The ‘red wall’ from Barry were in good voice on the Cardiff train. They, and I, were heading for Bordeaux and Wales’ historic match against Slovakia five years ago.

Their soccer banter was mixed with pro-Brexit chants. To establish credentials, I explained I’d waited since 1958 to see Wales reach such a tournament. Then I ventured: “Think twice, boys, before backing Brexit!” They didn’t respond with expletives as I’d expected; they went quiet.

Seizing the moment, I mentioned how - twice last century - our continent was torn apart, with millions killed. The EU was created so that never happened again.

We went our separate ways towards the same goal. My son Hywel and I eventually reached Bordeaux, joining throngs of Welsh fans in that fine city.

It was a long-awaited experience – ever since Brazil eliminated Wales in 1958. Wales were then in the World Cup last eight, which I assumed was our natural place!

Living in soccer-playing Gog, I saw John Charles play for Wales at Wrexham in 1954 – the year rugby was introduced to Caernarfon Grammar School. We were told it was our national game; we’d cheered as Ken Jones scored memorable tries. But it wasn’t our community game.

My claim to fame was playing alongside Wyn Davies for Caernarfon Reserves in Beaumaris in August 1960. We won 5-1 with Wyn scoring four. The next week, he was in Caernarfon’s first team, by Christmas was playing for Wrexham, and later for Bolton Wanderers and Wales, while I was dropped by the next match.


Bordeaux was stupendous. The tram to the ground reverberated with Welsh ‘hwyl’; a nation back in Europe. When a Cardiff teenager started a bawdy song, a hundred eyes bore down on him; he went quiet! Wales was on its best behaviour. No one was going to spoil our party. Twenty thousand Welsh supporters in Bordeaux’s new stadium sang ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ as never before; and again later when the team needed lifting.

That evening Bordeaux bubbled with Welsh supporters, happily mixing with defeated Slovaks and local French – who had a soft spot for Wales from rugby encounters.

The largest cheer was when Russia equalised against England, which suited both Wales and Slovakia. Our French hosts were already sick of English ‘supporters’ running riot in other French towns.

Police reported there wasn’t a single arrestable incident in Bordeaux that weekend. We were back in Europe with our soccer prowess and self-respect as a nation riding high.

Wales memorably beat Russia and Belgium, reaching the semi-finals. I had to return home to canvass for Wales remaining in Europe. Our soccer team did a better job than us.

I’ve often wondered how those Barry boys voted in the referendum; they probably missed it, still being in France. They, like thousands singing the tournament’s anthem ‘Please don’t send me home!’ saw how naturally comfortable – for that short period – Wales was in the heart of Europe.

Good luck to Wales on Saturday; but whatever happens in Baku, that bigger picture of a nation at peace with itself and with its continent, will surely endure.

If you value The National's political journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.