Nations League: A Cultural Extravaganza
This upcoming week presents the final matches of the inaugural Nations League, a newly presented concept from UEFA. And while Europe has been buzzing for what’s to occur, a lot of its inhabitants have failed to look beyond the qualities of each competing remaining. What lies beneath the surface is four countries (Portugal, Switzerland, England, and the Netherlands), all whom have a unique football perspective that garners intrigue and demands information.
The sport of football had been brought to Portugal from England in the late nineteenth century. In the midst of an international conflict between the two sides, calls to ban the sport of English origin was made yet met with over-powering opposition. Once football was introduced to Portugal, they could never let it go. They would want to immerse themselves further towards the sport of football. However, that does not explain their lack of success in the twentieth century despite their distinct dedication to football.
Considering the Portuguese would always want football to be there, what could instead be evident is a group of people that could be best described as “realists”. Portuguese fans expect the worst when their national football team is lackluster, and are often right when thinking that way. However, not everything has been bad for Portuguese football. There occasionally enters a generational talent: Eusébio, Luís Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo. When there has been an admirable team to support, Portuguese fans have been optimistic in their chances and energetically supportive of their units. This feverish support group concept isn’t just regional either.
Portuguese football fandom goes beyond their own regional grounds. For example, Boston’s metropolitan area in America is a popular setting for Portuguese football fans. The city’s annual Portuguese Festival in 2014 was most notable for its theme, celebrating Portugal’s national football team before their World Cup fixture against the United States the following day. Boston is also the home of many support groups designed to link Portuguese individuals together through both mutual heritage and respective football team allegiances (Benfica, Porto, Sporting, etc.). But havens, just like the one in Boston, are present internationally; Paris, Sydney, and Toronto are just some examples. To football fans from Portugal, the networking and fervor of Portuguese football fans is anywhere they want it to be.
Many football fans may choose Switzerland as the “black sheep” amongst the Nations League semi-finalists. That’s no knock on the Swiss football team; they’ve been able to field great teams, but have won nothing to show for it. Most noticeably, they just seem incomparable to the other countries involved. And that may be a true statement, but for the wrong reason. What differs Switzerland among the rest of the pack is not a difference in football quality, but rather a contrast in culture.
If there is one word to describe general Swiss culture, it is diverse. It is a nation at the heart of Europe, marking it a sweet spot for cultural exchange. It is indeed a country made unique by merging their culture with that of their neighbors such as Austria,
France, and Italy. They can never be defined by one attribute like other one-dimensional countries, and that extends its way to sports. While several countries fixate on just one sport such as football, Switzerland is one of those nations that evenly distributes their focus towards multiple athletics. Perhaps that explains why some hardcore football fans don’t consider Switzerland to be in the same tier as the sport’s international powerhouses. The country’s inclination to divide their attention towards multiple sports instead of one indicates less-than-maximum dedication and greater susceptibility to struggle.
Though Switzerland doesn’t have any silverware to back their case, that shouldn’t mean they should be taken lightly. Countries like Switzerland and its fans feed off this kind of ignorance. Switzerland is a country that has input far less focus and finances than the other countries involved in these tournament semi-finals, but still hold up their own as evident by matching their caliber in FIFA rankings. The Swiss national football team, like Switzerland itself, is nurtured based on the progress they know they’re making rather than what external sources may think. Switzerland’s that introverted self-dependent country, and they prefer to be that way.
Football in the Netherlands is many things. Football is a form of art, in which traditional standards dictate the need to express elegance. That is evident both through Dutch teams and players. Tactical novelties like total football, dependent on player versatility than stationary positioning, was meant to portray an idealistic vision in which a player could play anywhere. By exhibiting and exploiting talent, the Netherlands was able to produce uniquely “elegant” football legends like Johan Cruyff and Marco Van Basten. But art can also be expressed the other way: a chaotic way. Long gone went elegant Dutch flair at the end of the millennium; instead, it was replaced by gritty and scrappy play designed to frustrate rather than alleviate.
It could perhaps be stated that chaos in Dutch football has always been existent though. No matter what style of football the Dutch play, they will be surrounded by a fever of orange. A hectic fanbase dressed in a sea of orange will always be ready to cheer their country on. Whatever era they’re in, art is evident in Dutch football.
Dutch football is also a business. It’s meant to exact happiness in more ways than one, not just through the aura of a football match. The aforementioned Dutch greats, like Cruyff and Van Basten, have all served as centerpieces for business transactions meant to maximize profit value. Teams in Holland’s Eredivisie serve to fulfill thats notion. The Netherlands is home to many renowned football academies, responsible for harnessing both home-grown and international talent into becoming quality players. They’ve also completed transfers of said footballers to play outside the Netherlands for hefty sums of cash. Teams in the Eredivisie are well aware that they cannot compare their finances and drawing power with the greater markets around Europe. Thus, it serves as a nurturing haven for elite footballers whose careers there are on borrowed time. Dutch football is reminiscent of how one cultivates a butterfly. They are gatekeepers during the product’s initial stages and then let it go once said product can spread their wings and fly.
England is a nation having dealt through so much internal turmoil that frequently occurring issues in their football is definitely a concern, but never freakishly worrisome for the English faithful. This is a nation that once united to stand against their own prime minister (Margaret Thatcher) to oppose a legal bill that would have threatened to destroy the aura of English football locals had come to love. The response is simply the same; they’ll get through it because forfeiting is never an option. Stubborn blue-collar resilience is not a trait amongst the country’s football fans, it’s a characteristic to define any native of English origin.
Within the inner confines of England, football is portrayed as a “home”. To a lot of them, England is the quintessential center of the football world. They know that many football fans can agree with how English football is “home” to the best league in the world played by the best players in the world. It hosts an array of competitive sides that entail the league to be one of the most competitive in Europe. But no matter if they are top or not, every football team in some tier of English football seems to have their respective take of why their side is the best.
In terms of international football, no further context is needed to describe them besides the constantly occurring chant of how “football is coming home”. In fact, one would get a better understanding of English football fans just by getting a sight of them with the country’s flag in both their hands and on their faces. Though their lack of success in comparison to other international giants may suggest otherwise from detractors, England considers themselves in the upper echelon of world football. They allege to be in the same tier of their greatest rivals, Germany and Argentina, who respectively have greater rivalries closer to home (the Netherlands and Brazil). Thus, it becomes evident what England’s state of mind is. England is not just part of a kingdom, they are the kingdom.
By Seho Park, GOAL STUDIO