Right, let’s nail some colours to the mast. I’m Welsh. As far as international rugby goes, I support the men in red. Yet, I don’t sound Welsh, I wasn’t born in Wales and I’ve never lived there. Many people think I support England. Lots of them start a conversation with me on that proviso, and then we have to negotiate an awkward crossroads when the enquirer might say something along the lines of “I bet you are looking forward to seeing England win.” And then I have to proffer something polite and ambiguous like “Well, yes and no.”
My paternal grandparents I hardly knew, Thomas Gwyn (TG) and Morfydd Glenys died before I was properly into double figures. My grandmother, by all accounts a terrifying lady who I never saw smile, was buried with her favourite corgi. She was a baptist, kept her ice cream in a chest freezer and had a Bonanza annual in a cupboard upstairs that I was sent to go and read whenever we visited. She was as Welsh as they come.
My rugby ‘Welshness’ defines me. I particularly like the daftness of a boy born on the outskirts of Milton Keynes pinning his rugby allegiances to the country his father’s father grew up in. I like the romantic idea of legacy and predecessors and it makes me smile that one of mine ran off with a redhead from Vicarage Road in Swansea.
I also like the fact that my Welshness frustrates some people. ‘You’re not Welsh,’ they say as if it is something like vegetarianism or being a communist, and I end up usually recanting some fact about Cliff Richard and India. My ‘nationality’ needles my wife especially. The only time my Welshness comes up is when rugby is mentioned. That and my passport. The wonderfully lazy people down at Petit France completed the circle when they missed off the word Pagnell from my town of birth. It just reads Newport in my passport. A town just inside Wales. Perfect, I think, every time I lift the cover whilst waiting in line at customs. And my wife rolls her eyes to the ceiling. (When we were first going out I tried to pimp up my Welshness. I told her my middle name was Dai and that I didn’t snack between meals. Both were lies in an effort to sound more exotic and macho. Neither worked. Or both did; we’re still together, goodness knows how.)
My father instilled my Welshness at a young age. In a desperate attempt to gain his approval as only an eldest son can do, I bought in to his faith like it was my own. Yet I had no real nourishment on which to substantiate my beliefs. I was reared on a diet of Welsh rugby in the 1980s, the generation subsequent to those who’d conquered the world, when all the nutrition of our national game was entrusted to a little chap named Jonathan Davies. Little marrow on the bone; no wonder I am so hungry nowadays.
Being Welsh hasn’t been easy. There were times I wished I wasn’t. Like the time that joke about the whole of Samoa was born. Or say, the 22nd of November, 2003. But you don’t chose to be Welsh. It chooses you. And you have to bear the weight of rugby ‘unfulfillment’ with a smile.
I know my Welsh legacy will end with me. My children will not be able to play for Wales and therefore I felt it unfair to bestow this on them. My eldest wears his England shirt with pride. And that’s ok with me. Because rugby is not about your colours but your mast. As long as it is steadfast and resolute and can take the battering from the storm, you’ll be ok. I hope that is what I pass on. A centre, a sense of belonging, a place you can lean. Wales gave me that. And it is sometimes all you have.
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.