Each and every day I have no higher aim than this: stress-reduction. If I can eliminate, or even slightly mitigate, some of my many stress triggers (things like timetables, deadlines, appointments, set-piece occasions, crowds, commerce, interacting with anybody to the right of Vince Cable, etc.), then that is achievement aplenty for someone as intense and sensitive as moi. Almost at the very top of the list of the most stressful experiences I could possibly imagine is watching Wales play international football – especially when it’s a must-win World Cup qualifier like last Saturday night’s match against Austria in Cardiff.
Call me a wet weedy wimp if you want, but I’m sorry, I just can’t put myself through it any more. The stomach-churning nausea, the grinding anxiety, the prickly hives, the all-pervading sense of impending doom – and that’s just Dylan Ebenezer’s pre-match analysis! As it started I went into emergency lock-down mode: TV off, radio off, mobile off, landline disconnected, PC shut down, blinds drawn, lights out, a bottle of scotch and the Modern Jazz Quartet. It’s the ostrich approach to world affairs, and it works for me.
I retired at midnight, utterly exhausted by the sheer effort unknowingness demands and still in blissful ignorance about the result. I slept like a hungover teenager, woke at 8 and managed to maintain my unawareness right through Sunday morning, to the point where I was actually mapping out a way to drift calmly through to the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia without having the slightest clue whether Wales had qualified or not. Eventually I realised this massive avoidance strategy would necessitate moving to an off-grid abandoned croft in the Outer Hebrides and not encountering another human for nine months. It was impossible. There is no escape. We are all prisoners. Braced for a 0-3 to Austria, I switched the phone on.
1-0!! WE WON!! WE WON!!
Memo to self. Useful personal lessons for the future: 1) Delay gratification, 2) Don’t get involved, 3) Double-bluff Lady Luck, 4) Do exactly the same on Tuesday night for the equally vital game in Moldova.
The overall record against Austria now stands at P10, W3, D2, L5, while the headlines are all about 17-year-old Ben Woodburn striking the crucial late winner on his debut, four minutes after coming on as sub. I know this makes no rational sense whatsoever, but that corny Roy of the Rovers stuff most certainly would not have happened had I been watching. Why? Because the whole world is arranged to cause me maximum distress, have I not mentioned that before?
At this early juncture in Woodburn’s career I will restrict myself to a couple of points. First, on the matter of him being born a mile across the border in Chester and qualifying for Wales via a grandparent. Well, although I don’t usually approve of Wales relying on ancestry to find players, I view this case rather differently – mainly because England fans are so pissed off, but also because Caer was in Cymru until the Anglo-Saxon armies seized it around about the year 600. And if you think that’s much too long ago to be relevant, think again: experiencing seven separate generations is commonplace nowadays (from the great-grandparent you briefly met as a baby to the great-grandchild you will briefly meet as an octagenerian), so the 40-odd generations back to the invasion of the British Isles by the barbarian hordes is merely the average experiential span sixfold. That’s recent.
And secondly, Ben Woodburn is an anagram of O, new-born bud!