Letter from Simon Kelner: Bad luck, Wales, but remember that rugby isn't everything


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When the Severn Bridge was opened in 1966, it was one of the modern wonders of Britain, alongside the Post Office Tower and an English football team that could beat the world. But not everyone was lost in awe at this magnificent feat of engineering that linked England and Wales by road.

For instance, the Welsh nationalist poet, Harri Webb, saw a sinister symbolism in its operation, and his poem summed up how a lot of his compatriots felt:

Two lands at last connected

across the waters wide

And all the tolls collected

on the English side

I repeat these lines to show that the Welsh have felt downtrodden, oppressed, and generally hard done-by, long before they were knocked out of the Rugby World Cup by the combination of a dodgy refereeing decision, some outrageously poor luck and, most probably, a feeling that the whole world was against them. It's generally the English whom the Welsh consider the oppressors, but anyone who witnessed their agonies at the weekend – in a sport that they regard as a badge of their nationhood – could have only sympathised with a feeling that the gods, too, have got something against them. I spent several years in South Wales when I was a trainee journalist, and I know how much rugby means down there. I covered the Neath club for a while, and, on the day our paper was published, total strangers would come up to me in the street to make a comment or, more usually, take issue with something I'd written. (In fact, it would have salvaged what has been a pretty sterile World Cup if Wales had made it through to meet New Zealand in the final: the only two nations for whom rugby matters more than any other sport.)

I still have a number of friends in Wales, and feel an enduring affinity with the country that means I share their outrage when a smartarse English columnist – take a bow, A A Gill – takes a pop at them. The modern Wales, of course, does not need to express a sense of itself merely through rugby. It has its own assembly now, and a degree of self-determination. It also has many other things to recommend it: the stunning beaches of the Gower (Britain's very first National Park), the Pembrokeshire coastline, great cities rejuvenated by chi-chi marina developments, and the lakes and mountains of the North.

And I haven't mentioned its people – proud, friendly and humorous – or the fact that they have the best national anthem in the world. What a shame we won't be hearing it again next Sunday.