An idiot's guide to the Euros, and some of the reasons that will keep us hooked.
The Euros are here — European Championships, the prestigious football tournament held every four years, with only European national teams competing — held in France this time. It’s a time of great joy and excitement, with the occasional angry argument over who’ll win, followed by a bloody fistfight. Unlike cricket, major football tournaments are spaced out enough for them to be an actual event that fans look forward to. In that spirit, we document all the things that have set our pulses racing.
The Euros hosted by France, kicks off on 10 June. By youtube.com
Spain are the defending champions, and one of the favourites. Nevertheless, the all-consuming aura that the great Spanish team had cultivated between 2008 and 2014 has diminished greatly, all the more since the retirement of their Xavi, their puppet master. The Dutch team decimating them in their opening game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup was symbolic of a new world order in football (sort of), so them winning the whole thing isn’t quite a foregone conclusion. France, the home team, are obvious contenders, while the German side is expected to be in the running as ever. And you can never rule Italy out. Belgium, Switzerland, and Croatia probably exist as dark horses; Portugal have Ronaldo leading by example; and England, in trademark style, should just about crawl to the semis before losing in a penalty shootout. Given that this time the tournament will feature 24 teams instead of the usual 16, you can’t rule out a leftfield entrant in the mix either — Slovakia could cause an upset or two.
I like to believe I’m not a slave to the manipulations of corporate advertising. But every couple of years, Nike/Pepsi/Coke/Adidas/whoever will remind me that I very much am. Invariably, there’ll be some outstanding ad just before a major tournament. Before the last world cup, there was an exquisite animated film featuring football’s biggest names. This time, Nike has a six-minute ad featuring Ronaldo, who somehow switches lives with a young English kid, before their fates collide on the biggest stage. It’s of course called The Switch. Personally though, nothing can quite match up to the genius of that Pepsi ad featuring Beckham and a young fan
Sometimes, teams get knocked out even though should have won. It sucks. Smash-and-grabs happen. It’s even worse when the result is decided via a penalty shootout. The game gets over, the victors advance to the next round, or rush to grab the trophy. And the losers are left all alone, stared at by thousands inside the stadium, and by millions watching at home. Getting a glimpse of the losing team howling on the pitch after a loss is heartbreaking, visceral, and thrilling all at the same time. Sometimes it’s hilarious — like John Terry bawling after the Champions League final defeat to Manchester United in 2008. Sometimes it’s poignant and agonising: Samuel Kuffour, in tears, pounding the pitch with his fist. But it’s always compelling viewing, like a car crash or a squirrel eating nuts. Or two drunks fighting.
Three games a day for an entire month. Given our distance from France, the time difference works out perfectly, as the games are scheduled for 6.30 PM, 9.30 PM, and 12.30 AM IST. In even-numbered Euro/World Cup years, those are called “get shamelessly drunk” times. Pubs will in all likelihood use their IPL projectors and screens to show the matches, and hopefully they’ll offer buckets and happy hours as well, leading to a month of jolliness and drunken merrymaking set against the football, hopefully without any unexpected hooliganism (though I wouldn’t mind the occasional minor pub brawl between rival fans, from a distance of course). It’s the perfect way to spend the summer.
Stade de France. By Liondartois
Somehow, in football, the grandest of histrionics are usually reserved for the greatest of stages. Maradona’s swiveling run, or the goal he (or God) punched in. Zidane’s bizarre headbutt into Materazzi’s chest. Louis Van Gaal subbing his goalie just before penalties. Denmark failing to qualify, then being granted backdoor entry into the ’92 Euros, and going on to win the thing. Nigel de Jong’s kung-fu kick on Xabi Alonso. Fat Ronaldo allegedly suffering a fit just before the ’98 world cup final. Marco Van Basten’s stunning volley. Greece’s “no they couldn’t possibly. Wait, could they? Wait, they have!” in 2004. All memorable instances you remember tournaments by. You never know when those moments will come, so you have to watch the whole tournament diligently, waiting and hoping.
There’s no India playing, so there’s no team we’re automatically expected to support or risk being labelled anti-nationals. That’s liberating, since each person will find their own personalised reasons for siding with a team, each one as valid as the other. Like the French accent? They’re your team. Can’t pronounce names of the Polish players? They suck. Have Swiss chocolates in the fridge? As good a reason as any to root for them. Anything goes. There’s also the glory-hunters — the guys who’ll support the team mostly likely to win, and then bask in the reflected glory. So they’ll stick to Germany or Spain or France. They’re terrible people, but there’s no harm in keeping aside personal differences and watching a game with them.
Remember when Arvind Kejriwal got slapped by a disgruntled auto-driver and someone video-recorded the whole thing? That was so exciting. Every time you have any kind of elections, there’s this sense of anticipation in the air, even if you’re aware it’ll ultimately result in gloom, despair, and a two-year celebratory party at India Gate. Wherever you look, furtive looks are being exchanged. There’s animosity if the other guy doesn’t follow the same left-wing ideals you identify with, and lifelong brotherhood if he does. You want your guys to win. No one’s your friend, but then everyone is.
You may not have realised it, but football is exactly like politics. People kicking each other, trying to get ahead, calling names, naming names, playing petty games, being sexist dicks, looking for shortcuts to short- and long-term goals — anything for an (unfair) advantage.
As cringe-worthy as we make it out to be, we all secretly love it. We love the catcalling and the trading of insults that goes on between two (un)worthy opponents. And what is football without that?
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Akhil Sood
Cover photo credit: Football.ua