REstrated and reloaded, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey will be among those returning to Wales’ starting line-up against Ukraine on Sunday, but another title, more typical in the literal sense, will take center stage within minutes. before kick-off in the Festive atmosphere at the Cardiff City Stadium.
As he did before Wales’ World Cup semi-final win over Austria, Dafydd Iwan will perform Yma o Hyd (“Still Here”), a moving Welsh folk song born 40 years ago. years on a scrap of paper in his attic at Waunfawr, a village four miles from the foot of Snowdon. It has snowballed into an unofficial national anthem and a slogan for supporters who will once again be sure to sing along. “I knew there would be some audience participation, but I wasn’t quite ready for what happened,” Iwan said.
Along with Bale’s absurd free-kick, Iwan’s pre-match render in March made a lasting impression that night on thousands there and beyond. So much so that when the 78-year-old recently went for lunch at the Sand Martin pub on the stadium site, the owner made sure his meal was at the house’s expense.
“Anyone who sings songs likes to be recognized but that’s another thing because it’s linked to the national team, to the Welsh consciousness and it’s taken the air of time… I’m stuck with that now,” he said, laughing. “A lot of people have said to me, ‘I was watching this video last night and I had goosebumps, I was crying.’ I can’t quite understand it.
Last summer, the words Yma o Hyd appeared on the big screens at Wales’ Euro 2020 training base, the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium in Baku, and Wales manager Robert Page had previously stated that he plans to invite Iwan to meet his crew, some of whom are big fans of the song.
Chris Gunter, who last year became the first Welshman to win 100 caps, was behind Yma o Hyd played before training and on the team coach, while Connor Roberts, who will start against Ukraine, told how he had the song on his headphones before. every Wales game. “It just puts a little fire in my stomach and makes me want to run a little more,” Roberts said last year.
The song has long been an anthem for Llanelli’s Scarlets rugby club, which Iwan considers his team, and for Cardiff City. Welsh football fans sang impromptu renditions of it for a few years and broke into an a cappella version during the second half of their Nations League defeat to Poland in Wroclaw on Wednesday.
But nearly the entire stadium screamed every word in March, when a tear rolled down Iwan’s face as he gazed at the Canton Stand, home to the red wall of Wales fans. “It was like it had been rehearsed,” he says. “They came on the chorus, on the dot, on the button and with such power it hit me.
“I tend to be an emotional singer because I write my own songs, I write about things that are close to my heart – I’ve been known to shed a few tears here and there – but that night I couldn’t help myself. The power of that crowd chant was just awesome. It just hit me and I dropped everything.
Iwan recognizes that he is a political animal. His grandfather was one of the founding members of Plaid Cymru – Iwan served as the party’s chairman between 2003 and 2010 – and on Sundays he preaches a little, “even if the audiences dwindle”.
Two years ago, the YesCymru independence campaign helped Yma o Hyd beat Stormzy and Dua Lipa to the top of the UK iTunes charts.
“Bob Dylan influenced my generation in the sense that he uses songs to get messages across. Pete Seeger was a campaigning singer who used his songs to promote his ideas and support Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement and he used his concerts to tell the story, adding verses as things happened and encouraging his audience to come with him.I used my songs in a similar way.
On Sunday, however, Iwan, who “adopted football as his first game”, is engaged. He talks about being old enough to remember Cliff Jones and brothers Charles and Allchurch who played in the 1958 World Cup, Wales’ only appearance in the tournament, and says the first match he has attended was Everton v Leeds at Goodison Park.
“The respect shown by the whole crowd towards John Charles was quite immense,” he says. “He had lost a lot of his speed by then, but there was something about his stature on the pitch. I remember the ball was kicked out and he ran far enough to get it for the other team and that he was acclaimed to the rafters. It wouldn’t happen today, but he was that kind of player.
It’s no longer difficult for Iwan to pinpoint his best gig. “I was always embarrassed to answer that question because I’ve had good nights but when asked now, March 24, 2022 will always be #1,” he says. “But hopefully June 5 can match it.”