Hard to believe it’s really 15 years since that, somewhat memorable, Wales v England match at Wembley.
Anyway, I was a-hunting through some old boxes in the garage a few days ago and happened upon this little ditty below, penned a few days after the intoxicating event. So, what with another impending clash with them from over the bridge looming large, I thought – as a bit of nonsensical nostalgia – that I’d stick this up here on the interweb site.
So, a bit of background – in true Max Boyce, I was there mode…
The trip was in the heyday of what was then known as The Hawk President’s XV – a bit of an in-joke between young men trying very hard not to grow up. The Hawk in question was (and indeed still is) a man soft of voice, deep of thought and ill-fitting of blazer.
The XV made the trip to London and Wembley, the temporary home of the Welsh team as the Millennium Stadium was being built, stopping somewhere in Fulham on the Saturday night before the big Sunday match. A beautiful spring day full of warmth, blue skies, plane spotting and Heineken. After which a match which would take its place for the ages.
And, for better or, almost certainly worse, this was my recollection of the occasion, in the hazy, lazy days that followed.
That Sunday we woke early
The boys, the Hawk and me
On a floor in a flat in Fulham
A journey to Wembley
We walked out into that spring morning
Warm sun in a bright blue sky
Boarded a tube at Clapham Junction
Someone said, “if we win then I’ll cry”
In a pub by the ground we adjourned to
Not an English voice could we hear
For the Valleys had moved to London
Because Wembley was ‘home’ this year
In the ground Tom sang ‘Delilah’
The chorus the crowd joined in
And the sun beat down on the green grass of ‘home’
And for a second I believed we would win
We had lost to the Scots and the Irish
Written off without a chance
But Graham said have faith and we did
And we went and won in France
Now at Wembley against the English
Surrounded in the stand
We gifted the saes an early score
And I sat with my head in my hands
We were mocked as they stretched their lead
Swing low was the popular cry
But we stayed in touch thanks to Jenkins
And by a magical Howarth try
But the clock ticked down we were losing by six
A familiar feeling of woe
A penalty: a glimmer of hope
But only mere seconds to go
Wyatt to Howley to Senior Quinnell
To Gibbs, the crowd started to roar
As he scythed his way through the English defence
Raising his arm as he touched down to score
And I burst into tears embracing the Hawk
Saying, “Jenks still has to convert”
But this was a day for magic
The kick was, I knew, a dead cert
I slumped where I stood, crying freely
But the tears were of joy not sorrow
My voice had gone, my vision blurred
And I sobbed “I’m not working tomorrow!”
And so now we are back in Cardiff
Where God willing we shall stay
But the memory of that Sunday at Wembley lives on
Where we won while playing away
Dark Fridays in November, when night would begin before day had a chance to properly end. When the air was cold and damp and light mist drifted along Pantbach Road, caressing the rooftops of the parked cars, swirling in arcs of light from the streetlamps. Friday nights when the queue would wind its way around the front of the large looming, yellow rendered picture house, disappearing into the darkness of the car park on Ty-Wern Road. Family treats – adults and children, husbands and wives, boyfriend, girlfriend, nervous young lovers in the first throes of awkward adolescent romance. Sombrely attired pensioners, silently judging the younger crowd.
Familiar faces. The woman with the earrings in the claustrophobic ticket booth, her bottom half forever hidden beneath the counter. The woman in the tuck-shop, her back always half turned, reaching for sweets or drinks. Mr Monico himself, standing at the back of the foyer, a bespectacled observer, immaculate in navy blazer and grey trousers, matching the neatly trimmed beard and receding hairline; his shadow crawling up the blue-grey wall, sandwiched between glass framed posters for ET and Rocky III. A man of severity, intolerant of those whose mischief threatened the wider audience’s pleasure .
We huddled, slowly moving, shifting patiently towards the small kiosk at the entrance to the foyer. Handing over money without thought for an evening’s entertainment – a ticket for the film and a box of something sweet. A drink – 7-Up or Coke or maybe a tub of orange cordial with the bendy straw that would spew juice as it pierced the plastic lid. Inching through the small and crowded foyer, adults holding children’s hands in the growing crowd of limbs and overcoats. A general murmur of clipped conversations as all headed towards the stairs; darkly lit and winding away from the hubbub below.That was the Monico.
Two screens, two theatres. Proudly boasting its use of Dolby Stereo. Cinema 1 – the original auditorium, bigger than its newer, more intimate counterpart. Soft lighting and an aura of red. The heavy velvet curtain at the front, draped from ceiling to stage. The piano to the left that harked back to an older, more silent age. Two tiers of deep red, soft cushioned seats, faded and worn by generations of backsides. Dust and nicotine tinged smoke drifting up into the spotlights as the theatre would slowly fill and settle. Underfoot the carpet, hidden in the darkness, detected only by its sticky grip from fallen popcorn and pastilles.
No matter the film, the feeling always the same. Anticipation and excitement that grew with the bobbing heads and swaying shoulders, with the elbows that rubbed on reluctantly shared arm rests; while the curtain slowly raised, the huge screen tantalisingly revealed. It was the knowing. The knowing of what would follow. The same old comforting rituals of commencement. A shaft of dusty light overhead firing from the small window at the back of the theatre, the screen before us turning blue, a black splodge within. The music starting and faint white writing appearing, moving closer in a wonderful, ludicrous, 20 second fanfare of our childhood.
Pearl & Dean, purveyors of cheap local advertising. Poorly scripted, badly filmed, jumping and skipping grainy images to entice us to the local Indian restaurant, travel agent, tyre repair specialists. To remind us of the treats in the foyer, Westlers Hot Dogs, cowboys and Indians informing us all of bite after bite after bite of processed pleasure; or Butterkist popcorn with its cheerleading chant:“Butterkist, Butterkist, rah, rah, rah.”
And then the trailers. The teasers of films to come – as exciting as the main event itself. A glimpse into the future. A source of conjecture and anticipation.
“I’ve got to see that.”
I remember these nights and the many films. The screen fading, the theatre dimming to black, the hushed silence or the whoops of over-stimulated teens. The whirr of the projector, the BBFC classification page, wobbly on the screen and then…
Star Wars, Grease, ET or Indiana Jones. Sci-fi or comedy, action, romance. James Bond or Crocodile Dundee.
That was the Monico. Rainy school holidays watching Disney’s latest fairytale. Visits with mum, with dad, with friends, with cousins. Later, with girls. That was Saturday morning cinema club. An onslaught of local kids, dropped off on wet weekend mornings; minors hopped up on e-numbered treats, entrusted to the care of Mr Monico and the cheery patience of Uncle Ian, the good-natured moustachioed host with the thankless task of containing and entertaining armed only with scratched copies of old Flash Gordon episodes and the delights of the Children’s Film Council – Calamity Cow or Anoop the Elephant. Being called onto the stage to a chorus of cheers and jeers if it was your birthday. Little kids standing somewhere between proud and shell-shocked with their 10 Today badges pinned to their jumpers while Uncle Ian tried to lead a tone-deaf rendition of Happy Birthday that could make or break your big day.
The lights of the projector dimmed for the final time in 2003; another independent cinema wilting and ultimately dying from the might of the multiplex. Ten and twelve theatre behemoths sucking the life from the smaller sites. In its place a block of inoffensive but largely uninspired apartments – we used to call them flats.
I’m as guilty for its demise as anyone else. As numbers dwindled and the breeze became more pronounced through the fire exits; as the yellow stuffing forced its way through the stitching of the worn red seats, I, like most other regular cinema goers, finally succumbed to the comfort and variety of the large cinemas down at Cardiff Bay and Nantgarw. The Monico’s time had past. And yet its passing left a void. Bulldozers rolled sadly in and the walls finally crumbled, leaving in its wake a poignant void as another monument to my youth disappeared, fading into a foggy past.
It rests at the far, eastern side of the bay like a giant armadillo; its curved copper coloured roof peaking over the top of the even more recently erected Assembly building.
Constructed from local ingredients – steel, slate and a dusting of Gaelic lyricism – the Wales Millennium Centre was built in just thirty three months, opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 2004 and is the embodiment of how Cardiff, and in particular its old docklands, has re-designed itself in the past decade.Walking towards the Centre through Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay’s ever expanding complex of bars, boutiques and restaurants it’s almost unimaginable that this multi million pound expanse of real estate was once a port of prodigious productivity.
Indeed, for much of the first part of the last century this was one of the busiest docks in the world, shipping coal and steel around the globe, making a select few fabulously wealthy and creating the culturally diverse, varied, vibrant and sometimes violent Butetown area that became universally known as Tiger Bay.
However, as Wales industrial output decelerated before grinding to a halt in the 1960’s the docks suffered a seemingly slow, painful and lingering death. Indeed, for those of us who grew up in Cardiff in the seventies and eighties Butetown represented a place of desolation; run down, bleak and best stayed away from.
This makes its transformation into an upmarket, trendy hotspot replete with top end penthouse apartments and five star hotel all the more remarkable.
And at its heart – the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC).
Large windows on the front of the building spell out verse, in Welsh and English from Wales’ Poet Laureate Gwynedd Lewis, In These Stones Horizons Sing. At a cost of £106 million WMC was opened to be the home of the Arts for both the city and the Nation at large. The new abode for seven of the main artistic bodies in Wales such as the Welsh National Opera and Academi, it has also become a leading venue for major touring productions from Miss Saigon to Billy Connolly.
In 2006 it was the only European venue to host Wagner’s Ring Cycle, an event that sold out in 4 hours and attracted an audience from around the globe to the Centre.Without a doubt it’s global recognition which WMC seeks.
Bet Davies, Head of Communications at the Centre told me that the vision for the venue was to be “A cultural landmark, representing a new, self-confident Wales”. When asked whether she felt they were living up to such a bold ambition the answer was unequivocal, “Yes, the Centre has already become an international icon for Wales”.
She has a point. Not only has WMC featured prominently as a backdrop in television programmes such as Dr Who and Torchwood, it’s also the primary focus for Visit Britain’s marketing strategy for Wales, targeting in particular, the USA.
In the coming year, strategic alliances are being sought with some of the major arts venues of the world including The Met in New York and Sydney Opera House.Indeed, the link with Sydney is an interesting comparable. Davies pointed out “The long term aim is for WMC to do for Wales what the Opera House has done for Australia.”
Lofty ambition this may be and it has to be said that the cold and windswept January morning that chilled the hands and tested the waterproof qualities of my jacket was about as far removed from the blue skies and warm air associated with Australia’s largest city as it’s possible to get.
Nevertheless, similarities with Circular Quay do indeed exist. Be it the cosmopolitan feel you get from the international cuisine, the ice cream parlours comfortably adjacent to pubs and the obligatory Starbucks or the WMC itself which, like its Sydney counterpart, casts a striking presence above the locale.Of course, such bold ventures come at a cost.
The £106m spent on the Centre is part of a £2billion plus spend on the development of the area since the hugely controversial flooding of four hundred acres of mud flats with the Cardiff Bay Barrage in 2001.
That in itself was, and in some quarters continues to be, a highly contentious act. Whilst the creation of a fresh water bay where the flats used to be was undoubtedly the catalyst for the major development that has followed, it also caused an ecological outcry from conservationists over the loss of an area of major ornithological significance. To pave the way for developers, the deprived areas around Loudon Square were marginalised by the creation of a new boulevard, becoming a ghetto hidden away from the new wealth by large walls.
There is also the matter of such large quantities of tax payer’s money from the relatively limited coffers of the Assembly being spent on such a small part of Welsh life, with figures in excess of £500m the conservative estimate.
In recent months, the WMC has itself endured a certain degree of controversy over the issue of public funding. In October 2007 it was revealed that the Centre risked insolvency over debts in the region of £13.5m. This threat was alleviated due to a settlement with the Welsh Assembly that secured the centre a significant increase in its subsidies, raising levels from 6% to 23% of its income. As to whether it’s right that the Government should subsidise them to this degree Davies is forthright in her view. “If Wales is to succeed as a nation it has to invest in its national institutions,” she said “The new subsidy puts us on a par with the Lowry in Manchester. Southbank and Barbican receive over 50%.”
Her view is endorsed by Professor James Foreman-Peck of the Cardiff Business School whose 31 page report concluded that increased subsidy to major Arts venues has a tendency to actually aid a local economy.
More generally on the overall public spending of the Bay Development over recent years, local property developer Peter Ballantyne, MD and co-founder of St Padarn Properties, asserts the view that without this commitment from the public sector the area would have further declined and the major national investors would have stayed away from Cardiff, the knock on effect being that the city would have suffered. “Without it the National Companies wouldn’t have come and developed 12 and a half square kilometres of prime waterside property,” he said, inferring that Cardiff would have been indelibly burdened by its industrial decline as opposed to the revitalised, visionary city that today self-labels itself the fastest growing Capital City in Europe.
Furthermore, the drive to create a new look waterfront with its tourist friendly appeal and architectural projects like WMC that strive for iconic status is what’s putting the region on the global map, a fact that can only be positive for the long term outlook for the city. Cardiff Council reported in April 2007 that tourism had increased by more than 11% since 2001.
Whilst the hosting of high profile events such as the FA Cup Final will have played its part, it’s no coincidence that this increase has occurred on the back of the Bay’s facelift. Additionally, renowned American travel experts Frommers.com have made Cardiff one of their thirteen must visit destinations of 2008, billing it a modern “cosmopolitan city that retains its ancient Welsh heart,” going on to add the “astounding Wales Millennium Centre holds court in the revitalized waterfront, breathing life into the culture and cafe scene.”
Certainly the impact of the redevelopment can be felt throughout the city. Speaking to a quantity surveyor for one of the prominent National Housebuilders he said that the local residential market was driven by the Bay’s explosion of apartment living, a fact born out by the increase in similar projects in the more traditional suburbs.
The city centre has followed suit, office blocks have become apartments, hotels have become more refined to compete with the Bay’s St David’s Hotel, the Brewery Quarter is a central venue for eating and drinking to rival Mermaid Quay while the £535m St David’s 2 project will add further shopping and living opportunities.
And the Bay continues to expand. Ballantyne told me the council has already green lit plans for more development of the Century Wharf residential complex as well as a new hotel and commercial units. Other major projects, the £700m International Sports Village and a new stadium to be shared by the cities professional football and rugby teams complete the picture of a city that has yet to tire of desire to change.
Whether such growth is sustainable and whether Cardiff will really rival Sydney one day, only time will tell. Davies asserts that the WMC represents “a beacon for the Wales of today”. It’s most certainly a representation of a city desperate for recognition on the world stage.
Cardiff developed its Bay under the cloud of controversy, evicting wildlife and the less privileged elements of the community with casual ease. Whatever the rights and wrongs may be what is certain is that things won’t go back. Davies is right. WMC is a beacon of today’s Wales. That it attracts shows from around the world, that it’s enticed 1.8 million visitors is indeed a reflection on how where once the bay thrived on sending the world its wares, today it gets life from bringing the world to Cardiff.
I looked around. Was she talking to me? It appeared that she was.
“No worries,” I said, even though I’m not Australian and had not in fact been waiting for any amount of time at all. In fact, I had simply strolled unhindered to the counter of the well-known sandwich and coffee shop with the French name, chicken and jalapeno wrap in hand, to be greeted almost instantaneously by the apologetic assistant.
This was my first visit to the new St David’s Shopping Centre that opened last week in Cardiff City Centre. I’m not noted for my love of shopping so was somewhat surprised by how keen I was to suss the place out. I parked the old banger in the new car park, which affords the childish and idiotic a splendid opportunity to make screech noises as you wind your vehicle up the endless, helter-skelter in reverse style ramp. Once parked I resolved to go investigate the centre – immediately amending this plan as I looked at my watch and heard the familiar gurgles from beneath my jumper.
It was lunchtime.
The assistant smiled. It was the kind of smile that, I believe, can only be learned on courses run by Americans (probably Californians). A smile that says:“I feel like shit but I’m being paid not to burden you with my woes.”
I smiled back. Sincere or otherwise, I like smiles. Smiles are good. Smiles are better than scowls – perhaps due to their comparative infrequency when in such establishments.
“Have you tried this one before?” she asked, taking the wrap and scanning its barcode. What was going on here?
“Um,” I said, somewhat thrown by this wanton attack of friendliness. Giving it a bit more thought I added, “No.”
“Oh, this one’s great. Really good combination of flavours. I love it.”
Was she related to Greg Wallace, I wondered.
“Excellent. I’ll look forward to eating it,” I replied, ashamed at my lack of creativity in the face of such bonhomie. Frankly, my brain is programmed for disgruntled, silent anger; accustomed to Muttley like grumblings at poor customer service and general rudeness. It was unprepared and found wanting by a shop assistant with such a cheery disposition.
I took my wrap and left.
St David’s is one shiny new shopping centre. A behemoth of glass and stone and designer labels it’s an enormous site that joins the old St David’s shopping centre with The Hayes and, frankly has altered the appearance of Cardiff so markedly that as I entered the imperiously named Grand Arcade I felt as though I were suddenly a stranger in my home city. I had visions of myself talking to my kids, paraphrasing my own grandparents with comments like:
“I remember when this area was all car park and run down bakeries and travel agents.”
Of course, being the new kid on the block there was a definite feeling of the place striving to make a good impression. Among older, established residents, I suppose it feels the need to make friends quickly. Which is, I think, the reason behind the disconcerting levels of good manners. Walking through the Grand Arcade, noting the designer names and global brands, trying to ignore the melting of my mouth’s roof from hot jalapeno, I couldn’t help be somewhat impressed by the effort the place was making to be liked. Orange clad marketeers drifted about like Oompa Loompa’s on Red Bull, eagerly trying to ascertain the shoppers opinions. People with little name tags wandered around, smiling at nothing in particular while cleaners prowled the undercover streets, seizing upon litter with predatory poise. As I dared step into an electrical store that shall remain nameless (sounds like a traditional Indian dish – but that’s the only clue I’m giving) I was seized upon by a young chap who had clearly been on the same smiling course as the sandwich shop assistant. Declaring himself a camera specialist, and thereby distancing himself from the stereotype, he positively enthused over his subject and began engaging in unpatronising conversation that seemed, on face value, to suggest that a) he knew what he was talking about and b) he was interested in what I was looking for. I’m sure it disappointed him no end to discover that all I was actually looking for was a glass of water to abate the raging fire in my gob.
I’m sure the gloss will wear off St David’s, maybe the politeness too. Human nature seems to expect that to happen. And, as Christmas approaches any mass arena of retail has the potential to descend to a lower circle of Hell, bringing out the insane and barbarous in all – which will surely test the new found spirit of helpfulness to the max. But, you know what – for a site that, when all’s said and done is nothing more than bricks and mortar (and glass) to be able to proudly boast that it weighs as much as 208 blue whales – then for now, I’m prepared to accept it as one of us.
The 17th November 1993 – I woke with the dull and familiar thud of a Philharmonic hangover. Back in my old bedroom at my parents, home from University for a couple of days. I lay in bed and reflected upon the night before.
A night in town, a night in the Philly, strange to be there on a Tuesday night in November when I should have been in Liverpool; should have been sitting in my living room with Mark, John and Boo, eating a communally made corned beef hash and beans and sipping a luke warm Fosters. Instead I was with Garf, H and Grant and a bar full of young expectant Welsh folk, working ourselves in the kind of fevered excitement usually reserved for our former child-selves of Christmas Eves past.
In a sense, that’s what it was. The night before was our Christmas Eve. It was the night before the biggest game in Welsh football history – as far as any of us present were concerned. The night before our date with destiny, our crowning glory and any other of the trite clichés being bandied about at the time. It also happened to be the final night of my teenage years.
17th November 1993 – my twentieth birthday. The day Wales played Romania at the Arms Park.
I woke in the morning, no longer a teenager, my head pounding, my ears dulled from the racket of the previous night. The raucousness, the noise, the singing. The nervous excitement that saw an entire pub (yes, an entire pub) threatened with eviction for refusing to stop singing ‘Can’t take my eyes off of you’ the Andy Williams hit that had, in the space of a few short weeks in the autumn of that year, become the unofficial anthem of the nation. We sang it and then we sang it again. And then, for good measure, we sang it again. When I woke the next morning, working its way through the barrier of alcoholic skull ache, the song reverberated – refused to go away.
And I smiled.
The day passed in a blur, cards and warm wishes from family were gratefully received, the treat of a nice lunch at a local restaurant with parents and grand-parents was enjoyed to a point. But part of me wasn’t there. Part of me was already in the stadium, wracked with nerves, giddy with excitement, laid low with an expectation that swung wildly from staggering optimism to crippling doom. We needed to win; a win and we were in next year’s World Cup in the USA. Wales didn’t qualify for World Cups. We never qualified. We went close a few years earlier, denied by the Scots. But it never seemed all that likely really. Until now. This time there was a different vibe. We had big Nev in goal, Eric Young and Rats at the back – we had the ever reliable Rushy up front with Saunders. Gary Speed, league championship winner in midfield. Classy, strong, a tireless competitor. Then there was Giggs – the new boy wonder, the wizard, the Welsh George Best. It was a proper team, a good team. Even without Mark Hughes, suspended for the match. We had a real chance. More than a chance. And with the crowd, the roar of the Arms Park. We dared to dream. Nothing seemed more important than winning, achieving our unlikely goals.
Nothing. Not one thing seemed more important in the entire world than that match and more over, the outcome of that match.
A pre-match beer and I took my seat in the stadium with Garf, high in the stands, bellowing our new and much loved song out, bellowed our more traditional anthem out. The players looked ready, they looked up for it. The crowd, 55000 of us, throbbed with tension and excitement. We all forgot that Romania were actually quite a good team. And in Hagi, they had a wonderful gem of a player.
Hagi scored, the crowd sagged, rocked by the set-back, stunned that Nev had let a soft one in – he never did that. Never. The game went on, nothing much happened. My singing lessened, my nerves, my pessimism kicking in. I wanted us to win, to qualify. I wanted it more than I wanted anything else. Isn’t it strange how you get so sucked into these things? Even as it unfolded I knew how illogical, how irrational it all was. But who said life was any of those things anyway?
Giggs was coming to life, he’d made a few breaks down the right, started to cause problems. A ball into the penalty area, it bounced awkwardly and Gary Speed, so good in the air, leapt like a salmon, steered a header goal wards and Saunders, ever the poacher prodded it home. We were back in it. Game on. The noise ratcheted up, the dream was before us all again. Another attack – it was Speed again, turning in the penalty area caught by Petrescu, brought down. PENALTY!
We were, all of a sudden, one kick from qualification. One moment of composure and clinical finishing away from the most important thing in the world.
As everyone knows, Paul Bodin stepped up that night, coolly slotted the ball into the bottom corner and sent a nation into levels of delirium never before witnessed. He became a national hero, with statues erected across the land in his honour. At the world cup the following summer Wales astonished the world. Inspired by Giggs and Rush and led by the magnificent Speed they cruised through the group stages, walloped Argentina and crushed the Germans on the way to the final, beating the Brazilians in a shoot-out Gary Speed firing home the crucial kick that put Wales on top of the world.
That, in fact, never happened. But my God I’ve dreamed that it had on a number of occasions since.
Bodin missed the crucial penalty on the 17th November 1993. There was a collective sigh of despondency across the 55,000 in attendance and the 3 million or so Welsh folk watching on the TV. Romania scored again near the end, the dream was over. It was the worst feeling in the world – nothing seemed worse than that defeat.
At the final whistle a flare shot from out of the stand opposite me. It streaked across the pitch, a rocket leaving a white trail like a jet engine, disappearing into a section of the crowd forty or so yards away. It caused a minor commotion but I was not interested. My deflated, angry grief was too much. So I left, in silence.
In the pub afterwards, as we quietly and dejectedly gave our post-match analysis, ready to vent our vitriol wherever we could, someone mentioned that the flare had in fact hit someone in the crowd and killed them. Somebody who had gone to that match tonight, had bought a ticket and made his way filled with excitement and tension and nerves and expectation, somebody just like me, had gone to a match and would never again go home.
The defeat still hurt, I won’t pretend otherwise, but it never seemed quite as important after I heard that.
Today, 27th November 2011, I was standing on a muddy field on a sunny Sunday morning in Cardiff watching my son play rugby. The twenty year-old version of me would probably not recognise today’s more seasoned model. As I stood there, among the other cheering parents, all keen for their own to do well, to score the crucial try, make the important tackle, my phone buzzed. At the same time the phones of other parents began to buzz. This is how we get our news these days.
Every phone said the same thing. Every parent refused, initially, to believe it.
Gary Speed was dead, aged 42.
Speed has been a stalwart of Welsh football for two decades. Handsome, athletic, well spoken. A top class footballer and currently reviving Welsh football as team manager – the team all of a sudden being compared to that team. His team. The team of 1993.
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