Why I've got a dragon tattoo for the weekend
This weekend I’m The Boy With The Dragon Tattoo. It’s not a permanent mark. I’ll wash it off later, of course. But for a couple of days I’ve decided to be Welsh.
This is a wonderful 48 hours for Wales on the sporting battlefields of rugby union, football and boxing. The Principality might not be the land of my fathers (or ffathers as the Welsh prefer) but I’m still finding it remarkably uncomplicated to root for them this weekend, particularly as they lay siege to the two great English sporting citadels of Twickenham and Wembley.
Frankly, I imagine it isn’t always easy being Welsh – although you won’t find me saying so in print. They spend their lives putting up with sheep jokes, being called ‘Taff’ and explaining patiently to American visitors that their place of birth is not a part of England.
Reasons to smile: Wales will be involved in major football, rugby and boxing encounters this weekend
The language itself sounds a bit like a phlegmy cough, they have contributed little to the pantheon of world cuisine beyond ‘Welsh rarebit’ – translation ‘cheese on toast’ – and while Wales can be stunning geographically, the landscape is slowly, but steadily, being consumed by sheep (see the previous sheep joke complaint).
But this weekend, who cares Wales is proudly on tour. The Red Dragon pennants will be flying high in hope and expectation as they have the chance to roundly embarrass England not once, but twice on an epic weekend.
Where better to start than at Twickenham and the Six Nations The Welsh are firm favourites to power past a pedestrian England side still trying to find some coherence under Stuart Lancaster’s interim leadership.
This is where the expectation will weigh heavily. Wales have won only once at the English HQ in 24 years, but despite that record anything short of an outright victory on Saturday would be a serious setback.
Favourites: Wales are tipped to beat England at Twickenham on Saturday
For although the Welsh have earned
praise of late under Warren Gatland, a reputation burnished during the
World Cup Finals in New Zealand, they have not delivered any tangible
Wales have yet to beat anyone of consequence aside from Ireland, the only side ranked in the top six they have overcome. And, in the global pecking order, they still lag behind an England side who are performing with all the spontaneity of a row of concrete bollards.
Gatland’s men lost to South Africa, France and Australia at the World Cup, however ‘bravely’ they succumbed, and went down again to Australia at home three months ago.
But if they can conquer their tendency to give away penalties through indiscipline, a Triple Crown should be the least this Wales side can accomplish. A Grand Slam would be a genuine sign their potential is finally being realised.
Then the Red Dragon flags move on to Wembley on Sunday for the Carling Cup Final as Cardiff City face Liverpool in a clash where the Welsh will assume the more familiar role of underdog.
Underdogs: Malky Mackay leads his Cardiff City side out at Wembley on Sunday
Logic says this should be a walkover for
the Premier League outfit, the start of Kenny Dalglish’s silverware
collection second time around at Anfield, and a bruising day for Welsh
But Cardiff will be awkward opponents and, in Malky Mackay, they have another bright, young manager who, just like Brendan Rodgers at Swansea City, is destined for greater things.
What’s more, Cardiff are old stagers at Wembley, making their third visit in five seasons. For Liverpool, it is more unfamiliar territory. Their last visit to the national stadium was in 1996, the day of the infamous white suits and an FA Cup final defeat against Manchester United under the old Twin Towers.
Even so, the Welsh are rank outsiders, but as in all cup games Cardiff have a puncher’s chance, something Nathan Cleverly knows all about.
The Caerphilly-born fighter, one of Britain’s two remaining world champions, defends his WBO light-heavyweight title against the American Tommy Karpency in Cardiff on Saturday night.
It is the first world title fight on
Welsh soil since Gavin Rees lost his WBA light-welterweight belt to
Andreas Kotelnik in 2008 and marks an important occasion for Cleverly
and for British boxing after a truly shameful week.
Cleverly succinctly summed up the
challenges ahead for the Welshmen involved this weekend, be it on the
rugby field, football pitch or in the ring: ‘You may be from a small
valley town in a small country, but you can conquer the world,’ he said.
Flying the flag: Nathan Cleverly defends his WBO title in Cardiff on Saturday
How true. Wales has a trio of glorious opportunities this weekend, so I’m quite happy that y Ddraig Goch ddyry gychwyn.
(For English readers who believe I may have accidentally leant on the keyboard there, this translates as: ‘The Red Dragon will show the way.’)
It will be fun following. What’s more, I also got through an entire piece about Wales without once mentioning Max Boyce.
Cole has to know his place
If the Chelsea dressing-room feud boils down to a popularity contest between Andre Villas-Boas and Ashley Cole, then call me ‘Cheryl’. I’m in AVB’s corner.
The argument doing the rounds that the tetchy England full back deserves sympathy after being dropped from the starting line-up against Napoli is just laughable.
Benched: Ashley Cole (left) was left out of the starting line up in Naples
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Moreover, there are those who would have
you believe that it was some kind of indignity for the player to have
to listen to the manager’s tactical instructions on the touchline before
he was brought on as a substitute.
‘What has Cole got to learn’ we were told. But this is precisely the kind of indulgent nonsense that has left Chelsea where they are now – in need of an overhaul and with a clique of truculent senior players who think they run the place.
Either a manager is given license to tackle so-called ‘player power’ or not. We still don’t know Roman Abramovich’s opinion. Last week I wondered whether Villas-Boas was bluffing when he talked about the owner’s ‘full support’. Now I know for certain that he is after the Siberian oligarch demanded to know why players had been dropped.
AVB has no more idea whether he will be in a job for much longer than you or I.
In the meantime, he could do himself a favour. It’s not often you’ll hear a journalist say this, but Villas-Boas might care to remember he doesn’t have to answer every question in full.
I admire his candour and his honesty in press conferences, but there are times – especially when it comes to dressing-room rows and private discussions with the owner – when less is more.
However, I realise that would be infinitely easier if he wasn’t constantly dealing with gossip being broadcast from inside his dressing room.
The devious few know a leak can sink even the biggest ship. But it would be a shame if in a misplaced bid to keep Chelsea afloat the wrong man were thrown overboard.
Wolves board wandering around without a clue
The name has always been a puzzle to me, but I understand finally why ‘Wolverhampton Wanderers’ were so named. It’s because they haven’t got a clue where they are going.
Having stupidly sacked Mick McCarthy, the man who led them into the Premier League AND kept them there, chairman Steve Morgan and his chief executive Jez Moxey fumbled about searching for someone to fill his chair.
Fed to the Wolves: Terry Connor got the job no-one wanted
When several declined the challenge, including Alan Curbishley, Neil Warnock and Walter Smith, Steve Bruce went quiet and approaches for Brian McDermott and Gus Poyet floundered, the lost boardroom announced assistant manager Terry Connor would be in charge until the end of the season.
Morgan said: ‘Having spoken to a number of people, we have drawn that process to a close and myself and the board are unanimous that Terry is the right man to lead the club for the remainder of the season.’
Amazing. The ‘right man’ for Wolves was there at the club all along, working with McCarthy when he was sacked. Coincidentally, he appears to be the only man who didn’t say ‘no’ to the job as well.
Frank Carson: Always good for a laugh
The passing of Frank Carson reminded me of a brief encounter with the quickfire comedian at Twickenham.
I was with my father, Ireland had been beaten by England and we were leaning on a Guinness stand for support, as you sometimes need to do.
Carson breezed past and my dad said: ‘Hello Frank – it’s the way you tell them!’
Without breaking stride, Carson replied: ‘F*** off and get your own catchphrase.’
Never short of a word, was Frank. We laughed all the way home.
Bring the anthem back
At Twickenham on Saturday the rugby union crowd will respect the anthems. At Wembley on Sunday, the football supporters inside the stadium simply cannot be trusted to do the same.
The concern is Cardiff City and Liverpool fans will howl down the pre-match ritual with a chorus of boos at the Carling Cup final.
But so what It is a mistake by the Football League to ban the anthems. This panders to idiots and allows tradition to be decided by the lowest common denominators in society.
If some dumb fools want to holler through an anthem at a football match, who is really embarrassed by it, apart from the morons making all the noise
Giddy reports this week claimed that Prince Charles is a ‘fan of Burnley football club’. Of course he is. Just as I am a fan of 18th Century Rococo antique furniture.
The truth is, the Prince was just being polite when someone at Windsor Castle asked him if he followed a football team. Burnley were just the last club he could remember visiting for one of his many charity functions. So no need to slap a Royal crest on Turf Moor just yet, folks.