One million reasons Wales are the winners of the China Cup whatever happens against Uruguay tonight

Fans are in fine form as they follow players in making the most of mainland trip

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 March, 2018, 8:01am

Barring something remarkable, Wales can consider themselves the winners ­­whatever happens in the final of the China Cup in Nanning on Monday night – as much off the pitch as on.

Yes, a first trophy under Ryan Giggs would be the ideal way to finish the tournament but either way the Welsh FA (FAW) have delivered and been rewarded.

The deal to spend the international break in Nanning was reported to be worth £1 million (HK$11 million) to the Welsh, with £100,000 of that contingent on Gareth Bale playing.

The Real Madrid star started against China and ensured that the China Cup’s remit of bringing the very best in the world to the country was fulfilled by scoring a hat-trick, much to the delight of the predominantly local crowd.

Only around 350 Wales fans had made the trip, although double that had expressed an interest with FAW once the deal to play in Nanning was confirmed.

Those that were successful in getting tickets could only do so after showing their valid Chinese visa to the FAW ­– Nanning is not part of the visa free transit programme in China’s bigger cities ­– which was just another expense to add to travel and accommodation ­and that’s before tagging on stays in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Beijing to break up the distance and make use of a rare trip to the region.

That figure was comfortably in the thousands of pounds for those who travelled from the UK, where the vast majority of those in Nanning had come from.

Some had come from their homes in London and Manchester, others had come from all over Wales, from Swansea and Cardiff in the south to Wrexham and Flint in the North, and towns such as Merthyr, Carnarvon and Holyhead, the Anglesey port that is closer to Dublin in Ireland than the Welsh capital.

Some made the trip from further afield, including the one fan who came from New Jersey via Hong Kong and then only stayed for the opening game, arriving Wednesday and leaving Friday, according to Glynn, a Wales fan who had come from Carnarvon.

Glynn said it wasn’t a surprise as the man in question made a flying visit to the Georgia game in Tbilisi last October, where the Welsh won 1-0 to keep their dreams of World Cup qualification alive.

Travelling well over 20 hours and several thousand miles to see a friendly, albeit one where your country’s best player becomes their top scorer in the first game under the charge of another of the nation’s greats, was not the craziest story doing the rounds among the travelling Welshmen.

One fan was reported to have flown to Nanning from North Wales and would be back in town for the final after going to watch Wrexham play Maidstone United at the Racecourse Ground on Saturday. Wrexham play in the Vanarama National League and are chasing promotion to the English Football League. It’s a slightly different standard than watching Gareth Bale.

That’s perhaps nothing compared to Glynn’s other tale of a fan for whom the final would be his 96th game watching Wales play away – aside from the hundreds of thousands of pounds he estimated that cost, the task was made even more difficult by not playing tournament football and a group of games in the same place from the 1958 World Cup until Euro 2016.

He’d have two games this week. Although because of the Fifa mandated gap between games in international week, the Welsh fans had the longer of the layovers to busy themselves between Thursday’s opening game and the final on Monday.

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The Czech Republic and Uruguay played the following night, and some Wales supporters took the opportunity to go and watch another 90 minutes of football.

The number of Wales fans in the ground will have been close to the numbers of Uruguayans and Czech fans who had made the trip, although rather stricter ticket checking than the day before meant that groups were potentially split up ­– a contrast to the FAW organising ticketing in one end and taking their own match steward.

Others chose not to go to the game, and not to stay and fuel the local economy through Nanning’s bars and Burger Kings.

The Welsh fans had stuck together in their first couple of days in town, partly from catching up with old faces from other away trips across the globe and in part due to the advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office awaiting them at their hotel.

No seats or beer for the fans proves China are miles off hosting a World Cup, but Bale makes up for it in Nanning

The well trodden path of following Wales away saw fans take full advantage of the city’s south-eastern location to travel to Bangkok, Pattaya, Hoi An and Hano for the weekend, with others taking in the scenes of Yangshou to cruise the river and take their obligatory photograph of the scenes depicted on the 20 yuan note.

They will return for the final and a potential Wales win. And as the country’s most capped ever outfield player Chris Gunter told the BBC of his visit to the China Cup, it’s been “eye-opening”.