Tag Archives: World Cup

What is it about small nations?

Let’s continue for just a few seconds with the World Cup theme: and how the ‘small’ footballing nations (I say small in quotation marks, because by no stretch of the imagination can the US or Australia be considered small nations other than in footballing history) have upset the established giants of this tournament.  How is that possible?  Have all the favourites become too complacent?

Dejected German fans after match with Serbia

One of my friends suggested, somewhat cynically, that players from lesser-known countries have to demonstrate their skills so they can get a lucrative contract with a club abroad.  That is true, but it’s part of the bigger picture, namely that the ‘underdogs’ have little to lose and always something to prove.

This holds true outside the world of football, of course.  If you come from a small nation like the Netherlands or Romania, and no one can speak your language, you take great pride in the fact that you are able to speak several.  If you are a Chinese student in the US, you work doubly hard to prove that you are equal or better than the Americans.  You delight in confounding expectations and stereotypes.  ‘Think I am lazy or corrupt or unpunctual because I am Italian or Greek or Lebanese (insert adjectives and country names as you see fit)?  Well, that will show you, huh!’

You have a chip on your shoulder.  In a good way.  And it’s easier to be agile and surprising when nobody sees you coming.  Because sometimes the reassuring ‘big nation’ in your background is a lumbering elephant that brings with it overwhelming expectations and knocks down trees.

Have you ever felt the ‘big nation’ or ‘small nation’ presence in your life?  Have you tried to confound expectations?  Share your experiences here, I’d love to hear them.

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World Cup fans

For the first time in his seven and a half years of life, my older son is showing interest in football.  More than just a slight interest, he is in the throes of World Cup fever – as are most of his little classmates.  Every night he is allowed to watch the beginning of a match before bedtime and he is rapidly developing into that annoying kind of armchair footballer who comments on every single action (or lack thereof) and believes he could do everything better himself.

But the World Cup is problematic in our household not because some of it takes place past bedtime, but because it is not immediately obvious which team or teams we support, either individually or collectively.  Typically, the World Cup season is the time when we revert to our primal tribal instincts and support the country we consider home.  My husband has a clear-cut choice: he supports Greece.  He was amused but also slightly annoyed when our son told him that he personally wouldn’t support Greece ‘because they don’t stand a chance’. But why would Greece be home to our sons?  Despite their name, appearance, the fact that they speak Greek with their grandparents and occasionally with my husband, they only go there on holiday, no more than a family who owns a holiday home in Cyprus, say!

So my older son started off supporting England, which also helps him fit in better with his school friends.  My younger son doesn’t know or care, except that he quite likes an Italy T-shirt he has inherited from a cousin.  They are also a bit confused as to whether they should care about Switzerland or France (we lived on the border between these two countries for nearly two years).

For me it’s more complex, as Romania (my country of origin) did not qualify, nor did Austria (where I spent most of my childhood).  I am British now, but I do feel more ‘British’ than English (which is perhaps one of the luxuries that you do have when you become a British citizen later in life).  I would have no qualms about supporting a GB football team, but ‘England’ seems too parochial.  The other country I feel close to is Japan, but not close enough to seriously believe  they have a chance of going much further and therefore supporting them to the end.  Because isn’t that what national and nationalistic football is all about?  Loving your team so much that you believe they are the best, against all evidence to the contrary?

So I make no claims to originality and support Brazil – one of my favourite countries in the world, although I only ever spent two weeks there.  I mix it with capoeira, samba, Caetano Veloso, Jorge Amado, although they are not all playing on the field…  at the same time!

As for my son?  Well, maybe he is a global citizen after all, as last night he announced that he wants Germany to win.  When I asked him why (after all, he has virtually no connections with Germany), he said that he wants them to equal Italy’s four wins of the World Cup.  ‘And next time, Italy can win it, so they are equal with Brazil’.  Fairness, in the end, trumps national sentiment…

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