A perfect rugby storm: The Welsh and Aussies share dreams in song
It was completely impossible to know which side had won and which side had lost
Wales and Australia fans show their support at Tokyo Stadium. Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
It was a perfect storm of colour and accent and to the regular commuters on the Sunday evening Kaio local train bound for central Toyko, it must have seemed as if they had suddenly been transported to a strange and troubling land featuring billabong, Delilah and the ghosts of Mulder and Scully.
Yes, the Welsh and Australians were getting on famously all right, having watched their teams produce one of the great Rugby World Cup matches. They bundled onto the carriage shortly after 10pm on Sunday. All ages were on board- and in every sense. Men and women both.
Maybe 30 Aussies and 40 Welsh, quickly discovering that they shared a love of singing, of their native lands and of the endless supply of lukewarm tins of Asahi which had elevated them all, in the laughing description of one young Welsh fan to the state of (this is best heard in a broad Ponty’ dialect) “well mangled.”
It began innocently enough, with the Welsh boys lashing out a version Hen Wlad Fy Nhadu. They were hopelessly out of key but Lord, did they mean it. And as the night scenes of suburban Tokyo rushed by, it was kind of cool to hear the Welsh language belted out with the many Tokyoites in the carriage definitely curious about what was unfolding- as well as completely taken aback by the volume and just a little scared, too.
The choir gave themselves a round of applause, hugged and high fived and before they could think of a follow up, the Australians, gathered in the middle of the carriage, replied with a few twangy verses Waltzing Matilda.
And that was it. For the next 40 minutes, the carriage became a kind of live karaoke bar but without the backing track. The Welsh and the Aussies had tapped into a kind of higher communication through mainstream pop classics of the last thirty 30, from Shirley Bassey to Catatonia to Oasis. They danced and linked arms. They climbed on the hand railings and did a bit of body surfing across the carriage to the chorus of Andy Williams’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.’ Without pause, they then broke into that other Williams favourite “You can stick you ***** chariots up your ****.”
By the fifth stop, they weren’t so much singing as screaming. One Welsh man, wearing a vintage Argentina jersey sat back and observed his comrades with a sad smile. Every so often he’d throw in a comment. He had one of those marvellous ringing clear Welsh voices so it was like having the entire scene narrated by Dylan Thomas. “This must be the worst Welsh sing-song of all time,” he sighed.
There are many, many rules of etiquette when it comes to riding trains which the Japanese take seriously. Silence, no eating, no drinking are considered basic courtesies but all of these were not so much broken as smashed into a million pieces by now. You have to assume the Welsh and Aussies contravened about a thousand other unspoken laws of public decorum also.
The locals smiled nervously and indulgently and sought out reassurances when one of the Welsh boys, wearing a combination of trainers, fitted boxers, a maid’s skirt and the flag bearing the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr, shimmied across the floor of the carriage, the better to show a bit of leg. It’s probable he broke no law here because the Japanese hadn’t even invented one for this kind of a scene. And a few of the locals quietly fled the carriage at the next stop, a little paler now and convinced they’d witnessed the wildest that Tokyo had to offer.
There was never any menace and it was all in good nature. But what must have puzzled those Japanese unfamiliar with rugby was that it was completely impossible to know which side had won and which side had lost.
There’s a great line in the Tom Stoppard play Night and Day about what it is to be a foreign correspondent - “someone who flies around from hotel to hotel and thinks the most interesting part of any story is that he is there to cover it.”
The same is almost true for the sports fans who attend major events like the Rugby World Cup. Those Welsh and Australians were intense friends for the 25 minutes they spent on that train. And then they split, never to see one another again. They shared something on that journey: the sense of time and money invested to be there; the thrill of being in that stadium, on a splitting afternoon when their teams elevated the sport. For the Australians, the game ended in a crushing loss. But that didn’t mean they were crushed.
They felt lucky. They were in a great city, far from home, following their team through Japan. For many, this was surely the trip of a life time.
After Ireland’s dismal hour against Japan on Saturday, there was a quick rush to judge the phone footage of the Irish fans raging on through the pain of defeat, flying the flag for banter and crack-having. They were condemned for not being disappointed enough. It is true that clusters of Irish fans didn’t seem unduly heartbroken by Ireland’s defeat.
But it’s also true that the vast majority of Irish supporters left the stadium quietly, sat slumped on their train seats on the way back to their hotels, disappointed by the result and shattered by the heat and the emotion of the day. And what are the supporters supposed to do anyway? Head back to their lodgings to review the game tape and take down copious notes as to where the pack had come up short at the break down?
That’s the role of the coaches and the players. The deal you make when going to watch any sporting contest is that your team might lose. That’s what happened to the Irish on Saturday. And that’s what happened to the Australians the following afternoon.
But the show goes on. Near a huge intersection outside the station, three Welsh fans who probably still carry vivid memories of the golden age of Barry John, stood in the warm night directly beneath a huge panasonic sign. One wore a Victorian era military uniform so it looked as though he had walked straight out of Rorke’s Drift and into the neon extravagance of down town Tokyo. He even wore a fake moustache.
To honour the day that was in it, the military man held the Welsh flag aloft and went on a slow, mazy run through the crowds, passed the arcades and the tack stores. “Weeey-ellllls” he shouted over and over at the top of his voice.
For many locals, he was their first and last sighting of the Rugby World Cup.