Wales' Gareth Bale shares qualities with poet Dylan Thomas
My grandfather was Dylan Thomas. He was a poet, a writer and a broadcaster. Maybe not the sort of person you would usually expect to be talked about on an ESPN FC blog.
Now, this might sound a little surprising, but I think my grandfather has quite a few similarities to the global sensation that is Gareth Bale. So what do they have in common? Is there a sport connection? Perhaps. Dylan was a massive cricket fan, and at the age of 11, he finished first in a mile race. Although, as he was young, he was given a bit of a head start ... about 200 yards or so. A definite advantage, yes, but there was no doubt that it was also tenacity, sheer doggedness and courage that provided the determined young lad with his victory. But it was not Dylan's prowess as an athlete (or not!) that connects him with his fellow countryman from Wales.
What Dylan did have, and Bale also has, is a drive, a desire to be the best. Dylan could spend days, weeks, even years on one poem. It had to be perfect. Both men, it seems, were precocious as young boys, with extraordinary talents: ambitious, passionate and dedicated. Both were longing to succeed from very early on. Even during their school days, they knew exactly which direction they were heading.
However, it was not until my grandfather left school at 16 (having failed all his exams, except for English, where he achieved 98 percent) that he flourished and displayed his true potential. Over four years, he completed more than 200 poems, some of his most famous ones, too. Remarkable poems, especially considering his age, that inspired some of the most creative talents of the future generation, the likes of John Lennon and Bob Dylan.
It was at about the same age that Bale also had the opportunity to pursue his dreams, first by playing for Southampton and then, a year later, Tottenham. He also became the youngest-ever player for Wales at just 16 years and 315 days.
Another significant detail that bonds Dylan Thomas and Gareth Bale is that they have become well-known outside of their home country. Actually, my grandfather is almost better-known in other parts of the world. He is very popular in the United States, for example. Being famous in Wales, but being undiscovered elsewhere, is a frustrating reality for many Welsh celebrities. These two Welshmen, who initially appear very different, are, in fact, very alike. A mix of astonishing talent, hard work, resilience, plus a great deal of perseverance, have allowed them both, albeit about 70 years apart, to become international superstars.
Now, what is it about this small country, where a gifted poet and a football icon originate, that is so special? A boot-shaped piece of land, to the West of the British Isles, just 20,000 square kilometers in size, home to about 3 million people. Wales is truly magnificent -- I know I'm biased, but it's true -- from top to bottom, and left to right. In the North, you have a natural nature reserve, the Snowdonia National Park, which houses Mount Snowdon, the tallest mountain (outside of the Scottish Highlands) in Britain. In the South, you have former industrial towns complete with male voice choirs "singing in the valleys," telling you fascinating stories about what life was like in the coal mines. And in the West, there is "the garden of Wales," swaths of lush countryside and miles of exquisite coastline. Though be aware, if you do visit, it would be a good idea to take an umbrella, as it does rain quite a bit. A few travel sickness pills might be useful, too, as there are some quite treacherous, hilly roads.
But it's not just the beautiful landscape that makes Wales unique. Pride and passion energise this Celtic nation. Bale, Aaron Ramsey and all the Welsh team wear their red shirts proudly, exhibiting the mighty dragon logo and standing tall as they sing the national anthem, "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" ("Old Land of My Fathers").
So on Thursday, as Wales plays England -- or as David faces Goliath -- I will be watching the match with my 6-year-old son, Charlie. We, and the whole of this friendly country, will cheer and wave our Welsh flags and shout (or sing), "Come on Wales," "Cymru am byth!"
For more about Dylan Thomas, his life and his links to Wales, go to www.discoverdylanthomas.com.