If ever the continent of Europe needed a distraction it has to be this year. With the continent’s economy in turmoil and uncertainty hanging over the Eurozone in particular, Euro 2012 can fill the role of the old Roman trick of “bread and circuses”.
Ironically, the country that is seen as keeper of the solution, Germany, could wind up winning Euro 2012. If they save the Eurozone, who would begrudge the Germans a little objet d’art to put on the sideboard in Deutscher Fußball-Bund headquarterers, Frankfurt.
Just consider: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland – they are all there, hoping to provide their suffering people with something to take their mind off their problems. The wags have already had their say: Group C, with Spain, Italy and Ireland is the “Group of Debt”.
It’s amazing how poverty can still breed successful football teams. Brazil is the prime example. In their heyday, Brazil’s sprawling population was absolutely stricken. But you don’t need to go so far to see examples of stark contrast. Like slums adjoining a royal palace, Liverpool’s Anfield, for example, is surrounded by downtrodden people, boarded-up houses and ramshackle streets. While most modern football grounds resemble bastions of corporate greed, often the neighbours are far from well-heeled.
Of course, football has often been compared to “opium for the masses” and the very culture of the game was built on a cloth-cap nostalgia where the working man flocked to the ground, complete with hunched shoulders, hands in pockets and evening paper wedged under the arm. Football was their escape from the daily grind. It still is for some, but if you are a regular patron of one of the top clubs, you certainly are not impoverished.
It’s often surprised me that politics has not moved in to a greater extent to capture the minds of these people. There were occasions in the 1970s and 1980s where extreme right-wing elements tried to recruit outside grounds, but I have never seen a genuine attempt to infiltrate. Besides, football fans’ direct their passion to their team – politics? No thanks.
So all Europe awaits for a tournament that can lift the spirits of the continent. Just for once, it would be good if it did just that.