Insight

Wales vs England: What is it about the old rivalry that gets both sides so fired up?

ITV Wales National Correspondent Rob Osborne looks at what it means to be Welsh and why playing against England prompts such strong emotions


Wales vs England. There's nothing else like it in the sporting calendar. 

So what is it about playing a match against our biggest and nearest neighbour that gets the heart pounding and the emotions stirring? 

Cultural Commentator Natalie Jones believes it is our modern way of going into battle.

"In Wales, we sometimes feel that England has some entitlement over us", she told me.

"And when we win against them in a sporting setting, it's like 'yes, we've got one up on you again!'"

Cultural commentator Natalie Jones is proud of her Welsh identity. Credit: ITV Wales

You cannot ignore the past. The relationship between Wales and England is the longest on this island.

Through culture, sport and language, Wales has held onto a distinct identity. Today, Welsh identity is stronger than perhaps it has ever been.

Last year an opinion poll for ITV Cymru Wales asked people if they were to choose one national identity what would it be? More people chose Welsh (45%) over British (41%).

But Wales and the Welsh have been on a journey. The writer Gwyn Thomas said in 1963 that "we Welsh are not a united people, and I won't say we haven't enjoyed our divisions." 

The language was once a source of those divisions. It no longer is. Cymraeg is one of the fastest-growing languages. Dafydd Iwan's Yma o Hyd is our official world cup anthem. 

"I think the language is a big part of what's helped me to feel a part of the Welsh community", said Natalie, who moved to Wales when she was nine.

"Dwi'n siarad Cymraeg yn rhugl (I speak Welsh fluently). It's important to me and it's important that my children speak Welsh."

But go into the archives, and you will find out that a lack of self-confidence has been a characteristic of the Welsh.

The most celebrated programme on Welsh history, The Dragon Has Two Tongues, ended with the historian Gwyn Alf Williams predicting the death of Wales.

The daffodil is just one of the many symbols of Wales. Credit: PA

A few years later in 1988, he expanded. "If you look ahead, a nightmare picture emerges," he said in the programme Divided Kingdom.

"A nightmare vision of Wales. Wales will shrivel up. There will be a Costa-burocrática in the south, a Costa-geriátrica in the north, in between sheep, holiday homes burning away and fifty folk museums where there used to be communities."

Gwyn died in 1995. Had he lived another decade, he would have seen a new Wales emerge. More self-confident and comfortable in its own skin. 

Cool Cymru, a Welsh parliament, a World Cup.

The story of Wales has been the story of survival against the odds.


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