For Welsh fans, the World Cup in Qatar is at once bleak and wonderful | Wells

FFurrowed eyebrows in the first half. Old friends raised eyebrows know and exhaled. The Ahmed bin Ali stadium lobby used to be where you bumped into friends from school you haven’t seen in years, but everyone skipped the niceties to go straight to the important stuff: “Why wasn’t Kieffer playing? Don’t we miss Joe Allen in midfield? Oh, you left DVLA.” To start your own business and you just had twins? That’s nice.”

Wales were trailing 1-0 and it was a dreadful, uncharacteristically poor performance after a freak day. Perhaps this is what the World Cup finals have always looked like. I had nothing to go on.

As we walked around Doha, Mexicans, Argentines, and Ecuadorians recognized our knock-off T-shirts and exclaimed “Wales! Jales! Wales!” Some Brazilians on the metro applauded us and asked for a picture with us. Surprisingly, they knew about John Charles and the match between two countries in the 1958 World Cup quarter-finals. If these fans had money from FIFA, they at least read the background.

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As we strolled through Souq Waqif, there were local teenagers sporting Chelsea and Real Madrid shirts, proof if you need it that even the small, gas- and oil-rich nations of the Middle East are not immune to soccer’s global reach. The huge amount of people who have mentioned Gareth Bale has brought home his level of fame. It’s a box office hit in a way that makes Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones or Richard Burton shrink in comparison. Not bad for the son of a caretaker from Cardiff.

Wales fans were filmed by locals singing Caloon Country And I listened to my friend Tristan speak to an Ecuadorean woman in the world language of soccer, and I marveled as he discussed Allen’s hamstrings with a Langevini accent so strong it could tip the Earth off its axis. As we walked the floor through a Gloucester-sized shopping mall, fans from the United States wished us good luck and wished us a good championship.

I may have learned the ways of British club football, but it felt like a glimpse into a parallel universe—a palpable, almost disturbing lack of tamper cues as we walked the grounds past Sunglass Hut and Louis Vuitton.

In the end, enthusiastically snapping photos of every Welsh flag I saw became unsustainable, as we passed restaurants and hotels that had risen from the desert but decked out like a primary school in Llanelli on St David’s Day. After a pilgrimage to a giant Welsh bucket hat in a fan area, I snapped a picture of the banner describing Wales for the curious and the uninitiated: “Wales is home to acts of kindness, global business, open arms, and great ideas…” (if you want to know more about our fans, our culture, and our epic country , then scan this QR code).

When Arsenal and Wales midfielder Mel Charles came home from the last World Cup, the ticket clerk at Swansea station spotted his bag and asked if he was on holiday. “We just played in the quarter-finals of the World Cup,” said Charles incredulously. “Maybe he didn’t read the newspapers.” Much has changed since 1958.

Along with 1,600 other people, I attended a hotel party, drinking Budweiser on the 55th floor at prices that were enough to make your knees knock. Joe Ledley was attacked, and Welsh football cultural attaché David Ewan played still here to rave scenes. I bumped into an old school friend of Gareth “GO” Jones, the schoolteacher who took me and hundreds like me to the first international school in Wales as a child, an act which had as profound an effect on my character as learning to read.

Gareth Bale training in front of a giant red dragon
Wales fans continue to dream of a place in the play-offs. Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters

GO has completely selflessly dedicated itself to grassroots and youth football in West Wales, a lifetime of critical undertakings that came from an utterly pure love of the game. “Imagine, Ellis. Wales in the World Cup. Gareth would be delighted.” (“Imagine, Ellis. Wales at the World Cup. Gareth would have been happy.”)

I spoke to rainbow wall members who brought rainbow bucket hats to line up any empty seats, to represent their LGBTQ friends who didn’t feel like they could be there. Qatar can be great. It wasn’t far from gloomy.

I’m sure if we had qualified more, our first World Cup match would have been less emotionally charged, and the group stage opener would have been as routine as brushing your teeth or apologizing to the cashier at Boots for not being there. feature card. If you take our form from the start of the World Cup in 1930 as a guide, it will be then when I turn 106. No wonder I had a selfie with the Rwandan security guard who was an Arsenal fan and loved Aaron Ramsey. I wanted to suck it all in. We all did.

The anthem crackled on the floor, but the team was flat. Nervous and flat-footed, we were lucky to go into the break 1-0. Kiefer Moore came in, and the team immediately got better and started playing with the zip the occasion demanded. Bell won the penalty, Bell took the penalty kick, and our end was gone. He came, saw, equalized.

Full time, Neco Williams wept for his grandfather who died the day before. Bramsey, sobbing on the pitch at Cardiff City after we qualified as his thoughts turned to Gary Speed, reminded me of the managerial adrenaline shot Welsh football desperately needed in 2010, of which World Cup qualification was always the best. Ambition.

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

Ellis James donated his cartoons for this column to Amnesty International, which campaigns for Qatar and FIFA to set up a compensation fund for migrant workers.

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