Tag Archives: Hal Robson Kanu

Together Stronger

European football’s governing body, UEFA, today announced that three Welsh players had made it onto the shortlist for their team of the year. Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale have been rewarded for a series of stand-out performances for Wales as they progressed to the semi-finals of the European Championships in the summer. Their recognition is well-deserved, as is that for Hal Robson-Kanu, who has been nominated for goal of the year for his audacious turn and finish in the quarter-final fixture against Belgium. There is no doubting that the European Championships was a major triumph for Wales – players, supporters, the management team under Chris Coleman, and officials. If qualifying for the first major tournament in 58 years wasn’t enough, wins against Slovakia, Russia, Northern Ireland and Belgium propelled the team into the semi-finals and the spotlight in a way that none of us could ever have dared to dream. I was fortunate to travel to Bordeaux for the opening weekend of the Championships. It was an experience that I will never forget and that I will probably never come near to matching. You can read my blogs about the opening games of the tournament here and here.

What has been most impressive about the way that Wales has gone about building a competitive national football team, is that it has not been an accident of good fortune or lucky timing. Whilst Bale, Ramsey and Allen are undoubtedly the pick of the squad in terms of technical ability and (in Bale’s case at least) world class, the success of the team is founded on the established principles of working hard for each other, never knowing when you’re beaten, and giving 100% effort for the cause on every occasion. Whilst Bale received the plaudits in France for his goals and all around attacking flair, in many ways it was Ben Davies who set Wales on their way with a miraculous goal-line clearance in the opening 10 minutes of the first game against Slovakia. You could sense in the stadium at the time a sudden surge of belief that we could do this! We were not just there to make up the numbers – cannon fodder for the ‘more established’ teams.

The Welsh Football Association’s plan for the development of all aspects of the game – under the banner Together Stronger – encapsulates that spirit of teamwork and togetherness and applies it to junior and women’s football, at the grassroots and elite levels, and across all four corners of the country. In partnership with the charitable FAW Trust, investment in the latest artificial surfaces now sees many FA Wales Premier League matches played on high quality surfaces all year round, irrespective of the weather. And those same surfaces support youth teams, development centres, women’s football, and disability football programmes throughout the rest of the week. It’s a commitment to the game that has seen participation rates increasing, with over 210,000 (8% of the population) adults regularly playing football or futsal according to the latest figures. Just by way of comparison, this is nearly three times the participation rate for rugby union in Wales. Given that the last published survey was in 2014, one suspects that the numbers may have increased further in the last two years.

Whilst the current World Cup qualifying campaign has not yet reached the heights attained during the Euros, Wales remain unbeaten after four matches and very much in contention in a group where everybody is taking points off everybody else so far. The two matches against the Republic of Ireland look likely to be crucial in determining both nation’s fate in the race for Russia. The game in Dublin in March will be a cracker.

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If Carlsberg did Saturdays

“Saying is one thing and doing is another”. A quote from de Montaigne. The father of the Enlightenment and a resident of Bordeaux. I don’t know how much de Montaigne Chris Coleman has read (I don’t think it’s on the UEFA ‘A’ License curriculum), but his team executed the ‘doing’ in simply wonderful fashion.

There are defining moments in modern history : the declaration of war in 1939; the moon landings; the shooting of John F. Kennedy; the attack on the Twin Towers. People remember where they were at the exact moment that these things happened. To that list must now be added the moment when Hal Robson Kanu beautifully, exquisitely, agonisingly, scuffed a left footed shot into the corner of the Slovakian net 84 minutes into Wales’ opening game in the European Championships in France, 2016.

Hal Robson Kanu : as Welsh as a zebra, but he’ll f*****g do. My new favourite football song ever.

I can’t do justice here to the events of a day that started in a restaurant in the main square in Bordeaux with the kind of burger and chips that only happens in France (“How would you like the burger cooked, sir?”); and ended at 3am on Sunday morning outside a bar in the same square, singing with Slovakian fans as the local police stood, watched, smoked, and eventually went home bored.

In between, there was the journey to the stadium on the outskirts of Bordeaux in a bus designed for 60 but easily accommodating 200 Welsh fans and a French family on their way home who started off a little concerned, but ended up singing “Watch out Europe, the Welsh boys are back” by the time their stop came around. I still don’t think they quite knew what to make of the 18 stone Valleys lad who plucked their anxious six year old up into his arms and clear of the crush so that the boy was safe and out of harm’s way. But it was that sort of day.

The Slovakian anthem was observed with impeccable silence and polite applause. And then Mae hen wlad fy nhadau rang out around the stadium with an intensity, volume and passion that must have been heard in Paris. When Ben Davies cleared a goal-bound shot off the Welsh line in the opening 5 minutes, we began to think that maybe, just maybe, this was going to be our day. And then Gareth Bale did what only Gareth Bale can. We were stood right behind that free kick at the other end of the ground. I swear that new laws of physics were written as the flight of the ball changed direction three times in the 25 metres that it flew from foot to net.

The Slovakian equaliser after half time was inevitable. We are Wales, for gods’ sake – this was never going to be easy. And then came the moment. Robson Kanu introduced to the fray to replace the excellent Johnny Williams. Hal Robson, Hal Robson Kanu. The chant went up. We knew. Hal knew. 84 minutes. Ramsay rocks and rolls to the edge of the Slovakian area – never quite in control of himself or the ball. Toe ends it past the despairing challenge of Skrtel (good with his elbows – not so good with his feet here). Time stands still. There is a moment of stillness. Peace. And then Hal. Not the best strike ever. A scuff really. And the ball rolling in slow motion over the goal line and nestling gently in the back of the net. Pandemonium in the stadium. 30,000 Welsh fans looking at each other in disbelief – can this really be happening? Grown men in tears, hugging the bloke next to them. Cheering, singing, and – in at least one case – dislocating a shoulder in the sheer joy of the moment (it’s ok – it popped back in and no analgesia was required!).

Back in the fan zone later in the evening, watching Russia v England on the big screen. Drink in hand. England winning one nil and into the final minute of added time at the end of the ninety. The equaliser. At least five thousand Welsh fans devastated for our English neighbours…

If Carlsberg did Saturdays…

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