There’s an apocryphal story told by many a Cypriot coffee shop patron that originates from the country’s time as a colony of the British Empire. It so goes that one of His Majesty’s subjects was called into the magistrate’s court for having the audacity to spit on a shilling bearing the head of the sovereign. He was duly fined for such barefaced cheek but continued to shock his captors by repeatedly doing it in the dock until he was taken away. My grandmother is forever telling me how befuddling it was for her to sing God Save The King in Greek as she was growing up. Elsewhere in my clan, my Uncle Gregory was brutally beaten by the British military police for distributing anti-British leaflets once EOKA’s war of independence came to a head. He then duly emigrated to Britain and married a wonderful English lady.
Within these little snapshots lies the ultimate irony of colonialism. Despite all the upheavals and bloodshed and rightful pleas for freedom, my grandfather (and if you’re a regular reader of Dispatches, you’ll be familiar with his worldly wisdom by now), would wryly smile and say: “We lost all these lives to get rid of the British and now we’re paying ridiculous fees to learn their language when we could have had it for free”. Whatever the pitfalls of colonialism (and there are many), it cannot be denied that those who rule leave indelible marks on the soil they once occupied.
The same can be said of the European Champions. However you might feel about Spain’s almost evangelical commitment to the religion of tiki taka, and as the record books were devastatingly smashed forever in Kiev last night, it cannot be denied that Spain are now the unassailable conquistadors of world football. The rest of us are currently living in the age of Spanish footballing empire and like all colonised peoples, we have to learn to live with it, rebel against it or assimilate certain aspects of it into our own cultures.
I’ve made my feelings clear about Spain’s over-dependence on retaining the ball during Euro 2012. I’m not alone in holding such a view. Arsene Wenger, who knows a thing or two more about tactics and technique than this humble football blogger went on record to say:
“They have betrayed their philosophy and turned it into something more negative. Originally they wanted possession in order to attack and win the game; now it seems to be first and foremost a way not to lose.”
What I love about this quote is the fact that it does not concur with the theory that passing produces artful passages of play. He argues that for all its packaging as an attacking system, tiki taka is no more positive than the defensive instincts of some of the less gifted nations. This clearly was not the case in 2008 but Spain have become increasingly introverted in their play. Like all empires, once they have grown bloated from their conquests, they will inevitably be vulnerable to overthrow. That isn’t to say, that the technical gifts of this team cannot be learned from. Spain have shown that an ease on the ball is a successful philosophy to aspire to. But we must all be careful not to imitate it too closely. There was always something odd about Indian men playing the English gent, with monocles out and utterances of “Dear Boy” to their compatriots. It’s all a question of assimilation. Putting it through the filter of your own culture and turning it into something that is uniquely English, German, Croatian, etc.
And that’s what we can all take away from Euro 2012. I wrote on the first day of the tournament that being a European is something we should all cherish. We all are different in so many ways but there is something unquantifiable that binds us. A certain je nais se quoi, as the French would tell us. I love the fact that we can have so many diverse and heated debates over tiki taka’s merits as an entertainment. That we can see a German player of Polish descent score a goal in the country of his parents. That a nation as crippled as Greece can take to the field and play against a country that it is reliant on for its continued existence as an equal. Football is as it has always been, the great unifier. It wasn’t so long ago that Croatia was ravaged by civil war as Yugoslavia tore itself apart, that all four semi-finalists were under the yoke of fascism and that the host nations were satellite states of a malevolent bastardisation of the communist ideal. But we’ve all endured, as a continent. And we play football. Boringly, magnificently, efficiently and shambolically.
What do I take away from these Euro Dispatches then? I’ve come to finally accept that I am the product of two disparate cultures. How else would it have been possible to revel in the re-imagining of Scott Parker as Biggles if I wasn’t fully assimilated into the cultural rhythms and legends of the country of my birth? Or that I could fiercely champion the underdog spirit that underpins the country of my parentage?
I’ve realised that positivity can lead you to great things. Or at the very least, strike a chord with others who feel and think similarly to you. Since Friday, my Open Letter To The BBC: Bring Back Barry Davies has been mentioned by The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, has been retweeted by Clarke Carlisle and been read by thousands of strangers. I actually saw something new when Alan Hansen (for the first time in a long while) dissected how the Spanish play their way out of defence during yesterday’s coverage. I’m not pertaining that anybody at the Beeb actually read my piece, but it certainly felt that something had shifted. And that’s all I ever wanted when I wrote the piece. I’ve even said something nice about John Terry.
But more than any of this, I’ve realised that despite getting tetchy at times for having one eye on Portugal vs Denmark and the other on a 14-month old shoveling spinach up her nostrils, that beautiful little girl has the uncanny ability to reduce me to tears of unadulterated joy of the purest form and make my heart burst at the seams as she did when at the end of Greece’s national anthem in the opening match, she looked up, smiled and applauded wildly. For that reason and that reason alone, I’ve conceded to her mother. Bonnie will be wearing the Three Lions in 2014. Because as I said from the start, we’re all one and the same really.
So there it is. I leave you in an uncharacteristically good mood. If you want anyone to blame for that, blame Spain. Don’t worry though, the new season’s only six weeks away. I’m sure something will come along to stoke the fires of indignation. Until then, I’ll enjoy this while I can.
Thanks to all the readers, old and new. Your support is always valued and cherished. The European Championship Sofa is now officially no more. The Football Sofa will return in August. Have a great summer!