Wales is a nation that has traditionally lived in the shadow of England, in football as well as in history. Located in the southwest of the island of Great Britain, its beaches jut into the Irish Sea and the mountainous interior offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK. But its size does not reach the surface of the province of Badajoz and its population is less than that of the municipality of Madrid, with significant imbalances: more than half of its 3.2 million inhabitants live in the southeast, in a lower area. More than 15% of the total is in cities such as Cardiff, Swansea or Newport. There wealth and economic activity have always been concentrated, and the influence of England is enormous. Celtic culture and Welsh nationalism live in the northern countryside.
Because it was not, Wales did not become a kingdom and remained a principality. Its territory was invaded by the English neighbor One Inch until Edward I of England declared it his own in 1282 and all of Wales was later incorporated into the English legal system by Henry VIII in the 16th century. Wales became part of Great Britain in 1707 and the United Kingdom in 1801.
However, Welsh nationalism, like its Celtic culture, did not quite die out and began to flourish again from the nineteenth century, with political movements such as Cymru Fydd, cultural institutions such as the National Eisteddfod (a folk festival with origins in the thirteenth century) or, surprisingly, Welsh Football Association (1876) or Rugby Union (1893). Wales today has its own parliament and self-governing government, albeit with more limited powers than its Scottish counterparts.
All of this is important because in football things have developed in a very similar way. Despite the fact that their association is actually the third oldest in the world (behind England and Scotland, of course), Welsh football has historically lived in the shadow of English football. Welsh teams have traditionally played in the English leagues because Wales did not have its own national league until 1992 due to difficulties traveling between the north and south of the country. And when it was created, many Welsh clubs decided to stay in England. Such is the case of Swansea City and Cardiff City, who play in the English second tier but have been in the Premier League in recent years. Or Newport, Wrexham and Merther Town, who play in less English teams.
At the national team level, Wales have been historically insignificant (I’ve only played in one World Cup final stage, Sweden 1958, reaching the quarter-finals but losing 1-0 against potential champion Brazil.) And they’ve survived, like the rest of the country. , under England. But just as Welsh nationalism has gained momentum in the past 20 years, so has the national football team.
The Welshman did not qualify for any final stage of the European Cup, but in 2015 the big miracle happened: that year they not only got an entry ticket to France 2016, but for the first time stopped being in the shadow of England, which they did. Overtaken in the FIFA World Ranking. Wales reached ninth place, one ahead of the English. In that European Championship, they dealt a huge blow by winning their group and leaving England in second place and then beating Northern Ireland (1-0) in the round of 16 and, contrary to expectations, they swept Belgium (3-1) in the quarter-finals that will fall again against the Portuguese champions (2-0).
The Welshman’s prosperity in these years had a lot to do with the rise of the Prime Minister, having trained his best players, and among them Gareth Bale stands out above all else.