Yesterday I posted about the World Cup. Today I am posting excerpts of two letters on European tournaments. I watched Euro 98 games Austria and Egypt. During Euro 96 we lived in Tirana. I’ll start with Euro 2008.
A cartoon in one of the local Cairo papers shows two Egyptians looking at the European football tournament, Euro 2008, on TV. One says to the other “The difference is, with us, football is just a game.” It is a madness that takes over Europe every fourth June.
The roof of the Cairo Marriott is turned into a big screen outdoor football bar with cheering late into the night (Cairo an hour ahead of Europe where the matches were played) and celebrations lasted much later than that. I sat on my balcony to hear the excitement while looking at the games on the TV in my room through the sliding glass door in my room. The big screen on the roof wasn’t angled properly for me to see it well from my balcony. (I tried to get into the roof garden, too full.)
The Cairo Marriott is on Zamalek Island in the Nile. Zamalek is also the name of one of Cairo’s premier football teams. Zamalek SC is governed by a board elected from club members. A club election is going on and there seems to be more interest in the soccer club elections than in regular elections. Certainly around Zamalek there is more political advertising. Perhaps in Cairo football is actually more than “just a game.”
I transited Vienna on my way to Cairo. There the ring tram line was rerouted and the whole area around the Rathaus was blocked off to traffic and trams. It had become the Vienna “fan zone.” The Euro 2008 matches were in Austria and Switzerland and the whole place was given over to sport. Locomotives on Austrian trains were painted in the liveries of each of the participating teams. Football train-spotting became a national pastime. One of the Vienna museums became the “Museum of Football” with a giant painted scrim covering the building’s normal façade. A huge inflated soccer ball crowned the national theater.
The Vienna Fan zone had a huge stage with a huge screen set up in front of the Rathaus. Each game was projected on the screen. There were water fountains that sent out a fine mist to cool passersby. During breaks and before and after the game there was live entertainment also projected all over “the zone”. In front of the Rathaus those girders we saw in May, in June became four stories of sky boxes with a food court on the ground floor. All over the fan zone, from the museum quarter to the Rathaus to the royal palace, huge screens were interspersed with food stands and corporate displays. There were even some seating areas. The fan zone made Vienna a destination for fans without match tickets who still wanted to be part of this festival of football. It was brilliant promotion.
On down days without games the fan zone had live entertainment. It was like a state fair in an urban setting. We watched “Beat Street” perform “Play that Funky Music, White Boy” while little blonde toddlers chased around a tiny football between stands selling wiener schnitzel and tacos in the shadow of McCafe; McDonald’s tip of the hat to Vienna culture. Vienna’s most famous cafes polled efforts to set up the “world of coffee” billed the largest café in the world, open for just a month. The café sat on scaffolding thirty feet above the palace and museum square giving sippers a view of Vienna that, even those of us who lived near the city for years, never before saw. And for me, the highlight, the statue of Maria Theresa rising from a giant red cup of coffee.
Pepsi had hoped to make a big splash at Euro 2008. They had signed England team stars like David Beckham to appear on their cans of Pepsi. England was the only seeded team that did not qualify for the tournament and Pepsi had hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of Pepsi cans celebrating a team that was not playing.
The final game in Euro 2008 was Germany vs France. Joe and I were in the “Monty Bar” in the Hotel Cecil in Alexandria, Egypt. It is the wood paneled room where Field Marshall Montgomery planned his campaign against the Germans at Al Alamein. I was watching with my German friend Joe. Perhaps it was not the best place to plan to watch what Joe hoped would be a German victory. Joe and his son in Germany kept up a constant texting conversation during the game. It didn’t help. Spain won.
On Wednesday evening England and Germany faced off in the semi-finals. Tirana came to a stop. From our window we could hear singing, chanting and cheering, almost all for the German team. The game went into overtime with a 1-1 tie and was settled by six penalty shootouts. Each time a team kicked for the goal the whole city vocalized. When Germany scored the vocalization became was a cheer.
The Sunday final pitted Germany against the Czech Republic and, again, everyone was for Germany. Anila said “We are of the West now, why should we root for an Eastern team? The Czechs were communist”
“Uh, Anila, What was Albania?”
Anila said all Albanians like either Germany or Italy. I quipped. “Yeah, the two countries that rolled over you this century, I bet you’d root for the Turks.”
I was cheering the Czechs. Anila and Syri raised an interesting point. Was I cheering against Germany because of resentment from the Second World War? “No,” I said, I was for the underdog. I couldn’t explain to Albanians the American affinity for the underdog. Albanians like winners. If this were baseball they would be Yankee fans.
But wait. Perhaps Anila and Syri have something, as kids Albanians were not raised with a popular culture that portrayed Germans as bad. Nazi’s were bad, Germans good, especially the Eastern ones. I grew up when films portrayed the cynical and sadistic German officer, with satirical songs by Tom Leher, and Spike Jones. But the Czechs were the underdog. I rooted for them, they lost.