I am not a patriot. I don’t really feel like I’ve got any right to be.
When I plopped into this world pink and screeching at Merthyr General Hospital in the early 80s, it wasn’t because I’d spent hours poring over Trip Advisor reviews and weighing up the pros and cons of existing in South Wales, as opposed to say, the Bahamas – it just sort of happened.
Equally, I didn’t have to earn my nationality through a series of Herculean Celtic challenges like extreme sheep shearing, speed eating leeks or remembering how to spell the unabbreviated version of Llanfair PG backwards.
And yet, along with many of my traditionally short, dark and hairy brethren (we’re bred for mining, after all), there are a few months of the year when I do temporarily give a toss which side of the Severn Bridge I come from.
I’m talking, of course, about the Six Nations. That magical time of year when the Land of Our Fathers becomes suffused with an intoxicating blend of extreme violence, good-natured xenophobia towards our nearest neighbours and hazardous levels of binge drinking. A bit like the Ukraine, only without the surface-to-air-missiles.
As long as we beat the English…
For that magical two and a half month period, watching thirty mud slathered orcs smashing into each other at full pelt like rutting buffalo really brings out the national pride in us.
The people of Wales become united in a vocal desire to visit great vengeance and furious anger upon our sporting nemeses – foremost among them being the England rugby team, of course.
Why such rivalry? Part of it is a class thing I think. In Wales, it doesn’t matter if you’re a farm boy from Anglesey or a gobby little chav from Newport – provided you’ve got the skills and a complete disregard for your own health and safety, you could conceivably play rugby for your country.
Playing for England on the other hand generally involves owning a Range Rover and going to Hogwarts.
But I think it’s simpler than that. I’m an only child, so I can only base this on my observations of others, but I get the impression that everyone would quite like to kick their big brother in the bollocks now and then – perhaps in retaliation for the Chinese burns, wedgies and myriad other indignities inflicted on them by their older sibling when they were kids.
Deep anthropological and sociological questions aside, how exactly should one ‘do’ the Six Nations in Cardiff for maximum effect?
If you want to truly experience the highs and lows of the Northern Hemisphere’s premiere odd-shaped ball extravaganza, the first thing you should do is chuck your overpriced tickets away. It’ll be freezing in the stadium, the bar is bloody miles away from your seat and you’ll probably be sat behind a pillar unless you’re Prince William.
As Sham 69 prophetically announced, we’re going down the pub.
Home field advantage
In 11 years of living in Cardiff I have watched Six Nations rugby everywhere from stalwart old-school boozers such as The Goat Major or the dearly departed Little O’Neills, to lower St Mary Street hellholes like Missoula and everywhere in between. I’ve learned that there are three key elements to the perfect match day pub.
First of all, it needs to be full. Not just ordinary Saturday night full. It has to be absolutely fire-safety-baulkingly, horrifyingly rammed. Like, unauthorised sequel to The Human Centipede levels of overcrowding. It’s not the Six Nations unless getting to the bar and back takes the first quarter of an hour of the game.
A toilet visit, even just for a wee, should encompass the entire half time break. Typically you’ll get back to your spot precisely 20 seconds after Jamie Roberts scores a spectacular 42nd minute try, so you’ll even miss the replay.
I won’t sugar coat it – it’s going to be horrible at least 93% of the time. You’ll be afloat in a roiling sea of stinking beery guff, and you’ll probably have to dislocate your neck just to be able to see the TV.
But I swear to you, it will be worth it.
The electric, visceral thrill of too many people in too small a space, all getting excited about the same thing at the same time, is magical.
After Biggar does his little heads-shoulders-knees-and-toes routine and that ball sails between the posts, the room will ex-fucking-plode, and you will feel a rush of heart-bursting joy that cannot be rivalled without the assistance of industrial grade pharmaceuticals.
If only you could actually get to the bar for a celebratory pint.
It’s Brains you want
Which brings me neatly to the next consideration for the ideal match day pub – the beverage selection. In short, there shouldn’t be one. It just needs to sell Brains.
Not their respectable if slightly naff craft beer range, or that face-puckeringly awful IPA that seems to be everywhere now – you just need a pint of good old fashioned Brains SA. Skull. Attack.
Sessionable enough to drink for the 18 hours you’ll need to be in the pub for prior to the game in order to get a table. Strong enough to numb you to the sheer Lovecraftian horror of being crushed between 300 middle aged men farting their way through an hour and twenty minutes of eggchasing.
I appreciate that championing a mass-produced, distinctly non-craft beer like SA might mean turning in my quasi-hipster foodie membership card, but to paraphrase the annoyingly ubiquitous Sean Bean meme, one does not simply drink good beer on match day.
For starters, attempting to sup something half decent for upwards of ten hours on the bounce will destroy you. As the late, great Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister once remarked at a Motorhead gig, “Don’t try and dance to this, you’ll fuck yourself up.” The same principle applies.
It’s also a waste of money. If you’re on your fourth pint of the day before Take Me Out has even started, it’s going to be the sort of Saturday where you could literally be drinking the contents of the drip tray, or even Carling, without noticing.
Besides, you need to be just about sober enough to sing.
Hymns and arias
Wales is the land of song, and never is this truer than during the Six Nations. The correct sonic accompaniment is the final piece in the puzzle of the great match day pub.
Soundtrack is absolutely key, so audience participation is mandatory, whether it involves shitfacedly belting out Design for Life by the Manics in a staggering display of point-missing, having a good old fashioned singalong to Tom Jones’ chilling ode to domestic violence Delilah, or a rousing rendition of the Stereophonics’ life affirming back catalogue of songs about paedophiles and getting hit by a train.
But it’s the traditional songs that really make it. For the purists and Welsh speakers there’s the rousing, dignified Calon Lan. Classic rugby banger Cwm Rhondda is a bit more populist, and you only need to know the bit about having had enough bread.
And then there’s the utter batshit-madness of Sospan Fach, which is quite literally about a little saucepan. If you can’t see the comedy in a pub full of grizzled old rugby boys belting out a Welsh language folk song about undersized kitchenware like it’s an Apache warrior chant, there is no hope for you.
Chips that pass in the night
The songs have been sung, and the final whistle blown.
Your throat is hoarse from 80 minutes of informing the world what an incompetent cockmuppet of a ref Wayne Barnes is, and politely urging that Faletau “PLAY IT WIDE, MUN!” through the medium of extreme shouting.
Whether our boys in red have triumphed heroically or been cruelly robbed in spite of a valiant performance (the only two possibilities for a Welsh rugby team), the time has come to move on.
There’s only one sensible destination after a Six Nations game, mainly because you’re much too pissed for anything else. It’s time to visit that glittering chip-fat soaked Shangri-La of post-match debauchery, Caroline Street.
If you were to perform a mass Who Do You Think You Are genealogical analysis on the people of South Wales, I am confident that a significant proportion of the population could trace their origins back to a booze-fuelled post-chippy-alley tryst. Evidently, a special kind of magic happens when an overweight man wedged into a skintight rugby jersey three sizes too small meets a woman in an obscenely short skirt with a giant daffodil on her head, and offers her a chip.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s actually only the one chip shop on Caroline Street. It’s called Dorothy’s.
We don’t go to Tony’s, which I have to concede does exist, and is next door, simply because it is not Dorothy’s.
As with all the major ‘-isms’ (racism, sexism, antidisestablishmentarianism) there are absolutely no grounds for this discrimination. Neither chippy has changed appreciably since 1986, each produces the holy grail of post match stodge – chicken curry and chips off the bone – to a roughly equal standard (i.e. fucking incredible after ten pints of SA), and I am equally suspicious of the food hygiene scores on display in both establishments.
But sometimes in life you have to go with your gut, pick a side and stick with it. A lifelong proponent of Dorothy’s absolutely will not go to Tony’s, even when there’s an extreme queue disparity between the two. It would be like changing your football allegiance from City to United, or voting Tory when you live in the Rhondda – you just don’t, ok?
Off the ball incidents
Here endeth my probably far too long lesson on how to successfully ‘do’ the Six Nations in Cardiff. It may all seem a bit intimidating, especially to the beginner. But the very best part is that it absolutely does not matter whether you understand, or even particularly like rugby.
For starters, no-one really knows what’s going on. Even those of us who’ve been watching it for decades will occasionally greet the ref’s whistle with a quizzical look before glancing at the floor and guiltily supping at our pints. Sometimes Rugby Union seems like a barely navigable labyrinth of esoteric rules and rituals where a sizeable percentage of penalties are apparently awarded for no reason other than the moon’s conjunction with Uranus.
But that’s really not a problem. The game itself is just a sideshow. You can have a fantastic day out for the match in this fair city without even glancing up at the screen, which is probably for the best given the view you’ll probably have of it.
The really magical part is what happens when tens of thousands of people from all over our weird little country descend upon the nation’s capital with the common goal of getting shitfaced and having a bloody good laugh. There are some arseholes, obviously – we’re talking about humans here, and at least one in fifty homo sapiens is a colossal bellend. But all things considered, my god match day in this town is fun.
So raise your pint of SA, clear your throat, and please stand for our national anthem:
Six Nations sceptics – have I pulled off a spectacular conversion or do you still not give a ruck? Let me know what you think in the comments or at @fuudblog on Twitter…
Speaking of Twitter, please take a second to take part in the most important referendum of our time – Dorothy’s or Tony’s – which is the undisputed ruler of chippy alley?
Sod Brexit, this is important: The ONLY place in Caroline Street for chicken curry & chips (off the bone) is:
— Füüd (@FuudBlog) March 6, 2016