A feature on the impact the fans can have on the crucial 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
They were christened as the ‘Red Wall’ during UEFA EURO 2016, but as Wales head into their final 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland on Monday night, Chris Coleman and Chris Gunter know that the fans can be a key factor in this must-win match. And to ensure that the fans are at it from the start, they have been selected to perform the national anthem, and they couldn’t have made a better choice.
On Thursday night, England confirmed qualification for the finals in Russia next summer with a 1-0 victory over Slovenia at Wembley. The number of empty seats for what an important match was noticeable, and despite what could be confirmed with the right result, the crowd entertained themselves by making paper aeroplanes. A late, late goal from Harry Kane ensured that Gareth Southgate’s side would book their place at the finals, but the negative reaction from the press and public to a successful campaign couldn’t be further away from the experience of following Wales.
Because the fans have been a key part of this journey under Chris Coleman, from the low point of Novi Sad to the highs of last summer in France, the impact of such passionate and genuine support cannot be underestimated. The last qualifying campaign galvanised the different factions that had questioned the appointment of Chris Coleman as manager and the decision to support him through the darker times, and with unity came strength, as the red wall travelled home and away with unwavering support for those taking to the field to represent their country.
— Mark Pitman (@UEFAcomMPitman) October 8, 2017
They have been rewarded with incredible and unforgettable experiences, and it is universally recognised by the players in each and every game. The ‘Together, Stronger’ strapline that has provided the backdrop to recent campaigns extends to the stands, and there is a real bond between the team and the fans that can only exist through collective and unrelenting support. No fans have turned against the team or manager since the momentum that eventually resulted in qualification for EURO 2016 began when Coleman decided to do things his way, and the players do appreciate how unique such support is in the modern game.
For most players, club football brings a more fickle fan environment, as results and performances are more volatile due to the number of fixtures played. Club fans will use a players salary against his level of commitment, and coming away to an international environment can offer a welcome break from the pressures of club football for some players. It isn’t the same for every nation, and England players have publicly criticised their fans in recent years, but there is a different culture in Wales that means that there is a collective understanding of what realistic expectations are, and an appreciation for effort and commitment that the players and manager show on international duty.
— Mark Pitman (@UEFAcomMPitman) October 8, 2017
Manager Chris Coleman and Chris Gunter addressed the media at Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday afternoon, and were quick to praise the fans ahead of the crucial final group game. “These are the games we’ve always wanted to be involved in,” said Coleman. “We’re looking forward it, it should be a great game with a great atmosphere. The fans need to give us what they’ve always given us. They’ve been absolutely fantastic. It’s an absolute joy to be involved in these situations. I’ve seen the other side more times than I’ve seen this side! There’s nothing to be afraid of, you have to put yourself out there. You have to enjoy it.”
The most-capped player in the current squad, Chris Gunter was recently named as Wales’ Player of the Year at the annual awards evening, and created a special bond with the fans during EURO 2016 with his famous ‘chin-up’ gesture following the defeat against England. “We know we can rely on the fans,” said Gunter. “What they have given us over the years has been fantastic, and I hope they can make it a really good atmosphere. The fans deserve a special mention, they’re as much a part of it as anyone. They will be nervous as they can’t control what’s happening on the pitch, but we’re asking them for one last push, and to create a special atmosphere.”
Another sold-out Cardiff City Stadium will ensure that that Coleman and Gunter will not be disappointed with the contribution of the red wall on Monday, and now that they will be responsible for delivering the most stirring and inspirational anthem of the campaign, the atmosphere is likely to be on a different level. However, regularly packing Cardiff City Stadium will ask the question about why the bigger venue down the road isn’t being used for international football. That is a discussion for another day, but if international matches at Cardiff City Stadium are to come to an end in the near future, then it is all the more reason to make Monday the most memorable occasion yet.