|Your correspondent enjoyed an evening of deeply satisfying joy in Helsinki's
Olympic Stadium on Saturday. The event was, of course, the European
Championship qualifier between Finland and Wales - a dream fixture for us
Welsh expatriates here in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Tickets were obtained a few months ago, seats in the Finnish section of the
stadium, a birthday present courtesy of the Finnish wife. The first task was
to persuade your correspondents dual nationality son that supporting Wales
was a non-negotiable matter of duty and pride.
"Who do you want to win, son?"
"Are you sure?"
Some serious persuasion was needed. An appeal to principles held deep within
the Welsh genes defining your correspondent's son's very being. Finally this
was achieved through the purchase of an impressively gaudy Wales supporters
hat, sporting a Welsh flag and several protuberances in red, white & green
with bells on the end.
"Do you like that hat, son?"
"Yeah - will you buy it for me, dad?"
"Only if you promise to support Wales, son".
So off to the match, both father and son with the Welsh Dragon draped
proudly around their shoulders, Finnish wife waving a weedy little Finland
flag. Quite a few Finns are impressed with the Welsh flag, understandably so
since it is one of the world's finest, the only one in the world to sport a
full blooded red Dragon. Lots of happy Finnish fans around the stadium -
they nearly qualified for the last World Cup, drawing against both England
and Germany at home, and are looking forward to a comfortable three points
against a team 49 places below them in the FIFA rankings. We manage to get
in without any trouble, though there are lots of strange looks - why are
Welsh fans in the Finnish section? Our seats are high up, but the Olympic
stadium has a capacity of only 38,000 so not a bad view all in all. A few
little boys decide to try their English language skills and shout "Ryan
Giggs sucks!" at us. I put them right by informing them that in point of
fact, "Ryan Giggs kavelee vettää" (walks on water). A few thousand Welsh
fans are singing loudly in one corner. We settle down for some serious
The band marches onto the pitch and the announcer informs us that the first
song will be the 'Finland's off to Portugal' theme song for the campaign.
Your correspondent feels that this could backfire later when Wales have won,
but ignorance is bliss and the Finnish fans cheer like crazy. Then we stand
for the Welsh National Anthem, which is received relatively politely by the
home fans. They sing their own dirge gustily and your correspondent is
impressed with the naive enthusiasm.
The game kicks off. It transpires that the 'beautiful game' has taken the
evening off, being replaced by 'kick and hope'. After 25 minutes of pretty
woeful play the wife decides to go for some refreshment and takes your
correspondent's son for company. A quick 'phone call home to the sister in
Wales seems in order.
"Hi, I'm at the game."
"How is it?"
"Yes, that's what they said on the radio."
"But plan A is working so far - soak up some pressure then score on the
break....hang on, this looks promising...yes...YES....YEAH, YEAH WE'VE
SCORED..got to go bye"
And indeed, it's a route one special - Goalkeeper Jones kicks massively into
the Finnish half, Speed leaps like a young salmon to direct a header into
the box, Giggsy gets a toe to it to wrong-foot the Finnish defence and
Hartson slides in to shoot home. Your correspondent draws a little attention
to himself as the only flash of excited red, white and green in a sea of
stunned blue and white. Son and wife return with colas and questions "Who
A message from a workmate also attending the game arrives on the mobile
"Bloody lucky Welsh btstarsd". You correspondent permits himself a small
chuckle. The half ends with nothing else of note occurring.
Another workmate in attendance calls.
"Where are you?"
"Top of section 38."
"Wave your flag so I can see you."
"There. See it?"
"No. I think it'll be a 1:1 draw."
"I don't. It'll stay 1:0"
Second half and the Finnish fans are hopeful again. The little boys try
another English phrase, "Wales sucks!". The Finnish team are pressing now -
the quality of play has improved a little, but not enough. Every corner and
free kick and cries of 'maali, maali' (goal, goal) ring around the stadium.
Finland take off defenders and bring on attackers, desperate for the elusive
equaliser. Jones parries a header onto the crossbar. Your correspondent
suffers a fleeting moment of concern, but then suddenly Giggs is running at
a depleted Finnish defence and Simon Davies finds acres of space in the box.
Giggs waits to draw the defenders then slips a perfectly weighted pass into
Davies' path and he drills the ball low into the corner of the Finnish net.
It's all over, even the Finns sense that this is not their night. The sound
of the Welsh fans singing begins to reach your correspondent on the other
side of the stadium and he joins in joyously, Welsh flag waving proudly.
Better than sex! And Monday in the office to enjoy - the hat is here as
well, of course.