Steven GreenComment


Steven GreenComment

Some might sneer at Don't Take Me Home being made. What do Wales have to celebrate that England hasn't already done, after all? However, those who do sneer are amongst those unlucky fans who seem to have lost the ability to find joy in football.

They're also the fans that haven't quite grasped just what this meant to a small country so starved of anything to cheer about when it comes to matters on the pitch.

Wales' football history is potted at best. With 58 years between major tournaments, it's no surprise that it has become known as a rugby nation, but that all changed for a few glorious weeks last summer.

The story has already been told – and told well – by the likes of Chris Wathan and Bryn Law, who were quick to release books commemorating the adventure and the build up to it.
But with films like Don't Take Me Home and I Believe In Miracles, Jonny Owen is quickly establishing himself as a prime story teller where unexpected sporting achievements are concerned. Owen had vested interest in this project, though. Having produced a number of TV spots for ITV Wales' Soccer Saturday, the Rugby World Cups of 2003 and 2007 as well as a piece for Cardiff City's FA Cup final appearance in 2008, it's clear that he knows what he wants to say when his country is involved.

Owen explained that the project started with a chance email to the FAW, and something that manager Chis Coleman confirmed he didn't pay too much attention to, but all involved will be glad that he was eventually swayed to take Owen seriously.

It's hard to talk about Wales and their recent success without mentioning Gary Speed. While he isn't where the story starts, his work while in charge and subsequent tragic death provided the catalyst for last summer's scenes. The movie pays homage to the man sensitively and beautifully. Was there ever a man so universally liked in the world of football? Owen's tribute suggests there was not.

A large number of the squad talk through the qualifiers, which is enthrallingly spiced in with action from the games with Israel, Belgium, Bosnia and Cyprus, culminating scenes from that night in Zenica where qualification was sealed.

Perhaps it's because the players are able to give their testimonies on the screen to be collated into one place, away from hordes of reporters, but there's a humanity to this team that's not often associated with the modern footballer. They're forthright and engaging, they have a good grasp on what's happened despite it being new ground for them and above all else, they're funny as hell.

The film is peppered with candid footage and laugh out loud moments. Whether it's Wayne Hennessey and Joe Ledley laying into Coleman's perceived legendary status as a ping pong player or Johnny Williams simply being Johnny Williams, their contributions lead to a lighthearted insight into how a player deals with the pressure that comes with a major tournament.

One of the film's most poignant sequences comes when they cover the last gasp defeat to England. The build-up to the game had been overshadowed by the OTT coverage from the press and the players were all too aware. They all admitted to not being at their best, and in the aftermath, Chris Gunter highlighted the connection between those on the pitch with those in the stands. Remember the crying man everyone had a good laugh at? Gunter saw him, and that man with the tears in his eyes can now sleep safely in the knowledge that his emotion inspired one of the most iconic images of Wales' tournament when the Reading full-back approached the crowd tilting his chin up with the back of his hand.

What that segment makes clear, for those who didn't already know, is that the England defeat was a crucial part of the journey. A win against the English would have been great, but nothing in life is perfect. It doesn't have to be.

After brushing aside Russia, and revisiting Ashley Williams proving what a captain is made of against Northern Ireland (which all admitted was their toughest contest), the party against Belgium becomes the big focus. 

The captain makes a hero of himself again, but the insight in Hal Robson-Kanu's majestic Cruyff turn is so enjoyable it's hard to watch with dry eyes, and the footage is offset by the best use of the Sugar Hill Gang's Apache since The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

The film winds down after the defeat to Portugal in the semi-finals, and the real reflection begins. The players and the staff have tasted glory now, and they're hungry for more, this much is made clear, and the planning for the future suggests that Wales, for the first time in a long time, has a real plan to ensure that this isn't a one-off.