Dear Wales

Ali Yaqub for The Players' Tribune

Dear Wales,

It’s a special feeling representing this country at the World Cup. My dad always says I came home from that first Wales camp beaming.

For anyone who doesn’t know, my mum’s Welsh, my dad’s Jamaican, and I was born in England, so I was eligible to play for three different national teams. I started my international career with England, in the under-16s, but in 2018, I switched to Wales. People always ask me, “Why??” That’s easy. I can do that in three words.




I think if you aren’t Welsh, you don’t really get it. You can’t really appreciate how passionate the people are and what the game means to us. Not because of what happens on the pitch. No, it’s more than that. It’s about the connection between the players and fans. 

Alex Pantling/Getty

It’s a bond you can feel

I’ve felt it on both sides, getting to play with a group of lads who have treated me like family since Day One. And as a kid who just wanted to see his country win. I remember watching Wales in the semis at the 2016 Euros, when I was 15. I watched that match with my grandparents and my mum’s whole family packed into one room. And my family, of course, was absolutely devastated when Portugal won. But that was a turning point for me, even if I didn’t realise it yet. Watching how well Wales did at that tournament was motivating. I mean, that game versus Belgium?? Unreal. When they won that match, seeing how proud all the fans were affected me very deeply.

It’s crazy to say that I’m about to play in the first World Cup Wales has qualified for in my lifetime.

Brennan Johnson

Both my grandparents from my mum’s side are from a place called Rhayader, which is pretty much dead centre of Wales. And they’re just really proud Welsh people. I remember ringing them and telling them, “I’m going to play for Wales!!!” and they were delighted. They always wanted me to represent this country. But it’s funny because their last name is Price, so they were kind of lobbying me to get Price-Johnson on the back of my shirt, but I was a young kid just trying to make the squad, and I didn’t know if that was even possible. So I think I told them that there was a character limit. Hahaha. 

As soon as I got to my first Wales call-up, I just loved it straightaway. 

I was a lucky kid that I was so football crazy (always begging for a new kit lol) and also had a dad who was a professional footballer. Like every 10-year-old in the U.K., I grew up watching highlight videos of my favourite players, but obviously having your dad playing football and being able to watch his goals is something different. Especially since he played for Nottingham Forest, who I play for now. Sometimes I stop and think about how he was hitting the back of the same net as I am now.

Not many people know this, but back in 1999, before my dad was capped by Jamaica, he was once called up to play for Wales, but unfortunately had to pull out because of injury. So knowing that was in his history, it felt like it was my destiny. 

Ali Yaqub for The Players' Tribune

Now, a few years after my first call up, it’s crazy to say that I’m about to play in the first World Cup Wales has qualified for in my lifetime. It’s a dream come true — Wales hasn’t been in a World Cup since 1958!!

For me personally, getting to this point hasn’t been as easy as people would think.

When I went on loan to Lincoln in League One in 2020, I’d spent more than a decade with Forest without ever really playing regularly for the first team in the Championship. So I was so hungry for that full-season experience. I wanted to feel the highs and lows that come with playing 30-plus games — and I got it. I’m still torn up about how our season ended. I loved that team, and I kept thinking about how great it would have been to get that promotion. But when my loan ended, it had also given me an even bigger drive to push on at Forest and show everyone how much I had grown.

After I got back to Forest, Steve Cooper came in as the new manager. It’s a different league, and it’s a step up, so I think he did have a bit of coaching to do because we weren’t in a great position. We went from being bottom when Steve came in, all the way up to fourth place by the end of the season. Before I knew it, we were at Wembley playing in the play-off final. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t pretty — but we won. We got the job done. Hearing the final whistle was an unbelievable feeling.

It wasn’t a given that we were gonna get this club promoted. But we believed, and we brought Nottingham Forest back to the Premier League — that hadn’t been done in my entire lifetime. I remember I ran straight to the fans. A lot of the lads fell to their knees. When we got to the changing room, I had to hide my phone because there were a lot of drinks flying about, people spraying champagne everywhere. When I finally did check my phone, it was blowing up with messages. I rang my friends, rang my parents as well. It was just a moment I’ll never forget.

I have to sit here and appreciate the fact that at 21 years old, I’ve already experienced two once-in-a-lifetime moments. Between Forest writing history and Wales doing the same, it’s hard not to look at it like destiny. I got a promotion, and now I’m getting a World Cup. It’s all about the moments. We’ll be a part of moments that will exist forever in the minds of Welsh kids.

Ali Yaqub for The Players' Tribune

There are so many little moments that stick out to me about watching my first World Cup. It was the one in South Africa, in 2010. I remember I was in primary school, and in the assembly room, everyone would be in there watching the games. I’d go home and recreate the goals — that first goal from South Africa, the one from Tshabalala that went top bins, that one I tried to do a lot!! Hahah. But yeah, I just remember little things like the boots, the Adidas ones — the black with the yellow. They were the World Cup boots that year, and I remember quite a lot of the players wearing them, and so I got me a few pairs still in the back closet. So I know it’ll mean a lot to the younger fans seeing us at the World Cup.

I know Gareth’s words will be ringing in my head again on Monday before the game against the U.S., when we’re singing the national anthem.

Brennan Johnson

As for us players, those moments will of course mean a lot to us, too. I’ll be honest, lately I’ve been shutting up and doing a lot of listening to the lads who’ve paved the way like Gareth, Wayne, Chris, Joe, and Aaron. For us to be in the position we are now, where we can qualify for Euros and World Cups, is a testament to them. They deserve a lot of credit. And so, when they speak in the changing room, everyone’s listening. When they talk about how things were when they were younger, about the facilities and how massively things have changed, you get a deeper understanding of the history of this team and how much this means.

You could feel the weight of it in the qualifier against Ukraine. 

Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty

I still remember everything Gareth said before the Ukraine game. Everyone thinks they know how much Wales means to Gareth — everyone saw that flag — but the reality is that he’s even more passionate than that. His words carry so much intensity and feeling. He spoke about what a chance we have, what an opportunity, and how it doesn’t come around often. Who knows if any of us will ever get this opportunity again. And he spoke about the importance of what it would mean for the country and how much it would mean for each other.

When we won, there were tears in the stands. There were tears on the pitch. Once I saw the emotion in the faces of the fans, it really hit me. It’s crazy to think how you can make someone feel by playing football. Gareth actually has a bar in Cardiff, and after the match we went back to the hotel with the families and then went to his bar. And then most of the lads went out after that as well. It was a really late one. Hahaha. But the energy in the streets and the pubs was incredible. Some of the lads ended up half crowd surfing across the fans in the club, which was so funny at the time. It felt like we all were one.

I know Gareth’s words will be ringing in my head again on Monday before the game against the U.S., when we’re singing the national anthem. I love singing the national anthem because it’s a reminder of who we are and how passionate we are as a people. I think that’s why it’s such a loud, passionate anthem — so everyone will hear us.

And now, the world will hear us.

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. 

I know it will be a moment that will live in the minds of our countrymen forever.

I’m just proud to be a small part of it. Dere ymlaen, Cymru!!

See you out there,

Brennan Price Johnson