Tomi the talisman lights up Llansantffraid

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
Those television football fans not fortunate enough to live in Wales won't have been thrilling recently to the deeds of Llansantffraid FC, which is a shame. Llansant-ffraid-ym-Mechain is a modest community in the Marches, south of Oswestry. Modest in size but big in heart. Certainly, it has room enough for three chapels, two pubs, two shops, one garage and Tomi Morgan, the football club's talismanic centre forward and assistant manager. It also has room for the Welsh Cup, which Llansantffraid won this year in the absence of English league-based Welsh teams, who were excluded from the competition for Uefa-type reasons.

This considerable triumph - achieved in a penalty shoot-out over Barry Town at the Arms Park - meant that the club qualified for Europe and so went into the Uefa Cup hat with Barcelona, Liverpool and KS Ruch Chorzow of Poland. This prospect lit fires in the eyes of the sharp folk at S4C, the Welsh language TV channel.

The version of Lan o'r Llan: Tocyn Tomi i Ewrop I saw had subtitles, which was lucky. Yet English words and expressions did from time to time burst on the surface of the documentary like gas bubbles expelled by pressure from within. "Brill-i-yant!" yelped Morgan, inadvertently, at the camera at the moment of Llansantffraid's cup final triumph. "What a day," gasped defender Arwel Jones from his bath, a few minutes later. Otherwise, Lan o'r Llan: Tocyn Tomi i Ewrop (or "Up from the Parish: Tomi's Ticket to Europe") stuck firmly to the premise that this was a local affair in which, no matter the quality of their bottle-washing and team management, English men and women were incidental to the plot, as was their language. In its service, the echt Welshman Tomi carried all before him in his central Virgilian role, with charm, tact and a winning way with the vicar.

"Good evening, vicar," he burbled as the wiry clergyman strode up the hill to encourage the lads in training.

"Well, you've got to support the team, haven't you?" countered the vicar.

"Ah yes," replied Tomi, gleefully. "And it's good to have God on our side."

"Heh, heh," said the vicar, noncommittally, making weasels in the air with his hands.

Morgan, it would seem, has been there and done it all in Welsh amateur football: he has five international caps and has played for just about everybody. He was also recently subject to a transfer inquiry from South Korea after his performance in the cup final, in which he scored a pacy goal in the style, as he put it, of Ian Rush. The Koreans were duly assured by Llansant-ffraid of Tomi's pace, his fitness and his professional attitude, and were prepared to offer the striker a two-year contract. "Unfortunately," said Tomi, "the club had to give my date of birth."

He's 38. "I'm pleased for Dad, at his age," said one daughter, "that he has the chance to play in Europe." "He has always dreamed of being a star," said the other. Meanwhile, safely stowed back in his chancel, the vicar continued to do his bit for the footballing credibility of the village. Llansantffraid's patron saint is Saint Bride, who, among many attributes, had the ability to turn milk into beer. "You lads would've appreciated her," he said, suddenly looking as guilty as Robin Cook caught in the act of making a joke.

There seem to be two ways of doing sport on telly as a socio-economic phenomenon. One is the Fat Maggots in High Places mode, in which professional sport is scrutinised through the wrong end of a telescope to reveal squirming corruption, violence, vanity, drugs, bad taste, stupidity and misprision, usually captured in boardrooms, on physiotherapists' tables, in police cells and around the swimming pools of the venal. In this mode, sport is a harsh, socially remote world in which people act down to your worst expectations.

The other mode is Small Fry in Lowly Places, in which amateur sport is given the epic-parochial treatment in car parks and bus shelters with Bertolucci light, featuring ordinary folks dreaming extraordinary dreams and having their tea. In this mode there is no violence, vanity, corruption, stupidity or misprision; only charm and noble deprecation, gut-spilling heroism and the bright sofas of the honest, which are disclosed by the camera not as manifestations of real pain in a hurtful world but as rhetorical devices expressing the vaulting nature of the human spirit. It seems impossible in this world that Arwel Jones's tackles are wounding or that Dot, the team's cook and bottle-washer, ever gets taken for granted by the boys she dotes on and represents almost as a mother does.

"People were crying," Dot said, keenly, in describing the aftermath of Llansantffraid's cup triumph. "It was just like the millennium come early." In the end, one almost felt relief that Llansantffraid were dumped out of the Cup-Winners' Cup by Ruch Chorzow of Poland.