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.

Golf With Your Friends – Review

After the popularity of my Rocket League Review, I’ve decided to do another review, this is for a game I have been watching on Twitch a fair bit and is quite popular on there. An early alpha game that has been greenlit and is available to play now. Golf With Your Friends.

Here are some other thoughts not mentioned on my Golf With Your Friends Review:-

  • The game was originally called “Golf With Friends”. However recent trademark troubles with that name has seen the game renamed as “Golf With Your Friends”. You can read about it here. The video refers to the game as “Golf With Friends”. I couldn’t really change it as between recording and putting it live, the name was changed.
  • I ran the Alpha 0.0.82 version for this game.

Overall Thoughts

Golf With Your Friends is a fun little game to play with – surprise surprise – your friends. It does seem to work better privately with private rooms than public rooms, but even with playing with strangers the game does work.

There are glitches, but it is an early release alpha game. If you can look through the glitches (and you should be able to), then you have a great game. This will only get better as the game approaches release date.

Golf With Your Friends is available on Steam now for £4.79 / $5.99. You can buy Golf With Your Friends here.

My Favourite Moment from Wrestlemania 32

So now that the dust has settled from my trip , I’m beginning to think what my favourite moment from Wrestlemania weekend was. Whilst the Shinsuke Nakamura/Sami Zayn match was incredible and the Shane McMahon dive off the cage was breathtaking, the most iconic moment is rather not a return, or a match, but instead a change in direction for an important group of roster members.

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First some history. WWE – in a way to avoid athletic laws – has always tried to distance itself from being professional wrestling. As such, it calls itself “Sports Entertainment”, and it’s wrestlers “Superstars”. It’s a way to brand it to be different, and they are very very careful about how they brand them.

However, their women’s division, which began again in around 1998 after a break of a few years, has been referred to in a different name for the last few years: “Divas”. Although it’s branded as such, it’s generally seen as a bit of a derogatory term, as generally unless you’re Mariah Carey, nobody wants to be called a “Diva”.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only thing that has held back women’s wrestling, as the hiring policy has seemed to value looks over athletic talent. Wrestlemania – the pinnacle of the pro-wrestling world, has generally seen the “Divas” compete in poor, nothing matches, usually seeing the #1 contender be whoever posed in Playboy for their “Wrestlemania Special”. That is when the “Divas” title had been defended. Often there has been matches, usually involving Z-List celebrities, or battle royales which lead to nothing and generally terrible and throwaways. Although the company has referred to these matches as “Divas matches”, the colloquial term amongst the fans due to the fact these matches are often placed between two other more marquee matches has been to refer to these matches as “The Piss Break”.

However, whilst glorified models had been stinking up the main roster, NXT saw something grow – really good women’s wrestling. True athletes were given time on shows to wrestle great matches. Lead by Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley, women’s wrestling became the highlight of these shows.

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Although talent such as AJ Lee, Emma, Natalya & Paige existed on the main roster, it was often in throwaway matches and occasionally at the expense of less talented women. It came to a head on February 23rd, 2015, where Paige and Emma took on The Bella Twins in a match that lasted under 30 seconds. In a three hour show. This came after a match on NXT a few days earlier where Sasha Banks took on one of Indie Wrestling’s top female stars Leva Bates’ non-Cosplay character “Blue Pants” in a feature match on the card, and the fans finally snapped. Shortly after #GiveDivasAChance trended on Twitter, and WWE had to act.

It was a stop/start push. There was a half decent tag match at Wrestlemania 31, and Paige had some good matches with the rapidly improving Bella Twins and Alicia Fox, but it came to a head on July 13th of RAW when Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks debuted on the main roster. Whilst well received, the WWE saw fit to rebrand this as a “Divas Revolution”, and whilst matches received more focus, nothing really changes – the matches were still not hugely focussed, and they were still Divas, competing for a title that looked like a bad tattoo from a drunken weekend in Ibiza.

This all changed in the Royal Rumble at the beginning of the year, when Charlotte and Becky Lynch had one of the strongest matches on the card. This match – that saw Charlotte retain the Divas title in an absolute clinic, saw the return of Sasha Banks (who had been booked impeccably since her debut), and the venue came unglued.

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It was a validation to three quarters of the four horsemen, and they were put into a marquee match at Wrestlemania 32 in Dallas. The three women wrestlers were put on the front cover of the programme, with a genuine storyline (that isn’t built on who was sleeping with who, but on respect and wanting to be the best in the world), and generally given a huge opportunity.

And boy, it was a marquee match.

All three got special entrances, Lynch got a steampunk entrance which fit her character, Sasha Banks got her cousin (Snoop Dogg) rapping her to the ring, and Snoop Dogg was referred to as Banks’ cousin, not the other way around. And Charlotte was given fireworks, a robe that borrowed heavily from her daddy, and looked majestic and every bit a star. They were all stars, and had an incredible match that became only the second women’s match in WWE history that lasted over 10 minutes (the other one? The women’s match approximately 90 minutes earlier on the pre-show of Wresltemania 32). After 16 minutes of probably the best match on the card, Charlotte beat Becky Lynch to become the first ever WWE Women’s Champion.

Yes, they dropped the “Divas” moniker which pidgeonholed female athletes. As I’m writing this we’re on the way to WWE Extreme Rules (one of the next big show after Wrestlemania), there are two genuine feuds, and one main evented the lead in Raw to the Pay Per View. There isn’t just one shoehorned in.

So, the moment for me for Wrestlemania is that women’s wrestling is something to be proud of. Sure it will have a few bumps down the road, but how WWE has handles the closing of the “Diva’s Revolution” and the beginning of the “Women’s Wrestling Era”, has been absolutely superb.

I’ll end with this tweet from Max Landis. Showing why it matters to millions of fans around the world.

Why #ilovewp

So an interesting post appeared on Matt Mullenweg’s blog recently describing how they will change up the Testimonials Page by having blog posts under the #ilovewp hashtag. As somebody with some measure of standing in the community (other people’s words, honest!), I’d thought I’d put out a blog post.

Now I could talk about the boring stuff, the fact that it found me a career that I love, and I’m paid pretty well to build things in WordPress all day, but I feel that could be repeating people.

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What WordPress looked like when I started using it in 2006.

I could talk about the good that the project does in democratising publishing and giving people a voice. However there are people far more qualified to do that.

Instead I’ll talk (rather selfishly) in the non-career impact it has had on my life, as it has been a cornerstone in helping pursue my passions.

None more so that one of my main blogs – Retro Garden.

I’m a big classic gamer, most of the time on my Twitch Channel I’m playing some obscure game from the mid 90’s, so when I thought about starting a blog that focussed on one of my interests, that seems the most obvious to start with.

Through Retro Garden, I ended up networking with a few people and companies. I ended up getting a lot of free games to review (which was nice), but one such chat with somebody who is now a really good friend ended up changing my life forever.

This chap shared a love for professional wrestling that I did. Though unlike me he also was at the time an active wrestler. He was starting a promotion (which evolved into Britannia Wrestling), and needed a site. In return, I’d be given free entry to shows.

Of course, I accepted, and built the site in WordPress. Furthermore, over time, I went from being a face in the crowd, to helping out backstage, to being a referee, to being a manager and occasional wrestler.

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Me refereeing a match between Bubblegum & Kris Travis – two of the best wrestlers in the UK in the last 10 years.

I did knock it on the head after 5 years as work and other commitments made it difficult to continue, but I’ve so many happy times and experiences from those 5 years that it was worth all the early starts and late finishes. So much so that one of my other sites I write because I’m keen to try and get behind the curtain again. And that site is built on WordPress.

I’m not saying that WordPress is singularly responsible to all the above, but it makes it so easy to achieve so much. And that is why #ilovewp.

Understanding Undertale’s Importance

2015 was a year with some huge titles released. Big games with bigger budgets and bigger than last year’s numbers on the end, these games were announced at big press conferences, and rightly dominated critical and commercial top 10 lists, as a lot of them were very good.

However, one game was also on many of those lists – usually high or number one, one that was a labour of love, funded on Kickstarter, and ended up becoming my favourite gaming experience of 2015.

That game is Undertale.

Undertale was a game written mostly by Toby Fox, an accomplished chiptuner who also composed the music. The game is an old school RPG with a similar graphic style to Earthbound and other Super Nintendo games. You play a child who has been dropped into a monster formed underworld. Your job is to escape from the underworld and return home.

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Why Is Undertale So Good

The beauty of this game is that your actions lead to a direct response to the game. Not just small changes like in a series such as Mass Effect, but your actions will lead to how your game progresses. It is very, very clever and with a great message behind it. It is very difficult to talk about it, so I won’t, but trust me it is very well done.

The second beautiful thing about the game is the combat system. Turn based combat is loved or hated by many people, but if you are like me you would probably skip through this quickly as possible to return to the selection. This is a dangerous thing in Undertale, as by slowing down and reading, Undertale drops hints as to what to do. Whilst the game has some puzzles, the battles themselves are puzzles and can require creative thinking. As well as a puzzle element, the battles also have some fun bullet hell esque segments that can help you win.

Another beauty of Undertale is that it is so very self assured. It knows it’s a game, and it knows it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses, so it doesn’t take itself very seriously. Could you imagine Call of Duty effectively tell the player where a glitch happens? Or where the graphics aren’t as good? Undertale does, and by doing so it peels away the fourth wall in the most creative way possible. Mix that in with a genuine laugh out loud dialog, a sense that it keeps you on the toes and can unnerve you as well as a cracking soundtrack that borrows from the 8-bit era, and you will understand why it has so many plaudits.

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Why Undertale is Important

Undertale did slip underneath the radar, being released on Steam. There was very little in the way of marketing, and it had to be uncovered a bit. In short, it has become the poster child of two movements in gaming.

The first is the Indie Game Movement. Indie games have been getting a lot of coverage over the last few games, and indie games are seen as places that due to the lack of budget as well as the lack of need to be “successful” games can take a few risks and be creative. However, I’ve never seen an indie game take so many risks, and for it to come off so spectacularly.

The other one is that this is a great example of a game that can be viewed as art. Whilst I believe not every game can be viewed as art, this one can be. Art can be commercially successful, but the majority of “commercially successful” art is rather watered down and bland – think of the pictures you buy in Ikea to decorate your living room. Those pictures are your Call of Duty’s, your Fifa’s or your other triple A titles that are released every year. Undertale is your Mona Lisa.

It isn’t perfect – it’s knowingly short and there was a feeling the first time I played that I rushed through it – but it’s cheap, good fun and well worth picking up. Maybe Undertale is one of the most important games out there – a creative slap in the face of an industry that is so bland – but that’s for others to judge. I will confidently say that is a very fun game, and one you will enjoy to complete.