In Wales the Ball is Round
Football is the Welsh national sport. Yes, you read that right. Comedian and writer Elis James gives a polemical appraisal of football's role in constructing modern Welsh identity. (1/2)
The story of football in Wales tells a richer, geographically-wider, more socially-inclusive national story than rugby, the country's much vaunted "national sport". The Welsh football story has long embraced crosspollination from ethnic communities, the influx and growth of industries other than coal and steel, and the myriad geographical, social and linguistic divisions that crisscross Wales. In 2016, more Welsh people watch football and follow their local team than rugby; six times as many Welsh women play football than its oval-balled cousin.
But no-one's listening. Across Offa's Dyke and within the Welsh media, we're being sold a myth. Rugby articulates a set of comfy, uninterrogated clichés about a fabled Welsh national psyche (Poetry! Coal mines! Celts! Oppressed by the English!) that's ossified. Only in the story of Welsh football - virtually ignored by British sporting media - does one find laid bare the difficult, rich tapestry of Wales today.
As the Welsh national football team embarks on its first major tournament for nearly sixty years, Elis James examines why sport plays such a key role - within Wales and to all of us - in constructing different kinds of national, ethnic and personal identities. What are the difficulties and myths that are generated when a sport is elevated to "national" status? And for small nations like Wales taking confidence from the patriotism their national teams generate - how much does a national sport help them stand on their own two feet - and how much does it distract from the hard questions of what it means to be a nation?
In the first episode, Elis James explores the extent to which football has played second-fiddle to rugby in Wales. How much does the constant veneration of a mythologised national sport - and football's failure to break through into the popular imagination - hold Wales back from being a forward-looking, modern nation?
With contributions from Martin Johnes, Sarah Dunant, Laura McAllister, Dai Smith and Simon Kuper.
Producer: Steven Rajam.