Almost as thrilling for me as the spectacle of Euros 2020 finally taking place a year late has been the sight of spectators in stadiums again.
There was a long and lively discussion about it in the chat after our zoom Mass a couple of days after Scotland had held the ‘Auld enemy’ to a goalless draw at Wembley. Marian in Glasgow spoke of what a tonic the tournament was and what a welcome return it marked to some form of normalcy. I agreed and said how wonderful it had been to have the Tartan army back in London. Boy can those guys have a party and how refreshing it was to see people coming tother in groups and having fun again. The only thing missing at Wembley was the singing, due perhaps to the fans needing to be spaced out but it was great to see the close ups of rival sets of supporters grimacing as first an England header hit the bar and then a Scotland shot was cleared off the line.
There was no such spacing of fans in Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium which seemed to be packed almost to capacity for Denmark’s game against Russia. I loved seeing the red-shirted masses rise and roar as one as each of Denmark’s four goals hit the back of the net. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Denmark having once spent a year in the country. The place where I was living had, for kind of pedagogical reasons, no television but it was 1988 and Denmark had qualified for the finals of the Euros. Pedagogical ideals were set to one side and a TV was hired for the duration of the tournament! It was fun to watch games with the others and I was struck by how similar were the sorts of things that people shouted out during a match. An oft-cried remark when Denmark were playing was ‘Kom så drenger’: come on boys!
Bizarrely, Denmark went on to win the Euros in 1992 after not qualifying for the finals. Yugoslavia, one of the favourites, were forced to withdraw due to the break-up of their country and Denmark were put in at the last minute as a replacement. They fought their way through to the final where they were up against Germany, the world champions at the time. The Danes won 2-0, and I could imagine the celebrations on the streets. Another year the Euros was won by Greece. They had no star players but were good and solid as a unit, gave nothing away at the back, and managed to nick a single goal in the crucial games. It seems to me that Gareth Southgate, the England manager, is trying to do a Greece this year: defend well (Southgate was himself a defender) and nick a goal! Let’s see how that tactic plays out against the top teams.
David Baddiel, who co-wrote the song ‘Football’s Coming Home’ for the 1996 Euros, gave an interesting response when asked just before this tournament began how he rated the chances of his team, England. He said, “I’m in my usual state of being hopeful and anxious at the same time.” It was a stance that I imagine many people, including myself, could relate to about life in general but how important it is for us dare to hope, even if it be mixed with other emotions. In football, as in life, fairy-tales really can happen. A Denmark or a Greece can win the Euros; a Leicester City can win the Premier League. One of the reasons why the proposal for a European Super League met with such widespread opposition was that the league, and therefore the opportunity for success, would be limited to a select few. Everyone else would be denied the chance to hope. Thankfully the proposal for the super league was hastily abandoned and so once again at the start of each new football season, just as at the outset of a major tournament, every fan of every team can dare to think, however apparently unrealistic it may be, ‘this year it just might be our year’.
May we all dare to hope, even if mixed with a dash of anxiety. And in Euros 2020 (played in 2021) may the best team win.