CARDIFF — Friday night in Cardiff is often quite a lively affair and all the familiar sights were on show as “hen” parties made their way across the rainswept Welsh capital and sharply-dressed boys queued to get into nightclubs.
But never, for all the rejoicing in Welsh sporting triumphs down the years, has there quite been a Friday night in Cardiff like this one, after Wales beat Belgium in the Euro 2016 quarterfinal.
Appearing in their first major tournament for 58 years, Wales fought back to overcome Belgium, currently ranked the world’s second-best football nation, 3-1 in Lille, northern France, to book a semifinal with Portugal.
Huge roars rang out from Cardiff’s many pubs as Wales came from 1-0 down to win, thanks to goals from Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes.
Chants of “Are you watching England?” could, understandably, also be heard from more than one bar.
England may have scraped a 2-1 win over neighbours Wales in the pool stages but the football fortunes of the two countries had diverged drastically since then, with the much better-resourced English, featuring a host of Premier League stars, crashing out 2-1 against rank outsiders Iceland in the knockout rounds.
As some 6,000 Wales supporters became increasingly delirious in Cardiff’s Bute Park fan zone on Friday, a few opted against joining the madding crowd and instead headed for the bar of the Angel Hotel.
Among them was Tony Taylor, a retired steelworker from Port Talbot.
“It’s absolutely superb, I’m so proud,” said Taylor who, like his son Richard, was wearing a Wales football shirt.
“I know the team made the quarterfinals of the 1958 World Cup but this …” he added, momentarily lost for words.
Taylor and his wife had come to Cardiff to take Richard and fiancee Sophie Cross to the one-day cricket international between England and Sri Lanka at Sophia Gardens on Saturday — a match that coincides with their son’s 32nd birthday.
Richard, an IT worker from Neath, had been following Wales in France earlier in the tournament and might well have still been there but for his birthday present.
“Do you think I would be here if it wasn’t for this?” he said, adding: “Did you ever think you would see Wales play football like this?”
Richard and Sophie are due to get married in June next year.
“He made sure that when we booked the wedding it wasn’t in the football season,” said Sophie.
Her future mother-in-law, with an eye for a pun worthy of a newspaper headline writer, then interjected: “She was quite cross about that!”
While Wales competes as a separate nation in football and rugby union, its cricketers feature under the banner of England at international level.
“Robert Croft (the former Glamorgan and England spin bower) said playing for Glamorgan was like playing for Wales and playing for England was like playing for the British Lions (rugby union team),” said Taylor. — AFP