Early Saturday morning, 3rd December, we travelled to Cardiff on a cold but dry day, and assembled outside Gate No. 3 of the Millennium Stadium to join 44 other Welsh male voice choirs consisting of One thousand seven hundred and fifty five choristers from all over Wales, London and Oxford. This made it the largest ever choral gathering before an International Rugby Match. Wales were playing Australia again and this was to be Welsh legend, Shane Willliams’ last International match. We climbed up stairs 640 and 641 in the North stand like a trail of mountain goats in blazers hoping that oxygen would be provided at the half-way stage. Hankies at the ready in case of nose bleeds we squeezed ourselves along the rows of seats with just enough room for our feet and jammed our mostly stout frames into narrow seats with legroom to do Monarch Airlines proud.
We all sit down, force ourselves in well before 10 o’clock. Pontnewydd and Cwmbran choirs behind us and Bridgend in front and Risca to the side, we are settled in comfortably, bags between our knees, sitting on coats, when four basses need the toilet. Up we get like a Mexican Wave to let them through. Settled down now, they come back again! Even before the bar opens! This goes on all morning! At least the exercise kept us from getting cramp.
The band from the Royal Regiment of Wales, 2nd Battalion (Volunteers) arrive along with Haydn James, the conductor and rehearsals start. These go very well considering there’s a lot of us. “Don’t sing so loud on the Australian Anthem” advises Haydn. We get through Gwahoddiad, Deus Salutis, Soldier’s Chorus, A Tribute to the Barbarians and Myfanwy with no problem, but everyone messes up Delilah. It’s soon put right by Haydn and rehearsals are over by 12-00.
Anyway, its now lunch time and we don’t have to be back till 1-30, so many choristers go across the road to Wetherspoons where the beer and food is a lot cheaper than in the stadium. Those of us who stayed had to wait for the refreshment bars (tea, coffee and food) to open and we settled down to quietly to eat our sandwiches and crisps.
Half an hour to kick off and we’re all in our places again. The band, resplendent in their scarlet uniforms, polished brass and helmets strikes up and on the second bar all the voices from 44 choirs erupt in song with Gwahoddiad, Sospan Fach, Calon Lân and more. Some of those who’d been over to Wetherspoons (not our lads) mixed up the first and second verses of Delilah (soon corrected) and just as the Welsh team (with ‘Diolch’ on their shirts as a tribute to Shane), emerges from the tunnel we start on We”ll Keep a Welcome. Perfect timing! The sound is amazing as it echoes back at us from all four sides. The roof is closed, but even we could only metaphorically raise it! The crowd appreciated us with cheers and applause but they didn’t show us on the telly much and the singing of the Anthems was phenomenal and not too loud on ‘Advance Australia Fair’ though. Nice shot of Shane’s yellow boots on the big screen, bearing ‘Bye! Bye!’ on them.
No comments to make on the match except to say Wales lost 24 – 18 – back to normal then. However, an interesting statistic is that when Wales had 15 men in the game, they won by 18 points to 3! I don’t think Leigh Halfpenny tackled O’Connor without the ball. He was running back to collect it when O’Connor got in the way. Not fair! But then, what do I know? I was 200 metres away in a seat up in the sky.
The fabulous ending of Shane Williams scoring a try with a flamboyant somersault in the last minute couldn’t have been written in fiction. Incredible! 87 caps and 58 tries for Wales! A great player will be missed by all rugby fans throughout the world.
We struggle back through the massed crowds to wait for the bus in Greyfriars Road only to find we’d lost Giovanni. Apparently he’d taken a toilet break and went out of the wrong entrance. How can you lose someone in that hat? Anyway, thanks to Leon phoning his sister in Caldicot for his mobile number, he is found and eventually gets on on the bus. Why is it that toilets play such a large part in the life of Male Voice Choirs? It had been a long day and most were pleased to get back home, tired and subdued at the result (should be used to it) but pleased and proud to have been part of a special day.
Photos by Lyn and one taken of us by someone from Bridgend choir