06 June 2016

Why Euro 2016 means the world to Wales

Euro 2016 is without doubt the most exciting time for Welsh football - ever. No wonder we’re just a little bit thrilled. But the excitement isn’t just a richly-deserved reward for football fans and players – it’s great news for everyone in Wales. 

When travelling abroad, there was often that moment when you had to patiently explain where you come from, maybe doodling a quick map on a napkin. ‘No soy ingles, señor, soy galés.’ Cue a puzzled shrug. Until recently that is, now when señor’s eyes light up and he reverentially utters two words: ‘Gareth Bale’.

The Wales Football team celebrating.

The Wales Football team celebrating.

 by FAW

Football has put us on the global map – which, given our recent history in the game, is quite a turnaround. The last time we qualified for a major tournament was the World Cup in 1958. The intervening 58 years have been a wasteland of disappointment, near-misses, false dawns, overly tight shorts, unsuitable perms and ignoble failure. It’s hard to pick a low point, but we’ll try. The 5-0 hammering by Georgia in ’94. That hurt. So did Holland’s 7-1 drubbing in ’96. By the time Slovakia thrashed us 5-1 in 2006, we were used to it. 

There have been fleeting good times, like when Mark Hughes’s Wales beat Italy 2-1 in Cardiff in 2002. The crowd chanted ‘Egg is dead’ – a swipe at Welsh rugby fans, who were enduring their own miserable run (made worse by England being in superb form, winning the Rugby World Cup a year later). As it turned out, egg wasn’t dead, and football wasn’t out of intensive care, either. By 2011 we’d slipped to 117th place in the FIFA world rankings, awkwardly sandwiched between Haiti and Grenada.

And then - lo! - a miracle. Manager Chris Coleman patiently built on the legacy of his late predecessor and friend, Gary Speed. The ship steadied, then turned, then steamed ahead. Within four years, we’d sailed into the FIFA top 10, just one place behind Brazil. Then, on October 13, 2015 we did it. We qualified for Euro 2016 and, what’s more, we thoroughly deserved it. 

Yes, Gareth Bale helped. So did Premiership stars like Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams,  Joe Allen and Joe Ledley. But even at our lowest ebb, we always had world-class players like Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Ian Rush. The difference today is #TogetherStronger. 

What started as a Football Association of Wales marketing slogan has, remarkably, turned into something much more powerful. It’s become a passionately-held belief, an ethos that extends from every man in the squad, through the management, up into the crowd, and out to the entire country. 

Football has made us feel pretty damned good about ourselves. For a month in the summer in France, we’re on a global stage where we have every chance of shining brightly. Back home, we’re already enjoying the social and cultural benefits, and looking forward to the boost it’ll give to our economy and international profile.

In future, when we order a beer in some far-flung bar on the other side of the world, maybe señor will smile knowingly and exclaim, ‘Ahh, Gales! Un país muy hermoso!’ A very beautiful country. We’ll agree heartily, and quietly raise our glasses to Gareth Bale and the class of 2016.

So, what does Euro 2016 mean for Wales?

Quite a lot, actually. To football fans, it’s everything. But for the country as a whole, here are five reasons why Euro 2016 is great for Wales. 

International profile

You can’t invest in a country, or go on holiday there, if you don’t know it exists. Euro 2016 shines a bright light on Wales. Handily, we’ve got one of the world’s best footballers, Gareth Bale, who plays with as much intensity and passion for his national side as he does for his club, Real Madrid. 

Building momentum

There’s more to come. Cardiff in 2017 is hosting the UEFA Champions League Final. It’s the biggest club game in world football, held in arguably Europe’s best sports stadium, located slap-bang in the middle of a modern European capital city. It’s the perfect showcase for Cardiff and Wales. 

Thinking big

We’re good enough to qualify for global events, but we can host them, too. UEFA Champions League Final in 2017, NATO Summit, Ryder Cup, Rugby World Cup. What’s next? Bring it on. 

Happier, healthier

Kids see sport, they play sport. Having high-profile role models is great for our national health and happiness. This is built into our legislative DNA, via the Well-being of Future Generations Act, which is all about improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales.

BBC Wales have also covered what Euro 2016 qualification means to Welsh people. 

Find out more about Wales Euro 2016 Football Songs