Of course, it’s kicked up a bit of a debate. The most senior voice to comment has been England’s left-back Luke Shaw, who said yesterday the Three Lions would never celebrate another team’s demise how Wales did.
“I think we are a respectful group. We do things in the right way,” he revealed, speaking from Qatar. “That’s the example Gareth [Southgate] wants to set. We are fully behind that. We are fully respectful. That’s the way Gareth sets us out to be.”
Shaw may never explicitly use the word ‘disrespectful’, but it’s certainly implied. England are doing things right and respectfully; the video of the Welsh squad celebrating England’s loss to Iceland is an example of doing things wrong and disrespectfully.
Wales’ celebrations were, it must be said, hysterical. The only time I can recall such bedlam among a team witnessing a rival lose is Leicester, limbs flying as Eden Hazard’s goal sank Tottenham back in 2015/16. The difference then – and it is a fundamental difference – was that Chelsea’s 2-0 win sealed Leicester City’s Premier League title. It confirmed one of sporting history’s most improbable, impressive, and historical feats.
Leicester celebrated their victory rather than Tottenham’s loss. We cannot say the same for Wales. England losing to Iceland meant little to Wales’ chances of success. The Iceland tie was on the other side of the draw, and England bowing out in such dramatic fashion in no way aided the impressive Welsh run to the semi-final. Yet here they were, crowded around a cinema screen, stars of Wales at the centre of the celebrations.
Was it excessive and a bit silly? In my opinion, yes. Many of the Welsh players played in England. Many of the Welsh players were indeed born in England, and it was a rare example where the blind tribalism of football is on clear display from the professionals and not just the fans.
But was it disrespectful? Absolutely not. That blind tribalism does exist, and Welsh players did nothing cardinally wrong nor conduct themselves unbecomingly. A Southgate-led England can go about matters however they please. I sincerely hope that involves battering Wales tomorrow evening, but celebrating the loss of a rival in a major competition is not disrespectful.
Because, fundamentally, the home nation teams are rivals, which is particularly fervent when facing England. I wonder if the English don’t realise quite how deep the resentment is towards their national sports teams. For Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, England is the biggest rival there is – it is the ultimate scalp.
This is not an affront, but rather a mark of begrudging respect. The English are the dominant force in British sport. As a Scottish rugby fan, the Calcutta Cup is my favourite sporting contest of the year, above all else. The result of that match will determine my mood for days. It is one of the key factors in deciding whether or not Scotland have had a successful Six Nations. Beating England means bragging rights for a year. The Calcutta Cup is important to England, but undeniably to a lesser extent.
The Welsh celebration was excessive back in 2016 simply because it did not benefit them, beyond Wales marching onward while England crashed out. I would argue a little grin would be more fitting than absolutely losing it, as they did, but their excitement only highlights English sporting supremacy in the same way my fixation on the Calcutta Cup does.
We base our success on how we fare against England. If England fans choose to take that as disrespect, so be it. In actuality, it’s quite the reverse.