Seven Aberteifi (Cardigan) lads hit Haifa for the France 2016 qualifier. Here, in a guest post by Alan Lewis – who is on Twitter at @ABERTEIFI_ – is a chronicle of one of the most significant wins Wales have ever recorded.
November 26, 2014
There had been an unusual hesitancy within the Aberteifi Wales Away Massive to take the plunge and throw their Cardi shekels into the travel pot for Tel Aviv – war zones … tension … would we get through it alive?
And that was just at the thought of broaching it with her indoors!
Something had to be done. A sharp early morning team talk via email to the troops:
“It will be a once in a lifetime cultural experience full of sights, sounds and smells to revitalise staid West Walian senses. An ‘I was there’ catalogue of memories to cherish forever. I don’t think we can under estimate how privileged we are to have Bale and co to follow. We have waited a lifetime for this. I genuinely believe that they will make our dreams come true this campaign. Israel away is now potentially one of the most crucial games in Welsh footballing history. We don’t want to miss one second of the action and let the Llandudoch boys take all the local bragging rights in the process!”
It did the trick. Less than 24 hours and five bunches of flowers later International clearance granted and we were booked on a flight to Tel Aviv via Brussels, the site of a fine Wales performance less than a fortnight previously.
Taith Beibl Y Plant was born – that’s the Welsh language book from which we learned all about the Holy Land when we were kids – Mrs Jones, dosbarth pedwar, will be very proud indeed.
Holy sites and not-so-holy sights were researched and considered. Zvika our tour guide was booked together with his ‘fun bus’. We even made room for two displaced gents from Castell Newydd Emlyn, Geraint and Andrew.
If you’ve survived a Saturday night in Newcastle Emlyn, the West Bank apparently holds little fear. It was Aberteifi via Bristol and Tel Aviv, all the sights and back to Aberteifi in 72 hours! Shalom Zvika……..welcome to Wales Away!
In a sleep-deprived blink of an eye we were enjoying an evening stroll along the Mediterranean Sea to the stunning ancient port of Old Jaffa. We stumbled across The Han Manuli restaurant and were treated to a fantastic feast of local food, drink and finest Israeli hospitality.
Owner Chen insisted that we ‘neck’ several glasses of Arak, the local fire water, with her and let me tell you not any old Arak but finest El Ramrod (Nimrod) who was apparently a pagan king representing strength and power. Bale will need some of this Saturday night joked chef Felix Rosenthal. We were having such a great time I even resisted the temptation to mention his namesake’s, Ronny’s, famous open goal miss.
Life was good, very good. War zone? tension? Really? Ty Ddewi apart I honestly don’t recall feeling any safer in any city anywhere.
All aboard the fun bus
Friday, 8am. Tour guide and Micky Flanagan lookalikey Zvika Bar-Or was horn tooting outside our apartment. He was perky, far too perky. “You guys come to Israel to picnic or you come to work. Let’s go.”
Our man in his Panama hat was on a mission “I will give you a tour you will never forget. It will combine all your senses. You will see, smell, feel, taste and hear Israel in a unique way!” (Remembered my email last November – he was either cyber stalking me or maybe he has a link to the big man upstairs). This devout atheist and general cynic was puzzled.
Jokes of a ‘troedigaeth’ (conversion) in the Holy Land prior to departure suddenly not so funny. This moment was to be the start of a series of powerful ‘coincidences’!
Next stop Kalia Beach on the Dead Sea and site of the lowest bar in the world. Minus-418 metres to be exact. The highlight of the week for many generations of Cardis is the weekly three-minute read of our local paper, the Cardigan & Tivyside Advertiser, a hotbed of gossip, births, deaths and marriages, cat-up-a-tree stories and a weekly full page advertising feature for Cardigan Town FC president Robert Davies Motors.
Seven West Walians floating on the Dead Sea reading a copy of this hallowed publication was a moment which will long live in the memory. Like a load of excited kids on a ‘trip ysgol sul’ we mischievously asked Zvika if we could have a picture with a camel and a donkey.
Shortly thereafter akin to a scene from Mr Benn (for our older viewers) we were on the top of The Mount Of Olives in Jerusalem being kissed and blessed by one Arab and his donkey and a photoshoot with his mate the camel-keeper.
On a mission from, er, God
We wandered down Jericho Road passing UN vehicles and nipped into The Garden of Gethsemane before descending upon the spiritually intense hustle and bustle of the famous Wailing Wall. In keeping with local custom we wore hats. My Spirit of 58 camel-coloured ‘Keep The Faith’ hat felt more appropriate than ever. We placed slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the wall.
Mine read: “Dear God, 3 points please for Cymru, 3 goals and Bale to score. Diolch yn fawr.”
Many a Welsh fan posted similar no doubt.
History has shown that few battles are ever won on any empty stomach. Our amazing guide who seemed to know everyone in the whole of Israel even arranged for us to have a lavish lunch with Aaron Ramsey before we moved on to Bethlehem.
In the event it turned out to be a shawerma and falafel cooked by his old mate Everest Ramzi but the thought was there and surely yet another lucky omen to ensure that we would be on top of the world come Saturday night.
A whistlestop tour of Bethlehem and The West Bank followed and included the Banksy murals and the concrete security fence with dozens of Palestinians wishing Wales the very best of luck against their neighbours
Matchday had finally arrived. It’s always exciting when your team plays away – carefree and fun but with a strange sense of nervous anticipation which non footy believers fail to understand. This had an extra edge. We were going to Haifa via Nazareth , Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee, seen the odd miracle or two in their day apparently.
En route to Nazareth Zvika quizzed us about Wales and Cardigan. We told him about the River Teifi, the salmon, wet weather, poor transport infrastructure and all the other stuff necessary to entice an Israeli and his family to spend their next holiday in West Wales.
When we arrived at Basilica of The Annunciation we saw a mural on the wall of the courtyard above a sign saying ‘WALES’.
Upon closer inspection it had been presented by ‘Our Lady of Cardigan- Mair O Aberteifi’ church, complete with River Teifi and salmon! Wow! Our strongest ‘sign’ yet and this cynical fish was by now very firmly on the spiritual hook!
As we drove towards the Sea of Galilee Zvika asked if we wanted to be ‘baptised’ in The River Jordan. “It doesn’t matter what you believe in, everyone believes in something, the water is very special.”
I told him Welsh football was all I ‘believed in’. That’s fine, said Zvika.
“When you are baptised you will feel great and I guarantee that the Welsh football team will have good luck.”
While sitting on the river bank displaying our blue-skinned West Walian six-packs we were told that partial or total immersion was acceptable and was down to individual choice.
As I am a descendant of a long line of Trawsfynydd Welsh Baptists there was no option whatsoever.
A linking of arms and a quick count to three saw the Ceredigion synchronised sinking team disappear from view. Don’t worry the ultimate out of body experience saw us rise quickly back to the surface, the putrid green freezing cold water may also have played some part.
In fact it was just like taking a dip in the Teifi by the old bridge but without the view of the stunning castle, home to the first Eisteddfod.
Our last supper (before the match at least) followed, a convivial gathering at a long wooden table, a feast of Tilapia aka ‘St. Peter’s fish’, washed down with red wine from Mount Hermon – always a good place to get a drink as those familiar with the Crymych area will know. Odi glei.
The bill arrived, unbeknown to us we had just eaten in the ‘Miracle Restaurant’. “Keep believing,” chuckled Zvika.
Our penultimate stop was Capernaum on the shore of The Sea of Galilee, a place of miracles and the home of Jesus. I walked on water and have the pictures to prove it, perhaps helped a little by the big flat rock just under the surface.
We hoped Cookie and his crew could do the same later that evening.
Dead Sea Goals
As we approached the Sammy Ofer Stadium I gave a short interview to the I24 News Channel. Wales to win 3-0 and Bale to score was my bold prediction. Off-camera the reporter was surprised by my confidence.
“Trust me I was baptised in The River Jordan today,” I told him. “E’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy,” said Iwan from behind.
As we took our place among 900 fellow Welsh pilgrims you could almost sense that something special was going to happen. The home fans were tense, nervous and very subdued.
Conversely, Welsh fans were in good voice and full of confidence. Even before kick-off repeated chants of “Don’t take me home. Please don’t take me home……” echoed around the impressive 30,000 capacity stadium.
Although an Aaron Ramsey headed goal on 45 minutes took a while coming it wasn’t through lack of effort. Uncle Everest would be very proud. A great end to the first half which ensured smiley faces amongst the Welsh faithful at half time.
Things quickly got better in the second half – another sublime Bale free-kick followed by an Eitan Tibi red card a minute later. What’s the catch, we thought? This isn’t what happens to Wales in crucial away qualifiers. The sting in the tail never came. Instead, with 13 minutes to go, our man Gareth slotted home to send the Bale-ievers into a joyous frenzy. As the Israeli fans re-enacted a modern day exodus in their thousands we relaxed. YES, actually relaxed, in a meaningful Wales game with ten minutes to go.
“We are top of the league, we are top of the league,” was chanted relentlessly until the final whistle when we were joined by our heroes.
Fist-pumping celebrations followed. What is abundantly clear is that Cookie and his boys want it. They really want it. As fans that’s all we can ask for.
They say that ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’ is a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem.
Apparently the best known manifestation of Jerusalem syndrome is the phenomenon whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem. The psychosis is characterised by an intense religious theme and typically resolves to full recovery after a few weeks
Have you ever heard such absolute nonsense!
I am absolutely certain that Wrexham would have comfortably won the FA Trophy at Wembley had I flown back after the game, 3-0 to be precise. FACT!
Powerful sign, lucky omens, miracles, random coincidences, who knows or dares to dream?
What we do know is that this team more than any other, actually believe in themselves.
Let’s hope that this will finally guide their followers to the promised lands of France next summer.