We can talk of awful fouls and the penalty curse but should not deny that Italy played better football and deserved to win the European Championship. No doubt many of us are still in denial on that matter today but the statistics do not lie. I say this as someone who came into the tournament not supporting England for a range of reasons but who was won over by the charm of the young squad and of the manager and by the way it seemed to unite and give joy to the whole country. All of those involved in England did their country proud. I shall now go back to supporting Northern Ireland, but in this tournament the match against the Hun was the key turning point for me.
I so despise those Scots folk and Irishmen with a poisonous chip on their shoulder, whose grandfathers fought and died fighting against Germany but who enthusiastically backed the Krauts such is their envy and hatred of England. One thinks of Eamon de Valera, the President of the Irish Free State, sending a message to the German embassy expressing his condolences on the death of Herr Hitler. De Valera would be proud of the Celtic Italy fans last night. Were Scotland or even the Republic of Ireland playing in a final, there is little doubt that nearly all of England would back our neighbours and long time allies.
In terms of despising folk, I also feel contempt for those politicians and celebs able to blag tickets real footie fans would give an arm and a leg for. The broadcaster Julia Hartley Brewer lambasted celebs for swanning around mask-less at Wimbledon as we plebs continue to suffer petty lockdown restrictions and a day later was posing for a selfie, mask-less at the semi final. Sir Keir Starmer showed the same double standard as he pitched up at the final. I wholly agree with a tweet from Paul Embery this morning:
“There should be a ban on non-footballing celebrities being given tickets for England matches unless they can prove they have attended at least 50 football league games. Including a visit to Accrington Stanley.”
I admit that I have never been to Accrington Stanley but how about Swindon, Leeds United in Division One, Oxford United in Division two, Brislington Ladies from a very lowly league vs West Ham Ladies in the Cup, Aldershot when they were bottom of the old fourth division (admittedly playing a “hole” tie at Upton Park), as well as a couple of hundred West Ham games in both the top and second tier? I sense that trumps the football CVs of most of the celebs at Wembley last night.
Daughter Olaf called to say what life was like ahead of the game in her native Islington. This is a part of London where for several decades anyone flying a Union Flag or Cross of St George has been openly ridiculed as some sort of alt-right, nationalist and fascist. You may remember the snide tweet from her local MP Emily Thornberry on the subject which she thought witty as that is how most of Islington really thinks. Yet, last night, Olaf says the whole place, even the posh middle-class leafy side streets was awash with folks flying flags, singing and drinking. Olaf, though a cottage burning Welsh Nationalist, was like her mother Big Nose rooting for England as “that is where we live”.
I did ask her, as a Brexit opposing loon, if she was not now a European as she had told me she was as she went on one of those daft FBPE marches with her mother. “But I am not Italian” said Olaf. Nope luv, you are a Brit as you always were. But we parted on good terms as she hurried to a pal’s house to watch the game and get hammered, as is her wont.
Up at the Greek Hovel, there was a breeze blowing, almost enough to make me hope for some rain to top up the pool and so I put on a winter shirt over my West Ham T-shirt as Joshua and I headed to Kambos, he to watch paw patrol videos, me to watch the game at lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna.
Most folks watched on a screen outside. Because I did not want them disturbed by Chase, Rubble, et al, I watched inside with an English couple who have built the most amazing house the other side of the next village and with the family of Lovely Eleni plus a boy who was friends with her son, a boy chanting Italia, Italia in a most graceless way. We Brits were rather less noisy although Joshua ticked me off for cheering too loudly when England scored or Pickford saved.
After a while, this constant Italia, Italia nonsense started to niggle me. Why the hell was a Greek boy supporting the nation that invaded his own in 1940 and behaved so badly thereafter? I passed him a picture on my phone from the War Memorial in Metsovo, listing Greek men slain by the country he was cheering for. Eleni got a bit embarrassed and roughed him up a bit. No doubt Olaf and her generation think we are all Europeans now and must move on and not mention the war. But I am a generation closer to that war. I know or have known folks linked directly.
I think of Olaf’s godparents: most of Joe Levy’s Corfiot Jewish relatives went to Auschwitz as did almost the entire family of her godmother Iska from Poland. I think of Janos Nyiri hiding as a child in a barn for several years to avoid heading with most Hungarian Jews on a one way trip to Auschwitz. I think of my great Uncle Michael Booker who fought bravely and of all those men from Byfield, where I grew up, who had been abroad only once and came back missing arms and legs. Then there was great uncle Peter, a fighter pilot. And I think of the letters from grandmother received from her brother Francis Cochrane as he lay dying in North Africa in 1942. Was his death down to the Hun or the Italians? I do not know but, this may make me a bad man, I just find it a bit hard to wholly forgive and forget.
I am not sure you are allowed to say that these days. It is probably some sort of hate crime. And no doubt Joshua would tell me that God wants me to forgive if not forget. But something within me will not allow that and so whilst not actively hating the Germans or the Italians, as many older folks here in Greece still do, I have no great feelings of warmth towards either nation as I do towards the French, the Greeks, the Serbs or even mother Russia.
When the war was a less distant memory, folks here would think well of a nation that had produced the heroic supporter of Greek independence that was Byron and which had sent its ships to Navarino in 1827, a contest which did an enormous amount to secure Greek Independence, and which had sent tens of thousands of men to help Greece in 1940 and 1941. Maybe memories fade. No doubt Olaf would say that Brexit has poisoned the friendship. I doubt that it has.
So we lost. It was very late and Joshua and I left so quickly that I left my shirt behind. I lost my shirt. England lost the match. And we all move on. But some of us cannot move on completely even if we are not allowed to admit why.