‘A tough start to a new era’: Wales fans in Croatia not Split on challenge ahead

Wales fans share their hopes and dreams for upcoming Euro 2024 qualifying campaign

A KEY part of any Wales game is the boisterous ‘Red Wall’ of fans that follow their country home and away.

Hundreds of fans are expected to make the 1,237-mile-long trip to Croatia, hoping for a good result to kickstart the upcoming Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, the Cardiffian caught up with two Wales fans who have made the journey out to Croatia.

“Important to get off to a good start.”

“It will be a difficult game for us,” said Ryan Hobbs, who supports Cardiff City alongside the national team.

“I’d just like to see us perform well and take some momentum into the game at home against Latvia the following Tuesday, which is going to be a lot more crucial (for us).

“It’ll be important to get off to a good start.”

Wales go into the game without the likes of Ben Davies and Wayne Hennessey, who withdrew from the squad due to injury, while new talisman Brennan Johnson is set to miss out on the Croatia game due to a slight groin injury.

“It’ll be a tough game,” said Ben Thomas.

“Before (Ben) Davies’ injury I was hoping maybe we could come away with a draw. But I can’t see that happening now.”

“A transition phase”.

The upcoming qualifiers also represent a new era for Welsh football with several members of the ‘old guard’, including the likes of Gareth Bale and Joe Allen, announcing their retirement from international football before the start of the international break.

The absence from the squad of some of Wales’ most influential footballers in recent history has seen manager Rob Page call up several uncapped youngsters to the squad, such as Swansea city’s Oli Cooper and Fulham’s Luke Harris.

“There’s been a lot of changes to the squad now, with a few of the senior players including Bale retiring,” said Mr Hobbs.

“I think we’re quite light in a few positions, particularly in the midfield after (Joe) Allen’s retirement.

“A lot of younger players will come in who haven’t played a lot of football so hopefully they can develop and we can grow as a team whilst still qualifying.”

Mr Thomas said: “It’s definitely going to be a transition phase but we’ve got a lot of young and talented players coming through, and I have a good feeling that they’ll rise to the occasion.”

“So much more than just the football.”

Wales fans in Brussels in June 2022 (photo credit Ben Thomas).

An away day with the national team has been described by some as having a uniquely different experience to the ones fans usually experience on a normal away day following their club side.

“With a club away day it’s usually solely about the football, you head to the other team’s ground, watch the football and usually return straight after,” said Mr Hobbs, a Bluebird.

“I think following Wales away is a much greater experience that encompasses so much more than just the football itself.

“I will always look to immerse myself in the culture and heritage of the country and the city we are visiting.”

The trips abroad also gives fans following the national team an opportunity to express their pride in their country, whilst at the same time socialising with others.  

“For me it’s much more exciting as I feel more passionate about my country than I do for any club,” said Mr Thomas.

“It also gives me the chance to catch up with mates whilst getting to visit and experience new places.”