Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Come on Waaaales

Yeaterday, I wrote my column for my local weekly, the County Times. It comes out tomorrow but you can read it here. Only one story in town. Can Wales make the Euro16 final.

"What an astonishing two weeks it's been. The people of Britain, of Wales and of Powys have voted to favour of Britain leaving the European Union. The Prime Minister has announced his retirement about two years sooner than we expected. The Labour Party (Her Majesty's Official Opposition) is in a state of chaos/meltdown. Despite all of this, the biggest news and talking point in Wales today is Football. And the man of the moment is Gareth Bale.

As I write this column, I do not know whether Wales has defeated Portugal to reach the final of Euro 2016. But whether they have or haven't doesn't change what's happened. The players and management which has represented Wales in Euro 2016 have been magnificent. They have performed with skill, determination and a commitment to each other and their country that must make every Welsh person proud. I'm a rugby man, and know team spirit to be a crucial element in success. The team spirit on the Football pitch when this Wales team is playing is special to behold.

For a long period in the 1980s/1990s I was involved in promoting Wales abroad. I was trying to persuade overseas visitors to Europe to come to Wales. I wanted people the world over to think of Wales as the proud nation of Owain Glyndwr, Powis Castle, John Charles, Gareth Edwards, Anthony Hopkins and Tom Jones. I wanted to stop Americans in particular thinking of Wales as 'a part of England'. We needed Welsh heroes that could reach out across borders. Welsh heroes that are proud to fly the Welsh flag. I've been involved in spending millions of pounds of public money in an effort to achieve all this.

And then this amazing thing happened at Whitchurch High School in Cardiff. Two boys emerged together to take the world of sport by storm, Sam Warburton and Gareth Bale. And it's not just their sporting prowess which makes them great. It's their humility, their appreciation of how lucky they have been, their realisation that their team-mates are as important as they are. Whenever either of them are interviewed, I listen with admiration. They speak with great respect for their opponents, who they know are doing their best as well. There's a total absence of vulgar chest beating we so often see in sport. And in politics. It puts Prime Minister's Questions to shame.

At present British politics is in a very strange place. There are five Conservative MPs bidding to become Prime Minister. I know them all. Even though I've said I will be voting for Stephen Crabb, I admire all five. There is little philosophical difference between them and any of them would make a good Prime Minister. They will all respect the British people's decision to take the UK out of the EU. They are all One Nation Conservatives, committed to governing for everyone, particularly vulnerable groups. And they all believe the only way to achieve this is through popular capitalism. Whoever wins, will develop their own style. I hope they have been watching the way Wales and Iceland have performed in France. And I hope they have watched the way the supporters of these two small nations have acted as ambassadors for their countries. We should all be unstinting in our admiration. Politics can learn a lot from them."

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