A few weeks ago, I purchased a Suplex Apparel mystery box. I am a huge fan of Suplex Apparel clothing, as it’s a wrestling brand of clothing that you can wear out around town and not be embarrassed. There are somany terrible wrestling shirts out there (seriously, just read this article, though it misses the “Va-Chyna” t-shirt), but these aren’t amongst them. Let’s assume I’m a bastion of fashion knowledge with that last statement!
So they had a mystery box deal recently which was a little more expensive than the mystery boxes I usually review here (£35.99), but had at least 3 or 4 items in it.
So what was this box like? Well, here’s my video review.
Suplex Apparel Mystery Box Thoughts
Overall, I was absolutely delighted with this box. I love the joggers, and they have become my wear around the house trousers, when I’m feeling lazy. The t-shirts are superb too and wear them regularly.
This was only a short period of time, but you can see their current range (and sign up to the newsletter) on the Suplex Apparel site.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is odd being a Welsh football fan. We share the limelight but are overshadowed by the Rugby, and like our countrymen we too are prone to gallent defeats rather than crude victories. Nevertheless there is often a band of brothers who attend every game, no matter what, to see the team play. Often it’s about where you go, as these are usually trips with your mates with the small inconvenience of a football match half way through. So much was related to this that when the draw for the Euro 2016 qualification Chris Coleman was talking more about the trips: the cultural hub of Brussels, the beaches of Cyprus, and the mixture of both in Tel-Aviv and Barcelona (yes, Barcelona, we’d be crazy to stay in Andorra).
Except – for the first time since 1958 – the football did matter. Wales – thanks to a resolute defence, Gareth Bale’s magic and Jason Demetriou banging in an 80th minute winner against Israel for Cyprus – actually qualified for Le Rendezvous in France. Wales will actually be competing at a major tournament, and get to experience all that they can – the half and half scarves, the paragraphs about the team in the build up, and Chris Gunter swaps in the Panini Sticker Album.
It’s unknown territory for the players and the nation, but also for the fans, who aren’t really sure just quite how to behave. 1958 probably didn’t see large swathes of the country decamp to Sweden for a few weeks, and usually Wales away trips are short affairs. Hit a city’s alcohol supply for a good 2 or 3 days, and then return. No. This is different, a more prolonged effort is required. Shudder to think too, we’ll need to factor in days of “taking it easy”.
But there was no easy days in Bordeaux. Whilst the largely English based media was whetting their appetite at the thought of a Home nations clash with England vs. Wales, most Welsh fans instead were wanting to be at one game: Slovakia. The first game in a major tournament since 1958 – 35 years before their opponents existed as an independant nation.
I arrived on the Thursday – hotel space was a premium so I stayed a bit outside the city in a budget L’Étoile Bleue in Merginac. It was cheap but nice enough. Although I skipped the swimming pool.
I headed to the town and the first night was a bit muted, but the second night saw a massive change. The town was full of fans – Welsh mainly, but a fair few Slovaks who were making noise. Later in the early hours of Saturday morning fans had commandeered the main square, and making noises as cars were driving through a sea of people. Songs were sung, plucked from the Welsh library of songs which are often reworkings on 1980’s disco classics. The atmosphere was friendly and peaceful, if slightly boisterous.
Eventually though people headed to bed for the day after – waiting for the first game for Wales at a major tournament in nearly 60 years.
So gameday came, and whilst a few drinks were had in the city’s fanzone before the game, it was slightly muted. Wales had the slightly later kick off of the day (sandwiched between Switzerland vs. Albania and Russia vs. England), and without being at a major tournament we were unsure quite how to act. Do we get to the game early? Or wait until the last minute? We took the former option: arriving early to take in the scenes and make absolutely sure nothing of the experience was missed.
So what of the game? Well, most people would’ve been happy if Wales gave a good account of themselves, and we’d have love to see at the very least a goal so we have something to celebrate. In our wildest dreams we did not expect to become the first home nation side to win their opening game at the European Championships.
But that what happened, when Aaron Ramsey managed to feed Hal Robson-Kanu to scuff a shot past the Slovakian keeper late in the game, to send the Welsh fans (who were already full of voice) into absolute delirium. I was covered in beer, and I got my top off in public. I was that happy, and I can only apologise for my behaviour for doing that.
So yes, after the game, which saw Welsh and Slovak fans mingle with no trouble, we headed to the fan zone in Bordeaux, where I ditched with the traditional post match pint and instead hit the Vin Rouge. 2010 actually. Chateau de Bale. Cracking vintage.
The day was made all the more sweeter with the auld enemy – England – conceding in the final minute to send Wales to the top of the table in Group B. The Eiffel Tower were lit up with Welsh colours, and – it’s fair to say – most Welshmen were a lottery win away from the perfect day, and maybe in about 9 months a fair few babies named Hal will be born in Cardiff and across Wales.
Singing continued late into the night, with Welsh fans not wanting to go to sleep as it will then all be over. But sleep we must, as it’s a long tournament. As I write this, Wales are 24 hours removed from their second game where they suffered an agonising defeat against England, leaving Wales with a chance to qualify for the next round. By the time this post does go live we may be in the last 16 or on the way home. Either way though, this tournament has exceeded expectations. Welsh fans have been in good voice and with no trouble, with Bordeaux media reporting how much they loved the Welsh fans. Love was reciprocated by all Welsh fans who were there, as the 3 or 4 days most Welsh fans were there saw a lot of love shared. Stories will be told about this trip for generations. It felt special, and if this was what being in a major tournament is like, by God, it was so worth the wait.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So after New Orleans was the main event of the holiday: a trip to Dallas to tick something off the bucket list: Wrestlemania!
We actually spent a week in Dallas, but the first 3 days was in a pretty sweet AirBNB and we spent 3 days chilling in the city (including the newest entry on my favourite BBQ Pit ever, Lockhart Smoke House), but that was largely having a few drinks, a round of mini golf, and generally getting ourselves into a food coma.
On the Friday, we arrived in Dallas’ Sheraton hotel for the Wrestlemania weekend. We attended an all you can eat BBQ meal at Texas De Brazil. This came a close second in “Best BBQ food of the trip”, as it was slightly different. However I think the 3 day food coma after Lockhart scared me a bit so I avoided eating too much.
After that was probably the show that most of us were looking forward to that weekend, the NXT Takeover: Dallas. NXT is WWE’s separate brand which it’s developmental brand and the participants are often well liked by the hardcore audience. One such participant is Shinsuke Nakamura, widely regarded as the best wrestler in the world. Imagine if Freddie Mercury was Japanese and really good at kicking people in the head. NXT Takeover Dallas was Nakamura’s debut, facing long time favourite Sami Zayn.
This match didn’t disappoint, and was easily the second best match I’ve ever seen live. The crowd was lively for this match and it went longer than 20 minutes. It’s well worth checking out! The rest of the card was pretty good too, with the two title changes being standout matches, if the main event was affected by the early cut on Samoa Joe.
The next day I woke relatively early and headed to Wrestlemania Axxess. This was relatively disappointing mainly because the queues were incredibly long. It was expected to be fair and I am glad I went early as the afternoon session was just crazy. I did get to meet Goldust though which was cool, although the picture hasn’t shown up online yet.
The evening we got all suited and booted for the WWE Hall of Fame. This was actually a pleasant surprise on how good this was. It was good listening to the stories and tales, admittedly one speech dominated all – The Fabulous Freebirds speech was 45 minutes of just “I’ve a live microphone, I don’t care”.
After the event we headed to the House of Blues for probably one of the more crazier moments of the weekend, a Ringside Chat with Jim Ross. It was in the notorious House of Blues in Dallas and although the drinks were probably the most expensive of the weekend (even more than Wrestlemania beers in the AT&T), everybody was suitably sloshed. Jim told a few stories and then brought on his guest – Rob Van Dam – and then things kinda went drunken and rowdy. Not rowdy enough for the gentleman sitting next to me, who slept through most of it, but nevertheless it was rowdy. After a while Hurricane Helms and Jeff Hardy (who were not scheduled to be there) turned up and then it went really downhill with the Q&A section seemingly falling by the wayside. Nobody really complained though as it was a fun evening. I just wish I could remember more of it.
Onto the big day – Wrestlemania 32 at AT&T stadium. We started early, attending the Wrestlemania Terry Funk Tailgate which saw BBQ food, live wrestling, and an appearance and a meet and greet by legendary Terry Funk. The BBQ was wonderful (though the mash potato was cold? Was this a Texan thing?), and a nice surprise was that fairly well known wrestlers showed up including So Cal Val, Sami Callahan and (I think) Johnny Gargano. All – as well as Terry Funk – were lovely people. But after being fed and chatting with a few people, we headed over to the AT&T.
It has been documented that getting into the stadium was a nightmare. That it was. It opened late (not too late, about 15 minutes or so late), and it was blistering heat outside. After running to the concessions for a drink, we then went and took our seats a good half hour before the show started. Thankfully we were lucky, as even as the show started people were still filing in, some not getting to their seats until well into the show.
So what of Wrestlemania itself? As a spectacle, it was wonderful (and weirdly despite being 7 hours long, it didn’t drag). However there was some strange decisions made, and the main event was the only match that I felt was really poor. I enjoyed the pre-show, the Intercontinental Title match and the Women’s match. The battle royale was fun, AJ & Jericho was a masterclass, and Shane vs. The Undertaker was a stuntfest. The rest was middling to poor though. Overall it wasn’t a dreadful Wrestlemania, and there was enough “Spectacle” to make it feel special.
The next day was the final day, and we arranged to meet a few people from the BBQ for drinks and this is when I really began to appreciate the trip, after having a few drinks, we headed to a memorable Monday Night Raw in the American Airlines centre. This show, which usually drags (as it’s another three hours) seem to fly by, with genuine shocks, returns and a rabid crowd, made this probably the second best show of the weekend.
All in all, 3 very different shows, but why you should attend Wrestlemania weekend if you’re a fan? You meet fans from all over the world. You can actually have conversations about a crazy sport and not bore people to death. Now I can count friends from all over the globe as fans of a crazy “sport”, from Americans who offered me couches, to Aussies who were super nice, and Irish people who came up with the best Roman Reigns chant I’ve ever heard. And that makes me so happy. In short, to borrow a chant, the people who went to Dallas, were awesome.
The single most frustrating thing about the weekend was the hotel. The WiFi was paid for which sucked immensely. If you have a large international contingent, WWE, please wrangle free WiFi.