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Meet Spencer Sheen. He’s the Head of Retail at Gatwick Airport, a great guy in our industry, passionate about his job and even more passionate about all things Welsh. Most of all Welsh rugby.
I last saw Spencer a couple of weeks back at The Trinity Forum in Hong Kong, where we discussed the Rugby World Cup and the chances of our respective teams, The All Blacks and Wales.
It came up that we would both be attending yesterday’s crucial pool match at Twickenham Stadium between Wales and home town favourites. With the highly rated Australians also in the ‘group of death’ (only two teams qualify for the quarter-finals), it was a match each side simply had to win. Throw in decades (nay, centuries) of enmity between the two countries and the stakes just about couldn’t get any higher.
In a crowd of over 80,000 people it was unlikely that Spencer and I would bump into each other on match day but indeed we did, in the hospitality area (I was there courtesy of former DFS Co-Owner Alan Parker) just before the match. With England the hot favourites at their ‘fortress Twickenham’, Spencer was putting on a brave face but may have feared the worst.
And, for much of the match, so did every Welsh man and woman in the vast crowd. England led for a long, long time, seemingly just out of reach of the injury-ravaged Welsh whose bravery under fire while men everywhere were falling wounded was like something out of that epic scene of the Welsh battalion in the movie Zulu.
And then something happened. The admirable Welsh playmaker Dan Biggar kept kicking his goals and his team stayed in touch. As the clock ticked down, the men in scarlet seemed to grow in stature, while the men in white retreated into caution and self-doubt. With 20 minutes to go, it was suddenly a four-point game. Wales believed.
Then the impossible happened. The young replacement scrum-half Lloyd Williams (only in the squad due to a pre-tournament industry to one of Wales’ superstars, Rhys Webb) found himself playing way, way out of position on the wing due to the spate of second-half injuries. Suddenly, with minutes to play, the ball came to him in a position more left wing than even Jeremy Corbyn will ever adopt and he hared down the touchline like a tiny, electrified Cardiff version of Usain Bolt crossed with a Welsh choirboy.
As the defence closed on him, he cross-kicked into the centre of the pitch. Pitch perfectly. It was one of those moments that only sport can throw up. As the ball bounced, everything in the stadium seemed to stand still as 80,000 heads turned collectively in the direction of the kick. And then, and then… oh my god and then… as the ball bounced there was another diminutive Welsh scrumhalf, Gareth Davies, running for all his worth, lungs bursting, reaching, reaching, reaching towards the ball… catching it, and diving, diving, diving over the line and under the posts for the try.
Biggar – bigger indeed on the day than any giant could ever be – kicked the points and then seconds later, kicked three more from improbable distance. Wales, somehow, were ahead.
But there was one more twist. Drama upon drama. England piled back and with time almost up, won a kickable penalty that would tie the game. Very kickable given that their own playmaker, Own Farrell, had been in peerless form all day. But, bravely, incredibly, perhaps stupidly, England spurned the kicking opportunity, opting to drive the ball into the corner and attempt to score the winning try. Perhaps the thought of only drawing with their age-old foe was too much. Perhaps it was just sheer desire to win. Perhaps it was a brain fade.
You know the rest. England won the line-out ball but were driven over the touchline by a now near-demoniac Welsh forward pack. The whistle went. The Welsh had won an almost impossible victory, 28-25. Sport at its most thrilling. Gladitorial. Thrilling. Joy. Despair.
It wasn’t long before Spencer found me or I found Spencer, I can’t remember which. I swear he was jumping higher than any Welsh line-out player had all day. If fate decreed that Gatwick was given not just a second runway, but a third, a fourth, heck a tenth, Spencer would not be a squillionth as happy as he was yesterday. I believe he may just have hugged every Welsh man and woman in the stadium. As I’d cheered for Wales, he decreed me an honorary Welshman and presented me with his scarf (after which many a sportsmanlike Englishman, I must point out, came up and shook me by the hand and said “Well done…”).
After I’d gone back to my host’s table, Spencer suddenly appeared with Tim Horan (below), the dual World Cup-winning Australian centre, who had been one of the celebrity guests at the hospitality centre and asked me to take a photo to remember the occasion by. It was my pleasure to cap, in the great Lou Reed’s words, such a perfect day, and to add a further Sheen to a day that Spencer, like millions of Welsh men and women, will never, ever forget.
[The devilishly difficult question every English rugby supporter is asking themselves today]