Gareth Bale

Together Stronger, supporting a nation

Gareth Bale breathing fireSince about 10pm last night I've been walking around in a daze, this morning I had to check I hadn't dreamt it, but it's really happening. I'm living the dream! Wales are through to the Semi Finals of Euro 2016. Who would have dared to think it?

Being Welsh people often presume that it is just about the rugby (we love that too!) but for me football was in my blood from a much younger age and I have my Dad to thank for that. Being Welsh Italian he has always loved both sports and exposed my brother and I to the beautiful game from a young age.  Over the years we have had season tickets for our local team Cardiff City, as well as hitting the terraces to cheer our national team and if we can't catch the game live then we'll be watching it on TV. We've watched poor performances in the pouring rain, and celebrated some fabulous wins.

One of most vivid memories was going to see Wales v Germany back in the 90s. It was played in the old National Stadium in Cardiff which has since been knocked down for the Millennium Stadium (I know - Principality - but I can't train myself to call it that!), and there were less than 7000 fans rattling around in the vast stands. We lost, Klinsman scored the winner and celebrated with his famous dive.  But two things remain with me from that day.

The first was my brother, who's 5 years younger than me, chanting Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi literally all the way though the game. Ryan Giggs was in the first couple of years of his career, and his pace and skill on the ball was like nothing we as young fans had seen live on the pitch before. It was the era of Sparky Hughes, the late, great Speedy, Ian Rush, John Harrison and of course our current manager Chris Coleman - all of which I'm sure inspired many of our players today. The second and most poignant memory was the feeling when Wales equalised. We were playing Germany (they went on to top the groups and win Euro 1996) and not expected to win... so the jubilation of scoring against one of th giants of football was incredible even at that young age.

And that's exactly how I feel this morning. At the beginning of the tournament I tweeted thatTogether Stronger  FAW whatever happens I was already proud of the boys with the Dragon on their chest.  I so am. This is beyond imagination and the feeling is intense. It is amazing to see the whole of Wales getting behind football, just as we do out national rugby team. It is also great to see the pundits across our home nations, including England, giving our boys the credit they are due. But for me, I'd like to think that this is the reward for us, those hardened national football fans, who had threw heart broken time and time again, as Wales crashed out of qualifying for yet another tournament. For those who watched their beloved team get so close, yet so far, and those who came out rain or shine, I've waited over 20 years to see us qualify for a major tournament, my Dad longer, but we had faith and the boys have delivered. Whatever happens now is a bonus. Diolch Cymru. 

Don't forget we're celebrating Wales' success with 16% off everything in the shop while Wales remain in the tournament - so whether you are a football fan or not everyone can benefit from my excitement!

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