Drama as England rejoice but Scotland are out

Modern myths: An Odysseus, Achilles, Hector and Ajax from Euro 2020.

Is football better than Homer? Even the Greek poet’s famed, epic tales of the Trojan War struggle to compete with the lively, pulsating thrills of contests like the European Championship.

The atmosphere was electric as the teams ran out onto the pitch at Wembley. For English and Czech fans alike, the match promised 90 minutes of breathtaking drama.

Meanwhile, at Hampden Park, Scotland faced Croatia, knowing they must win to stay in the competition. Could they do better than the gutsy draw they had achieved against England? Would the famous “Hampden Roar” make all the difference?

By the end, players and fans alike were in a state of exhaustion.

Raheem Sterling's second goal of Euro 2020 saw England beat the Czech Republic to win Group D and set up a last-16 tie against France, Germany, Portugal or Hungary at Wembley.

Scotland's dream of making history by progressing at Euro 2020 came to a sobering end with a heart-breaking 3–1 defeat by Croatia.

In the first round alone, the tournament has delivered more than its fair share of excitement. No one could have predicted that Denmark’s Christian Eriksen would be felled by a heart attack during his first match. And few imagined that his team would return and pick itself up again to qualify with a storming 4-1 win over Russia.

Then there are the heroes, such as Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne. With his vision and dynamism, he can create a goal out of nothing. Many consider him the best player in the world – but the facial fractures he suffered recently could stop him from hitting top form.

France’s N’Golo Kante is a midfielder whose tireless running helps him break down attacks and initiate them with equal skill. His teammate Kylian Mbappé is only 22, but the striker promises to be one of the all-time greats: his brilliant backheeled pass against Hungary on Saturday summed up his skill.

Poland’s Robert Lewandowski has also been formidable, living up to his reputation as Europe’s most devastating goal scorer with a vital equaliser against Spain.

Harry Kane is regarded as England’s most skilful maker and scorer of goals, but even heroes have off days, and he failed to make an accurate shot in the first two games.

The literary critic Christopher Booker argued that there were seven basic plots in fiction – and the same might be said of football.

“Overcoming the monster” could apply to defeating traditional rivals, whether international – as in England v Germany – or local, such as Manchester City v Manchester United. “The quest” is one way of seeing a team’s struggle to win a title or trophy.

“Rags to riches” sums up the rise of players like Raheem Sterling, who came from an impoverished family but now earns £200,000 a week. “Voyage and return” might describe a side’s experience of Euro 2020 or its relegation followed by promotion.

“Comedy” encapsulates the good-humoured antics of fans in extraordinary costumes, such as the Scots in their ginger wigs and tam o’shanters. “Tragedy” covers everything from unlucky defeat to career-ending injury.

Is football better than Homer?

The stuff of legend

Some say, yes. Like Homer’s epics, football is a story with heroes, villains, struggles and incredible twists where minnows beat giants. But football is more popular than Homer, reaching more people than he ever could, and bringing them together irrespective of their nation or language. Nothing in history has had more mass appeal.

Others argue that there is no comparison between the two. Football is just a sport, and however exciting it may be, it has few consequences in the real world. Only an artist can create a really powerful story, and Homer addresses the most serious issues that humans have to grapple with, from love and war to the inevitability of death and how we can live our lives in a meaningful way.

You Decide

  1. Does any footballer deserve to be paid £200,000 a week?
  2. “Round of 16” is a very clumsy term. What would be a better name for it?

Activities

  1. In pairs, make a list of all the books you can think of which use one of the basic plots.
  2. Write a poem about your favourite player or team in the style of Homer.

Some People Say...

“Complaining about boring football is a little like complaining about the sad ending of King Lear: it misses the point.”

Nick Hornby (1957 – ), British author

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that football is easily the world’s leading spectator sport – and very big business. An estimated 3.5 billion people follow the game. Euro 2020 is expected to bring in almost $2bn in revenue; in 2016 UEFA received €483m from its top 10 sponsors. The 24 competing nations will share €371m in prize money. There are 624 players involved, and while Covid has reduced crowds, TV audiences are still huge: 39.95 million people in France and Germany watched the countries’ clash.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether Homer really was the author of the two epics attributed to him, the Iliad (about the Trojan War) and the Odyssey (about Odysseus’s journey home). Some experts have claimed that he was an eyewitness to the war, others that he lived 500 years after it – and others still that the poems were the work of more than one person. Most believe that they were originally recited aloud and only written down later, at some point between the 8th and 6th Centuries BC.

Word Watch

Wembley
The stadium in north-west London where England play home games has been described as “the cathedral of football”.
Hampden Park
The stadium in Glasgow where Scotland plays home games.
Hampden Roar
The noise made by Scottish fans. Yesterday it was quieter than usual because Covid restrictions meant only 12,000 fans were allowed to attend.
Goal scorer
Last season Lewandowski scored a record 41 goals in Germany’s Bundesliga, plus seven in other competitions.
Christopher Booker
His book explaining the theory, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, was published in 2004. Booker had worked on it for 34 years.
Impoverished family
At one point, when they were living in emergency council accommodation, Sterling had to ring his mother to check where they would be sleeping that night.
Tam o’shanters
A tartan hat named after the hero of a poem by Robert Burns.

Subjects

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