Je ne veux pas aller travailler – What Being Welsh at Euro 2016 Meant to Me

Last Wednesday night, I cried myself to sleep.

I’ve been getting a little emotional in my advancing years, as films and even the John Lewis adverts at Christmas have seen me well up, but the last time I cried before last Wednesday was when a relationship I was in went past the point of no return and broke down. It may be strange to compare the break down of a relationship to the fairly trivial nature of Wales’ defeat to Portugal in the semi finals, but you need to understand what the Euro 2016 meant to me, as one of the many Welshman and women who got caught up with the euphoria along the way.

This was my third campaign as a paid member of the Welsh qualification campaign. The first was largely a damp squib, both in terms of fun and results, but by the second campaign I began making friends as well as see an upturn in results in Scotland and Belgium.

It was then I began to understand exactly what Wales away was. It was not an old, stuffy movement from a bygone era. This was new Wales, young fans exploring far off destinations and bringing smiles in exchange for beer in exchange for pounds. Singing and chatting about all sorts of subjects, and people from Wales (and beyond) congregating in a location outside the borders to have a good time.

Cyprus, where the wheels were prepared to be put on the bandwagon
Cyprus, where the wheels were prepared to be put on the bandwagon

In short, it was a holiday, that had the small inconvenience of football half way through. But unlike bygone eras where Brits were tarnished with hooligan elements, this was different. Fists were replaced with songs. Europop was embraced (more on that later), and pints were shared with our European cousins in bars all over Europe.

This manifested itself in the campaign that – after 58 years – Wales finally qualified. Chris Coleman commented first of all that there were some really good trips on this draw first and foremost, and at the beginning of the 2016 campaign I also looked at myself. Whilst happy and enjoying them, this may be my last one.

The lead up to the campaign had so many great moments for me. From the first game in Andorra which saw us gatecrash the hotel with the Andorra national side in, to the Belgium game where Zombie Nation became a thing, to the Cyprus game whereby it was a week lounging by the pool and we developed a new found love for beach volleyball due to the European Championships taking place in Larnaca, this campaign had so many great memories. Memories that I would look back on with fondness, even if we haven’t had qualified.

The other thing quite crucially about this campaign was that it was a release. A bit of a constant in my life when things weren’t great outside of it. 2015 wasn’t a great year for me, I had illness in the family, setbacks professionally and break ups. My regular cruxes were not there, my only constant though was the activity on the #walesaway hashtag, that got busier and busier in the build up to games.  I smiled, even though I wasn’t in Tel Aviv or Godknowswhere in Bosnia for some games, as I enjoyed being part of something. That’s what this team, buoyed by the words “Together Stronger” meant to me. We were together, and by God we were stronger when we qualified.

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The truth is though we didn’t care about the results, as we were there. We were part of the bunting, the Panini stickers, and the write ups. People have to talk about us, because we are good enough to be there, but we weren’t sure how long.

In the run up to France results weren’t great though. I attended one friendly (a rare game in Cardiff that saw us lose 3-2 to The Netherlands), and whilst we impressed without Bale or Ramsay, we did seem a little off. Other results weren’t that great, such as a 3-0 demolition by Sweden, so I’d be lying if I said a part of me was convinced we were going to France to make up the numbers. I didn’t care. I had tickets for all 3 group games, so I was happy just to see my team play in a major tournament. It would be nice to see us score at least one goal though.

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So we arrived in Bordeaux, and we partied and celebrated in a friendly way with our new friends. I talked about it in length but we actually won a game. This began probably the greatest adventure of our lives. Sure we then lost to a very disappointing England team, but the bigger result for me that day was Northern Ireland beating Ukraine. That meant that – at the very least – we would not be the worst team in the tournament.

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After a fairly quiet Lens/Lille trip that saw me stay in the town of Kortrijk, that saw many a night gathered in the hotel bar watching the 9pm kick off game, we headed to Toulouse for the final game for me. There, despite being a vox pop for Sky News, I saw probably the most dominating performance Wales have produced in my lifetime.

Russia was another disappointment, as 12 years ago I remember us go out to Russia in controversial circumstances, this time there was no performance enhancing drugs, Wales attacked Russia over and over in a game that I didn’t want to end. It was so impressive, as somebody who had before that game not seen Wales win by more than one goal. With the England vs. Slovakia game going to a draw we topped the group. Not only were we not the worst team in the tournament, we were also the best in the group.

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France ended for me after that game, as I needed to head home. Others were far more creative than me in filling out their holiday request forms and stayed out there. The next game against Northern Ireland however for me was the most muted. I’m not sure why, whether it was post Brexit (and the post Brexit hangover where we called half the country words I couldn’t possibly repeat here), whether it was the performance where we weren’t the best team on the pitch, whether it was the fact that I knew some great Northern Irish friends and the way they were eliminated was so cruel. I just didn’t enjoy it. We weren’t the worst team from Britain in the tournament.

It was fun whilst it lasted....
It was fun whilst it lasted….

That being said, neither was Northern Ireland. England were eliminated against Iceland (WHICH WAS NOT FUNNY IN THE SLIGHTEST) and suddenly we were the sole home nation representative. Next was Belgium.

Oh, Belgium.

Whilst Russia was the most fun game I’ve seen, this was special. I’ve never seen a performance like it from Wales. We were so good. So, so good. This should have been our final but it wasn’t. Wales were clinical, and played so well against the second best team in the world. It produced one of my favourite pieces of audio when Iain Macintosh waxing lyrical about the Welsh side 2 minutes in. This was the same country that got battered to Moldova, folks.

Not bad for a "boring" tournament
Not bad for a “boring” tournament

Sadly, the next round saw Wales finally be beaten by Portugal, and the tears flowed from me. Not because we lost, just because the journey I had been on for the last 2 years was over.

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This campaign saw me grow as a person, and it has been a stable point of my life that has seen a fair bit of change. The tournament itself was incredibly happy time for the vast majority of Welshmen and Women, and with the country being all over the place right now and so much hatred being directed towards non Brits, I’m happy to have added a bunch of Europeans to my Facebook friends list. I also surprised myself how much French I learned (even getting complimented) and on my table I have a copy of L’Equipe bought after the Russian game which I’m able to understand to at least a basic level.

I am not the only one, as the most common sentence said to me by a group of my friends towards me in the last 3 weeks have been prefixed with the words “I’m not a football fan but…”, with people genuinely happy that I was having the time of my life. I was just happy sharing one element of my life that has been so important to me in the last 2 and a bit years. However, like all good things, times must end.

If that’s not worth crying for, I don’t know what is.

Le Tour In Yorkshire – Day 2 (York/Huddersfield/Sheffield)

So a small thing that I’m not exactly proud of – I cannot ride a bike.

I mean, I probably can. However I’ve never really been on one. I preferred scooters and video games growing up. However, one thing I really enjoy is Le Tour De France.

I think it is because when I was growing up Le Tour was always background TV on holidays. We’d be in a caravan, after a long day being out and about, and it’d be the last programme we watched before going to bed. So when they announced that Le Tour in Yorkshire was happening (La Grande Depart was taking part in Yorkshire), I made sure that I was going.

At least that was the plan. Unfortunately, the plans I originally had did fall through, and a night at the excellent Chorlton Beer Festival meant that I wasn’t sure if I would make it, but instead miss it. But the next day, hungover, I decided to suck it up and head to Huddersfield to watch the tour. To be spotted, I made sure I dressed suitably.

I was quite surprised how easy it was to get there. A lot was said on preparing early and getting there early. However I was surprised at how empty the trains and trams were. I wasn’t convinced it was actually happening. However, when arrived in Huddersfield, it was obvious there was something huge going on.

I headed to watch the tour and found a space next to a barrier at the bottom of a hill on the outskirts of Huddersfield. And then I played the waiting game. I was 3 hours early, and the carnival was due to arrive in 2 hours. So I chatted to a few people. And waited. It wasn’t a waste as about half 2 the first for the riders flew past.

That was followed 3 minutes later by the main field, which whizzed so fast past us it was borderline scary. But wonderful. (NSFW language in the video, but in all honesty if you work at a company that doesn’t allow you to view a video which includes the word “Shit” in it, then change jobs).

So all in all, it was a great day out. It was long, and there’s a bit of waiting, but it was something worth seeing. The crowds were amazing all weekend, so they did themselves credit. Same time next year boys and girls? 🙂

Did you go? What did you make of it? I thought it was superb!

Three Point Zero

So today, I turn 30 years old.

I have a hard time dealing with “not being 20 something” (yes, I know I need to change the footer), so much so that I consume a not exactly miniscule amount of youth water in an attempt to stave off the inevitable passage of time.

In short I probably shouldn’t complain about my entry into my fourth decade of existence. I achieved a lot. From the usual lot of growing up, getting a career and a savings plan that isn’t dreadful to the more interesting of going to Oktoberfest, travelling the world, to becoming a professional wrestler, and also writing a fricking book, I suppose I can look back on my 20s as being generally lovely.

So here’s to my thirties. May you be as kind and generous to me as the 20s were.

Also if anybody fancies getting Hulk Hogan or a celebrity that I actually know to retweet this blog, that’d be super. Thanks!

Speaking at MWUG on 15th January 2014

So as announced on my Goals of 2013 post, one of the goals – start speaking – was a semi pass/fail, largely due to the fact that whilst I didn’t speak in 2013, I did book to speak in 2014.

This Wednesday, I’m speaking at Manchester WordPress Users Group on Wednesday evening at 6:30pm ish on an introduction to SEO with WordPress. The talk will cover some of the lesser known features of WordPress SEO, on how to improve your site in the eyes of search engines, and a very brief introduction on how to build SEO Friendly themes.

It won’t be the most polished talks, as it’s my first one, but I’ve been practicing and learning, if you want to attend it’s free to do so, and in MadLab in Manchester’s Northern Quarter (opposite Common). You can read more the agenda for the meetup here or subscribe to the Meetup here.

Hope to see you there!

Goals For 2014

Happy New Year Everybody! It’s a new calendar year, and whilst I don’t like having resolutions, per se, I do like setting goals. Goals that hopefully I will achieve in the upcoming year. It was quite nice looking back on my goals for 2013 – in the fact I did better than I thought I did! Anyway, here are my goals for 2014:-

Start a Pension

This goal for me was left over from 2013. Yeah I’m not exactly thrilled I didn’t achieve it, so it’s my #1 goal for 2014! I’m nearly 30, and kind of really should be thinking about responsible stuff – as much as I love doing what I do, I’d quite like the option to retire at some point, lord knows I cannot rely on a state pension. So time to start being a little bit more responsible and get a pension.

Get More Premium Plugins/Themes Out There

WP Email Capture has served me well, incredibly well, but I feel like I should be diversifying my income a little bit. Sales from WP Email Capture account for nearly 50% of my income from my personal ventures, and also residual income from WP Email Capture accounts for nearly 80%. Whilst I am happy for this, I feel I should diversify a little more.

So I’ve decided over the Christmas break to put development of new features on hold for WP Email Capture. I am happy with how it is doing, and I don’t think working much more on it on features will improve it more. Of course I’m going to continue keeping everything bug fixed and working, but the work to do some of the features I wish to implement, along with maintaining them, I cannot see a benefit.

This of course is up for review, and will probably still add to it, but for now I’m going to increase the number of products I sell, rather than focus on one or two.

Get My Name More Out There in the Community

The biggest change professionally for me was that I’m pretty much no longer an SEO anymore, but instead a full time developer. It is a good move for me and I’m glad I made it, but I don’t know that many people in the WordPress Community, certainly on a chatty way similar to how I am with the SEO community. As such, I’m keen to get out there a little more in the WordPress Community, and connect with a few more people. As such, I’m looking to attend a few more WordCamps and WordPress meetups, along with maybe posting a few guest blogs elsewhere, just to get my name out a bit.

Own A Property (or have enough for a deposit)

Okay, this is the big one for me.

As alluded to earlier, I turn 30 earlier on this year, and I’ve recently been thinking about getting a house. Turns out that it isn’t that far out of my reach. I’d love my own place and to get on the property ladder.

I’ve a little money saved up, but feel with a year or so saving I could probably easily save enough for a deposit on the house, maybe even buying a house. But yes, this is my next big goal. Hopefully it’ll be 2014, definitely in 2015!

I hope everybody has a great new year! What are your goals?