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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

World Cup 2022: Tears and emotion as Wales return

Garry George

It is a day of huge emotion for thousands of Wales football fans, who will experience something many feared they would never witness.

Having flown to Qatar from around the world, they will watch their side on the biggest footballing stage of them all for the first time since 1958.

Some 2,500 will be there when captain Gareth Bale’s side take on the USA in their first World Cup group game.

Fans admit there will be tears when the national anthem starts to play.

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For one supporter, who has flown in from Australia, following Wales has meant missing his maths GCSE, running up large credit card debts, abandoning his mother in Rome and ignoring his heavily pregnant wife’s pleas to go home for the birth of their first child.

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Garry George fell in love with football watching Italia 90, but admits that as an eight-year-old, he didn’t even realise his country had a team.

He said: “West Germany won the World Cup and I remember seeing on television about a year later, Ian Rush scoring a winner against them, being taken aback and thinking ‘we actually have a team?’

“Then I thought, as we had beaten the world champions, did that make us world champions?”


Garry George

This is when the dream of seeing the side on the biggest stage began.

Garry, from Cwmbran, Torfaen, did not miss a home game for years – even when Wales played at Anfield in 1999 against Denmark, he missed his maths GCSE to travel, a decision that had repercussions when he decided to become a teacher.

He would try to attend every away game and he has fond memories of talking to players Gary Speed, Chris Coleman and Robbie Savage after matches.

These trips ended in 2009 when he emigrated to Australia, but when Wales qualified for Euro 2016, he had to be there – a move that got him in big trouble with both his mother and pregnant wife Jess.

Garry and Theo

Garry George

“I had only booked to stay (in France) for the group stages and arranged to meet my mother in Rome. But when we kept getting through (the tournament rounds), I left her there,” he said.

“I was relieved in a way when we lost in the semis as my son was due and my wife in Australia kept ringing and saying ‘you have to come home’.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision of whether to stay or not if we had got to the final.”

Covid rules meant he couldn’t be at Euro 2020.

For this tournament he has flown in with hand luggage to watch Wales play USA, and then his adopted home Australia v France the next day, before heading straight to the airport.

Beth, Geoff and Rhiannon

Geoff Edwards, 59, got strange looks when checking on to his flight.

“They couldn’t seem to work out why I was travelling from an Australian airport with a New Zealand passport and wearing a Wales football hat,” said Geoff.

Now living in Perth, he is half-Welsh, half-Kiwi, but there is no divided loyalty and he said it “means everything” for him and twins Rhiannon and Beth, 26.

Beth said: “We all just had to come.”

Lamona Parry, 52, from Wrexham, is at the tournament with husband Ian, 59, daughter Lowri, 25 and her boyfriend Aled Bayley, 25.

They are staying on a cruise ship docked in Doha, and she said: “We are 52 and 59, we just thought that we have to make it, as who knows when it might happen again.”

Lamona, Ian, Lowri and Aled

A lot has changed since Wales last qualified for the World Cup finals.

It was a year before the current version of the national flag was adopted and almost two decades before Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was routinely played before kick-off, while Dafydd Iwan – the writer of Wales tournament anthem Yma o Hyd – was still in school.

It was also a world without Sir Tom Jones – the tournament taking place a full five years before Thomas Woodward emerged from Treforest as the seemingly ageless star.

Mexican fans

But for 64-year-old Richard Rees, most significantly, it was three months before he was born.

“I was at Anfield in 1977 when we lost to Scotland, 1985 in Ninian Park, Paul Bodin’s penalty in 1993, Russia in 2003. So many disappointments,” he said.

“I thought I’d never see it and sobbed fully for five minutes after the anthem in Bordeaux (when Wales appeared at Euro 2016).

“The World Cup will be even more emotional. It’s a day I thought I’d never see.”

Tony Munday and Richard Rees

Richard, from Radyr, Cardiff, shares a special bond with Tony Munday, 59, who emigrated to Perth, Australia, in 2000.

As well as both being accountants and huge football fans, they are married to sisters: very understanding ones, Tony jokes.

The pair travelled 3,000 miles (4,828 km) between Cardiff and France as Wales kept progressing at Euro 2016.

Mr Munday said: “They have only got good since I left Wales, but I have followed from afar and had to come.”

At Euro 2016

Tony Munday

He flew in from Perth to meet his brother-in-law – a distance of 5,813 miles (9,355km), while Martyn Kay, 39, travelled 3,926 miles (6,319km) from Hong Kong.

It will be his 40th birthday on 4 December and he is hoping to see Wales in the last 16 on that day.

Originally from Caerleon, Newport, the engineer said: “I had to come. It’s been 64 years since we were last here [at the World Cup] – who knows how long it will be until next time?

“I’m nearly 40 now, maybe I won’t be here next time, so it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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