Friday, 7 June 2013

Book Review: Wales Play in Red

Admittedly, I might be slightly behind the times, but last week I finally picked up Carolyn Hitt’s book ‘Wales Play in Red’. These are the rugby diaries of the Western Mail columnist as she journeys through the highs and lows of Welsh Rugby, from the year 1999 through to the Welsh Grand Slam in 2012.

 The writing is engaging and the chapters are perfectly sized for the more attentionally challenged, and are brought to life with images from Huw Evans Photo Agency, as well as snaps from Hitt's personal rugby days and nights out.
The book is separated into eight chapters, each one focusing on a moment or characters that have moulded and transformed the Welsh rugby landscape over recent years. From the despondency and utter devastation of receiving the wooden spoon in 2003, to the euphoria of three Grand Slams in seven years with a fair few controversies thrown in along the way, this book captures all of the highs and lows of Welsh rugby of the past decade and a half.
The timeline of 'Wales Play in Red' perfectly transcends my memories of rugby from early childhood until present day, and reading some of the great moments in recent times made me relive some of the most memorable days/nights out I have enjoyed. 
Carolyn’s eloquent style and passion for the game shines through in this 176-page Welsh Rugby exposition. However, if you are looking for an out and out sports book, this is not it. There will be no overkill on stats and for the most part, the actual 80 minutes on the pitch takes a back seat to the many characters Hitt has met during her rugby journey, focusing instead on the extraordinary people that follow Wales around the world: such as Cath Jenkins a referee from Porth, or the female Max Boyce impersonators, to the people behind the players themselves, the ‘Rugby Mams’, June Jones (Adam Jones) and Morfydd Phillips (Mike Phillips).
It is no doubt that for many, following Welsh Rugby and the Lions overseas is a modern day pilgrimage. ‘They say it’s like the war in Kenfig Hill- there isn’t a man left’ ‘The first banner I saw 12,000 miles from home declared Gilfach Goch Wine Bar’. There clearly is something about the oval ball game that brings out a certain religious experience for the supporters while watching their men in red, whether they are putting us through hell or taking us to heaven.
I especially enjoyed the chapters where Hitt is following the Welsh or Lions teams - I must admit, reading Hitt’s exploits around the globe made me more than a little envious and to be fair, I think a rugby night out with Ms. Hitt is definitely going on my to do list!
Another great read is the third chapter ‘Me and Max Down Under’, where the reader is given an insight into the Welsh lyrical legend that is Max Boyce before his sold out gig at Sydney Opera House in 2003 and the Rugby World Cup.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the chance to relive the rugby memories that are etched into my mind through someone else’s words and eyes. My one disappointment is that it was published too early: a certain 30-3 would have made a fabulous closing chapter.
As a female writing about rugby in Wales, I feel I must pay homage to Carolyn Hitt for taking the first tentative steps into the still very much male dominated arena of a rugby press box.

Unsurprisingly, Hitt perfectly sums up the pride I feel about Wales and rugby in a few short lines: "Writing about rugby is writing about Wales itself. Its red thread is woven into the fabric of our identity. That's why I love writing about this game so much.

ISBN: 9781848515642


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