Thursday, 7 July 2016

The underdue final

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Twenty-Eight

Portugal and France will play out the final. This concludes my blogpost series on avoiding EURO 2016, three days before this finally last game, three days before expected. Which may indicate that the self-experiment has failed but at the same time actually proves its point.

The big circus will close for another couple of years. A lot of smaller ones will keep playing.

Meanwhile, enjoy the pleasures in life. Such as art, love, empathy and celery salad.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Den levende collage

»[D]et gik op for mig at teater og scenekunst ikke er en låst ting,
men i virkeligheden en levende collage
bestående af lys, lyde, rum, mennesker,
bevægelser, tid, tekster og tanker
som kan sammensættes på uendeligt mange måder
og give uendeligt mange forskellige udtryk.

Det fascinerede mig.
Ligesom at bygge lego uden manual. Den tanke kunne jeg godt lide.«

Maja Clementsen Hansen
Skuespiller og scenekunstner
i “Ramplelyset” Juni 2016

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Monday, 4 July 2016

Bye Iceland — Go Wales!

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Twenty-Five

We have reached the semi-finals of EURO 2016. Six days till the final. Meaning a day or probably two of rest, maybe even three.

The story so far: Portugal plays Wales and Germany plays the host nation France in the semis. It’s a fifty-fifty thing. Germany and Wales are those I support, or rather would support if I did follow the tournament. And if it wasn’t just football, the thought of Portugal or France winning the whole thing would be hard to bear.

But it is only football. A mere sport, blown up to not only huge business but also international politics. Which is the reason Denmark did not qualify. Or rather was cheated outside the green pitch, on the green table, because of politics at the other end of Europe that has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Denmark as a country, and even less with Danish football.

Oh well, it is soon over. Three more matches. Only one of the surprises left. And then another month and a half of peace before the German football season finally starts.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Forget EURO 2016 — Here’s the Craymachine

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Twenty-Four

OK, Iceland down 1:5 against les bleus. Let’s not talk about it. Instead, have some fun:

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Hector the Humble Hero

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Twenty-Three

The first good news: Turns out the Welsh Wizards actually did beat the Belgian Devils. Yay!

The second good news: Germany beat Italy after a penalty shoot-out marathon. And 1.FC Köln’s shooting star Jonas Hector scored the decisive one.

Jonas Hector deserves a story on its own, and here it is. A fairytale. A few years ago, the modest Saarländer played in the second team — because of his name🙂, I noticed him already back then — and already last year, he was the most capped player in Germany’s national team.

The best thing about this story (so far) though, is that he has kept both feet on the ground. He  talks to the press only occasionally, and only because it is part if his job, being a professional top footballer.

No CR7, no Zlatan, but Jonas. The story continues. Hopefully in Cologne.

Friday, 1 July 2016

An then there were seven

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Twenty-Two

I know it. I know now which the famous eighth team in the quarter-finals is. Wales. It is Wales after all. I saw a news heading on Facebook saying that they will play Belgium. I really hope the dragons are going to devour the devils.

As I learned last week that only one of the ‘big four’ — Spain, Germany, France and Italy — can reach the final, the winner of that match will play Portugal in the semi-final. For they did win against Poland yesterday after all. The silence in the evening here in Little Portugal did not signify that the team had lost. It signified that it took time for them to win. A penalty shoot-out in fact. And the initial evening silence was interrupted by the occasional honking car and cheering chauffeur even later in the evening.

Damn. Poland out. So of the three left in this ‘half’ of the knock-out pyramid, only Wales is an acceptable winner for me. Not CR7. And please not the Vrietenvreters.

I also picked up that Iceland is now dealing with the host nation, and Germany will deal with Italy. So let’s hope for (but perhaps not bet on) Iceland vs Germany in the semis.

It does annoy me somehow that I found out, even by coincidence, who the eighth team is. I had almost guessed it but was far from sure. I mean: Wales? Cymru?? Seriously??? OK, it is a beautiful, an amazingly beautiful place. But football?

Anyway, you humongously beat Belgium when it comes to coastline. Now do the same on the green pitch. Please. Do.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Physical art

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Twenty-One

Another quiet day, although I know there was at least one match today: Poland vs Portugal. After watching the interesting dance performance Körper by the famous contemporary choreographer Sasha Waltz, I avoided the cafes that showed EURO 2016 on big screens.

Or so I thought. As I left the place where I had a pizza, my companion saw — and told — that one of the teams had equalised to 1:1.

Judging from the silence in my Portuguese-dominated quarter, Polska actually nailed it!

But as I do not know, I will simply quote a joke I saw on Facebook today:
‘An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman go into a pub…
…to watch Wales show them how to play football.’
— so I more and more have the tendency to think that Wales is the mysterious missing team in the quarter-finals. In a way that would be cool, ‘cause there’d be a fourth team to support. That’s half of what remains.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Two thirds into the tournament, and still a team missing

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Twenty

Incredibly, today I have learned nothing new about the EURO 2016! Nada, nothing, zilch! Perhaps it is a day off, as I figured yesterday?

Therefore, let’s summarise what I have picked up about the tournament so far. The new points, since the sum-up twelve days ago, are in italics.
  • It is held in France
  • France, Romania, Switzerland and Albania must have played in the same group
  • Switzerland scored against Albania
  • Albania beat Romania and fans celebrated in the streets of Albania until 2 am
  • Albania came third but this did not suffice to reach the knock-out stage
  • Iceland, Portugal, Austria and Hungary must have been in the same group
  • Iceland drew 1:1 against Portugal (and Ronaldo was angry at reporters)
  • From this group, only Austria did not reach the knock-out stage
  • Poland, Northern Ireland, Germany and Ukraine must have played in the same group 
  • Poland beat Northern Ireland by 1:0 (and Lewandowski was angry at his team mates)
  • Germany beat Northern Ireland too, apparently by a few more goals
  • Wales played against Russia
  • Italy beat Sweden 1:0 at the group stage
  • Turkey were in there somewhere too
  • Sweden was eliminated at the group stage (and Zlatan was angry at the referees)
  • Italy beat Spain in the eighth-finals
  • Belgium beat Hungary in the eighth-finals
  • Germany beat Slovakia in the eighth-finals 
  • France beat Ireland 2:1 in the eighth-finals after Ireland had been up 1:0 on a penalty
  • Iceland beat England in the eighth-finals
  • Everybody loves the Icelandic Vikings — even the English 
  • Poland plays Portugal in the quarter-finals
  • Germany plays Italy in the quarter-finals
  • Iceland, France and Belgium have also reached the quarter-finals
Now, this may seem like a lot of information picked up by someone who actively tries not to follow the tournament. But when you think of it, it adds up to very few facts:
  1. As little as four exact results
  2. Angry primadonna players
  3. And not even all of the eight teams still fighting for the Henri Delaunay Cup…

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The mysterious eighth team

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Nineteen

Belgium thrashed Hungary. I don’t know by how much but I saw headlines such as ‘Belgium seriously signs in for the fight for medals’ and ‘Belgium’s captain: We could have won even higher’. So I am supposing it was by more than three goals, which for some newspapers is enough to call a victory ‘thrashing’.

Anyway, I hope the won’t go all the way, that would simply be unbearable. One of the usual suspects, I can bear, even France or Italy. But not Belgium.

France won against Ireland, as I wrote about a couple of days ago. And I know the Squadra azzura is through too, as they played against another usual suspect, Spain, and I read that Spain is out.

The remaining of the four usual suspects is the only one I would support: Germany. I am pretty sure they won their eighth-final against Slovakia, as I saw photos of a celebrating Thomas Müller and Mario Gomez, the latter being one of the most overrated strikers to have worn the white jersey. But apparently he does live up to this honour now in his (for a footballer) older days. Maybe it’s just me who never got over watching him scoring a hattrick in RheinEnergieStadion back in 2009 when VfB Stuttgart was a top team and 1. FC Köln was (once again) newly promoted.

Who I’d really support though, if I was in fact following the EURO 2016, and who everyone seems to be supporting now are the volcanic wonderboys from Lavaland. Yes! Iceland were the wizards behind the second Brexit within a few days, this time just in a football tournament. I had caught a liveticker displaying that they were up 2:1 against England, and this morning I saw a text from my best friend, an Englishman, reading: ‘Yes! Iceland hand out just punishment for Thursday! Great result!’


A close Polish source also told me in a slightly worried tone that Poland will play Portugal in the quarter-finals. I will know the outcome of that one by the honking or the silence in my street. Although I actually do not know when the matches take place. My guess is that today is a day of rest, which then leaves exactly twelve days till the final on 10 July. That is a lot for seven more matches. Could it really be that tomorrow is a day off too, followed by only one quarter-final a day until 3 July? That would make space for a two-day break before the semi-finals on 6 and 7 July and another two days’ rest before the final.

So who is through anyway. Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, Poland and Iceland. But who is the eighth quarter-finalist? Truth is, I honestly have no clue. Croatia? Turkey? Who am I forgetting, or rather not knowing about?

I think it proves a certain success in my self-experiment to not follow the EURO 2016: There is even one of the eight teams still in the tournament that I do not know of! Let’s celebrate that by watching the highlights of another quarter-final, not at a European but at a World Championship, and not with a good outcome but truly one of the most exciting matches ever:

Oh, wait! Maybe Wales is through?? Despite voting to leave…

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Goliath usually wins

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Seventeen

‘Mom! Ireland has a penalty!’. Half a minute later: ‘They scored!’

It is not easy to not follow a football match when a kid in the house is watching it. Even if it’s a friend’s kid and the television is in another room. It turned out Ireland played France and ended up losing 1:2. Another favourite is through. Boring.

And judging from the reactions from the same gathering’s Croatian representative when someone mentioned Portugal, maybe the team with the chequered jerseys (are they even in this tournament?) lost against the Iberians, but I’m not sure about that one. If so, it just confirms that all the favourites go through in the end.

I hope it is not the case for the other two matches that I happened to see or hear are taking place today or tomorrow: Belgium vs Hungary and England vs Iceland. After Thursday’s referendum, not even the English seem to support their (part of what is still a) country against the refreshingly unconventional Vikings.

I once read that England has only lost two wars ever. One of them was when King Canute the Great of Denmark took over much of Britain. The other might have been when Allan the Tiny did the same some 900 years later:

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Eighth-final snippets

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Sixteen

Today was an eighth-final day, and I have no idea of the outcome. Isn’t that great?

All I know is that there is supposed to be a ‘British clash’. Perhaps England will play Wales? I don’t know.

And that Poland was leading 1:0 against Switzerland despite the Swiss making the game. So it could very well be that they won in the end.

And that Hungary seems to be through to the knock-out phase too, as I got a glimpse of a survey on a newspaper’s website where one could vote for the coolest thing at the EURO 2016 so far. One of the three possibilities was ‘Hungary’s upswing’.

Another was Iceland. I know they are through to the eighth-finals as well. What’s more, there are elections for the Planet’s oldest Parliament very soon, and a record-low turnout is expected, as a tenth of the country’s population is in France to support their team! A friend who has read my blog (glad that somebody does) texted this to me this morning.

See what football can do to people… But at least they cannot vote themselves out of the European Union.

Friday, 24 June 2016

The Union that does not want to be part of a Union

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Fifteen

Today does not call for a blogpost about football, after 51.9% of the UK voters chose to leave the European Union of peace.

So I will make it short and try to link the two. Which is easy: Now there is a real chance that, after almost a decade and a half, it will be justified for more than mere historical reasons that the UK has so many ‘national’ teams.

Because the United Kingdom will soon not be one. It is a now a far from unrealistic scenario that within a pretty near future, Scotland and perhaps even Northern Ireland will actually leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, just as the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. Wales, surprisingly, did vote to leave the EU …and the beautiful hilly country will probably keep its ‘national’ team.
The only thing I did pick up about the European Championship today was in my team’s newsletter where it says that our two players Jonas Hector and Dusan Svento will play against each other in the eighth-finals.

So now I know that Slovakia is through to the knock.out stage and that they will face Germany.

A duel between two countries that are both among the 28 members (soon 27, then 29 or a few more) of the European Union of peace.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Baby zillionaires and brave Black Eagles

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Fourteen

It seems that Sweden is out. And that Zlatan is angry. The super-duper-megastar has come up with the usual sorry referee excuse.

Like it or not, football players are idols for millions of children. And given the way many of them behave, especially some of the very best and highest paid and most spoiled ones like Zlatan or CR7, this is a very tricky thing.

Their eight-digit salaries should come with a clause: Look, Ibra and Cristiano, you get a couple thousand a month, plus a few more thousand per goal you score, per point the team harvests, and an extra bonus per title it wins. But your salary only gets beyond five digits a month if you behave in a way that in fact does give the many many kids who look up to you something to look up to. Capisco?

The thing is, when has any referee ever changed his mind when players, coaches, team officials have protested against a decision he has taken? It is so ridiculous. It wastes everybody’s time.

The worst is when a big team claims that some decision went against it, and that prevented it from winning. Listen, guys, you are super top professionals. You make such decent living from your hobby that it is far beyond decent. So even if a referee does you wrong, chances are that over 90 minutes you have plenty of time, and skill, and strength, and morale to turn the thing around and get your three points. Without having to waste your and everyone else’s time by blaming somebody else. You are the pro, you are the star. Act like one. Think of what you earn per minute.

I have no idea whether there was any pinch of truth in Zlatan’s claim, and it is beside the point. Play football, play it well, and please, please shut up.

The only other thing I picked up from EURO 2016 today (is it a match-free day?) is that Albania is out, apparently as one of the two not-good-enough number threes. And that the Shqipëtars had to wait several days to know their fate, as it depended on results from other groups.

I have mentioned it before, and I will repeat it — as has my friend Ståle Solbakken, coach of FC København and formerly of my team 1. FC Köln, in a newspaper interview: This is a huge weakness in the new tournament structure. No-one should depend on what happens in other groups, which they cannot influence. That Shqiponjat sort of qualified for the tournament in a not unsimilar way is another story. Right now, I just think it is a pity that they are out, even if it would have been a surprise, had they entered the knock-out phase.

Stand up again, guys! You have already made your people very proud!  

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Too much information?

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Thirteen

Oh dear, now I’ve done it.

First, in my afternoon coffee break — which was not even a planned one as I hardly ever take these — I heard a male German colleague enthusiastically explaining to a non-male non-German colleague that only one of (what he considered) the four big teams: Germany, Spain, France and Italy can now reach the final. Which must mean that they are playing in such constellation in the knock-out phase that they will play each other no later than in one of the semi-finals.

However, this does not necessarily mean that there will be a small(er) team in the final. For even if I keep hearing hints about Cristiano Ronaldo being pissed off at Portugal’s performance, I do not believe that they will not actually go through to the knock-out phase. For with this system of 24 teams, two thirds will. And no way Portugal will end up last in their group, or as one of the two number threes with the fewest points.

Second, what I just wrote was confirmed later. It was naïve of me to think that I could go to just to check out if there were any news about my team (players bought, players sold, who they are playing in the first round of the cup), without seeing anything I shouldn’t see about EURO 2016.

For I did. And got a lot of information even if I only got a glimpse of one single heading. Compact with information, too much information, I believe it read something like: ‘CR7 saves Portugal. Iceland celebrates. Austria mourns.’

Still, despite the first bit of information in that single heading, I have not heard any honking cars here in Little Portugal. Perhaps the dear fado people save it for the final where they will have to play either Germany or Spain or France or Italy.

Part of me hopes not, as I support the small teams, like this time Iceland and Albania. Part of me does hope so as I will not watch it…

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Those snippets that make it harder

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Twelve

The local cinema chain is running a promotional campaign, which is a classical example of a lost main message. It advertises ‘EURO 2016 from 10 June to 10 July — 6 € per ticket at your second visit’. It is evident to read the advert as if the cinemas actually project the European Championship matches on their big screens.

But they don’t. It is just a way to attract a few visitors over the summer and not lose them completely to the televised matches. By making them watch films during the tournament at a (very slightly) reduced rate. Not exactly clear.

What is clear is that Albania beat Romania. I do not know by how much but my Albanian connection told me there were celebrations in the streets until 2 am.

I also overheard a Pole explaining to a non-Pole that ‘we need a 0:0 against Ukraine’. Sigh. This is one of my pet peeves in football as a sport: A team can actually get a point without scoring a goal …provided that the opponent does not score either. And yet, football is allegedly about scoring goals, or at least attractive football is.

Now how is that for a competitive sport? Yes, I know. In other sports it may be similar. But a goalless draw hardly ever happens in ice hockey, for example. I recall such result a few years back in a European top league, and they said it was the first time in many years it had happened — and when it does happen, the match goes into extra time, sudden death or if necessary penalty shoot-out (pardon me if the terms are not correct) until one of the teams does score and ultimately wins. Not to speak of handball where goalless draws never occur.

In the Soviet football league there was no point for a goalless draw. Even if my own favourite team would suffer greatly from such rule, I think it a more than fair one. In fact I even once suggested that scored goals should be the first criterion to ranking teams in the league table. The counter comments I received in that forum were rather amusing. Football fans are, like most other religious people, rather conservative.

Anyway, the fact that biało-czerwoni had to go for at least 0:0 against Ukraine proves that the latter team is in the tournament, which I was not certain about (see yesterday’s post). In what must then be the same group, apparently Germany thrashed Northern Ireland who is probably out then, as I know for a fact they lost 0:1 against Poland earlier in EURO 2016.

So even if I try not to actively follow the tournament, the snippets of information I capture anyway start coming together to what is at least a bigger picture of how things are going and how teams are doing.

Which, admitted, makes it a bigger challenge not to actively follow.

Monday, 20 June 2016

How many out of twenty-four?

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Eleven

Time for a self-test. Yesterday when chatting to a couple of friends who had read my blog, I realised that since the number of teams in the European Championship is for the first time 24, there are eighth-finals after the group stage, as opposed to quarter-finals since 1996 I think, and before that even just semi-finals.

This also means that in four of the six groups, number three out of the four teams qualifies for the knock-out stage. I always found this a stupid rule: ‘the four best number threes’. It was invented by FIFA in the 1986 World Cup. Already four years before, the World Cup had been upgraded from 16 to 24 (and nowadays even 32!) teams.

As the system of having the two top teams of each of the six groups advance to the next round, and then play in four groups with three teams in each did not work well, eighth-finals were introduced from 1986, meaning that the ‘best’ four of the six teams finishing third in their respective groups also got a ticket to this round.

Anyway, back to the self-test: Do I actually remember which 24 teams qualified for EURO 2016? Let us see: Poland, Germany, France, Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Russia, Romania, Albania, Iceland, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Sweden, Turkey, Switzerland and Portugal I know for sure.

That’s 18 already. Spain must be in there as well, and I’m pretty sure that Germany had to play against Ukraine. Oh, and Belgium is in there too of course, as everybody’s (not so) hidden favourite.

So we’re at 21. Which ones can the remaining three be? Croatia would be a good bet. I do know that The Netherlands are not in. But who else is? Greece? Might be. Czechia perhaps? I don’t think so but I’m not sure. Ireland could be though, as I saw a link to some young lads in green jerseys with pints in one hand and garbage bags in the other:

I love that green country and their people! And it seems they are among the 24! Good!

Sunday, 19 June 2016

10 Days: 1:0 and 1:0

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Ten

We are on Day Ten of this year’s European football championships for national teams, played in France until 10 July, day of the final which I cannot watch anyway due to family commitments far more important than football.

We are on Day Ten on my self-experiment, the objective of which is to see if it is possible even for someone who does follow football regularly and is even lifetime member of the team he supports, to actually not follow what is supposed to be the climax of the season, even of the past couple of seasons.

We are on Day Ten, and the experiment is going well. Beyond expectations in fact. Two results is all I know for sure after ten days and thus probably twenty matches out of thirty-six in the group stage.

Those two results, are, even if hardly representative, symptomatic of one of my reasons not to bother following the tournament. Poland 1, Northern Ireland 0. Italy 1, Sweden 0. Two matches, two goals. Two teams that have not scored.

This, to me, is what the big tournaments have become. A struggle not to lose, more than a real attempt to win. Football is more about preventing defeat than about giving everything for victory. The three-point rule, introduced in England in 1981 and in most other places from 1994, has not changed that, on contrary. Especially in competitions with few matches in the group stage, it rather encourages defensive football especially from the supposedly weaker teams, instead of motivating them to go for gold.

As an 1. FC Köln supporter, you may say I am not one to get too loud about this, and I agree. Football has become so polarised that in most leagues, only a few big teams have a real possibility to finish at the top, leaving the others to do what they can to scrape together a point here, another one there, with the occasional three-pointer needed for survival, with the squad they have been able to trawl up from what remains after the big ones have vacuumed the player market every six months.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Colours of football

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Nine

A trip to Germany. The occasional schwarz-rot-gold flag hanging from on a balcony, but surprisingly also a couple of bleu-blanc-rouge ones on poles. Grown men enjoying a pils in their national team jerseys. A girl running on the sidewalk wearing one too. A village café with a sign saying ‘Watch all EURO 2016 matches here’. A lakeside café with Özil, Schweini and five or six other players plus the whole team’s autographs printed on a flag. It’s EURO 2016 and the fans of the World champions display their affection.

Not a single car with those small plastic flagpoles fixed to the window frames though. So Germany is probably not playing today. And somehow, overall, I have the feeling that the enthusiasm does not reach quite the same heights as in recent years.

I did catch another result by accident though. While having a tea, I superficially browsed through a Bild, and as my eyes fell on a football field graphics with a heading saying that Italy has beaten Sweden 1:0, I quickly skipped past the sports pages — there was a dozen of them, and they seemed to be only about EURO 2016 — and only caught that Turkey played as well, and that there are some problems in the German team. At least according to Bild that of course listed the six reasons for these problems and …probably in their usual sublime journalistic style… analysed them in depth…

Italy 1:0… what a surprise… The safest bet one can place is that Italy wins 1:0, no matter who the opponent is. I have always had a hard time understanding football fans who follow Italian football (except for Italians of course). To me, they have always played this 1:0 football. Make a goal, and as soon as you do, just make sure the others don’t make one. How boring can it get, and then from this cheerful people who on other fields than the football field spread so much joy of life and colour.

Speaking of colours: Turkey. I had forgotten they were in there too. And they too have a Lukas Podolski connection, as he plays for one of the country’s big three, Galatasaray Istanbul. Galatasaray plays in unusual colours: a dark shade of yellow, approaching orange, and a brownish red. The colours are not far from those of AS Roma, and what I find interesting in both cases is that while such colours look somewhat too dark at less sunny latitudes, they look brilliant down there.

Friday, 17 June 2016

The story so far

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Eight

Wow! It has been a week since the opening match already! And what I know for sure about the EURO 2016 matches is that:
  • It is held in France
  • The host nation played against Romania
  • Switzerland scored against Albania
  • Iceland drew against Portugal (and Ronaldo was angry)
  • Poland beat Northern Ireland by 1:0 (and Lewandowski was angry)
  • Germany played against Poland
  • Austria played or will play against Hungary
  • Wales will play against Russia
I don’t think I learned anything new about the tournament today. It was simply too busy at work, and during lunch, when one side of the table started talking football, I had the reflex to focus on the other side, discussing books.

Ironically, after one of my colleagues mentioned a dystopian book in which the World’s population (apart from one person of course) had gone blind, my contribution to the discussion was to recommend a play called ‘The Sightless’

Thursday, 16 June 2016

PoL-Di — and the paradox of a possible Brexit

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Seven

An English friend told me that the England’s last group match — to be played three days before the UK referendum on whether or not to be part of the European community we are building together for some sixty years now — can actually influence that group of still-doubting voters who might very well be decisive to the outcome.

Is that really what the World has come to? Is football, or rather following football, the modern-day battle between tribes?

If so, it is actually a paradox of big dimensions. If one looks to the ethnicity of players on the different teams, especially but not only the former colonial powers, the plethora of diversity is evident.

One famous example is Lukas Podolski. Born in Gliwice in Southern Poland, his family moved to a suburb of Cologne when he was very little. Already as a teenager, he became the star of my team 1. FC Köln where he remains a cult figure. In fact, the only club where Prinz Poldi has had real success is here.

Given Germany and Poland’s long intermingled history, there is even a book about Polish players who carried the black eagle rather than their own white one. Apparently, tonight the two countries play each other. Should Poldi score …although it seems unlikely he will even play; some claim he is only part of the Germany’s squad of 23 because of his persistent good mood and positive influence on his team mates… he will not celebrate, out of respect for his country of birth.

Podolski made the same gesture, of not celebrating that is, when he played for Bayern München against 1. FC Köln years ago. I was there, in the stadium. Before the match, during the warm-up, the kölsche supporters celebrated their lost star. And they celebrated his goal despite that it consolidated the 0:3 defeat against the spoiled Bavarian millionaires. As the German media reported: Das gibt’s nur in Köln!

Incidentally this happened to be the only time my Polish better half has joined me for a live football match, to see what on Earth made me spend entire Saturdays on driving a couple hundred kilometres and back to see 22 men chase some ball for 90 minutes.

Beats me.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Atlantic rift

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Six

I now learned that Iceland ‘only’ drew against Portugal but of course celebrated it as a victory. Cristiano Ronaldo — arguably the most arrogant, even if also the best, footballer on the Planet — was understandably not amused but lowered himself into belittling the performance and achievement of the twice-as-tall people from the volcanic island. Get over it, zillionaire from another Atlantic island (Ronaldo is from Madeira).

However, even a point from our Viking brothers sufficed to make one of Denmark’s oldest and most traditional newspapers change its online head:
Even if that was all for today, that is something!

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Footballitical wonder(ing)s

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Five

In a meeting about a team event that I am co-organising for another department at my workplace, someone asked which match we are going to watch when the event is over. It turns out the venue has a bar with big screens, broadcasting all the EURO 2016 matches, but as the two matches on that day do not start at 9 pm, i.e. three and a half hours after the event is planned to end, the idea was off. I am sure some people will hang around anyhow.

One of the matches is Wales against Russia, and a colleague commented that there will be riots again, as there has been between English and Russian supporters already. I threw in a remark that it seems only England supporters fight and riot, not the Irish, the Welsh, or the Scottish (the latter, as far as I recall, not being present in EURO 2016 anyway).

On the verge of the Brexit referendum, this is put in an interesting light. Some predict that if the United Kingdom really does choose to leave the European Union — to which the country since its admission in 1973 has paid a lower contribution than any other member state, while getting the same full benefits apart from a few essential ones from which they decided to stay out (the social dimension, the Schengen Agreement, the common currency) — the Scotland will leave the United Kingdom, and Wales and possibly Northern Ireland will follow. So the price that the old empire will pay to leave the 21st century might very well be that the core of that empire will crumble.

Who knows, perhaps England will become the 51st U.S. state instead of Puerto Rico. And then: No more European Championships for them… On the other hand, already now, several countries outside Europe are actually UEFA members and therefore play in the EURO qualifiers.

International politics is a strange thing. Not least when it gets mixed up with sports. Which, in my naivety, I still consider just being games.

Speaking of which, my better half came home proudly saying that she, as the only one among the ex-colleagues with whom she had spent the evening out, had bet for Iceland to beat Portugal. Oddly, the party had left the bar —incidentally, the same as mentioned at the beginning of this blogpost —four minutes before the end of the match. At that time, the score was 1:1, and true, I did not hear a single honk in my street here in Little Portugal this evening.

Did the Vikings even win the match? Then they might as well take Scotland under their wings and start forming a Nordic Union.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Memorable moments from 2012 and 2014

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Four

It had to happen rather sooner than later: Some friends asked me who I support at EURO 2016. I explained that I do not follow the tournament, and why.

Before that, they asked me if I was also joining to watch tonight’s match on a big screen on the city’s central square. It brought back memories of the Match of the Century two years ago when Germany crushed the Brazilian hosts in the World Cup semifinal. I watched it right there, on that square.

I also saw a car with a Polish flag drove through my street. It is the first and so far only sign of supporters I have seen this year. I wonder if it is because interest this year is actually lower in general, or if it is that I simply do not see it.

Anyway, I was happy it was a Polish flag as I have close connections with Poland. It turned out they had beaten Northern Ireland 1:0. That’s all I know. The first actual result that I have seen, of course by accident, through a Facebook post. I also learned that Robert Lewandowski had shouted at team mates because he was unhappy with the performance.

Whether Lewandowski was the one who scored the goal, I do not know. But I have a fond memory of him. Four years ago, when the European Championship was held in Poland and Ukraine, I placed a 10 € bet on him being the tournament's first goal scorer. And he was. I watched the game in a pub with the local Polish community — beautiful girls with red and white flags painted on their cheeks.

I don’t recall if the bookmakers credited 40 or 60 € to my account — ‘first goal scorer’ is a risky bet with consequently high odds, on the other hand Robert Lewandowski must have been among the favourites and thus among the lowest odds in this category — but I do recall that all in all I lost money on that won bet, as people expected me to celebrate it by buying drinks. Heck, it’s just a game.

Na zdrowie.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Switzerland has scored! But what else do I know?

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Three

In a newspaper heading somewhere, probably online, I caught that Albania’s team was reduced to ten players in yesterday’s match. Probably a red card, but that’s just an assumption.

So far, all I know for sure from EURO 2016 is that Switzerland has scored a goal against Albania. I don’t for a fact know whether the Eidgenossen scored more than this one goal, nor if they won, drew or even lost against the decimated Skënderbeu squad. This is going well! Not knowing more about the actual results of the tournament, I mean.

Oh, and one of my 400+ Facebook connections posted this neat picture. So apparently the two countries that up until the first world war (I know that according to dictionaries, this takes capital letters, but I deliberately write the names of wars in lower case) formed the main part of a European colossus-on-feet-of-clay superpower are actually in the same group. And me who had happily forgotten that they even qualified. I mean …what has Hungarian football been since Puskás, and what has Austrian football been since Krankl? I werd’ narrisch. No offense.

Then the less funny part I half picked up today. Apparently England and Russia have played as well. And their brainless hooligans have caused chaos. If I trusted that this scum could actually read, I would send them this link, hoping it could make them realise what they actually do. And what it costs society. Did you know that the Land Bremen in Germany has started invoicing their local heroes Werder Bremen for the extra costs they have in providing man-days to ensure security at regular Bundesliga matches? I think it only fair. Until someone comes up with a better idea for a simple game not to set the agenda on how one of society’s essential resources is used.

I want to end today’s blogpost on a positive note though. The so-far biggest challenge in avoiding the EURO 2016 showed up today: An invitation to watch tonight’s matches. From friends, a Belgian-Polish couple. So most likely, diable rouge is playing. Or the silver eagle. Or both. Maybe even against each other. Though I would have enjoyed the Belgian beer and a bit of the Polish wódka that would for sure have been on the small table in front of the big screen, I stayed firm.

And I hope we are still friends.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Who played? Who won? Who cares…

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day Two

I heard no honking yesterday, no cheering whatsoever. I live in a multinational city where all nationalities of the European Championships are covered, so there is usually some celebration noise after a match finishes. But there was nothing.

This did not occur to me until I saw half of a newspaper heading, which I think said that the host nation had a lot of trouble beating Romania in the opening match. As 6% of the population here where I live are French citizens, one would have thought that some celebration took place in the city after this opening victory for what are supposed to be the favourites in this tournament.

In a weak moment some days ago, when I was reminded that the tournament would start, and that the hosts would play the opening match, I considered putting perhaps 10 € on them winning the whole thing. Not that I in any way hope they will (if I did care) — but when France hosts a big tournament, they tend to win it. Except for the 1938 World Cup, which no-one remembers, and the 1960 Nations Cup, more of a forerunner to the European Championship, which was too small a tournament for one to really speak of a host nation.

But maybe les bleus did not win yesterday after all. I could have misread the newspaper heading, as I only half-read it anyway. In reality I do not know — so far, so good.

What I do know though is that Switzerland (had completely forgotten that they had qualified; I am still not used to that) was leading 1:0 against Albania. I saw that by accident as I went to the German football magazine kicker’s website to check something far more important: When the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal (= German Cup) will start again, so that I can maybe go watch 1. FC Köln on my way up North when I might go to Denmark for an extended weekend.

Whether the Swiss won, I do not know. I made sure not to check. Although I secretly hope they did not, as I — had I chosen to follow EURO 2016 — would support Iceland and Albania. The latter with mixed feelings… but more about that later.

Friday, 10 June 2016

From football virginity to football celibacy

Avoiding EURO 2016: A self-experiment — Day One

Today is a big day for many. They will spend a big part of the next month watching overpaid young men from 24 different countries running around on picture-perfect pitches in The Fifth Republic.

Usually I am one of these many. And I have been since 1982 when I happened to enter our living room where our only(!) television set, with eight(!!) channels, was. My older brother in front of it, watching eleven men in white shirts and black shorts lining up, at least some of them trying to remember the German national anthem.

Superimposed on this picture was a pixelated yellowish font that spelled ‘ALEMANIA’ and a list of eleven numbers between 1 and 22, each followed by last names such as ‘SCHUMACHER’, ‘FOERSTER B’ or the (then) more exotic ‘LITTBARSKI’.

The TV speaker read out all eleven names. As he came to the name next to the number ‘8’, he said ‘Klaus Fischer’, and my brother spontaneously half-shouted ‘He is good!’ Still being at an age where one’s older brother held somewhat of a model role, Klaus Fischer was my idol from that day on. And to this day, the club he happened to play for those years, 1. FC Köln (known to English-speakers as FC Cologne — I still do not understand why the ‘1st’ in the club’s name is always omitted outside the German-speaking part of the World), has remained my favourite team.

It was in my Panini sticker album that I found out where he played. In 1980, without watching a single match, I already collected the stickers for the European Championship album, which I shared with my brother. Two years later, for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, I had my own sticker album. And I started watching some of the matches.

I continued to do so. Every other summer was a highlight, alternating between World Cups and European Championships. Even in the nineties and the beginning of the new millennium when I did not really follow club football that closely, I would still follow these big tournaments in even years.

Until now, 34 years after España 1982 and Klaus Fischer’s equalising bicycle kick in the extra time of a semifinal that to this day remains one of the most dramatic football matches ever. 17 big tournaments for national teams later — seventeen! — I have decided to conduct a self-experiment: To not follow this year’s alleged football feast. Instead I will publish a blogpost every day.

The reasons are manifold. We will get back to them over the course of the next 31 days.