For Welsh fans, the World Cup in Qatar is both gloomy and brilliant | Wales

Ffurrowed his brows at the break. The old friends raised their eyebrows in understanding and sighed. The lobby of the Ahmad bin Ali stadium was the place where you met school friends you hadn’t seen in years, but everyone skipped the pleasantries, jumping straight to the important stuff: “Why didn’t Kieffer play? Don’t we miss Joe Allen in midfield?? Oh, you left DVLA to start your own business and just had twins? Good.”

Wales lost 1-0. and it was a terrible, uncharacteristically poor performance after a strange day. Maybe that’s what the World Championships are always like. I had nothing to go on.

As we walked around Doha, Mexicans, Argentines and Ecuadorians recognized our replica T-shirts and shouted, “Wales! Gales! Wales!” We were escorted to the subway by some Brazilians who asked to be photographed with us. Surprisingly, they knew about John Charles and about the match that our two countries played in 1958. world Cup quarter-final. If these fans were FIFA’s paid corporate employees, they at least read the backstory.

This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

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Qatar: Beyond Football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, the Guardian has covered issues related to Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights violations to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. All the best of our journalism is collected on our special Qatar: Beyond Football a home page for those who want to delve into issues outside the field.

The Guardian’s reporting goes far beyond what’s happening on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism Today.

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As we walked through the Souq Waqif market, we saw local teenagers wearing Chelsea and Real Madrid jerseys, proof that even the tiny gas and oil-rich Middle East states are not immune to football’s global reach. The sheer number of people who mentioned Gareth Bale brought home the level of his fame. Its box office success dwarfs Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones or Richard Burton by comparison. Not bad for the son of a schoolmaster from Cardiff.

Welsh fans were caught on video by locals singing Country Kalon and I listened to my friend Tristan chat with an Ecuadorian woman in international football language, marveling as he discussed Allen’s hamstrings with her in a Llangefni accent so thick he could knock the ground off the axis. As we made our way to the stadium through a mall the size of Gloucester, fans from the US wished us good luck without sarcasm and hoped we would have a good tournament.

Maybe I’m too familiar with British club football, but it was like a glimpse of a parallel universe – the conspicuous, almost unsettling lack of goof signs as we walked across the land past another Sunglass Hut and Louis Vuitton.

Eventually, excitedly photographing every Welsh flag I saw became unbearable as we walked past restaurants and hotels that towered over the desert but were decked out like a primary school in Llanelli on St. David’s Day. After a pilgrimage to the giant Welsh panama in one of the fan zones, I photographed for the curious and the uninitiated a sign describing Wales: ideas…” (if you want to learn more about our fans, our culture and our legendary country, scan this QR code).

When Arsenal and Wales centre-half Mel Charles returned home from our last World Cup, the conductor at Swansea railway station noticed his suitcase and asked if he was on holiday. “We just played in the quarter-finals of the World Cup,” Charles said incredulously. Maybe he didn’t read the papers. Much has changed since 1958.

I attended a hotel party with 1,600 others, drinking Budweiser on the 55th floor at prices that would make your knees shake. Joe Ledley attacked, Welsh football cultural attache Dafydd Ivan played Still here to the scenes of delirium. I stumbled upon an old school friend, Gareth “GO” Jones, a schoolteacher who took me and hundreds like me as a child to my first international camp in Wales, which had as profound an impact on my personality as learning to read. .

Gareth Bale training for a giant red dragon
Welsh fans continue to dream of a place in the playoffs. Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters

GO has dedicated himself to grassroots and youth football in West Wales with total dedication, a lifetime of thankless tasks that came from a completely pure, unsullied love for the game. Imagine, Alice. Wales at the World Cup. Gareth would love it.” (“Imagine, Alice. Wales at the World Cup. Gareth would be thrilled.”)

I spoke to members of the Rainbow Wall who brought rainbow bucket hats take any empty seats to represent their LGBTQ+ friends who didn’t feel like they could be there. Qatar can be great. It was never far from being gloomy.

I’m sure if we had qualified more often our first World Cup game would have been less emotionally charged, the group stage opening match felt as routine as brushing your teeth or apologizing to the cashier in Boots for not being a card advantage. If we take as a guide our form since the World Cup in 1930, the next time it will be when I am 106 years old. No wonder I took a selfie with a Rwandan security guard who was an Arsenal fan and loved Aaron Ramsey. I wanted to soak it all up. We’ve all done it.

The anthem crackled on the court, but the team stood still. Nervous and indecisive, we were lucky to go into the break with a score of 1:0. Kieffer Moore entered the field, the team immediately improved, and they began to play with the speed that the occasion demanded. Bale converted a penalty, Bale converted a penalty, our ending went awry. I came, I saw, I called.

On full-time Neko Williams mourned his grandfather who died the day before. It reminded me of Ramsey sobbing on the Cardiff City pitch after we had qualified as his thoughts turned to Gary Speed, the managerial adrenaline rush sorely needed by Welsh football in 2010 and for whom World Cup qualification is always was the highest achievement. ambition.

I was told that the Welsh fans had their rainbow bucket hats confiscated on their way into the ground, and I wondered how many more promises would be broken before the tournament was over. Welcome to the World Cup.

Alice James donated his royalties for this column to Amnesty International, which advocates for Qatar and FIFA to set up a compensation fund for migrant workers.

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