‘Club v Country? No contest’

The Wolves 3-1 morale-booster last Sunday left us wanting more of the same and at the earliest possible opportunity. The World Cup qualifiers this weekend with Wales at home in the capital against a rampant Belgium (a phrase once as oxymoronic as ‘deafening silence’ which funnily enough is what you were likely to get until very recently in response to a request to name 5 famous Belgians) therefore came at an inopportune time. The Internationals break invariably see us either on a roll and desperate to maintain the impetus or in need of a quick return to form after a disappointing run. The break is rarely welcome.

With no City game to form the focal point, the looming weekend was potentially a frustrating one but there was at least the compensation of another major sporting fixture in town. So I toddled off to Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh. In fact it never once entered my head to follow the well worn path to the CCS; as far as I was concerned the return of the Blues to their spiritual home was the only game in town. The alternative was a quiet night in.

I am not a great club rugby fan. At best I’m a part-timer, carried away on a tide of patriotic fervour when the national team are playing but otherwise fairly indifferent. But I anticipated that the Blues’ joyous home-coming would be a much richer sporting occasion than witnessing the start of yet another Wales qualifying campaign brimming with pluck and spunk but doomed to inevitable failure.

My last international appearance was at the Millenium Stadium in October 2002 when Wales beat Italy 2-1 in front of 72,500 fans to become the early Group leaders in the search for Euro 2004 qualification. Even as we walked away from the stadium, while others talked of the dawn of a new era I stayed silent with an unwelcome conviction that in all probability that was going to be as good as it was ever likely to get and I doubted that I would return. In the event I was to be proved right as we lost the return fixture 4-0 and were then knocked out in a play-off against Russia. I have been to true my unspoken words that night and have not been back.

I had no wish for it to be that way and I would have loved to have enjoyed the moment but even as a nascent Craig Bellamy was hitting the sporting consciousness with a typically impudent winner I found myself curiously detached and underwhelmed in the certain knowledge of the ultimate futility of that great victory. History instinct and self-preservation dictated that this was the only logical response.

Strangely I have no such problems engaging with the prospect of ultimate failure to match expectations when it comes to the Bluebirds. Missing out on an FA Cup victory by the narrowest of margins, followed by missing out on the play-offs by the narrowest of margins (one goal in an entire season), followed by missing out in the play-off final by the narrowest of margins, followed by successive semi-final play-off defeats has done nothing to diminish my enthusiasm and myopic fanaticism. When it comes to The City the triumph of hope over experience is to be embraced not ridiculed.

Why the contrast? I think it has a lot to do with a sense belonging, of ownership, identity, with a lifelong attachment to a club handed down from generation to generation, with ritual and habit. I feel this every week, with the same people, engaged in a common purpose. This has never been replicated at national level for me where the intensity of the experience is dissipated and fractured by the disparate nature of the fans and the spasmodic and nomadic nature of the home fixtures. The lack of engagement for me means that ultimately following the national team is a sideshow at best.

Judging by the paltry 20,000 attendance (2,000 less than the Bluebirds’ average last season) there is little appetite for the distraction of another long drawn out hopeless campaign. Welsh football fans have learnt to expect the worst; unfortunately they are rarely disappointed.

Read more of Martin’s articles at – www.its-not-dark-yet.blogspot.co.uk