08 June 2008

Cracks in my facade of carefully considered neutrality

The English media, bless them, have been all in a tizzy in the run-in to the European Championships. Baffled by being in the relatively unusual position of having to endure a major competition without the presence of their brave boys, the question dominating the run-in to the tournament has been: "who should we support?" The BBC have even made it the theme of their promotion of the tournament.

Kind of cute, really. Coming from a country whose presence at these events is unreliable (though it was much worse than that not so very long ago), I know exactly how to deal with this kind of situation: if England are playing, you back the other team; otherwise, you just hope for a good tournament with some nice football. Support a team? How gauche.*

Except that's rubbish. Just look at that line in the last paragraph: "you just hope for a good tournament with some nice football". If you're anything like me, the football snob inside you comes to the surface. You find yourself damning those who defences sit deeper than 35 yards out; your heart (unlike that of many Spaniards) breaks into many gooey pieces when Spain snatch defeat from the jaws of victory; and when Greece won it all last time out, even though on some level you knew it was something to be celebrated that a team so utterly overlooked had triumphed over the big boys, your reaction was "..."

Of course, there are other predilections and prejudices which may come into play: a favourite player; the aesthetic appeal of a jersey; the bittersweet memory of that foreign-exchange student you really fancied but never summoned up the courage to introduce yourself to...

I, though, am a child-partly-of-the-nineties, and grew up a football fan in a home cruelly deprived of a satellite dish; thus my mind and soul could find illumination but twice a week: once on Saturday morning, once on Sunday afternoon. If, like me, you listen to the Guardian Football Weekly podcast partly to hear James Richardson's voice (and puns), and dissolve into a puddle of helpless nostalgia** on seeing this:

-then, even if they were start playing like Bolton; even if Daniele De Rossi decides he needs to scratch the itch in his elbow by attempting to decapitate our Cesc; even if you feel jealous at their flowing locks and perfect cheekbone structure; no matter how much you might outwardly grumble, there'll always be a place in your heart for Italy.

Of course, Germany will win the tournament anyway - so much for what I think.

*In fairness, the Irish media have run similar features, both this year (including in yesterday's Irish Independent) and for the last World Cup, though they do seem to appear outside the sports pages; one prominent chat-show host urged the nation to support Poland because we have a lot of Polish immigrants.

**It feels slightly wrong for a twenty-something to indulge in such childhood nostalgia. Is it? I mean, if so, it's probably society's fault and all, but it'd be nice to know.


Steve 10/6/08 8:24 PM  

Looks like youtube disallowed this one. Bugger! I was looking forward to seeing if they could make the case for Italy. While I admire so many things about Italy, their less than open style of football is not among them. I'll confess, I was wearing a bright shade of orange yesterday and loving every minute of Total Football. With no England, Ireland, or Scotland to pull for, Holland are my team of choice. I suspect Germany and Spain will be prime competitors, with the young Portuguese nipping at some heels, too.

Anonymous,  10/6/08 8:36 PM  

It's funny that I read this in the midst of the Greece-Sweden match...my reaction to Greece 04 (and now), was much the same as yours! They've got five defenders on today?! Ugh...

I feel so much better knowing that de Rossi elbows everybody. I guess we Yanks shouldn't take what he did to Brian McBride in Germany 06 personally.

So it's Italy for you? I find them fascinating as well, but I don't really support them. I love the film clip (though I can't be nostalgic for something I've never seen). Italy are interesting to watch because they're so skilled, yet so cynical? careless? Stylish, for sure (great uniforms. I tease Steve about a statistic that Italian men spend 30% of their income on clothing, so these things matter to them)...it used to be fun watching Totti run his hands through his hair after every missed chance...then there's the whole catenaccio thing...ugly football from a beautiful country. (Franklin Foer noted the irony there).

I'm not neutral either. It's Holland this year (often, actually). Anything but neutrality is ultimately folly, but I can't help myself.

Anonymous,  10/6/08 8:38 PM  

Steve, maybe it's your machine at work that won't show the YouTube clip. I saw it here.

Steve 10/6/08 11:10 PM  

I tried the clip again and this time it worked. Damned capricious app.

So this must have been the intro to an Eye-tie football highlight show. With that insistent beat and vocal exhortation, you must have been primed for whatever came your way.

fredorrarci 11/6/08 4:19 PM  

It was the intro to British station Channel 4's Italian football show. It had me and my friends screaming "gooooooollllAAAAAccio!" in the school yard for years.

Actually (and I'm not trying to cover my arse here) I've always had a big ol' crush on Dutch football: the style, the swagger, the arraogance, the angst, the bitchiness, the Bergkamp. My love for them has been tested lately - they bored me silly in 2004, and they were more like an MMA tag-team against Portugal two years ago. They played some lovely stuff against Italy, though, and my soccer snobbery trumped my Italy-sympathy.

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