Wales

Welsh football film director's sad secret

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Media captionDon't Take Me Home went on general cinema release last week

Standing next to Chris Coleman as he introduced his seminal work about his beloved Welsh football team, this should have been the proudest night of director Jonny Owen's life.

Every Welsh football fan would have loved to have been at the film premiere of Don't Take Me Home.

But Owen could not wait to leave. He had other things on his mind. His dad was on his deathbed.

It is not that he was not enjoying the company of Wales' enigmatic football manager or did not want to share this special moment with "my boys from Merthyr".

While Owen was putting the finishing touches to the sporting documentary that immortalises Welsh football's journey to the Euro 2016 semi-finals, his father Brian was given just weeks to live.

The 78-year-old former guard to Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in January and it spread to his lungs.

Image copyright Jonny Owen
Image caption Jonny Owen had been splitting his time between home in Nottingham and his home-town of Merthyr

So as Welsh fans settled down for the ultimate cinematic reminiscence in Cardiff, Owen grabbed the only DVD copy available and dashed up the A470 to take Don't Take Me Home home to watch it with his dad.

His final weeks had turned into his final days.

"He was so frail, he couldn't leave the house, bless him," said Owen.

"So I fixed up the DVD player to the telly in his bedroom, laid down beside him and just chatted about a great time in Welsh football.

"I was chuffed he got to see the film - he loved it and was so proud.

"He got emotional when the Welsh anthem started playing in our first Euros game in Bordeaux, he grabbed my hand, that was a moment that'll always be with me."

Just days after the film was released, his father died.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Brian Owen enjoyed the "togetherness" between Wales players and fans at Euro 2016

"It hasn't hit me yet," Owen said. "The last few weeks have been emotional and crazy.

"I'm doing this film about the thing I love most in my life other than my family about probably the greatest summer I've ever had.

"The next thing, I'm told my hero, my role model, has just weeks to live.

"It was the best time and the worst time all in one.

"Dad was determined to stay with us until the film came out on St David's Day.

"Obviously, when we heard about his illness, I wanted to spend all of my time with him but I had this important film deadline looming.

"And he was like 'son, you've got to finish the film, get on with it and do it for me'.

"But I had to pull out of appearing on The One Show and BBC Breakfast News to promote the film because I wanted to be with my dad.

"I didn't tell him that, though, because he would've told me to get my jacket on and get in the car."

Image copyright Jonny Owen
Image caption Brian Owen served on a Berlin Wall checkpoint during his years of National Service

Owen, born and raised in the Merthyr suburb of Heolgerrig, edited Don't Take Me Home in Nottingham, where he now lives with Bafta-winning actress Vicky McClure, star of TV shows Line of Duty, Broadchurch and This is England.

"I was working 12 hours a day in Nottingham to get the film in the 'can' then driving home to Merthyr as often as I could to see him," said Owen.

"He is the reason why I love Welsh football and he wanted me to make this once-in-a-lifetime film. That made him proud.

"He used to go away with Wales to home championship games back in the 1950s. His heroes were the 1958 World Cup team and his favourite ever player was John Charles.

"But he loved this Welsh team and watched last summer how the players love playing for Wales and how the fans loved them - he loved that connection and togetherness.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Wales fans celebrate Gareth Bale's goal in their Euro 2016 opener against Slovakia

"He went to the last qualifier against Andorra despite being frail and loved the celebrations of them qualifying for the European Championships.

"It's funny because my mother would say 'Jonny, he's too nervous to watch and he'd go walking around the garden'.

"Even a bloke in his 70s when we were 3-0 up against Russia at the Euros, he said 'there's 20 minutes to go, we're still not safe - they could still sneak it'.

"All Welsh football fans could sympathise with that mindset. It never leaves you."

Brian Owen, who brought up his three boys with wife Carol in the house they lived all of their 50-year married life, was a promising footballer before going off to do National Service in the late 1950s.

While stationed in Germany, he guarded Nazi war criminal Hess at Spandau Prison and served on a checkpoint on the Berlin Wall.

"But he'd watch any football and used to watch all of the Welsh teams when they were home whether it was Merthyr, Cardiff, Swansea or Newport," Owen recalled.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jonny Owen lives in Nottingham with Bafta-winning actress girlfriend Vicky McClure

"He also supported teams that had Welsh players in, like when Gary Speed was at Newcastle or Arsenal because of Aaron Ramsey."

Don't Take Me Home, which Owen dedicated to his father, was in the top 25 films in the UK box office in its first week.

"I'm so chuffed the film has been so well received," said Owen. "But it's been bittersweet.

"When he told me he loved the film, I was happy I'd done a decent job."

Image copyright Jonny Owen
Image caption Brian Owen used to travel away to watch Wales in the 1950s

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