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June 4, 2016

The spark of the gods

Friedrich Schiller, does his name ring a bell? Don’t check frantically Joachim Löw’s 23-man squad for the Euro, the man is not the Bundesliga latest Wunderkind.

As a matter of fact, he would qualify for two national teams, since he was awarded French citizenship by decree of the National Assembly on 26 August 1792, for his merits as a herald of liberty. This happened six years after the publication of his ‘Ode to Joy’, which Beethoven immortalised a quarter century later.

It is strange that Europe should have made of an emphatic ode to joy its official anthem. ‘Europe’ and ‘joy’, in these troubled days the connection is far from obvious. Will football and its big quadrennial continental party bring some joyfulness back into the morose setting?

It will not be easy. The host country, for one, seems to be poised towards ‘the final struggle’ rather than ‘the spark of the Gods’ sung by Schiller.

And yet, social sciences research, at its most rigorous, comes to the conclusion that, as disturbingly trivial as it may sound, football is joy. More precisely: it’s a wonderful pretext for being joyful.

According to the photos taken during the innovative field work carried out by the Loughborough team under Borja García with supporters from several European countries, football is not so much about watching football, but about exchanging smiles and taking group selfies, with both close friends and unknown foreigners.

Football is first and foremost about social bonds. These bonds can take different forms: sometimes they can be sometimes slightly masochistic – nothing equals the sweet-sour joy of mourning together a painful defeat. Very often they easily cross borders of all kinds, precisely because no developed linguistic competence is necessary. And because no real football fan, as our research has shown, never ever seems to get tired of talking about his passion.

Of course, the capacity of football to bring joy, has long been noticed by politicians. That’s why they unfailingly support their national federations in their bids for hosting mega-events. 20 years ago, after ‘thirty years of hurt’ and 200 years since Schiller’s poem, English spin-doctors turned simple ‘joy’ into the politically relevant ‘feel-good factor’.

Original manuscript of the 'Ode to Joy'

But organised joy ordered from above is superficial and ephemeral. The deep and sustainable joy is the one that is encapsulated in the souvenir of the smiles exchanges, like those in the pictures of our research guinea pigs. Or in the feeling of having been momentarily absorbed in a solidary community before returning to one’s ordinary individualist life.

This kind of joy happily ignored the national borders everybody seems to be talking about in Europe these days. Friedrich Schiller lucidly observed that it had the capacity ‘to unite again what customs have strictly divided’ and that under its ‘gentle wing’, all humans became ‘brothers again’.

Football as a little break of unifying joy in a strictly divided Europe? I’m not asking for more. Sincere thanks in advance.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Memory - No Comment

February 21, 2016

Brexit questions and Euro2016 scenarios

So we’re set for 23 June. England’s Eurosceptics now have for months to pick apart what David Cameron claims was a successful re-negotiation of Britain’s special status within the European Union.

Getting over with it as quickly as possible is probably the best bet. No one wanted an entire year of aggressive campaigning bound to become hateful over time.

The vote will take place right in the middle of Euro2016. Which raises, of course, various questions of timing: is it wise to schedule a referendum of this importance at a moment when the attention of a large part of the public will be diverted to the state of Rooney’s knee? Does it make sense to mix the expected outpour of identity discourse with the surge of football nationalism that comes with every big international tournament?

Martyn Turner's cartoon for the Irish Times after England lost its quarter final to Portugal (on penalties!) on 24 June.

English history would say it’s rather risky for the man in office. On 18 June 1970 Prime Minister Harold Wilson lost the general elections against all odds. The only possible explanation for this surprise defeat was the surprise defeat of the English team at the World Cup that had occurred only four days earlier, in a quarter final that was played under the scorching Mexico mid-day sun in order to allow Europeans to watch it in early evening. As the reigning world champions, England had been favourites against West Germany, but lost 2-3 in a dramatic extra time dénouement after having led 2-0. Could it be that Thursday’s voters were Sunday’s depressed football fans?

Now that UEFA has in its wisdom blown up the European Championship to 24 participants it is not very likely that English voters will already be in a depressed mood after the first round. Chances are England will have sailed through their three matches against Russia, Slovakia and … Wales (the latter reminding us that the UK is represented at Euro2016 by three different nations, with Northern Ireland playing Ukraine, Germany and Poland, while the Scottish Europhiles are watching from home, having been eliminated by the very same Germans and Poles).

But even if England is in buoyant mood during the Euro, would that mean that nationalist fervour around what is likely to be the youngest team in the tournament would reinforce the ‘Leavers’? Or would the joyful noise from the continent make everybody on the island feel more ‘European’ at the moment of the vote?

And, to look at things the other way round, what would be the impact of a clear British ‘Leave’ vote on the remainder of the tournament? Would England’s quarter final be overshadowed by an emergency summit in Brussels?

The favourite scenario of all Europhobic Englanders would be the Danish one. In 1992 Denmark voted a resounding ‘NO’ against the Maastricht Treaty on 2 June, before winning, only three weeks later, a European Championship they had not even qualified for in the first place.

But, who knows, perhaps the Eurosceptics are heading for their worst-case scenario: the UK chooses to remain in the EU and the Three Lions play a smashing tournament from beginning to end, meeting France in the final in Saint-Denis, winning the Euro in a breath-taking penalty shootout and, just like in Wembley on 17 November, singing the Marseillaise again together with their rivals. The ultimate nightmare!

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Identities - No Comment

December 10, 2015

What would Mr Thackeray say?

‘Vanity Fair, where you light on the strangest contrasts laughable and tearful:
where you may be gentle and pathetic, or savage and cynical with perfect propriety…’

Vanity Fair, Chapter XVII

In the middle of the 19th century, William Makepeace Thackeray published a long serialised novel in the satirical magazine Punch, which he named Vanity Fair. He borrowed his title from John Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), where ‘Vanity Fair’ is one of the stations on the journey of redemption towards the ‘Celestial City’. It may be assumed that W.M. Thackeray chose this title because it not only allowed him to resume his vision of the human condition in a snappy expression but at the same time positioned himself as a detached and sarcastic observer of the human species, made up by individuals frantically running around in their absurd search for self-esteem and pride.

What would he say today on watching an event like the European football championship? Would he see, like in his famous novel, a ‘vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falsenesses and pretensions’ or would he be inclined to show more leniency in his judgement? Would he point out, with the biting irony that characterised his writing, the excessive proportions of this mega-event ? Would he see nothing but a big bustling fair of stereotypes upheld against better knowledge, a carnival of emotions shamelessly unleashed in public, a festival of the permanently noisy display of imaginary loyalties?

Or would he detect, behind the Babylonian confusion, the joyful celebration of an extraordinary game and the simple pleasure of the masses to find themselves, for once, united by shared passion?

William Makepeace Thackeray never knew modern football. He died at age fifty-two, in December 1863 in London, exactly at the same moment where, at the other end of town, the eleven representatives of pioneering football clubs and schools were about to come to an agreement on the rules of this new game which they had set out to codify a few weeks earlier. If he had attended one of their meetings at the Freemasons’ Tavern in Covent Garden, could he only have imagined what kind of ‘vanity fair’ this new sport would produce one and a half centuries later?

It is perfectly possible, though, that the Victorian novelist, had he been miraculously ‘beamed’ to the Poland of 2012, would not have felt out of place. After all, he certainly was, together with the London society of his times and his famous colleagues Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë or Lewis Carroll, an arduous visitor of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first ever ‘World Fair’. A genuine mega-event avant la lettre, hosted in the spectacular ‘Crystal Palace’ which received his nickname from the satirical plumes of Punch, where Thackeray had just published his novel. One may therefore assume that the great writer would readily engage in dressing parallels between the ‘Great Exhibition’ of 1851 and the great European football exhibition of 2012. Both can be perceived as great opportunities for the host nations to showcase their achievements and indulge in a good dose of self-celebration – a ‘Vanity Fair’ in the crudest sense of the word. He would no doubt be impressed by the number of travellers converging on the host cities from all over the continent. True, he might be intrigued by the fact that the centre of interest of this huge fair was only a ball game, and a rather simple one at that. But then again, would it not only be logical that the industrial machines and inventions of the 19th century were finally replaced as the object of worship by something even more trivial or ‘vain’? As a matter of fact, it would only strengthen his point about the inherent stupidity of mankind, a vision that left him, in his own words, ‘more melancholy than mirthful’.

It is striking to see to what extent the great literary works of the 19th and early 20th century may provide us with keys for the understanding of contemporary society. If these novels and their characters still have something to say about the society we are living in, it is not only because their authors had outstanding skills of psychological empathy with their protagonists, but also because the psycho-social programming of the human mind, its desires, fears and aspirations, do not seem to have changed that much since the days of Thackeray. Large social groups still have the same hunger for collective pride, which is still mainly satisfied through the identification with nation-states. They still have the same need for the ‘social self-love’ that Emile Durkheim considered inseparable from the very existence of nation-states; they still have the same urge to claim their community’s singularity that Isaiah Berlin identified as one of the most irrepressible drives of modern history.

Our new book on The European Football Championship brings together seven different accounts of visitors to the ‘Vanity Fair of European Football’ that took place in Poland and Ukraine in summer 2012. What they have in common despite their different national origins and their respective focus of interest is the impression of witnessing a period of transition and uncertainty. A period in which feelings of belonging are still framed by the stronghold of national identity, but where loyalties and identifications, but also dominant ideologies, are permanently negotiated and even publicly debated. A moment in time where representations of self and other are increasingly fluid, but where ‘blind spots’ stubbornly persist. A phase in which collective stereotypes, self-perceptions and ‘vanities’ are considerably weakened by large-scale phenomena like migration, cultural globalisation and supranational integration.

The ‘Vanity Fair of European Football’ thus reveals itself as an ideal laboratory for the social scientist, where individuals and groups converge to redefine themselves and interact with each other, where, as Thackeray said, ‘the strangest contrasts laughable and tearful’ are laid out before the eyes of the researcher. It is certainly a place that William Makepeace Thackeray would have very much appreciated visiting. Behind his sarcastic description of the manifold weaknesses and follies of the human species that he examined like a biologist examines insects under his magnifying glass, Thackeray had a great compassion for their vain pursuits. With such interest for detail, capacity for empathy, and sense of humour, he would most certainly have made an excellent football anthropologist.

More on the book here.

An interview with the co-editors here.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Identities, Public Sphere - No Comment

November 1, 2015

Sound assumptions, false conclusions

It is only recently that the excellent German intellectual weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT – whose outstanding quality was recently (and rightly) praised by our friend Simon Kuper – introduced a football page. Yet another proof of the game’s increasing socio-cultural and political impact. The page still has to find a stable quality: the interviews are generally very good, but I am afraid not every article is a highlight – sometimes it’s simply well-formulated trivialities, sometimes the texts are simply beside the point. But once in a while it provides tasty food for thought.

The picture from the 1930 World Cup final that illustrated the article in DIE ZEIT.

The recent article ‘After the earthquake’ (DIE ZEIT No. 42/2015, from 15 October), by journalist Cathrin Gilbert and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, the renowned literature theorist and philosopher from Stanford University, is a good example for the latter case.

With regard to the current FIFA scandal(s), they go beyond condemning the obvious in an attempt to design a fundamentally new approach to global football governance. According to them the perspective must change completely: rather than overloading football with a symbolic meaning it does not inherently possess, but which opens the door to all kinds of political and economic manipulation of the game and its governance bodies, they call for a new ‘sobriety’.

What is needed, according to Gilbert and Gumbrecht, is a professional management of football by ‘cold specialists’, who unlike the ‘hot amateurs’ who run the game in the national and international federations – all the Platinis, Beckenbauers, Blatters or Niersbachs – are not flawed or hampered in their decision-making by their own ‘emotional investment’.

The author’s basic assumption that ‘football does not have any higher, intrinsic values’ is sound. But the conclusions they draw from it are wrong.

Firstly, their claim that the components of football tradition (old clubs, legendary stands, etc.) are ‘only a souvenir of football history, but no longer a central phenomenon’, i.e. simply ‘elements of nostalgia that enhance the attractiveness of the event in the stadium’, is misleading. Just because something is more imagined than real does not mean it is not of utmost importance to those who believe in it.

Secondly, the alternative they describe – taking inspiration on the American model of professional sport, complete with closed leagues, franchises, salary caps, draft and occasional updates of the rules – would turn out, as much as Professor Gumbrecht admires its efficiency, to be very counter-productive when applied to European football – especially for ‘cold specialists’ who aim at maximising its entertainment impact and business potential.

Thirdly, the authors’ declaration that national teams have become obsolete seems simply runs against evidence. They describe the World Cup as a ‘grotesque exception to the kind of football that has conquered the world’ and ask the rhetorical question whether ‘the double-coding of football’ – in club competitions and national teams – is still necessary.

My answer is very simple: ‘Yes, it is. Maybe not necessary, but very efficient. ’ We’ve had this discussion in the 1990s, but the popular response to the French World Cup and the following ones have clearly shown that there is not only room for two footballs, but that they actually need each other (1).

We are living the age of two footballs and it happens to be an age of unprecedented popular and economic success for both club football and national teams. In the wake of the paradigm shifts of the 1990s, they have undergone a ‘mutually beneficial divorce’, which has helped them to adapt remarkably smoothly to the dialectics of cultural globalisation between enjoyment of postnational, multicultural creolisation and the longing for nostalgic, cultural singularity (2).

Epitomised in the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, postmodern club football stands for unlimited mobility and multiculturalism, while at the opposite end of the football spectrum the national teams represent strong roots and a kind of imaginary, untainted, not-for-profit cultural ‘purity’. Their perceived antagonism has not only stabilised, but actually reinforced their appeal (and their revenues). Football’s global community of fans wants both. They are, as I put it at the WCSF conference in Copenhagen last May, at the same time ‘smart consumers and hopeless romantics’ (3).

All of us are, to various degrees. It’s the human condition in the times we have been put in. And football is a lovely looking glass for observing ourselves.

(1) See my chapter ‘France 98 – a Watershed World Cup’ in: Kay Schiller and Stefan Rinke (eds), The FIFA World Cup 1930 – 2010. Politics, Commerce, Spectacle and Identities. Göttingen: Wallstein-Verlag, 2014, pp. 318-336.

(2) See the final chapter of my book Les identités du football européen, Presses universitaires de Grenoble, 2008, or my article in Les Cahiers du Journalisme No. 19, 2009.

(3) ‘Smart consumers and hopeless romantics’ is also the title of my forthcoming contribution to the conference proceedings.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Governance, Memory - No Comment

June 2, 2015

The European Hot Air Ballon

Guest contribution No. 3 by Rainer Kalb.

Following Sepp Blatter’s re-election as FIFA President the UEFA Executive Committee will meet in Berlin (probably on Friday) for a crisis meeting. The only topic on the agenda: how do we get out of our self-inflicted mess?

It is hard to believe that they will find a miracle solution. The whole drama began when Michel Platini grandiosely declared he was the only European able to beat Blatter, only to withdraw cowardly from the battle shortly afterwards. In the end the ‘powerful’ Europeans presented an Oriental prince instead. Difficult to be more pathetic…

It was of course clear that Russia, as host of the 2018 World Cup, would not vote against Blatter. But that France itself would stab Platini in the back was hardly believable. The rationale behind the French vote for Blatter? Well, it seems the FIFA boss had been instrumental in attributing the Women’s World Cup 2019 to France for the first time. Good to know. And who had been instrumental in attributing the Euro2016 to what was formerly known as ‘Grande Nation’? Difficult to be more hypocritical…

The eternal Sepp is rubbing his hands. He even managed to split German football in two. According to Blatter the ‘Kaiser’ himself told him he had ‘folded up’ DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach for having voted against Blatter. While Beckenbauer and Niersbach confirm the conversation, they contradict the ‘folding up’ of one by the other. Difficult to be more ridiculous…

After their embarrassing performance Platini and Niersbach will have to respond to the question how on earth they envisage cleaning up the FIFA stable. Platini already announced that all options would be on the table. Niersbach represents the world’s most powerful federation. But the only one to have a backbone is David Gill from England, who demonstratively stayed away from the first FIFA ExCo meeting following Blatter’s re-election.

Unfortunately his courageous stance will not hurt FIFA much. The English already ignored FIFA’s foundation in 1904, joined one year later, left again between 1920 and 1924 in order to protest against the re-acceptance of Germany, and boycotted it during World War II until 1946. Let’s face it: FIFA wouldn’t even falter if all European members of the Executive Committee went on strike.

A World Cup boycott and a Euro every two years with an invitation to Argentina and Brazil, as proposed by some, would only make sense if all 54 UEFA members agreed to participate. If this, however, results in, say, Argentina as European Champion and Russia as World Champion, it would look somewhat strange.

And what about the economic partners? If broadcasters like RTL in Germany withdrew from broadcasting the World Cup qualifiers, Adidas put an end to their equipment contract, and VISA dropped out as sponsor, what would happen? Easy to guess: you can already hear the Champagne corks pop in Nike’s headquarter, another (public?) television channel would eagerly step in, and VISA might remember that FIFA already shrugged their shoulders when they had to pay MasterCard a 100-million Euro indemnity for breach of contract and engagement with a direct competitor…

Thanks to European club football, the Champions League, and its economic power, UEFA clearly is the most important continental confederation within FIFA. It should be a proud fortress. Instead it looks these days like a hot air balloon that can easily be transformed into an empty rubber wrapper by one little needle-stick in the hands of Sepp Blatter.

Read the previous post by Rainer Kalb here.

Post by : FREE-TEAM in the category : Competitions, Football Politics, Governance - No Comment

December 14, 2014

Four days that changed Europe

Monday 13 December 1954 : An Anglo-Hungarian summit

Sixty years ago, on 13 December 1954, the English champion Wolverhampton Wanderers welcomed the great Honved Budapest for a friendly at Molineux stadium. For teams from Eastern Europe, such matches were an opportunity to generate some revenues (though as stressful one given they travelled back on train via London and Paris in order to be back on time for their next championship match). For their Western hosts, too, it was a lucrative affair: the fact that 55,000 spectators attended the match scheduled at 7:30 on a Monday evening gives an idea just how much awe the Hungarians inspired, especially since the consecutive 6-3 and 7-1 thrashings of England in November 1953 and May 1954 respectively.

According to some sources, the Molineux pitch was deliberately and excessively watered before the kick-off in order to handicap the technically superior Hungarians. If this rumour is true, the decision was no doubt inspired by the World Cup final in Bern five months earlier, where the German team had no doubt been favoured by the pouring rain – ‘Fritz-Walter-Wetter’, as they called it.

Wolves won 3-2, with exactly the same score as the Germans, after being two goals down just like the Germans had been. It seems to have been a rather outstanding match, and both teams had been up to the expectations. The fact that Gabriel Hanot from L’Equipe had bothered to travel all the way to Staffordshire in order to attend this Anglo-Hungarien summit gives ample evidence to their reputation and the interest such a highlight triggered elsewhere.

Tuesday 14 December 1954: A case of English hubris

In these days before Live-Tickers and sports channels, Hanot was not in a hurry. For the rotative presses of L’Equipe, the match had ended too late anyway, and his report was due only for the Wednesday edition. Which gave him time to have a look at how the English press reacted to the game.

The Daily Mirror’s jubilant praise of the Wolves’ performance, crowned by the claim they were now ‘Champions of the world’, raised his eyebrow. While he agreed that the victory of the home team had been more than deserved, he couldn’t help but consider the Mirror’s heading somewhat over the top. He decided to comment upon it in his article, coming to the conclusion that without at least a return game or, even better, a full-fledged European clubs competition including, for instance, Milan or Real Madrid, such claims could not be upheld. And he finished his report saying that such a competition would indeed deserve to be launched.

Wednesday 15 December 1954: An innovative French idea

His colleagues in Paris reacted with enthusiasm and published the article with an additional subtitle announcing ‘L’Equipe launches the idea of a European club championship which would be more innovative and more sensational than a European championship of national teams’. And without having the slightest clue on how exactly they were going to realise it, they were firmly determined to take their chance and start a campaign in favour of such a competition.

Thursday 16 December 1954: A European gamble

And they followed up right away: in their Thursday edition, an article signed Jacques de Ryswyck already presented a rather precise outline of the project.  There would be one club per federation, there would always be a home and an away leg, matches would be scheduled on mid-week evenings and everything would be broadcast by international television. If that does not sound like the Champions League, what does?

Nine months later, after a period of intensive lobbying with FIFA, the newly founded UEFA, and a range of clubs all across the continent who saw the potential of the idea, the Coupe des Clubs Champions Européens saw the light of day. A remarkable success story of entrepreneurial spirit that was simultaneously underpinned by the prospect of increasing mid-week sales on a highly competitive press market, by the shared conviction that the future of football was European rather than national, and the sheer excitement of creating the missing competition, the ultimate yardstick of European football.

If there’s one ‘invented tradition’ of truly European dimension, created bottom-up by ordinary people from civil society and producing, decade after decade genuinely European ‘lieux de mémoire’, it’s well the European Cup. In a book published in 1965, the German novelist and journalist Hans Blickensdörfer paid tribute to Gabriel Hanot’s ‘courage and willpower’ in creating ‘footballs common market’ before the launch of the European Economic Community. He added, ‘at the risk of being mocked by those who notoriously know better, I pretend that the European Cup has been an ice-breaker of political relevance’.

December 2014: The remains of those days

Gabriel Hanot (1889-1968)

In December 2014, one cannot help but feel a little bit nostalgic: On the 60th anniversary of their legendary win over Honved, Wolves secured a last-minute 1-0 away win against Sheffield Wednesday which consolidates their place in the no-man’s land of the middle of the table of the English 2nd Division (now pompously called ‘Championship’). Honved, who are already in their winter break and would have been available for a historical re-enactment, will have to fight hard in spring to avoid relegation from Hungary’s top-flight, now called ‘OTP Bank Liga’. L’Equipe itself is fighting against the decline of the printed press. And while the game of 1954 is remembered in England, as several articles over the last days showed, just what football clubs in Europe owe to the visionary French journalist-entrepreneurs is all but forgotten.

What’s more: the likelihood of another Anglo-Hungarian summit of European football is not very high for the years to come. In September 1955, the first European Cup started with 16 teams from 16 different nations, including three from behind the Iron Curtain. One year later, there were five of them. Next spring, the Champions League will count exactly one club from Eastern Europe among its last sixteen. European football is more Western than ever, more money-dependent than ever, caught in a system that will perpetuate these two tendencies. Not exactly what its inventors had in mind.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Memory, Posts - No Comment

October 4, 2013

What happens when money does not buy (enough) titles?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Arda Turan

Cristiano Ronaldo and Arda Turán. (C) LauraHale [CC-BY-SA-3.0

In the last year the football order in the Spanish capital, Madrid, has been turned upside down. For the first time in years Atlético de Madrid has defeated twice in a row Real Madrid at the Bernabéu stadium. And one of the victories was on the Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey) final, where the ‘Colchoneros’ of Atlético came from one goal behind to lift the trophy with an emphatic 2-1 win over their city rivals. Not only that, but Atlético is winning titles whilst Real Madrid is licking its wounds and witnessing how their arch-rival FC Barcelona are crowned as European champions three times. Admittedly, Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho have won a League, a Cup and a Spanish Super Cup. But it all seems too little for a club that has broken twice in less than five year the record of the most expensive football transfer with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

The arrival of former player Diego Pablo Simeone to Atlético de Madrid has given a new sense of pride to the team, the club and the fans. ‘We play finals to win’, stated recently the Argentinian manager. A very different mental setting for a club that used to be known for its predisposition to bad luck and to shoot itself on the foot. Atléticos are now winners, whilst the supporters of Real Madrid seem to be left with no clear direction. Some in Madrid blame the club’s chairman, Florentino Pérez. Others, specially the sport press, blame José Mourinho, despite his success in stopping Pep Guardiola’s Barça and restoring Real Madrid to winning ways. There are even those who accuse the players, and specially the club and national team’s captain Iker Casillas, one of the heroes of the 2010 World Cup final with his vital saves over Arjen Robben.

Post by : Borja García in the category : Competitions, Governance, Posts - No Comment

June 4, 2013

An energy drink, rather than the opium of the people

It is difficult to imagine fiercer football rivalries than the ones between ‘The Big Three’ of Istanbul – Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş. The clashes between their supporters – often violent, always noisy – are legendary. Yet many of the (mainly foreign) media and eyewitnessess report that the current protests against the authoritarian turn of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government have produced an unprecedented unity among Turkish football fans of all colours.

The Big Three merge their emblems and proclaim their unity on Twitter

In his excellent blog ‘The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer’, James M. Dorsey describes the supporters of the Big Three as ‘militant, street battle-hardened soccer fans’, who contrary to many other protesters have had plenty of occasions to learn how to deal with teargas and police brutality in the past.

A whole series of websites quote the almost solemn statement issued by the Fenerbahçe supporters group ’12 Numara’ (‘Number 12′), which praised the newly found unity of football fans by alluding to the colours of the Big Threee clubs: ‘We have come to the conclusion: yellow without navy blue and red, black without white is impossible. With them, it is stronger and more beautiful’.

Another oft-repeated quote is the tweet by the songwriter Feridun Düzağaç, renowned for being a Beşiktaş fan:’The pride I had when Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe fans were shoulder-to-shoulder walking to the district shouting “Beşiktaş, you are our everything” was worth everything. I am grateful.’

In a hurried E-mail message from his phone, another die-hard Beşiktaş fan, our friend and colleage Özgehan Şenyuva related how football fans were ‘fighting arm in arm’: ‘Galatasarary and Fenerbahçe fans are also fighting their way to make it to Beşiktaş, screaming “We are coming, brothers!” Historic days in Turkey!’

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Identities, Posts - No Comment

May 27, 2013

How Kosovo won the Champions League final

Spectators of European top-level football are not really accustomed to spot the flag of Kosovo in Champions League fixtures. This is not surprising, given the fact that the Football Federation of Kosovo has not obtained membership status with UEFA and is therefore not allowed to line up FC Prishtina, winner of the ‘Raiffeisen Superliga Kosove’ in Champions League qualifiers or a national team in any competition.

In December 2012 FIFA allowed its members in an official communiqué to ‘play international friendly games’ with Kosovo, but took care to specify –with regard to the protests from its member association Serbia – that ‘matches should not be played with national symbols (flags, national anthems, etc.) and that the authorisation was valid for youth, amateur, women and club football’.

As a result, migrant players that would be eligible for Kosovo have no choice but to join another national team. In a recent World Cup qualifier between Switzerland and Albania, a total of nine players of Kosovar origin were lined up (three and six respectively). One of them, quirky Bayern midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, born to Albanian parents from Kosovo and grown up in Basel, famously played with three little flags – Swiss, Albanian and Kosovar – sewn onto his boots. Despite his already 25 caps for Switzerland (at age 21!), he also was one of the signatories of an open letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, requesting the right to field a national team.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Identities, Posts - No Comment

April 24, 2013

Model Bavaria

The most impressive ‘permanent representation’ to the European Union in Brussels is not the French, British of German one, but that of a region: Bavaria. The beautiful ‘château’ just some meters from the European Parliament has been considered megalomaniac by some observers, but is calmly defended by its inhabitants as an excellent real estate investment and thus good use of taxpayers’ money. My students generally simply love it, just as they appreciate the very nice welcome there, the self-confidence that emanates from it, as well as the excellent coffee and bretzels they usually receive. They are seduced by a country that likes to see itself as Europe’s model region, combining a strongly rooted cultural heritage and identity with world-leading high-tech industry and research: ‘Laptops and Lederhosen’ as they call the fascinating mixture themselves, referring to the infamous folkloric leather trousers.

A stone's throw from the European Parliament: the Bavarian 'Landesvertretung' in rue Wiertz.

These days the Bavarian way of doing things seems to be also becoming the model of economic governance of professional football clubs. All over the last two decades, following the paradigm shifts of the 1990s, Manchester United, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona were considered the epitomes of international marketing and merchandising, the ultimate global football brands. Which they probably still are, but the model for an economically healthy and sustainable management these days is the club that by its very name almost arrogantly claims to represent Bavaria: Bayern Munich.

Here are some quotes from recent months which illustrate the trend:

Sandro Rosell, the president of Barça, has repeatedly admitted that his club ‘needs to become an economic model, which it has been far from being these last years. (…) Without the help of the Qatar foundation, we would have been in deep trouble.’ (…) The model is Bayern Munich. They are managed perfectly.’ (Interview  in L’Equipe Magazine No. 1553, 21 April 2012.)

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Posts - No Comment

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