As a football fan, I’d forgotten how much I missed tournament football. I’ve detailed lots of factors in my Euro 2020 Diaries that I’ve been writing for the blog (links below if you fancy a read), but it’s safe to say that simple things like the noise and the colour have been amazing and it surprised me how much it affected me when seeing it all in full flow again.
I think the first time it really struck me was watching the first of Hungary’s games and realising that they had a full stadium. I actually commented to my wife about what a remarkable thing it was, both of us knowing all too well, that I’d been in many, many a packed stadium before.
When the tournament was cancelled due to the effects of the first wave of Coronavirus I didn’t give it much thought. It didn’t bother me at all. Despite football’s importance in my life, life itself took prominence at that point. The realisation that I was at real risk of something that might well kill me stopped me taking football too seriously. Funny that!
However, fast forward a year or so and I am once again fully immersed in watching football. It doesn’t matter that I’m largely watching players I’ve at best only vaguely heard of; I’m loving every minute. It prompted me to write my blog diaries, but then one day I was hit by the urge to get all poetic. I was thinking about the remarkable on-pitch events surrounding Christian Erikson and the subsequent rallying cry of what seemed like the entire Danish nation. And it got me to writing. And once I stopped, well it wasn’t as if I couldn’t stop, but I found myself writing four poems there and then. So, I suppose I did stop after all.
The first is my poem about the remarkable story of the Denmark national team and I suppose those who represent the Danish nation at the tournament. To quickly fill in a few blanks, their star player suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during their first game. He survived and the team have been battling on ever since. So here you go…
A Modern Fairytale From that moment something changed in all of us and a modern fairytale was born. Derided for our tribalism, mocked for our predictability, now our unity would surprise. As headlines were made and news spiraled around the world, we were focused. Shaken from our reverie, shocked by what we witnessed, old memories long since committed to the backs of minds, awoken once more. And so, we adopted you. Tuned in, crossed fingers, sat tensed, silently praying to someone or something in the hope that you could find 'us' some justice. As best we could we shared the early elation, giving not a second thought to our own nation, then returned to heightened tension, pacing floors, shouting at screens and watching, forlorn as you ran out of steam and didn't quite have enough. As the whiff of a final chance floated through the air and you gathered for one more time, the atmosphere crackled with pride, optimism, anticipation. That image, still fresh, would spur on a nation and its adopted sons and daughters and we punched the air, as one, as the net bulged again and again, edging you closer to a triumph that was surely written in the stars. As you celebrated, a wall of red, white and blonde our game once again reminded us of its power, producing joy where once there was fear, shock and mourning, we will always remember these moments of unity, when once, we were all Danish, weren't we?
Shortly after writing my Danish poem, I watched the last North Macedonia game. It turned out to be the final international appearance of Goran Pandev, a player I’m well aware of, but also one I’d lost track of somewhat – I mean, I follow football, but you can’t know every player’s every movement, right?
Pandev was substituted late in the game and given a standing ovation by the crowd as well as a guard of honour by his team mates. The game literally stopped while this happened. Once play re-started the crowd chanted his name for a good few minutes too. I just thought it was a wonderful few moments and something that said a lot about our game. So I wrote a poem.
Goran Pandev If there is a word for a figure that is not quite a legend, not quite an icon, then it is needed for times like this. A celebrated career, yet only known to those of a particular ilk; dedicated, obsessive, those who glory in the fact that the devil is in the detail. Born to a nation that many could not find on a map, scorer of goals that most cannot recall, let alone say that they saw, it is all the more remarkable that as you leave the field, for what many would not realise is the final time, there is a guard of honour, a standing ovation and a rousing, hearty chanting of your name. A tribute, not just to you Goran Pandev, but to all of football.
England versus Scotland was always going to provoke something in me. As a proud Englishman, it’s a fixture I love, regardless of the sport. It’s the one that both sides always want to win and dared not lose. A classic, bitter, historic rivalry.
As it turned out, the match was largely a non-event. England, overly cautious and perhaps overawed by the occasion, Scotland, performing above the sum of their parts, but still only arguably the better of a bad bunch. The teams shared a point, before ultimately going their separate ways; England qualifying for the knockout stage of the tournament, while Scotland would fail to get out of the group stage.
On England v Scotland The oldest fixture in football. This is not just a game, yet not the war that some would have you believe. There is a hatred on both sides, a mistrust, a pride, an ancient grudge that will forever break to new mutiny at the mere mention of the fixture. All common sense, rationality and right thinking is cast aside as Edward's army, Hadrian's Wall, devolution, independence, invading Celts, broken crossbars and of course, 1966, dominate our thoughts, our conversations. Bitterness, nationalism, the iconography of two flags, tartan and St. George are forced to the fore. Nails are bitten, alcohol consumed, friendships cats aside, a nation even more divided and for 90 minutes it feels like we hold our breath and watch through our fingers, faces covered, limbs tense, a calm exterior a thing of the past. Our capital invaded, our stadium full, our heroes reminded of their history, their duty. And yet, on this occasion it will not matter. One side deflated, the other, seemingly elated; neither wins the day. Wherever loyalties lie, we'll meet again, we'll see your like again.
I’ll finish this blog with a very short poem concerning the England player Jadon Sancho. Sancho is a young player who has achieved a great deal in a short time, having moved to Germany to ply his trade. And yet, for the first three group games of the tournament, he didn’t get a sniff of action on the pitch. For the first game, he didn’t even make the matchday squad and as a player with such obvious gifts, this became a talking point. He’s since agreed to join Manchester United for something like £73m and has actually played one game in the tournament. The team however have played six. So, like most of the country I was a bit puzzled. Unlike most of the country I wrote a poem in his honour.
Jadon Sancho You could have been at home, socialising, enjoying the typical efficiency of Tuetonic transport systems or sipping a smoothie or even a beer in a Dortmund park. More likely, you could have gone on holiday, said '(Foot)balls to isolation', but no. You're here, under-used, cast aside, destined to warm up perpetually. What a waste.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these poems. If you haven’t, don’t worry, Euro 2020 will be over soon and life can move on. Don’t give up on me! I could well write something that’s right up your street very soon!