Me with my grandparents’ TV with the magical interactive sound
The Six Nations are now in full swing, and as any self-respecting Welsh person knows, the singing of the Welsh National Anthem at the start of the match is one of the highlights. An excellent performance of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau is a stirring moment that brings the whole nation together ahead of kick-off, and one that had a significant ritual to us as kids, as I was recently reminded by my younger brother.
I’m referring to a time in the 1970s / 1980s, when home matches were played at the old National Stadium that we called the Arms Park, despite it not really being called that. It was also the Five Nations back then, with one less team in the mix. My nan and gramp lived in Tewkesbury Street in Cathays, and we’d visit them as a family pretty much every Saturday for the day.
Like most families not able to attend the match, the Rugby would be on for us all to watch, but unusually for us back then, we also got to take part in some interactive TV. As the crow flies, their house was about a mile from the Arms Park, which meant that once the singing of the anthem began, we’d go out into the back garden and listen to it live as such was its volume it carried as far as their house.
So we’d stand there out in the garden, chests puffed up listening to the singing, and as the match progressed, we’d sometimes go out to hear the cheers as well when we scored. It was something we did every single time they played at home. Now, talking to my brother about it recently, he began to wonder if our family were playing a trick on us and basically turning the TV up loud so we could hear it in the back garden. I can reassure him they weren’t, that sound was coming from away on the air. As I got older, I would often be out and about during match time and heard the cheers on the streets of Cathays, as I’m sure many others would all around the inner city area of Cardiff.
Back then Cardiff used to go dead during the match, the roads would quieten down, people would rush home, and the streets would be ghostly silent. In later years as my interest waned, this became an excellent opportunity to get to the barbers and not have to queue for hours, which I did as I could watch the rugby there as well. The old Arms Park was also a lot more open in its structure then, so it was possible for the sound to escape and travel. I’m not sure if you can still hear the singing from as far since the Principality Stadium was built, with it being more closed in.
Things do still go quieter at match time here, but not as quiet as I remember it back then. Maybe the extra noise of not-so-many people watching the match now drowns out the singing if indeed it’s still audible at that sort of distance. The truth is, I’ve not been at that house on match day for a long time, so I’ve not been able to check!
It’s another of those lovely old sounds that I used to hear at quiet times in Cardiff but now no longer do. I’ve mentioned the foghorns recently, and other memorable noises for me included the sounds of the peacocks at Cardiff Castle and the chime of the town hall clock. I could plainly hear them from my bedroom in Stacey Road in the dead of night in the summer when the windows were open (and the drunks from the Cons Club on the corner had passed.)
And if you don’t think the sound could travel that far, well I also recall listening to David Bowie from my room when we lived at the Royal Oak end of Broadway, and others mentioned hearing it, and other Arms Park gigs as far afield as Rhymney. I’m pretty sure given the gusto of the Welsh fans on Match Day, they could indeed have achieved a volume comparable to Bowie’s live show amplification!