Wales

Was 1999 the year that helped shape modern Wales?

Millennium Stadium Image copyright Francois Marit/ Getty Images

The year ended with Manic Street Preachers headlining the Leaving the 20th Century concert in front of 57,000 people, while the Stereophonics and Catatonia also played massive gigs at Morfa Stadium and Margam Park that summer.

Welsh music was seemingly at the peak of its powers in 1999, at a time when the country was about to acquire brand new ones with the first members elected to the National Assembly in May.

The bulldozers had long-since demolished the old national stadium and by October, a new venue had risen up as Wales prepared to host the Rugby World Cup.

With the Millennium Stadium preparing to play a leading role in the latest global tournament, 1999 is remembered as a period of nervousness and excitement, with nobody sure if Wales was ready to be placed so firmly under the spotlight. But 16 years on, some believe it was a defining year that helped shape the modern country.

"We were on the cusp of something," said Rhodri Morgan, who was the new Cardiff West AM. "But would we succeed? I don't think anybody really knew."

'Key stepping point'

He pointed to the result of the devolution referendum - 50.3% voted for and 49.7% voted against setting up the Assembly - as evidence people were not confident.

"There was nervousness we wouldn't be able to hack it, there'd be horrendous mistakes, 'jobs for the boys' and scandal after scandal," he said.

"The north of the country was also convinced the south would dominate while the south was convinced the Welsh language would be rammed down their throats."

Mr Morgan, who would serve as first minister from 2000 to 2009, believed there was similar anxiety surrounding Wales' ability to host the Rugby World Cup.

But he said the year proved to be a "key stepping point" for the country, saying: "It was touch and go if the Millennium Stadium would be ready.

"It was only just finished on time and I remember a piece of the roof fell off during the opening ceremony. It could have been a disaster.

"But as it happened all was well and as a country, I think we're more confident now."

Entertainer Max Boyce, who wrote a special version of his song Hymns and Arias for the opening ceremony, said hosting the tournament helped reaffirm Wales' national identity.

"Shirley Bassey, Catatonia and Bryn Terfel gave an experience of us as a musical nation," he said.

"There was no Olympic games extravaganza, we just sang our hearts out and showed we are the land of song.

"It was also important to show we could stage a tournament of that significance. We showed that a little nation can achieve great things."

After a decade in the international doldrums, the national rugby team was also starting to believe again.

Victory over England at Wembley in April and a first ever win over South Africa in June, sent them into the tournament thinking they could lift the Webb Ellis trophy.

Image copyright Francois Guillot/ Getty Images
Image caption Neil Jenkins, Gareth Thomas (centre) and Shane Howarth take on Argentina in the first game of the 1999 World Cup

"The support we had, the encouragement gave us belief that we could win it in our own country. We knew what it would have meant and had to believe it was possible," said Gareth Thomas, who appeared in four World Cups in total.

While Wales exited to eventual winners Australia at the quarter final stage, Thomas felt what happened off the field was of greater significant than the team's performance.

"It was far more about the country, the culture and the infrastructure," he said.

"Wales as a nation was starting to grow from there. It is just an incredible stadium in the heart of the city and it has become such a huge part of Wales.

"To be there at the start was amazing."

'Soul searching'

The year would end with Manic Street Preachers headlining Leaving the 20th Century at the stadium - a massive millennium eve concert that could have been their last.

They were "at the peak of their powers", according to Iestyn George, the band's marketing manager from 1999 to 2003.

But this left them unsure of where they could go after such a monumental show beamed around the world.

"They were where they had always wanted to get," said Mr George.

"But there wasn't euphoria that they'd finally made it and were the biggest out there. Instead, there was a lot of soul searching and the first question was 'what do we do next?'

"As a fan, I'm very grateful, as they could quite easily have left it at that and not been around for the next 15 years."

Image copyright Dave Etheridge-Barnes/ Getty Images

While 1999 was a formative year for both the National Assembly and Millennium Stadium, Mr George believes musically, a movement that emerged at the start of the decade from the Newport club scene had reached its zenith by the time the Manics, Super Furry Animals and Feeder played that gig.

"At the start of the 90s, there was nothing here, we hadn't had any Welsh artists having hits for a long time. It was very difficult for Welsh bands to be recognised, people didn't travel and big record companies didn't come here," he said.

"But because of Newport club TJ's, people started coming to see bands like The 60ft Dolls, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Catatonia and Dub War."

He believes this movement changed the perception of Welsh music forever, adding: "It empowered people. It will happen again, but now, it is not a big deal when a band is Welsh, it is not their primary reason for being."

Cardiff will once again welcome the rugby world over the coming weeks - but visiting fans may find quite a lot has changed in the 16 years since the city hosted the World Cup.

Image copyright David Rogers/ Getty Images
Image caption Catatonia's Cerys Matthews singing at the opening ceremony
Image copyright Francois Guillot/ Getty Images
Image copyright Gary M Prior/ Getty Images
Image caption Scott Gibbs' try helped Wales defeat England 32-31 at Wembley while the new Millennium Stadium was under construction
Image copyright David Rogers/ Getty Images
Image caption There had been fears that the Millennium Stadium would not be completed on time to host the Rugby World Cup

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