Ohen the Wales men’s team line up tonight for what will be an emotional rendition of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau in their World Cup opener, every player will know they carry the hopes and the dreams of a footballing nation. But more than that, he will know that he has already helped make dreams come true.

Ending a 64-year wait for World Cup qualification makes for a Welsh team of history makers. Yes, the march to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 still holds an important place in the memory of all Wales fans, but it is one of respect and gratitude, rather than a huge sense of expectation. , which I and many other fans will feel tonight.

Wales fans know all about football dreams and nightmares. As a child, I felt the disappointment of seeing the team miss out on España ’82, thankfully unaware of how often that feeling would return. Nevertheless, at that time I was obsessed with the World Cup, compiling albums of each team’s players and facts about the countries involved.

I already had the feeling that it was more important than football alone. In hindsight, the tournament was a rare break from the often parochial preoccupations of 1980s television and struck a chord with a football-mad young lad with family on three continents. Now I finally have the chance to indulge my passion for the World Cup and Welsh football at the same time. I will be among hundreds at the London Welsh Center watching Wales (3.1m) take on the United States (331m).

Still, I have mixed feelings about this tournament, like many people. Many have raised concerns about LGBTQ+ fans wanting to travel to Qatar for the tournament, given the country’s draconian laws banning homosexuality and recent homophobic comments from a Qatari World Cup ambassador. I’ve seen a lot less written about gay gamer safety, though; this perhaps betrays the wider homophobia within men’s football, which is still far from an environment where players can be safely absent. Many of the 22 FIFA executive committee members who awarded back-to-back World Cups to Russia and Qatar have since been fined, suspended, banned or charged. The Guardian reported that there have been 6,500 migrant worker deaths in Qatar since the ruling. The world governing body is increasingly disconnected from fans and players.

Politics is not new to the World Cup. Wales’ qualification in 1958 only happened because Egypt and several other countries either withdrew or refused to play against Israel, citing the latter’s invasion of Egypt in 1956. The Wales had no such scruples – perhaps because the United Kingdom had taken part in the invasion.

Israeli goalkeeper Yaacov Hodorov catches the ball during the World Cup qualifier in Cardiff against Wales February 5, 1958. Wales won 2-0. Photograph: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Like the current team, that of 1958 was led by a man from the valleys with a global superstar as his talisman. But the tournament was a very different affair, with half as many teams competing and minimal media coverage at home. Back in Swansea, defender Mel Charles was asked if he had gone on holiday.

On the other hand, the 2022 qualification promises to be a cultural moment for Wales. The camaraderie between the players and the close bond with the Red Wall, as the fans in the stands are known, has been building for over a decade now, helped no doubt by a period of unprecedented success on the pitch, but also by the Football Association of Wales, which often feels like an extension of the fanbase. The frequent references to Cymru indicate a newfound pride in Cymraeg. Bobs, vintage shirts, Zombie Nation, Yma O Hyd; Welsh football fandom has its own look and sound these days.

Indeed, the FAW video that accompanies Dafydd Iwan’s remastered protest song shows just how much Wales has changed in those 64 years. Among the football clips are scenes from the 1965 Capel Celyn flood, the 1966 Aberfan disaster, the 1984-85 miners’ strike, the 1997 devolution referendum and the Cymdeithas yr protests. Iaith which finally allowed Welsh to be recognized as an official language in 2011.

“Stop the hypocrisy”: LGBTQ+ activists demonstrate at the Fifa museum before the World Cup – video

While the events included in the video offer little acknowledgment of the long presence of black and racial minorities in Wales, the same cannot be said of Gŵyl Cymru, a 10-day festival which aims to strengthen ties between the sport and the arts and to build a cultural legacy for the World Cup. Organized by FAW in partnership with Arts Council Wales, Gŵyl Cymru was launched with a short film featuring Hanan Issa, the new National Poet of Wales, performing The Crowd Gathers, alongside Grug Muse, who translates the poem into Welsh. Issa, the first Muslim to become a national poet, writes in English and uses Welsh and Arabic expressions in the poem.

Festival highlights include rappers Lemfreck and Mace the Great, performing in New York ahead of the Cymru vs. USA game, comedians Priya Hall and Leila Navabi and new work from Unify’s Yusuf Ismail and Shawqi Hasson, including the murals are already modern landmarks in Cardiff. There will also be events featuring the Rainbow Wall, FAW’s group for LGBTQ+ supporters and allies.

Fifa should take note. He could learn a lot from the FAW about what the modern game might look like.