St. George into the Dragon’s Den

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The Millennium Stadium replaced Cardiff Arms Park as the home of the Welsh team in 1999. Photograph by Nick Richards.

As a rugby fan, there are few stadiums that capture the pride and the moment more than Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

And as a fan of English rugby, it holds pride of place as possibly the most hostile environment to visit. Winning in Cardiff is something that the Welsh have made very difficult for visiting teams in recent times. With the fall of England’s “Golden Age” of the early 2000’s, the Red Rose has struggled to rack up wins here, and has managed only one since 2003, which came early this year during England’s successful Six Nations Championship.

Some months ago, I finally managed to get my hands on my first set of International tickets. For someone who talks about little else then rugby, it might surprise some that I have never been to see a full International test match. I did go to see England Saxons VS Portugal once, but that hardly counts. The highest-ranked game I have seen was when Sale Sharks defeated Wasps back in 2005, in the semi final of what was then the Guinness Premiership. It is a day that I still remember with clarity.

So you can only imagination my rather childish excitement when I found out I was going to see England play Wales, the oldest rivalry in the game, in the home of Welsh rugby. A perfect baptism by far for the ardent England fan! But with great occasion, comes great nervousness. My biggest worry was that I would lose my temper when England inevitably dropped the ball or failed to pass out wide despite a horrendously obvious overlap, and end up getting into a disagreement with a burly farmer from Llanelli or somewhere like that. To say the least, thirteen years of living in Wales has made me rather stalwart in my rivalry towards the Welsh. And with 80,000 of them around, I felt even more concerned. Maybe I should buy the new England black away shirt so people think I am from New Zealand?

But pride, as ever, won the day. So with white jersey worn with defiance, I finally got a taste of the Dragon’s Den. And I was blown away. Not by a punch from that farmer I mentioned earlier, but by the spectacle of the occasion and above all, the warm sense of camaraderie that seemed to flow from the crowd in quantities to rival the gallons of Brains Ale that flowed from the numerous bars around the ground.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with rugby culture, there is no fan segregation in the sport. All the fans mingle in and around the ground, and seating is also mixed. It is an experience that is unique to only a few sports and is something that many other sports should take note of.

I will not load this article down with any reports on the game itself, though I will say that Wales ran in 19-9 winners after a rather poor game which saw England throw away multiple chances and saw the referee show a degree of inconsistency and ineptitude that affected both sides and the game as a whole.

But the lasting memory I have is the roar of the crowd when both sides emerged from the smoking red tunnel. The heat of the flames as Wales emerged, in a pyrotechnic bonanza that puts Saving Private Ryan to shame. The fact that my friends and I not only sang our own national anthem, but the one of our rival as well. And the fact that all of us joined in the oppositions chants be it Tom Jones’ “Delilah” or “Swing Low”.

The streets of Cardiff that night were no different, with groups of England and Wales fans mingling in the streets, where the singing had become slightly more boisterous if a little more slurred. The city of Cardiff has something special in its rugby culture, and I believe it is something that anyone can appreciate, be they rugby fans or not. It was an experience which I will live with forever, one of singing, rugby, and a pint or ten of beer.

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