) and Cardiff are regular, run on time and are in very nice condition – I feel I have had enough experience of trains on this trip to be able to give the cleanliness ratings and these ones would rate a good 8, if not a 9 (so long as it’s not late on a Friday night of course). It’s just under an hour down the line to get to Cardiff, and as you pull into the station you have a marvellous view of the Millenium Stadium. Cardiff is actually the perfect rugby town because the station is literally 500m from the stadium, and the central part of town is just one street over. I thought about Auckland 2011 while in Cardiff and had to shake my head. A waterfront stadium would have been ideal, mirroring the set-up in Cardiff which just works like a gem. Ah well…

Friday night in Cardiff is a bit of an eye opener. For starters, all the young things from out of Cardiff come in on the trains and I must be getting old because some of the get-ups would have been better suited for the Gold Coast, not Cardiff on a night where the temperature dropped to single figures. I was informed later that in the UK the colder the climate the shorter and skimpier the outfits. Apparently the more blubber you carry the more you want to show it off too. Add to that the, er, how do I put it… the three generations of Welsh women out on the town together, then you start to get a feel for things. Yes, that’s right. Gran, who is probably mid-50s, Mum who is about 35, and the daughter who is 18. All on the prowl. Scary stuff.

Then there was the chubby guy in the beige tracksuit ensemble, with the flashing neon-lit baby’s dummy around his neck. The door staff to this bar were turning away people wearing trainers on their feet, but they let Mr Sweat Shirt/Sweat Pants and his dummy in. Classy. Oh, and did I mention he obviously hadn’t bathed since last spring? I was wondering why there was so much space at that end of the bar. The last train back to Swansea left at 11.38 so I was feeling a bit like Cinderella most of the evening, watching the clock and hoping not to miss it incase I turned into a pumpkin. Heading out down St Mary Street towards the station was also an event, akin to some dockyard brawl zone and that was just the girls. I hate to imagine what it was like by 2am.

Saturday morning I headed back into Cardiff and met up with new friends Karen and Scott, Kiwis based in London whom I had met in Marseille when we ended up sitting next to one another and then again in Lyon. We had randomly run into one another again in Toulouse, so organised to meet up in Cardiff. We found a bar and settled in to watch Australia lose to England (bad omen for us I felt, and it turned out to be so), then I had a stroll around central Cardiff past the castle and round the streets which were full of All Black and French fans having a great time punting rugby balls back and forth, and generally having a good yarn about the Auz-England match.

Then it was time for our game, and nervously I walked into Millenium Stadium which is marvellously labelled and signposted making it incredibly easy and quick to find your seat. The stadium is just brilliant. I cannot give it enough praise (other than the turf which is a disgrace, but then what do you expect if the tournament organisers insist that you keep the roof shut for the week before the game. Don’t they know that grass needs sunlight to grow, or perhaps like so many other things IRB they like to keep us in the dark). There was probably a mix of 55% Kiwis, 45% French and 10% Neutral supporters in the crowd, but the French were pretty noisy and my nerves were at crisis point by the time kickoff came.

You all know how the game unfolded, and I shall dwell on that more in another column when I can bring myself to write it. Suffice it to say that with about 10 minutes to go, most Kiwis were turning the same shade as the All Blacks’ alternate strip and many had their heads in their hands already as though they could sense the game was slipping from our grasp. As the final whistle blew, most of us were slumped in our seats, some were crying but most of us were just silent. Shell shocked.

Unfortunately I couldn’t stay in the stadium to offer even a slight bit of support to the team because the last train to Swansea was due to depart in 20 minutes time – and indeed, probably a good 1/5th of the ground were headed to the train station to catch trains back to various parts of the country around Cardiff. There were a few delerious French fans on board, plus some locals who tried to offer sympathy, and the Kiwis who for the most part were just silent. There was nothing you could say. Nothing would even come out of mouths, you’d open it to say something and there was just nothing there.

Met Karen and Scott back in Swansea and we deposited ourselves in their hotel bar to try and battle through the dark blanket of depression that was starting to settle. A trio of Irishmen joined us with “Ah, yer still da best team in the world though” which was nice of them to say but didn’t really help. However, the Nolan sons and father were a kindly three and politely changed the subject and got us to talk about travel and New Zealand and dairy farming, which kind of helped. 3am came and went, until we took pity on the lone barman and departed ways. It was 5am when I finally managed to shut my eyes and hope for sleep, but all I could think was that if I was feeling this awful then what were the All Blacks feeling like? It was unimaginable.

Sunday morning I went to the local laundromat to do a load of washing, and met some fellow Kiwis who had only just come over that week to attend the RWC Cup. We had a yarn and the usual game dissection, but they too seemed to be in the same state of emotionless limbo I was in. That afternoon I went out to the Gower Peninsula, a scenic reserve just south west of Swansea. It was calm and peaceful, with just the noise of the waves hitting the shoreline below the cliffs. I stood up on the cliffs looking south out to sea as the afternoon sun began to dip, and as the realisation that our World Cup campaign was finished swept over me suddenly home seemed a long way away and I was swept with a desperate longing to see my beloved Southern Alps again. Were the All Blacks feeling that same longing for home, I wondered, or were they full of trepidation at the reception that might be awaiting them back in Aotearoa?

I have one more week away, which involves travelling to Paris on the Eurostar (not my favourite occupation as I don’t like being underground and under all the water in the Channel at the same time) on Saturday morning. I was supposed to be attending the semi final, but like many Kiwis will be trying to sell my (premium) seats – ideally to and English supporter who wants to dosh out lots and lots of Pounds for my ticket. I might possibly be able to partly console myself with a shoe shopping expedition. Possibly.


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