Dragon drawn

What is it about Georgia? We just can’t beat the bloody Caucasian caucus. Given Wales’ equally abysmal record against the other tin-pot, johnny-come-lately nation that fetishises St George, I’m tempted to think that the players are so weighed down by the baggage of ancient legend they instinctively shrivel at the sight of the dragon-slayer’s red cross. But that’s obvious nonsense, unless one believes in fairies at the bottom of the garden…Oi! Tinkerbell and Peaseblossom! Leave them cabbages alone!

At least Wales didn’t lose to Georgia in Cardiff, or to Austria in Vienna three days earlier, whereas the Wales of old (ie: two years ago) might well have lost both matches. And at least the two disappointing draws have clarified how tough a group this is and how monumental an achievement it would be for Wales to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In other words, nobody knows anything and I’m chasing rainbows.

What we do know is what we knew already: Wales are horribly vulnerable to injuries. When your pool of possible players is so small, any injury is debilitating – but when two of the quality of Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey are out, the side is fatally weakened. We’ve been experiencing the consequences of not having enough players for 58 years. Why, when Wales has more semi-pro and amateur players per head than any other nation, are there only 75 professional Welsh footballers in total, fewer per head than any other nation? Answer: because we do not have a professional football league. Hey, all you passionate Wales fans out there, if you really care about the national team you need to be boycotting and pressurising the six ‘Welsh’ clubs that prostitute themselves to England and thereby cripple the Welsh domestic game. I will not hold my breath, since self-loathing and self-denial are the very definitions of contemporary Welshness.

Although that figure of 75 is fairly accurate it’s roughly calculated – there may well be someone playing for Yeovil Town reserves I have missed. What is absolutely accurate is the number of Welsh professional footballers currently playing in a top division anywhere on the planet: a paltry 24. The club which has the most on its books? Give in? Answer: The New Saints of Oswestry & Llansantffraid with seven. But of course none of those guys can ever possibly be considered for the Coleman call, despite being fit, well-drilled pros with a wealth of experience in Europe’s paramount club competition. No, no, that would only draw attention to the League That Dare Not Speak Its Name and thereby slightly irritate American buy-out specialists, Malaysian property developers and British nationalists.

Resources are so thin that when either or both Allen and Ramsey are missing from midfield Wales plunge to their natural level: that of Georgia.  If the pair are out of the upcoming games against Serbia and Ireland, I think we can safely assume we shall not be going to Russia, with or without love. And if anything untoward should happen to Bale…

If there is a glimmer of hope it is in the fantastic team spirit, collectivist ethos and Welsh consciousness Chris Coleman and his staff have engendered. The players’ visit to Aberfan in the 50th anniversary year of the disaster showed an encouraging awareness that the Welsh football team is about much, much more than just kicking a spherical bladder of air around a field, and their mischievous deconstructions of the conventions of the ‘team photo’ show they’re thinking laterally, conspiring communally and having a laugh. Grave seriousness and good humour are a healthy mix. Mind you, if the lads want to take it to the next level, how about staging a line-up in the hyper-relaxed, languidly intimate and effortlessly cool High Victorian style?

Newtown White Stars, 1879 Welsh Cup winners

Newtown White Stars, 1879 Welsh Cup winners