Cardiff abuzz with World Cup joy after Wales qualify for first time since 1958

Fans of ‘bumblebees of football’ prolong the celebration – and hatch plans to get to Qatar in November

The day after the night before, Cardiff was still abuzz. Fans in bright bucket hats and red shirts wandered around the Welsh capital on Monday dazed but joyful at the prospect of their national side taking part in the World Cup for the first time in more than six decades – with many already hatching plans to get to Qatar in November.

“It was fantastic,” said Nicky Wilson, drinking coffee in a Yates bar proudly wearing a “Spirit of 58” T-shirt – a reference to the last time Wales qualified for football’s biggest prize – as she prepared to drive her party back home to north Wales.

“The anthem, the buildup, the game, the celebrations afterwards. It was all perfect. Everybody is having a tough time at the moment – Covid and now the cost of living crisis. This is such a boost to the whole country and, by hook or crook we’ll get to Qatar.”

Wales celebrating after their victory in the World Cup play-off final with Ukraine at Cardiff City stadium.
Wales celebrating after their victory in the World Cup play-off final with Ukraine at Cardiff City stadium. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Watching the Welsh football team tends to be a family affair. Wilson’s daughter, Annie, a 21-year-old student, started travelling with her mum and the rest of the “Red Wall” when she was 10. “It’s one big, wonderful community,” she said.

Annie Wilson has watched Wales play Mexico at the Rose Bowl stadium in Los Angeles but Sunday’s 1-0 win against Ukraine at a rain-soaked Cardiff City stadium surpassed that. “Last night was the best, no doubt.”

James Cameron, a transport worker also from north Wales, was to be found tackling a Guinness – a combination of hair of the dog and a determination to keep on partying for a few days yet.

Like Welsh supporters of a certain vintage he has survived a lot of disappointment, his low point a 1-0 loss to Russia that meant his country did not qualify for Euro 2004. The best was the 3-1 win against Belgium at Euro 2016. “But getting through to the World Cup finals is something else,” he said.

While the mood in Cardiff was cheerful, it was also a time for reflection. Peter Hughes, a joiner, talked about how the edge between the large Welsh clubs that used to be felt on international match days had vanished. “It feels like a more united football community in Wales now,” he said.

A Welsh speaker, Hughes praised the Welsh FA for the way it has promoted the language, for example by identifying the team as “Cymru” rather than Wales. After the final whistle the Welsh squad lined up to sing the ballad Yma o Hyd (Still Here) with the folk singer Dafydd Iwan.

Deian, left, and Will, in bucket hats.
Deian, left, and Will, in bucket hats. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

Politics students Will and Deian, two of those mooching around the capital in bucket hats, said they loved the ethos of the team as well as their skill on the pitch. “The ‘still here’ sentiment is very important,” said Will. “Everyone is together and we always will be.”

Fans were also keen to pay tribute to Ukraine – the team and nation. Deian said there had been a lot of tears shed at the end of the match, not only for Wales’s win but for Ukraine. “It was a surreal, poignant game,” he said.

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It had been a fine weekend for the suppliers of hats, shirts and flags in the shops opposite Cardiff Castle and people were still coming in for souvenirs on Monday. “We’ve had a difficult couple of years,” said Bob Rice at Castle Welsh Crafts. “So it’s nice to see a bit of hustle and bustle. The win is good for the country and good for business.”

Bob Rice, who owns Castle Welsh Crafts and has run it for more than 40 years.
Bob Rice, who owns Castle Welsh Crafts and has run it for more than 40 years. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

The soundtrack for many was BBC Radio Wales. The presenter Jason Mohammad played David Bowie’s Heroes and Manic Street Preachers’ version of This Is The Day. “What a day!” he told the Guardian after his phone-in show. “I’ve been following Wales since 1982 and reporting on them for the BBC since 1997 so to be on air and broadcast the words ‘Wales have qualified for the Fifa World Cup’ was incredible. The thought of seeing so many red shirts in Qatar in 2022 is one that fills me with hwyl [a sense of fun, energy, enjoyment, passion], balchder [pride] and joy.”

At Andy’s Hair Hut (suppliers of wigs and extensions) in Cardiff Market, Andy Smith and his son Jacob, 20, were discussing “Operation How-To-Get-There”. Andy has priced the trip at £7,000 each. “But we’re looking for cheaper alternatives,” he said.

Andy Smith and his son, Jacob, at Andy’s Hair Hut in Cardiff Market.
Andy Smith and his son, Jacob, at Andy’s Hair Hut in Cardiff Market. Photograph: Francesca Jones/The Guardian

He has been researching whether it’s possible to cross from a neighbouring country – or finding a berth in a cruise ship anchored off the coast. “It’ll be worth it. It’s about creating memories. Wales is like a bumblebee. The bee shouldn’t be able to take off and we shouldn’t be able to qualify for the World Cup. But it can and now we have. We’re the bumblebees of football.”


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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