MOnmouth Town FC’s packed, raucous clubhouse on the banks of the River Mlea momentarily calms down as Wales’ clubhouse traumatic loss Friday sunk in for a resurgent Iran. But thoughts – and perhaps the hopes of the whole nation – soon turned to the first encounter between England and Wales in a World Cup final.
Steve Davies, 50, manager of the agile Welsh Regional League club, is not the man to give up. He believes in resilience, family and community.
“Where there’s a football match, there’s always hope. There’s always a belief that they can create something special. We’ve done it at the Euros before – so hopefully, we can do it again on the biggest stage, he said, as a group of sixth formers, who had gathered with the players, coaching staff and supporters to watch the match, walked back to school.
The semi-professional club’s lush, tree-lined grounds are just two miles from the border with England, with some players commuting from the English side to play and train. Most of the club’s 250 registered players – from junior to senior teams – are Welsh, but a quarter are English. Teammates used to giving their all for each other will find themselves on opposing sides this week.
Senior team goalkeeper Dan Keane, 20, who grew up in the historic border town that has frequently changed hands between the English and Welsh over the centuries, knows big bragging rights are at stake: “It’s a friendly There is rivalry. If we get a result against England on Tuesday night, I will be very loud in training. It probably won’t happen again for a long time – so if it does you have to enjoy it.”
His partner, Mitchell Palmer, 25, also grew up in Monmouth but has English parents. His mother made sure he was born in Hereford, no wales, He suspects there could be some no-shows for training on Wednesday.
“If England win I wouldn’t be surprised if some Welsh players walk out so they don’t have to see me,” he said with a grin.
However, some fear this rivalry will affect the spirit of the youth team, which has seen them finish fifth in the Ardal Southern League, the third tier of the Welsh football pyramid. “We will be united as a family as Monmouth Town. And we will play for each other and work hard for each other. We will be united again,” Davies said.
One of the dedicated volunteers who runs the community club has just returned from Qatar. The chairman, Terry Cleaves, 63, a former player whose family have been involved in Monmouth Town FC for over a century, looked on Wales’ opening game with the United States, which ended in a draw. “I wanted to be in Qatar for the Welsh team’s first kickoff at the World Cup since 1958,” he said. “I was very proud to be there. I was proud to be part of a Welsh clan abroad.”
However, most fans haven’t made the trip. Instead, both England and Wales supporters will fill the clubhouse on Tuesday.
“There will be 80 to 100 people. This would be the place to be. We’ll take the mickey out of each other. There will be laughter. But it will be a friendly rivalry,” says Cleaves.
Palmer is already nervous, despite England being one of the tournament favourites: “It’s a derby and anything can happen. If we go 0-1 down I might have to sneak away. “
Even some families in the club would be divided on the night. Rich Thorpe, 52, who is the club’s treasurer, is backing England while his wife is supporting Wales. “My eldest would support Wells. My middle son would not support Wells. My daughter flips and flops,” he said.
Thorpe says that Welsh fans seem to lack the arrogance of some England supporters. “There’s a reason Walsh is loved by fans all over the world: they’re humble. They celebrate and cheer for their team. What frustrates England is that they’re happy to leave.
Wales will need to win well on Tuesday to have a chance of going through to the knockout stages – and even then they will need other results in the group to go their way.
But for many of the team’s most passionate supporters, playing on football’s grandest stage is enough.
“We’ve waited so long for Wales to actually qualify world Cupso we have no real hope,” Davies says. ‘We just got to Qatar and won,’ he added. ‘Playing in the World Cup, representing Wales, with the Welsh dragon on your chest, regardless of the result on Tuesday’ , is a wonderful achievement.