When Robert Earnshaw somehow contrived to miss that absolute sitter in the European Championship qualifier against England at Wembley last week, blasting the ball over the bar of an unguarded goal from a few metres out, my anguished howl could have been heard on Flatholm. This was one your rheumatic Great Aunt would have backheeled in while crocheting a tea-cosy.
Given that Wales already had no chance of progressing to next summer’s finals in Poland/Ukraine, the resulting 1-0 England win instead of the 1-1 draw Wales thoroughly merited was not in itself particularly important (although the huge boost to ranking points Wales would have got from an away draw against the side ranked 4th in the world would have been handy). Nor was the fact that we yet again failed to put one over our arrogantly contemptuous old enemy, meaning the overall record versus England remains dire at Played 101, Won 14, Drawn 21, Lost 66 (although it would have been nice to wipe the faux-sympathetic smirk off the face of the ‘British’ media, always unequivocally transformed into the English media when these supposedly-equal component parts of ‘Britain’ meet in competition).
Neither did this mishap have any of the heartbreaking consequences of the many previous weird and cruel Welsh footballing calamities (Charles’s injury, Jordan’s handball, the Vetch Field’s floodlights, Cooper’s penalty, Bodin’s penalty, Titov’s failed drug test…I won’t go on). And, ultimately, it doesn’t even really matter that a player picked for one distinctive quality, a proven ability to be in the right place at the right time and snap up routine chances in the penalty box, inexplicably failed to do that very thing.
Like all goal-hangers, erratic Earnshaw has missed plenty of chances in a long career that has so far seen him score 167 league goals in 454 games for 6 different clubs and, although he cannot be described as world-class, his 16 goals in 57 games for perennially struggling Wales is also a decent haul, illustrating his high strike rate. An example of that increasingly infrequent phenomena, a home-grown Cardiff City product with a significant professional career, the buck-toothed, front-flipping little ferret is now back in his 3rd spell at Cardiff, and he underlined the wretchedness of the miss by comfortably dispatching a similar but slightly more taxing chance against Doncaster in a league match a few days later. Such is the predictable unpredictability of outcome when limb extremity connects with spherical object, I suppose.
Earnshaw is something of a living legend at the Awaiting A Sponsor Stadium, being the club’s 2nd highest league scorer of all time with a current tally of 89 goals from 239 games. Still only 30, it’s quite possible he might overtake the all-time club record of 128 league goals from 305 games set way back in 1931 by Len Davies (1899-1945), and he already holds the club record for most league goals in a season – 31 in 2002/03, beating the 30 netted by Stan Richards (1917-1987) in 1946/47. Earnie’s scoring exploits begin to make that overworked ‘legend’ tag look justified. No, no; such a miss is much more than the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or a statistical certainty generated by his perpetual penalty-box presence – it goes deeper than that, much deeper.
Like many first-generation immigrants, the Zaire-born, Bedwas-bred millionaire has become more Welsh than the Welsh by internalising one abiding Welsh characteristic: insitutionalised defeatism. Earnie’s miss against England will be remembered long after his efforts in club football are forgotten, giving him automatic entry into the pantheon of self-deprecating/overcompensating Welsh pessimists (a crowded place, containing a vast and varied cast, from Caradoc to Richey Edwards, via Dorothy Squires and RS Thomas). To modify an old football chant: we only sing when we’re losing.
As a typical Welshman I know this from my own experience . Time and again my subconscious hankering for the warming consolations of failure (purity, blamelessness, simplicity, non-elitism, anonymity) will outweigh other considerations whenever there’s a sniff of “success” in the air. For instance, only the other day in my local pub’s annual pool tournament (bear with me) I lost my quarter-final against some old bloke who could hardly bend over to line up his shots, missing an easy black three times when the match was at my mercy. Each time I took on the black the thought going through my head was “I’m going to miss this black” – and, natch, miss it I duly did. It’s all in the mind, see. Incidentally, my conqueror went on to win the tournament and the £50 prize purse, the jammy bastard. And no, I’m not putting the name of my local on the blogosphere, although God knows she could do with the extra customer…
But I digress…the point I’m making is this: we’re so used to losing in Wales, it’s all we know. This is the insidious and poisonous toll of 500 years of second-class citizenship in our own country. The 1536 ‘Act of Union’ that annexed Wales into England (not, it is important to remember, Britain: there ain’t no drag’ on the union flag) inflicted upon the Welsh psychological warfare not experienced by any other peoples, a systematic cultural annihilation designed to erode Welsh self-confidence and identity, inch by inch. English is the language of personal advancement; Welsh the language that holds you back. A Welshman can have the same rights as an Englishman on one condition: that he stops being a Welshman. Wales is inferior; England superior. Get the message, Taffy? We got the message. The results of this cruel torment are evident everywhere in Wales today. And occasionally, we take our low self-esteem on tour for others to marvel at – Earnshaw’s particularly choice example serving up bottomless amusement and delight for the Wembley crowd. I hope this clarifies the matter. There you are then.