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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Helen Ward: Becoming Welsh.

Becoming Welsh

I often get asked, and even more so in the last few weeks, who I support – England or Wales? My answer is, simply, Wales. This is usually followed by; “but you’re English?!

Well, yes, I was born and raised in England, indeed I still live in England as I always have done and until the age of 22, I saw myself as English.

I know, you can’t just change your nationality in the same way that you would change your washing powder, but when the chance came to represent Wales in international women’s football in September 2008, my outlook on my nationality suddenly changed.

My mother’s parents were both born in Wales and they also had the opportunity to represent the country in sport before the war broke out, and it is through them that my Welsh heritage stems.

I made my debut in the red of Wales against Luxembourg andwith the dragon on my chest, as soon as THAT anthem began, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I knew I was in the right place. There’s just something about it, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, that stirs the emotions and pulls everyone that is singing it together.

I am fast approaching my 70th cap for Wales and when you’ve stood side by side with your team and sang THAT anthem on so many proud occasions, it is impossible not to feel like you were meant to be Welsh from the start. I have worn that badge and represented those around me for the best part of 8 years, there is no way I could support anyone else. I made sure I quickly learnt the words, well, at least I tried to learn the sounds (it’s quite tricky!), as I knew how important it was to be able to join in with some of the most passionate and patriotic people I have had the pleasure to meet once the music began.

The way the Welsh handle themselves, the pride and the passion they show in everything they do, you just can’t ignore it.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just flick a switch overnight and become non-English. I didn’t suddenly want them to lose every time they played, I still like to see them do well. After all, my husband is a very proud Englishman! I just don’t see them as my team or my country when it comes to sport. I’m too involved and I’m too proud of my team and the countrywe play for.

Each and every time I pull on that red jersey is an honour and I can only thank the staff, players and fans who have accepted me as one of their own.

So when Wales were drawn against England in the group stages of Euro 2016, my heart laid with only one team, the boys from the Valleys.

Chris Coleman’s troops have lifted the nation and made everyone sit up and take notice. When a team comes together as they have, and 7, 8 even 9 of the players on the pitch are giving you an 8 or 9 out of ten in terms of performance, you have got a chance of making a mark.

Bale, of course, steals the headlines and rightly so. He can change the course of a game in an instant such is the quality he possesses. But the other 22 players – and all of the staff - have played their part, no doubts about it. The likes of Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, James Chester, Ben Davies and Joe Ledley have all been outstanding throughout. Chris Gunter, Wayne Hennessey, Ashley Williams and Neil Taylor – consistently solid. Then there’s Dave Edwards, Sam Vokes, Hal Robson-Kanu and little Joniesta (Jonny Williams) who have all made a huge impact when called upon either from the start or off of the bench. Those who haven’t enjoyed the game time they would have hoped for have, I’m sure, played a key role in the background making sure those on the pitch are at the top of their game whilst being ready, if and when they are needed.

Their motto says it all – Together Stronger – and that is what they truly are. They have made history and they are making a nation proud. Whatever happens, they will return as heroes.


Helen Ward

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