Organisers of the Euro 2008 football championships were delighted this week after the first international soccer match without any historical baggage reportedly took place at the tournament. Many onlookers have been embarrassed by the high levels of ‘awkwardness’ at so called ‘grudge matches’ between Germany and Poland, Germany and Austria, and France and Italy, given the historical enmity between all the respective nations.
But the recent match between Portugal and the Czech Republic left commentators completely stumped when it came to glib historical analogies, as they struggled to find any political or racial context in which to place the fixture. ‘And the Czechs perhaps jealous of the great sea-faring past of Portugal’s sixteenth century explorers,’ said John Motson, ‘being as they are a land-locked country created in 1993.’
It had been hoped that with England failing to qualify, the European championships would be less uncomfortable than normal, without possible matches between England and Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, or other former military foes. However with Germany and Russia both qualifying it was difficult to avoid any matches between former conquerors and historical victims. ‘The Polish defence caving in rather easily there, just as they did on 1st September 1939,’ said Mark Lawrenson. ‘And you have to say, Greece put up even less of a fight there than they did against Russian expansion in the Balkans in the Nineteenth Century,’ said Jonathan Pearce.
The qualifying matches for Euro 2008 had caused even more embarrassment with sports headlines such as ‘Germany carve Czechs in two’ ‘English air power too much for Serbs‘ and ‘Turkey massacres Armenians’, after which the Turks actually denied ever having played them.
Now FIFA are thinking of banning commentators from making references to a nation’s political past during international football matches. ‘And you have to say…’ said John Motson, ‘That the supposedly neutral Swiss Sepp Blatter, has once again helped out his fellow Germans, just as they did with all that Nazi gold.’