A Rugby Carol (or, How Green were my Tactics??)
By Didds. With apologies to... well, just about everyone.
Preamble : The following (and subsequent chapters) were born of an afternoon with little to do, a few too many beers, and the shenanigans in Wales at the time. This story in no way is meant to imply any disrespect for Wales, the Welsh, or Welsh culture. Or referees :-)
Neither can I guarantee that I haven't made some glaring factual error.
This is above all, a work of fiction. Or should that be ... faction???
Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans scowled into the meager embers spluttering in the hearth of his Llantrwnty bedsit's fire, and pulled his WRU bedcover (made in Taiwan) tighter around his slight frame. The bowl of cawl he had warmed earlier on the same fire lay only half eaten on the floor beside him, accompanied only by a disdainfully rejected half-stale piece of bread, and a small piece of Caerphilly. A glass of Allbright bitter stood untouched on the mantelpiece. Dai had lost his appetite, on this pre-Christmas weekend, 1996. Outside, the wind whistled in the darkness, and somewhere a radio played Elvis Presley singing "Are you lonesome tonight?". Dai curled his lip. "The King", Dai muttered; he spat the words out, towards the fire. "There has only ever been one 'King' and he is Welsh". Dai's nostrils flared as he bitterly muttered his words. His heart swelled with pride as his mind's eye filled with recollections of "The King"... that number ten shirt rippling as He ran... as He passed... as He kicked... those were the days, thought Dai. Those were the days when every Welshman stood tall, when those English bastards groveled at the feet of the men they had no right to share a rugby field with, when Rugby Union was run by Wales, from Wales... for Wales...
Dai sniffed and snapped himself upright. Surprised, he realized a small tear had formed in the corner of each eye. One escaped the adhesion of his eyelid, and began to roll down his left cheek. Dai angrily wiped both eyes, and shouted at the fire, "Bastards". In the street, through the grimy windows splattered with slush and filthy rain Dai watched several young men passing, fresh with youth, full with lager, dressed in Swansea City FC shirts, chanting in their alcohol induced camaraderie "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole....".
"AND YOU'RE NO BLOODY BETTER", Dai yelled at the window, bitter anger exploding, followed immediately by fear that the young men might have heard his outburst... but they passed, his own voice drowned by their moronic chanting and the unplaced radio station playing the "Spicer Girls" new Christmas number one hit.
Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans was a miserable and twisted man. Born in the late thirties, as warclouds gathered over Europe, he had grown up in the valleys of South Wales - his Da worked in the colliery, his Ma sweated at home with his two elder brothers, Geraint and Alun, and their sister, Sian. He was told when young they were lucky... men returning from the war in the mid to late forties struggled to find work, especially in the cities. Industry was sluggish to return to full production - resources were still low, and much was still rationed; the inability to supply combined with the enforced lack of demand meant little requirement for labour. But Da had returned from his four years of fighting in North Africa and Italy, and went straight back to the pit.
Coal was the lifeblood of an economy. Coal supplied heat. Coal provided power. Coal even supplied gas, for light and cooking if you were on the mains. But up here, in the valleys, Coal was more than that. Coal was life itself. The pit provided everything for the village - employment, heat, power. And Coal provided the community; the hub for those men to return to a normal life. It meant that people cared. It meant that families had all the basic requirements of life - a cottage, food, clothing, warmth.... love. The new Labour government now also provided the community with the infrastructure of a healthier and less ignorant life. And on Saturdays, when the noon hooter sounded, and the miners poured home from their work, Coal meant ... RUGBY!!
Below the pit, and its slag heap, was "The Club". Llantrwnty Rugby Football Club, that is, but everyone knew it as "The Club". His Da played on the wing, his uncle Dai in the centre, and his (much) older cousin Bill played open side wing-forward. Llantrwnty wasn't a great valley club, but it wasn't the worst... they had their moments, and they won more than they lost, and they were renowned as a hard, but fair lot that took no stick, but played to win by playing Rugby. And after the games, Dai would stand with his brothers and sister, and hear his Da, and Uncle Dai, and Bill, and the other players sing long, complicated songs, some of them in a language that he never understood, but stirred him deep down inside and sometimes made him want to cry for no reason.
Life had been good then... but slowly it had all gone wrong. He was always a weak child, unlike his brothers and sister, and neither was he overly blessed with brains. He failed to shine at school, and later was not deemed fit to work in the pit, so struggled along with a string of clerk's jobs. His Da became crippled physically by the years of coal dust on his lungs and died. His Ma had a stroke, and lived her days out in a home that stank of stale piss. One brother, Geraint, lost a leg in a mining accident, the other, Alun, moved to London amidst rumours of his sexuality, and his sister married a drunken sod that beat her. Dai hadn't heard from his brothers or sister for a long time now... somehow, it didn't seem so important these days. He himself had never married; he had courted Megan Phillips for a long time when they were both young, but her family had emigrated to New Zealand in the sixties and he'd never found anyone else.
But one thing had stayed with him throughout his life, and now had become his life. Rugby Union. He remembered aged around fifteen, listening to Wales beating the All Blacks; the village seemed drunk for days. His Da even kissed his Ma in front of them all when he got back from pub on Sunday lunchtime! Then he got a break, whilst visiting Cardiff one weekend, and ended up working as a clerk at the WRFU! In time, he rose slowly up the ladder until he had reached a minor position of power within the WRFU's "civil service" - the back room boys that keep the wheels of Welsh rugby turning whilst the big names come and go during signings, sackings, resignations, stand-offs and run-ins. He was pleased with his position within the "Match Officials, Laws and Related Issues Standing Committee", but over the years had become increasingly disenchanted with his fellow man, and life in general.
Rugby, and more importantly, Welsh rugby, had helped him keep his head above the mire for a long, long time, but recently even this had gone all wrong. These days he brooded long and darkly, and bitterly spat his thoughts to anyone that asked. And this Christmas it had all come to a head.
Bloody Referees. Bloody Professionalism. Bloody Money.
It was bad enough the players wanting bloody payment - payment for a game that he loved, payment for the game he would have given anything to have played - to have been able to stand in "The Club" with his Da, and Uncle Dai, and Bill and sing with them, having also sweated and won with them. Payment for a game that for a hundred bloody years no-one had needed money for; that players played for the love of the oval ball and the grease and the liniment. Rugby League had been the Devil then, but one that until very recently had been a long way away. Rumours abounded about the better players getting "boot money" but Dai didn't believe them. Rumours like that were made up by the bloody English, to cover up the obvious payments going on in English rugby, which he held in the greatest contempt at all times. Welsh rugby was pure, he was sure. Adamant even. How could a boy grow up in Chapel, to become a man that would accept money to play rugby??
And now the bloody refs wanted the bloody money too!! Bloody hell! Refer-bloody- rees!! "They'll be paying bloody tea-ladies next", he'd shouted at the committee; "When will this madness stop??". The committee had had to announce to the referees that the committee had failed unanimously to approve payments to match officials, and as such the status quo would remain. What they didn't tell the referees was that only one voice had dissented. Dai's voice. And the referees were less than pleased.
"Bugger them." Dai said. "Bugger the bloody lot of them. Mercenary bastards".
The last coal in the hearth fizzled and died. The radio somewhere had been turned off for some time now. The drunken youths outside had stopped partying on car roofs, and had left the street.
Dai pulled his scrawny frame from his chair, and slumped into bed.
"Bastards" he muttered again as he switched off his bedside lamp. "They'll do nothing anyway. Never have, never will. No balls on the pitch, and none off it either".
Outside it began to freeze on the night of Friday 20th December 1996.
Inside, Dai snored. A sad and lonely man.
Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans tossed and turned in his bed. The events of the previous afternoon's committee meeting stirred mercilessly in his mind; the wheedling, whining voices pathetically groveling for referees payments. Then the pompous, Cardiff types going on and on about how it was a professional game now, and referees needed to also be treated professionally. But Dai would have none of it. Oh no. Not over his dead body - Rugby Union was the ONE unspoilt thing in his life, despite the new bloody professionalism, and paying referees was the last straw... they might as well give up and go and play Rugby- Bloody-League, he'd shouted. That had stopped them. That had made them think about what they were saying.
Of course, it wasn't that at all. What had of course really occurred that this last statement had made them finally all realise what they were dealing with.
A dinosaur. A Welsh dinosaur, true, but a dinosaur. Rugby League was no threat now, they all understood that; if anything Rugby Union was a threat to Rugby League. Surely the swiftness of League's top players to either return to the fold of Union (at the ages of 34 or thereabouts......) or to at least "come South" and embrace the Union code (for large sums of money over a few short months....) heralded this triumphant victory over the "North"?? And professionalism was bound to happen; the hypocrisy of money in envelopes and jobs-that- aren't was tidied away now, and the clean slate of payment for playing open to all to see. But they could see that Dai would never acquiesce. So they stood down. Or rather accepted that a unanimous decision would not be arranged. After all they were only referees, and would do what they were told; just as the players had done... we are the WRFU, they argued. We ARE the game.
Dai awoke with a start. What was that noise?? Bloody cats again, he mused... he'd have a go at Mrs. Patel tomorrow. Always throwing the fish scraps out the back of her takeaway shop, and the entire neighbourhood's feline population would descend on it at night. Bloody health hazard I shouldn't wonder" Dai opined, to no-one but himself.
"Probably But!", the voice said.
"Huuuu!", exclaimed Dai, "who said that??". And snapped on his bedside light.
"Me, boyo", giggled a boyish voice, "by here."
Dai swivelled his gaze from his WRFU bedcover (made in Taiwan) to his table. The pots from last night, remained unwashed there. Somebody was wiping up Cawl from them with the slightly stale bread also on the table - somebody he had never seen before, but somehow seemed ... familiar.
"Not bad cawl, bach" smiled the man. "Got any cheese to go with my bread? Or any beer? I see you've got that awful Allbright muck in the fridge, but I'm more of a Felinfoel man myself. Being from Llanelli like."
Dai leapt from his bed, unwashed sheets falling to the floor.
"Who the hell are you??". His voice quavered. There'd been something on the news last week about an old lady that had been murdered in her bed for her pension. "Oh, please, not me", thought Dai, and then illogically, "I've got tickets for Wales v. England".
The man grinned. "Don't worry, boyo. Sit down by here. Have some cawl... oh, I seem to have eaten it all. Sorry, but. Bit partial to a spot of cawl myself you see."
Dai slid into the chair beside the man. For a murderer he didn't seem very.. well... murderous. He wore a long jacket like a donkey jacket, but with red lining... a Crombie, remembered Dai. "Blimey", he thought, "I haven't seen one of those for years...". Beneath the coat the man wore jeans, and a plain red shirt with white collar. The three feathers could be seen glinting, gold, in the light from the bedside lamp when the man moved. His sideburns came three-quarters way down his cheeks, his nose looked as if it might have a been broken at sometime, and he had a front tooth missing.
"Don't go frettin' about me, mun", chortled the man, "I'm sort of a friend, see you! I'm the ghost of rugby past. I've been sent here to help you sort out your little dilemma. Come with me..."
And before he could argue Dai felt himself lifted out of his bedsit, high into the sky.... where he could see the cats munching happily on discarded fish entrails and heads.
It all went black... and Dai could feel the air rushing past... but it wasn't cold. Oh no. It was somehow... warm... and comforting... his belly felt a warm glow he hadn't felt for a long time... his heart felt large... he wanted to sing out loud those words his Da, and his uncle Dai, and Bill used to sing.... below he could see pitheads wheeling, men on bicycles carrying lamps descending the mountainsides... and in a swirl of midst and a slight thump he found himself sitting in Arms Park with the man. "Ah, cracker" laughed the man, "we missed the kick off, but haven't missed much!".
Dai didn't understand. This was the middle of the night, but the Arms Park was full to capacity. The West stand was roaring out "Bread of Heaven". Welsh faces surrounded him; large men with donkey jackets with the initials "NCB" stencilled across their shoulders good naturedly jostled in their seats; large moustaches bristled over mouths that bellowed "WALES! WALES!". Small boys with red-and-white striped bobble hats that their mothers had knitted them milled at the front of the seats, smiling, excited. Old jokes abounded about grandmother's funerals, and attendance, and bosses not knowing.
The man nudged him. "Good innit?? See, we'll stuff the buggers again!!"
Dai looked at him. "Stuff who?" ... then he looked at the pitch.
Madness. Sheer, unadulterated madness. What the **** was bloody Phil Bennet doing out there? And JPR? And JJ... hold on! Gerald Davies?? Alan Martin? Bobby, and Geoff and... "What's happening??!!" Dai screamed. "I'm scared!"
"Oh, no need to be scared, but!", the ghost of rugby past gently chided him, "leave the fear to the English!".
Dai looked again... it couldn't be true could it?? Out on the pitch were fifteen men in red. And white. And nothing else. Except... the feathers. Opposite them were fifteen men in all white. No logos. No walking billboards. No bloody white Nike/Adidas boots. And the scoreboard read "Wales 0 England 3".
"Oh no", groaned Dai, "I'm confused and the bastards are still gonna beat us".
The ghost chuckled. "Just you wait and see bach. The English had the wind all first half and only kicked a penalty. Now lets see what our boys can do...."
Dai looked at the ghost. "wh... wh... what's the time?" he queried.
The ghost smiled. "1977 boy. That's all you need to know..."
Dai sat transfixed for the next forty minutes. It was 1977. Red shirts flickered to and fro in frenzied attack, mesmerising in its brilliance. White shirts floundered in desperation as their pathetic defensive efforts faltered. Gareth fed Phil... Phil kicked long.... JJ chased... Alan caught.... Gareth passed... Phil popped... and JPR scored. Dai was so happy. Oh, the greatness of those years...
All too soon, the final whistle blew. The victorious Welsh players congratulated each other, whilst their pathetic English counterparts licked their wounds. Dai found himself weeping. "That was beautiful", he sobbed "thank you, thank you ghost of rugby past. To see the silken skills of those wondrous players of yesteryear again running those wonderful backline moves... and JPR... oh... thank you!"
The ghost of rugby past patted him on the shoulder. "Oh, don't thank me, mun. Thank the most important man on the field."
"Oh, JPR... or Gareth, you mean?". Dai sniffed, chuckling through his happy tears.
The ghost's counternance clouded briefly. "No, you prat!". He thumped Dai on the shoulder. "The bloody referee of course!!" Who do you think played advantage for JPRs try? Who do you think stopped those English bastards from killing the ball and cheating in the lineouts?? The refer-bloody-ree!! We Welsh don't cheat.. I know that, and so do you, but these cheating English bastards do it all the time. It's endemic in them.. they can't stop themselves. So you need a bloody referee to stop them. See?"
Dai nodded, without thinking... "oh.. ok..." ... but things were starting to get all swirly again, and Dai felt the warm feeling in his stomach dissolve away, as his vocal chords once again dried up and his heart fell to its normal sorry state.
The ghost of rugby past had gone, and Dai found himself once again in his bed. It was all too confusing. But the dream had been a nice one... too many nightmares recently he thought to himself. Fifteen out his last sixteen dreams had been less than pleasant... he counted nowadays, he found. But his dreams would improve, he knew. The dream portion of his brain was... rebuilding itself, he mused. Yes, that was it. All would be better soon. But how he longed that he could re-dream those dreams of yesteryear again..... and Dai dropped off into sleep.
Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans wasn't sleeping well. Mrs Patel's fishheads and entrails had been long eaten by the neighbourhoods cats, but across the valley came the thump- thump- thump of an illegal rave. Occasionally the shrill blast of a whistle cut through his troubled sleep... once such a blast would have signaled yet another Bennett long range bang at goal... but today in the valleys it heralded some sweaty youth high on ecstasy getting higher and higher away from reality. Dai wondered if maybe the youth wasn't as daft as maybe he'd always thought such people were.
Dai didn't like drugs. Dai also didn't know the first thing about drugs, but it didn't stop him from getting on his soap box and discoursing at length about the evils that drugs brought. No, he would say, I have never needed drugs, and neither did my Da, and his family. Oh no, all they wanted was a few pints and some baccy. No bloody drugs for them. Me, I'll have a touch of whisky now and then, but no bloody drugs for me. True, his sister's husband beat her senseless when he'd the beer inside him, but that was because he was English, wasn't it? And his uncle Dai had died of lung cancer, but it was probably that bloody crappy old diesel van he used to drive. And half a bottle of whisky a day wasn't a lot for a man of Dai's age, was it?
"Where's the bloody light, you bastard?" a voice near his left ear complained loudly.
"Arrr!!" shouted Dai. "Who's that?".
"Don't be such a bloody Jessie, and put the light on man" insisted the voice.
Dai complied, wondering if this was the murderer.... and jumped when he saw the form slumped in the chair beside his bed. It was shabbily dressed; scuffed trouser bottoms, and an old suit jacket wearing at the elbows and sleeve-ends. The form coughed noisily, and spat onto the floor.
"F*cking lungs", it explained. "Too much f*cking coal dust, too much f*cking damp". It dug awell creased roll-up from its pocket, and fumbled for a light. "F*ck it!" snarled the form. "Where's your f*cking matches?"
Dai slid out of bed, keeping a distance from the man. This must be the murderer, he decided. Looks like one too, Dai thought. He brought the man some matches, who snatched them from his grasp. "'Bout f*cking time" snapped the man ungraciously, took a deep pull on his cigarette, and hacked ferociously for a minute or so as the nicotine and smoke curled its way around his lungs. "Took your f*cking time waking up you f*cking c*nt".
Dai didn't like this man; he was scared of him. The man reminded him of too many people he met these days; rude, inconsiderate and uncouth. The collapse of community life in South Wales following the collapse of the coal and steel industries had left many like this man devoid of self-worth, but full of self-loathing that they felt could only be assuaged by disrespect of all. Especially wankers with jobs, and missus' with bright nail polish and kids with clean shoes. And worst of all were old gits that harked about the old days all the time. Tossers.
Dai nervously watched the man finish his cigarette and crush the remnants into his threadbare carpet. He saw the glowing end flare slightly as it touched the carpet's weave before the man's scuffed shoes ground the butt-end out.
"Come on then, twat" barked the horrible man to Dai. "You're coming with me. Now!".
Dai complied, wondering what awful end he was to come to. He felt powerless to help himself. "Err... could I ask if..."
"Shattup! You've done enough f*cking talking today". The man glared at Dai, loathing in his eyes.. in his whole frame. "Put your f*cking coat on, chuff!"
Dai dressed hurriedly, never taking his eyes off the man. He'd originally thought the man was in his later forties, but he now saw that the man was at least ten years younger than that. His body was stronger too than Dai had originally thought, and when he stood, was a good six foot plus. Tall for a Welshman, thought Dai.
"I'm the ghost of rugby present" explained the man, a little more understanding and a little less hate in his voice than before. He sounded more weary than angry, Dai thought. "I've been sent to show you the error of your judgement, and what you have done for the likes of me. Come on".
The ghost of Rugby present shuffled outside the door, and into the street. Dai followed. It was cold. Very cold. Dai pulled his coat around him, and tightened his Cymru scarf. He didn't particularly like his Cymru scarf; it was red and green, with a couple of white splashes in it, and a sponsors logo splashed right across the middle of it. Dragon's adorned each end. It was all a bit tacky, Dai thought, a bit like modern television - all front and no depth. No tradition. All very... *now*. His ma used to knit him lovely scarves - long, and red and white stripes... or all red with WALES in large white letters down it. They were lovely scarves; no one else owned one like it; there were unique, and made with love. Every time he wore it, it made him think of his Ma, and of watching Wales winning. He thought about the lovely dream he'd had earlier. These modern scarves were too short, and made of nylon like stuff.... not very warm actually. And everybody had exactly the same scarf, and no-one bothered to knit them any more 'cos it takes too long, and they're only a tenner anyway....
Dai felt the pull of his heart as thought these things, and how his village had changed during his life. The ghost of rugby present trudged through the icy night silently, Dai following in his footsteps. Past the end of Dai's street, the terraces of miners, cottages like rows of books lined up the mountain sides, street lamps glowing orange in the windows. Some of the windows included some cheery, tiny plastic Christmas trees, adorned with plastic baubles and little plastic Santas, topped with a plastic star, all lit up with plastic, flashing, coloured lights. Other windows stared gauntly into the night, like eye sockets in a skull. These windows contained no trees, no baubles, no Santas, no lights. These windows were devoid of even curtains. These windows were part of cottages that were abandoned; families died out, or moved on, or thrown out as the recession of the 1980s had bit, then bit harder as pits closed and South Welsh life changed for ever. At the end of the next street, as Dai and the ghost passed it, stood a house, half raised to the ground after squatters had accidentally set fire to it. It stood there still, "Dangerous - Do Not Enter" signs on the door. The house next door was empty, so the council let the house stand. Easier and cheaper than knocking it down. Nobody cared about this village any more anyway.
On trudged the ghost. On trudged Dai. Past the pit, the huge pithead wheel glinting slightly in the moonlight, standing proud against the night sky. It had stopped turning several years ago now. No longer did men pour out of its gates when the hooter sounded. No more scrubbing Da's back in front of the fire. No more ingrained coal dust in the creases of the neck, ears, wrists, ankles. No more clanking and whirring as the great wheel would turn and turn and turn, bringing the coal to the surface, and sending the men down to the seams.
No more jobs. No more money. No more pride.
The ghost stopped. "Over here", he commanded, and swung his leg over a five bar gate. Dai wobbled on top for a moment and the ghost grabbed at his arm to steady him. "C'mon boy, don't leave me now".
Then Dai felt that swirly feeling again... but this time there was no lifting of the heart, no vocal chords straining to sing, no warm feeling in his tummy. Instead it was daylight. And it was silent.
"What's going on?" trembled Dai. "What is this?".
"This is "The Club," answered the ghost.
"Yes, I know, but why are we here?" Dai replied, "and why is it so quiet?"
"It's Saturday afternoon now" the ghost informed him. "You fell off the f*cking gate early this morning, and I've had to wait for you to come around. Funny enough, its better timing this way".
"I don't understand", said Dai. "If this is Saturday afternoon, where is everybody? Where are the players, the committee, the tea ladies, the ball boys?? Why aren't the flags out, and the post protectors up? And the first aid boys would have been here by now - they could have helped me with my concussion".
"First things first" retorted the ghost of rugby present, and spat onto the floor. "I was originally gonna bring you here to show you what an empty ground looks like, but this is now perfect." He spat again, and lit another crumpled cigarette. Dai noticed there was a small pile of discarded dog-ends at the ghost's feet. Maybe he had been there for a few hours. "Huh. Strange definition of the word 'perfect' though" muttered the ghost. "Last night, as you were making cawl and brooding about the committee meeting, another f*cking meeting was going on. A meeting of the Welsh referees. And they decided that they'd f*cking had enough. So... no payments, no referees. And all thanks to you".
The ghost's disdainful look had returned. "Thanks to you, today there is *NO* f*cking league rugby in Wales. Not one f*cking game. The most important f*cking rugby weekend in the Welsh leagues and YOU" - the ghost of rugby present was wild eyed now, spittle flecking at his lips - "YOU are the one that caused it. YOU BASTARD!!".
Dai leapt backwards, away from the ghost. "NO!" wailed Dai. "No, its not me. It's the bloody English. It's their fault. They started professionalism. They started all the arguments about money. The bloody English stole all our top players... the English even have our players signed up with bloody English agents that stop our players from playing for Wales! Its not MY bloody fault. Blame the bloody English!! Its them, them, them.... Everything is the English, fault. Their bloody ex-captain was even shagging our bloody princess!! *OUR* princess!! Not their's.... She's even got *MY* bloody name!! And all I'm trying to do is keep the game here proper. We need proper rugby, not this new 1990s stuff where players are super fit, and can all pass and tackle, and prop forwards that can run. That's what Rugby League is for, not Rugby Union!! And the referees thing is only the tip of an iceberg... but we have to make a stand. Today - referees, tomorrow... the IRB. See... it's obvious".
The ghost of rugby present sat looking at Dai. His expression softened, and changed to one of..... pity?? wondered Dai.
"You poor bastard", whispered the ghost. "You just don't see it do you?". The ghost spat a piece of stray tobacco onto the sideline. "The game has changed" he remarked softly. "Maybe too quickly, granted, but it has changed. It won't change back. And we all have to live with that, and make it work best for us... for WALES" he hissed. "Today we are the laughing stock of the Rugby world; no f*cking rugby because the referees are on f*cking strike. And it's your fault."
Dai fought back the tears of righteousness. "But look, see" his voice wavered, "I'm right. A small period of foolishness from these silly referees then we're back on track".
"Don't be daft", snapped the ghost. "No rugby. The players miss out, the clubs miss out, the spectators miss out... and the kids miss out. They are the future, and they are missing out now. The likes of me look forward to their rugby every weekend - it's the highlight of their mundane life - life on the dole with no money, or stuck in a dead end factory job, being made redundant every six months, wondering how they're gonna feed the kids, keep a roof over their heads, keep their missus' from running off with some flash git with a wallet. We can come to the game on a Saturday and lose ourselves for an hour and a half. Regain some self-respect, some feeling of worth, especially if we're playing. But that's lost today - the most important weekend of the year".
"Anyhow, time I was history" said the ghost of rugby present, not realizing the potential humour in what he was saying. "Just think about what I was saying, chuff". And with that, the ghost of rugby present flicked his half-smoked cigarette at Dai, and walked off... through a hedge.
Dai shook his head. He wasn't feeling at all well. First that nice dream. And then that horrible rude man shouting at him. A Welshman at that. He could understand an Englishman shouting at him - they were coarse bullies with as much guts when the chips were down, Dai would often tell himself. And he knew that he was right. He was always right. He hated the English.. Always had done. Probably always would. Bastards.
He shuffled off down the hill, carefully negotiating the gate this time. Down past the pit, into the village, past the burnt out squat, into his street. Past the skulls eyes, and the pathetic modern plastic Christmas trees that he hated almost as much as the English, to his house. He fumbled with his keys in the lock.
"Hello Mr. Evans". A small voice called up to him from somewhere near his knees.
"Oh, hello... err... Timmy", replied Dai. Stupid English name, thought Dai. Why can't a Welsh lad have a good Welsh name like Gareth... or Dai. Too many bloody poncy English names around these days. Next thing you know we'll have somebody named bloody Rupert playing for Wales. How could you be called "Rupert" and play for Wales, he wondered. Still, Timmy was a good lad, seven years old, his neighbour's son. Not Mrs. Patel's son, mind - she and Mr. Patel had all daughters, five of them, and they spent all their time out the back of their takeaway shop cutting up fish and making funny smelling things. "Always polite, mind", Dai would say "but I don't have anything to do with them; they have funny ideas about things".
"There's no rugby on today Mr. Evans" sniffed Timmy, and Dai realised that Timmy was crying.
"What's the matter Timmy?", asked Dai. "Have you been fighting with that nasty English boy in the next street? Jack Dowell is it? His name I mean?"
Timmy wiped his arm on his sleeve. "No, Mr. Evans. It's because of no rugby. There's no rugby today because the referees want money for it, and Cardiff won't pay them."
Dai chuckled. "Don't worry, Timmy. I know there's no rugby today, butty, but don't worry, soon the referees will realise it's only the English making life difficult and it'll all be OK".
"Oh, I don't know Mr. Evans" snuffled Timmy. "But the worst thing is my Da's home from Aberdeen for the weekend, back from work; he has to work there 'cos he couldn't find any other work for his skills see. I haven't seen him for a month, and he promised he'd take me to the rugby match today and I could sit on his shoulders. Now there's no rugby, he can't take me, and him and Ma have had an argument over it, and Ma's crying now, and he's gone back to work in Aberdeen 'cos he said it's a waste of time here with no rugby when he could be earning before he gets laid off at Christmas." Timmy burst into tears, and hugged Dai's knees sobbing uncontrollably.
"There, there Timmy", soothed Dai. Dai was a bit soft on kids; he remembered how mighty his own Da was, and how proud he'd felt watching his Da play, or just being with him if Da was injured and couldn't play. A lump formed in his own throat. "Your Da and Ma will be ok, Timmy. Don't worry."
Timmy looked up at Dai. Large tears shimmered in the pools that were momentarily his eyes. "Mr. Evans" he pleaded, "You have something to do with the men in Cardiff. I know, I heard my Da say so. Could you get the referees paid?? So the rugby would be on again, and my Da would come home, and love my Ma again?? Please?? Please Mr. Evans??"
Dai coughed away the lump in his throat, and started to fumble with his keys again, not wanting Timmy to see his own tears welling up at this little boy's simple faith and trust.
"I'll see what I can do...", he found himself saying. "I... I... I'll see" he stammered lamely... and let himself in.
Inside, the bedsit was dark. The carpet had a burn mark in it, and the cawl pots were unwashed on the table. The bread lay stale on the floor beside the fire, and there were mouse droppings beside recently nibbled cheese. Dai felt sick - he must be coming down with something he told himself. Stupid dreams, strange people that swore at him, and Timmy crying had upset him. He crawled into bed, determined to sleep this bug through.
Probably something the bloody English put in the water supply he mooted as he drifted off into a slumber...
Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans wasn't sleeping well. He tossed and turned in his bed, as the lump on his head throbbed and throbbed. Timmy's tearful face swam before him.... then the uncouth man that called himself the ghost of rugby present... then the friendly man - the ghost of rugby past - with his big sideburns and toothy grin.... and JPR, and big Mervyn, and Gareth, and the Pontypool front row... then the English flag.... and the letters he read in the paper from some bastard Englishman named Garage, always ridiculing Wales. In and out of his troubled sleep these images swam, interspersed with snatches of song... deep, rich baritones singing those song's Dai never understood.... then squawking, uncultured voices shouting Ole...
Dai did not sleep well. Eventually, he woke, and stirred. He didn't feel rested, just awake. But at least all those silly dreams had ended. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed. And stopped.
Not again. Surely not.
There, across the room, sat at the table that the ghost of rugby present had sat at, was another man. This was getting ridiculous thought Dai. Not another bloody dream.
"Now look here", commanded Dai, trying to sound stern. "This has gone quite far..."
"Hey, my main man!!" exclaimed the new man. "Yo alive at last!! I've been waiting ages for you to awaken, old boy!"
Dai stopped. This was all to horrible to contemplate. He had half crossed the room, and could now see the man fully. "Bizarre" was one word that sprang to Dai's mind. "Awful" was another. And there was his voice as well, and speech mannerisms - sound of American, but so English. "Bizarre, awful Englishman" also slipped across his mind.
The man was dressed head to foot in a green, shiny suit. Red images flashed through it, and white numbers.
"Yes indeedy, doody, dardy" beamed the newcomer to Dai's nightmare. "You are here, and so am I - that means it's time for the game!!"
"What game? Who are you? What are you doing here". Dai was too bemused to really take in any answer, but the man stopped, looked sideways, looked back at Dai, and answered. "Questions. Questions. Questions. Not, one, not two, but three. Yessirree.
Three questions.... in the question zone!! So here we go! Three questions gives us a starter for ten!!"
Dai's head swam All the other bad dreams were exactly that, but this really was a nightmare. Nothing made sense.
"Hey, so, question number one. What game?? Easy answer my friend - the Rugby World Cup Final, the year, 2107.
"Question number two. Who are you? I am the ghost of rugby future. Another easy answer.
"Question number three. What am I doing here? Well, another easy answer. To show what your decision has come to!!
And now... your virtual trip to the RWC 2107!!
Dai thought he was going to throw up. Something was definitely wrong. Where his bedsit wall used to be was a large pulsating convex perspex dome. Lights inside it were flashing on and off. "What's that?" he garbled.
"Hey relax chum tum fun!" Gurgled the ghost of rugby future. This IS rugby coverage in the year 2107. First your virtual trip to the game, then the game itself live from the Birmingham Super Bowl, between the Southern Hemisphere Super-Runners, and England!!"
"England!", squawked Dai. "England! They can't play rugby. England are useless. They have crap players, and import even crappier ones. How can they be in the final? What about Wales?"
The ghost of rugby future squirmed a little. "Ah... I was hoping you wouldn't ask that question. At least not yet." He looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Could I answer that one later? I tell you what-a-roony, we'll take that virtual trip first. Hang on to your seat over there... here we go!!".
The huge convex dome began to expand and with horror Dai saw it was going to crush him against the wall.... then it moved past him, or through him. Which he didn't know, but he now saw that there was nothing beneath his feet, except a vastness of concrete, covered neatly in rows of what could have been cars.
"Help!" screamed Dai, "I'll fall."
"No need to panic" soothed the ghost of rugby present "this is virtual reality, and I'm its controller. You're perfectly safe all the time you are with me. Here we go." And off sped the ghost and Dai across the immense wasteland of parked... well... cars.
"What is this?" asked Dai.
"Ah..." mumbled the ghost of rugby future. Much harder than your first questions. You're a difficult competitor." All of which meant nothing to Dai. "This is ... ahhh.... Wales", the ghost of rugby future added quickly. "Isn't this a lovely day?".
"Wales?" queried Dai, weakly. "What do you mean this is Wales?". This really was getting too much.
"Errr... yes" the ghost replied guiltily. Well, actually, its South Wales. Mid-Wales is a training camp for the SAS, and North Wales is now owned by Liverpool Football Club as a soccer nursery."
"Well, you see, after the Tories had won their twentieth consecutive election victory in 2076, all the other parties disbanded due to lack of support, and the UK became a one party state. Well, England and Wales that is. Scotland and Ireland had become sovereign states after the Celtic Wars in 2070. After six years of bloody fighting, a truce was agreed and the other two nations went their own way. Wales however was left to the English by the other two. As a sign of their displeasure of their participation in the Celtic Wars, England sold off South and North Wales to private concerns, and kept mid-Wales to train soldiers against any further uprisings. South Wales has become a huge carpark to store all the cars in the UK. You see, the roads got so full, there was no room for the cars, so the government parked them all here, and people now travel by bus. Simple." The ghost flashed a quick smile at Dai, but it was less than convincing.
"But what has this got to do with me?" questioned Dai. Why am I here?
"Hmmmm.... another toughie... look, I'll tell you soon. Our virtual trip is nearly over, and we'll soon be at the ground."
Dai noticed that lights were approaching rapidly, and soon they were outside the ground. Dai was surprised. It was hardly any bigger than Ninian Park.
"Hey" said Dai. "This is Ninian Park".
"Err... yes" remarked the ghost of rugby future, "it is. The English kept it as a memento. It's now known as the Birmingham Super Bowl. Or Carlingsville. You see, Rugby's first Rugby Billionaire - some chap called Carling - bought the ground it now stands on to house all the royal princesses he'd err... met... or something....".
Dai was fuming. Bloody English. How dare they. How dare they desecrate his nation? Bastards.
They entered the ground. Dai was stunned. The ground was empty.
"Hold on" said Dai, "this is the world cup final. Where are the crowds?"
"Aha!" exclaimed the ghost of rugby present. There are no crowds. Everyone watches at home, as you and I are actually doing.... " and as he said it the dome slipped back past Dai and he was back in his bedsit with the ghost.
"Fun, what?" sneered the ghost, not a little nastily Dai thought.
"Not at all" chided Dai. "That's not real television. Real television has knobs and dials, and an aerial, and if it goes wrong you can hit it."
"Well, that's where you're wrong" smirked the ghost. "Then he added in a nasty voice "and it's all your doing!"
"My fault!" squawked Dai. "Rubbish!! You've told me it's all the English so far - it seems a typical bloody English plot. Sais scum!"
"That's where you're wrong again" interjected the ghost of rugby future. "Very wrong indeed. I suggest you listen carefully...
"You see, after you refused payments to referees, the referees went on strike. And stayed on strike. For years!! Consequently, rugby in Wales fell apart. All the players were FORCED to go to play in England... as a consequence of that Wales degenerated as a nation completely and fell into a bunch of bickering idiots until swamped by the English. The Celtic Wars were a direct result of this; Ireland and Scotland refused to have anything to do with you as a nation, and a terrorist, guerilla warfare began. England stepped into Wales as a "policing" maneuver, ... and started the Celtic Wars. You know already the outcome.
"As a result of Welsh players moving to England, they eventually became assimilated into the English system. The result was a rugby powerhouse - English brawn, Welsh silken skills. England have won the last ten Rugby World Cup finals. The Southern Hemisphere now simply plays as a single entity to attempt to compete, whilst the other nations just run a little side show to the main event. There are no qualifying matches, just a Southern Hemisphere v. England game every four years.
"Meanwhile, something very radical occurred. The English referees had finally struck in support of their Welsh counterparts to attempt to alter the tide. Rugby was threatened completely. But the RFU saw the writing on the wall and brought in their chief rugby advisor. Murdoch. Murdoch sold the IRB the idea that referees were irrelevant - take multi-angle cameras, connected to a supercomputer, and you have the perfect "referee." No human error, no mistakes... the perfect game. Of course, only Murdoch could supply such a solution quickly, before the rot set in in England as well. And so the running of the game was handed to his corporation. And who still run the game today. Of course, as media moguls they saw the potential that other sports had to offer, and the laws that interrupted the flow of the game for spectator appeal, and eventually evolved what is known today as 'American Rugby Rules'. Enjoy the game..."
Dai watched in horror as the game unveiled itself before him.... twenty two players on each team... huge crash helmets... each player individually miked up with helmet camera.... very tight shorts pulled high into the crotch.... the game played on a ground the size of a cricket oval.... no scrums.... no offside.... no kicking... no referees.... no goals..... just mayhem.... total mayhem...... and over the commentary the piped in sounds of the fans at home... chanting.... Ole Ole Ole Ole.......
Dai felt his world spinning.... surely it couldn't be... surely not... he staggered towards the perspex. "No..." cried the ghost of rugby present "it may be virtual but you are in it inside the perspex....".
A huge eight foot Maori moving at 70 mph appeared briefly on Dai's right and hit him like an express train. As he was flung aside like a flag doll, just as he passed out he was sure he heard the Maori cry "Another English Pizza!!".....
Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans wasn't sleeping well. That is, he wasn't sleeping, and he wasn't well. He came round in a heap, in the corner of his bedsit. His body hurt.
Seriously. He felt as if he'd been beaten to a pulp, and he could feel a lump on his head throbbing. Slowly he opened his eyes.
The bedsit was as it had ever been. The pots were still on the table, unwashed. The cheese was a little more nibbled, and his sheets lay half on the bed and half on the floor. Everything was normal... except one chair was on its side, and he was crumpled in a corner. He tried to stand. His limbs complained as he stood and straightened, and he was cold... he must have been laying there for some considerable time.
The milkman passed by outside, whistling tunelessly, bottles clinking as he dropped off today's milk to the houses around.
Dai groaned inwardly. Another awful dream, he remembered. Tentatively he straightened his limbs; they complained as he tried. His left foot had gone to sleep, and he pushed off his shoe and massaged the leaden appendage as his confused mind reviewed the previous day's and night's happenings. Dreams? Or reality?
Dai didn't really know... they seemed so vivid... so real... but, so bizarre. Especially that last one. However, he couldn't doubt that he had come around at "The Club"; he couldn't deny that someone, or something had finished the cawl in the saucepan. Neither could he repudiate the messages his aching body was sending his befuddled brain. "It must be the 'flu" Dai told himself, "or a freak, bastard English bacteriological warfare germ escape" and he stood, circulation restored to his foot.
Standing up, a little unsteadily, he surveyed his bedsit. It was not a pretty sight. Dirty pans, dirty clothes, dirty floor. What would his Ma have said? She kept a spotlessly clean house, and spotlessly clean children... not to mention a spotlessly clean husband once scoured of the dust and grime from the pit, or mud from the pitch. "What was it all about" wondered Dai - why have I ended up here, alone, in a grotty bedsit in what used to be a pub until it was forced to close during the mid-eighties. The dreary, grey, December light filtered through his grimy window and did nothing to improve the view. Feeling a little sick, Dai began to tidy his room - clothes in a laundry basket, the discarded food in the hearth, the bedclothes remade into a semblance of order, with pillows plumped up.
He shuffled to the table, and began stacking the dirty saucepans, now coated in a thin layer of grease, or the small crumbs of food left caked on, dried out. The gas heater beside the sink spluttered on as he ran some less-than-hot water into the sink. The events of the past thirty-six hours now left him confused. Real or imaginary? He knew he was awake now - the throbbing in his head and body told him that. Where had those bruises come from he wondered? The scourer in his hand rubbed hard against the encrusted food on the saucepan, but Dai's mind was still elsewhere... "and what did those dreams mean?". Were they dreams? Or did those men - ghosts ?? - really visit him. Now he was drying, the sodden tea-towel (WRU, made in China) a blur as it flicked over the damp sides of the now clean pile of washing-up. Timmy he knew had happened - he could see the young boy's tears, feel his anguish over the events of yesterday.
Dai flopped into a chair, and leant on his table. It was all too confusing; and too surreal.
Something caught his eye; something on the floor, against the wall, that he'd missed earlier. Sighing, he pulled himself out of his chair, and slouched over to the offending matter. He picked it up, and flipped it over to see what it was.
If Dai had been in a film, at this juncture the director would have inserted screeching violins, a la Psycho. The screen would be filled with the article in Dai's hands, and a blood-curdling scream may well have been heard. Dai's eyes bulged - those violins were screeching in his head - his heart was thumping, and the blood roared in his ears. Wha.. why... how.... Incomprehension filled his brain.
The magazine Dai held fell to the floor as it slipped from his fingers. Its cover now lay upmost... "Rugby World Cup Final 2107" its title announced, "England v. Southern Hemisphere". A large picture adorned the front page - a huge superhuman figure replete with enormous helmet, wearing too tight shorts...
Dai sank to his knees. The horror was washing through him as he realised what this meant. Friday night, Saturday, the ghosts of Rugby Past, Present and Future, the Celtic Wars... England - bloody England - the dominant rugby force in the world. He began to sob. It would all come true. All of it. And his beloved Wales would be a bloody car park, army assault course and a bloody football school. His countrymen dissipated throughout the United Kingdom, or worse, mainly England, to cross-breed with those bastards; his heritage buried beneath tarmac. An image swam through his mind... Timmy, crying.... no Rugby... and then the ghost of Rugby Future, smiling nastily through his tears "... and it's all YOUR fault!"
"NO!!" cried out Dai, "No! It mustn't happen. I can see it's my fault... I didn't mean it... but it mustn't happen.... ". Dai's world collapsed. Everything he believed in was now shattered.... he'd only tried to do what was right for Welsh rugby, he was sure. But he had now seen that that would not work. He had to correct matters. His brain screamed at him to right the wrong... his conscience demanded it. His gut instincts told him he had been right... but Timmy's face once again cried up at him "... no rugby....", and then again "Mr. Evans.. You have something to do with the men in Cardiff. I know, I heard my Da say so. Could you get the referees paid?? So the rugby would be on again, and my Da would come home, and love my Ma again?? Please?? Please Mr. Evans??"
Before he fully comprehended his actions, Dai was scrambling for the phone. The number he knew so well rattled via his fingers into the phone. It rang once, twice.. three times.
"Hello? WRU. Can I help you?". The voice was stern, and worried all at once. It spoke of hours of angst and talking. The voice was tired, and hinted that it's owner was almost past caring. And it was the voice that Dai wanted to speak to; the voice of his boss, VP.
"VP, its me. Dai. Dai Evans".
"Oh. You! You've done enough damage already. What the hell do you want now?". The voice of VP was full of distaste.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking" began Dai..
"You've been doing a lot of thinking!!" raged VP, the emphasis on the first word. "So have I. So have the WRU committee boyo! And so has bloody Murdoch, apparently. I've just got off the phone from him, some cock and bull idea about computerised referees! You'd better make this quick 'cos I've got a call from that git Hallett coming through any minute. No doubt to bloody crow over us. Get on with it."
Dai took a deep breath. "I've changed my mind. I want the referees to be paid. I retract everything I said to the committee. And I'm sorry." There, he'd said it. He'd done everything he had to. He'd done what the ghosts had asked him. He'd done what Timmy had asked him. It hurt inside, but he knew it was the best for the future. He'd seen the future after all, and it was a damn sight worse than paying referees. Anything to stop the bloody English winning all the time...
VP was silent. Dai started "VP, I sai...".
The voice was calm. Collected. Dai somehow felt VP's brain ticking over. "Good. Good, Dai, good. That's very good. Thank you... thank you for changing your mind." A small pause. "Errr.... why have you changed your mind, incidentally?".
Dai almost grinned. "Some... friends... explained a few things to me" he replied, and felt a warming in his stomach. A feeling he hadn't had... since Friday night he suddenly realised, with a start, when he was with the ghost of Rugby Past. But before then.... oh... so long, long ago.
"Right, leave it to me" said VP brusquely down the phone. "This is what we are going to do. I'm going to tell Hallett and Murdoch to get stuffed. I'll enjoy that bit" VP laughed, "then I'll phone the referee's society. I know they'll be happy - they didn't want this stand-off in the first place I know. Then we'll issue a press release. And, yes, that's it! We'll say that you brokered the deal, Dai, and you will be the hero of the hour. A victory for the small man, the supporter, if you like. Much better than us glory boys taking all the credit, eh? What do you say Dai?"
"Yes,... yes... OK VP.... if you think that's best" choked Dai "whatever you say. And I'm sorry".
VP closed the line, and the phone in Dai's hand clicked dead. In Cardiff VP sighed a huge sigh of relief. "Thank God for that" he muttered, "and now, if it all goes wrong again, it will appear as if Dai Evans was to blame. If it works... well, fifteen minutes of fame, eh, gentlemen?" Around the table facing Pugh, faces smiled and laughed. Murdoch, Hallett, and referees. This bloke VP knows a thing or two, they smirked to themselves.
It was soon all over the news. The strike was off, and the referees were back in the fold; rugby would return after Christmas. South Wales was awash with happiness. Midday news bulletins carried Dai's picture, while the early editions of the Saturday Pinks screamed headlines "Dai Does it for Wales", and "Evans above - he's saved the Game!", and the next day's Sunday Shit sheets ran "Dai Evans in Gay Bishop, Fergie love triangle."
Dai was a hero. A man that could seemingly do no wrong. The committee from "The Club" awarded him honorary life membership, and a seat on that committee. Shortly afterwards, their lottery grant was approved and a gleaming new clubhouse was built, with a solid wooden bar serving draught Brains - the "Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans Bar" it was named. And an area to the side of the bar, a small, raised dais, was named "Da, Dai and Billy's Place"... and now Dai would stand there with the rest of the club and sing those long, complicated songs in a language none of them spoke any more (due to those bastard Englishman over a hundred years ago), and the pride would fill Dai's heart to bursting, as the photo's of his Da, and Uncle Dai and cousin Billy looked down from the wall.
But the thing that meant the most to Dai after all was said and done was not "The Club." Nor was it the kudos of being a national hero. Nor was it the knowledge that he had changed the future course of Welsh rugby. Not even knowing that England would not, after all, become the de facto rugby power in the world. It was when a small boy, aged around seven, came bounding up to him in the street, happiness shining in his eyes, and shouted
"Mr. Evans! Mr. Evans! Have you heard?? The rugby's on, and my Dad's coming home... he loves my mum, and he's going to take me to the rugby on Saturday!! Thank You Mr. Evans, thank you! I knew you wouldn't let me down!! I knew you were a kind man that could help. Thank you, thank you!!". Timmy's face was a picture of joy - of childlike innocence, and total trust.
And Dai knew that he had, after all, done the right thing.... for Wales... for Rugby.... for the future....
And bugger the English
Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans was a happy man. Exceptionally happy. In the year that had passed since the great referees strike, he had gone from strength to strength. Maybe not at work - he was still a minor cog in the "Match Officials, Laws and Related Issues Sub- Committee" at the WRFU - but certainly in his home life. Not to mention that around him.
A large Japanese computer manufacturer, backed by a huge German electronics company, had announced plans to build a factory only ten miles away from Llantrwnty; soon, employment had picked up. The Pit was to be turned into a living, and working, museum - the huge wheel was due to start turning again in a few weeks now, only this time taking tourists down to a few seams, each displaying artefacts and information about coal mining in the area through the ages. True, it wouldn't be like the days of old, but it would be a link with the past and the village's identity as a community. And while it may not employ hundreds of men as it had in the past, it would provide useful employment for the young, elderly, and part-time workforce in the village whilst the main workers were hopefully working at the electronics plant, bussed in everyday by company transportation.
The council had been busy too and EU funds made available to help improve the area had been spent well; streets cleaned for the first time in years, and the whole place given a lick of paint. Grants were now available for house improvements, and Dai had been able to get one.... but that's all a little too quick....
Megan Phillips had returned from New Zealand the previous summer - her parents had died old and happy, and left her a sheep farm. She'd divorced her Kiwi husband before this - some story about bribes to bookies in England or other - and not fancying running a sheep farm on her own, had sold up and returned to her roots. The old flame still burnt... true, it had merely flickered for a few weeks after her return, and Dai had visited to welcome her back, but soon it had become a raging inferno, and the two had married in a simple service held, under the new laws in England & Wales, in the "Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans" bar, at "The Club". They had bought the two houses at the end of the next street, and with that council improvement grant had turned them into a homely four bedroomed house. Megan had also returned from New Zealand with a little other baggage - a twenty year old son from her previous marriage, but even Josh had accepted Dai as his father, called him "Da", and sang with him and the boys at "Da, Dai and Billy's Place" after the games, where he had slotted in nicely as openside flank forward ... just as had Dai's cousin Billy almost half a century before. Life was just grand, Dai said to himself... just grand.
The doorbell rang. Dai shook himself out of his daydream... he'd been reliving the previous Five Nations match, at Cardiff, between Wales and England where Wales had stuffed those Sais gits 34-26, abetted by some intriguing refereeing decisions by Brian Stirling. "S'funny" thought Dai; it was Wednesday afternoon, and he'd taken the day off for the hell of it. Megan was shopping, and Josh was at work in the electronics plant. Nobody knew he was at home, apart from them, and work.
He opened the door. Standing before him was a woman in her late forties, Dai guessed. Nothing spectacular about her, other than she wasn't from around these parts - Dai had never seen her before. "Hello, can I help you?" enquired Dai.
"Dai Evans?" she asked.
"Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans?"
"Yes, that's me" replied Dai.
"Of referees strike fame?"
Dai inwardly groaned. Another nutter, he thought, come to thank him and praise him for saving the game. Most of them had given up just a short while, and the vast majority had mostly written, or caught him in the street. None of them had actually come to his house before. And this one was definitely English - her awful East End vowels and lack of consonants came through most gratingly. He didn't get too many Englishmen thanking him for saving rugby. "Typical", he'd always thought, "bloody rude lot anyway, the lot of 'em".
"Yes. Guilty as charged" Dai smiled back. He'd long given up being short and rude with people - "Life's too short" he'd say.
"Oh, marvellous" sighed the woman. "I've been searching for you for over a month now!! My name's Mavis Bogglethwaite." And Mavis Bogglethwaite stuck out her hand.
"Pleased to meet you" automated Dai, and shook the woman's hand. "But, err... how can I help you?"
"Oh, it's me that can help you, Mr. Evans" beamed the woman.
"Oh no" thought Dai. "It's worse than I imagined. It's the bloody Jehovah's Witnesses".
"Or should I call you David?" chuckled Mavis Bogglethwaite.
"Ugh?" grunted Dai, momentarily surprised.
"David Larry Glen Evans, that is" continued Mavis. "You see, a few months ago I came across an old newspaper I'd wrapped some stuff up in for the jumble. And there was this picture of you shaking hands with a referee and the story said that you'd broken the strike that the referees had and that rugby was once again being played." Mavis took a breath. "Of course, its not as good as when that nice Eddie Waring used to do it on the telly" she added. Dai winced internally. What was this stupid English woman on about?
"Anyhow, when I read the rest, all about you, I began to wonder... I see I'm going too fast for you. During the war, my grandparents had their two very young children evacuated, a boy and a girl - the girl was my mum. However, my grandparents were killed in the blitz, and my mum and her brother got split up - things were very hectic of course. At the end of the war, mum was returned to London, to relatives, that brought her up. However, she never knew what happened to her brother, who never returned. However, after I found your newspaper cutting I began to dig deeper."
"Wait a minute" Dai interjected, "I really don't want to be rude, but what has all this to do with me?"
"Well" replied Mavis, a chance to take a breath having been forced upon her, "It's like this. Apparently, a couple in this village took my mum's brother, my uncle of course, in, but never returned him. I found out that at the end of the war, no-one could find his papers - everything was so confused in them days - so they didn't know what to do with him. The police and the council and everybody said that he would have to go into an orphanage, but the couple decided that having raised him for so long from such an early age that they would adopt him. His name was David Larry Glen Snatch. And after all this time I've been able to locate him... it's you!! Hello Uncle Dave!!" And the woman grabbed him, threw her arms around him, and kissed him on the cheek.
"Urh??? What??" stammered Dai. "Don't be daft! My Da and Ma are my Da and Ma... but they are dead now, see. You must have the wrong man".
"No...." smiled the woman. "You see, I tracked down one of your brothers, Alun, a hairdresser in London, and he verified that your mum and dad adopted you. They were all sworn never to tell you, and I guess no-one ever did, not even your mum and dad here. They changed your name, to fit in, to Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans... but you are David Larry Glen Snatch."
Dai felt giddy. He held onto the door for support. Adopted? Surely not... but it would explain why all his family were strong, while he was weak... they were stocky while he was slight... but how could this be true?.. this village was his life, his job his comfort, that business last year his crowning moment of glory for Welsh rugby....
"Oh my God" he suddenly exclaimed. "If I am who you say I am, and my real mother and father were both English, and I was adopted by my Da and Ma, that means...."
"Yes, that's right" gushed Mavis Bogglethwaite, "isn't it funny?? After all this time, you're really ENGLISH!!"
Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans was a happy man. He was also an extremely sweaty and muddy man. He'd never felt so bloody tired in his life, he thought, as he slowly climbed the concrete steps that seemed to be going on for ever. A bead of sweat rolled into his right eye, and stung, until he brushed it aside with a red sleeve. The noise around him was incredible too - hurting his eardrums almost, as his head was pounding with the large black eye that was swelling ever more on the left side of his face. Unknown people were thumping him lightly on the back, his muscles wincing at each fresh slap, after all the punishment his body had taken. But this was a proud moment, he thought to himself; not just for himself, but for all of us. And if were here today, my Grand-Da would be the happiest man alive I'm sure, Dai told himself.
Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans. My Grand-Da. The man that led me to being here... not my real grand-father, Dai knew, but the man that had been his Grand-Da. The man that had shown him his own love of the game of Rugby, that had become his own love. From those chilly Sunday mornings at mini-rugby at "The Club", to Colts, to Llantrwnty 1st XV, to Cardiff... and then ... the choice. Standing at his Grand-Da's bed, the old man too weak to move now.
"What do I do Grand-Da?" he'd asked, "who do I choose? They both want me. Which is right?". The old man had smiled at him.
"Dai, my boy" he'd answered "only you can answer that question. The answer is in your heart. Your heart will tell you which to choose. And remember, whichever it is, I am so very proud of you. It doesn't matter to me which it is... I am at peace with myself".
And Dai had known when he'd searched his heart. And he knew it was right.
That had been three years ago. And this was today. Grand-Da wasn't here now.. but somehow Dai could feel him smiling down upon him.
Dai shook King William's hand, and nodded at whatever his monarch had said. It didn't matter any more. This was for Grand-Da. He turned and Cardiff Arms Park, resplendent in a sea of red and white, to a man rose to him and roared louder again as Dai Llewellyn Glendywer Evans, captain of Wales in the year 2027, raised the Rugby World Cup above his head.
All material copyright Ian Diddams