As the football teams of Wales and England prepare to lock horns in a European Championship qualifier, I thought the time was ripe to try and explain why I have never truly supported Wales at sport but feel more Welsh than English. Why I have never had an England shirt nor can speak Welsh and why I hate God Save The Queen but think Land Of My Fathers is the greatest National Anthem in history.
Apart from a three-month period in 2001, spent living in a caravan at Shell Island, sleeping with A-Level students, drinking, taking acid, pills, speed and fishing for Sea Bass, I have never lived in Wales.
On the face of it, there is nothing interesting about that statement apart from, perhaps, the A-Level students (they sent me mental if you want the truth, but that might have been the drugs). But the reason it exists is because I am named after one of the greatest Welsh heroes of all-time for two reasons. One, I am half-Welsh. Two, I almost died at birth and, following my fight to get out of the incubator, was given the name that because of the deeds of Owain Glyndwr translates as ‘warrior’.
Confused? Then welcome to my world.
I blame the Grandparents. Both of them.
My Welsh Grandparents, my Mother’s parents, were two of the nicest people to ever grace the Earth. They have both been dead for eleven years but there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about them, and not a week that passes without me crying that they are no longer here. My Grandad, or Gudda to me, was a teacher. A blindingly intelligent chap, he did an English degree at Lampeter University but ended up teaching Maths and History. He was struck off the teaching register in Wales for refusing to cane someone, was a lifelong pacifist, a wireless operator on Lancaster Bombers in WWll (and had a nervous breakdown because of this) and ended up teaching, amongst others, Sniffer and Wayne Clarke at Willenhall Boys. I have his eyes, apparently. Pee holes in the snow.
My Nan was a riot. She introduced me to Johnny Cash, menthol fags, Martini Rosso and the joy of life. I am crying as I write this. She looked after me when I was a kid so my parents could work, called me her toyboy, shielded me when I used to run away from school, let me kip on her sofa when I was a teenage delinquent and loved me so much that the sense of loss bites me like a crocodile. Nan, I love you, forever. I’ll always be your toyboy.
My fathers parents were – are – different. I love my Dad. We’ve had our ups and downs but I admire him for being a lad from a Wolverhampton estate who, despite having sprung from the loins of a pair of thick racists, was the only kid around his way to get a scholarship to Grammar School. My old man was kicked out when he was 16 for being a hippie. His Dad, a a man with a pathological hatred of anyone not white and British, didn’t like the fact that my old man was going on anti National Front marches. I think it speaks volumes that, despite my parents divorcing in 1990, my Dad came to Gudda’s funeral in 2001 but not his own fathers in 2008.
My love for Wales isn’t, of course, as cut and dried as this. I have been called all sorts by the Welsh for having a Welsh name and sounding English
My Nan is still alive. I hadn’t seen her for a few years until my Granddad’s funeral. I went more out of curiosity than care and sat with her at the wake. “You’re married now, aren’t you?” she said. “Yeah, my wife is Indian,” I replied. I reverted to childhood when I sat next to her, and, despite the anger that burned because she had never come to visit me after my parents split up, I still craved a bit of love. So when she said, “has she got any bangles I can borrow?” I left it.
What happened two hours later, I couldn’t leave. As the wake was winding down, and following several straight Navy rums to honour my Grandfather, there was some black pudding left. “Anyone want this?’ My Nan asked. Without missing a beat she followed up with, “Owen, you should have this, you’ll be as black as your missus when you go home.” I looked at my Uncle Mick, who shook his head and told me to leave it. He was right. But I wanted to stove her head in with the dartboard. I haven't seen her since and have no plans to do so again.
My love for Wales isn’t, of course, as cut and dried as this. I have been called all sorts by the Welsh for having a Welsh name and sounding English and abused by football supporters in Shrewsbury for playing for an English youth team and having a Welsh name. In all honesty, it doesn’t bother me, I don’t feel tied to any nationality. I couldn’t give a monkey's about Dragons, Queens, Leeks or Laver bread.
But I support England at cricket, have danced in the street for England football matches and, on one occasion, went head first through WH Smiths window after England lost to Germany on penalties in Euro 96. I try hard to support Wales at rugby, but feel an outsider, yet when I hear God Save The Queen I feel nothing.
Still confused? Well so am I.
A few years ago I was in Scotland on assignment. I was staying in a hotel in Dundee and, drunk as a lord, saw that there was a Welsh Male Voice Choir in the lounge that was about to get up. I walked over to the leader and asked if I could sing Land of My Fathers with them in honour of my Gudda who bowled internationally for Wales. They acquiesced, I cried my eyes out whilst bellowing it out and sort of realised what it was all about.
I don’t think of myself as Welsh, English or anything in between. But as an ongoing influence in my life I do think, before doing something, what my Nan and Granddad would’ve thought because they were good people. I could tell you the horrible story of how I, ratted on 18 pills on the Millennium NYE, awoke to find out my Nan had died and then entered the worst comedown you could imagine. Or even how she suffered a fatal heart attack at exactly the same time as I began to lose it after double-dropping pills 17 and 18 and I blamed myself for years, thinking she had died instead of me, her toyboy.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that its all about good people and, despite England being the land of my father, Wales will always be the Land of My Fathers
I’ll probably always be confused about this and only want a good match between Wales and England this afternoon because I’m writing about it.
Nan, Gudda, Mum and even Dad, this is for you.
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