Good news #1: The greatest Euros ever

Monumental: Players have put in performances that will be praised through the ages.

Is football more serious than politics? Beauty, courage, power and nobility: why is it easier for us to associate all these heroic qualities with footballers than with our leaders?

Goals in the final minutes. Goals from the halfway line. Own goals. Scrappy goals. Goals of such perfection that the ancient Greeks would have written odes about them. Euro 2020 has been a bonanza of shots, saves, stunning upsets and beautiful football.

Spain’s goalie fumbled a pass from his own defender, and they had to battle back against Croatia in an 8-goal nail-biter, winning 5-3. World champions France fell to Switzerland. The Czech team dismantled the Netherlands. Ukraine headed in a winner against Sweden in the last minute of extra time.

On Tuesday, England celebrated its first victory over Germany in a tournament since 1966.

The British press was overjoyed. “The Jinx, it’s all over” read one headline; “Three lions thump old enemy”, said another; another simply read: “Finally, something to cheer about”.

The face of England captain Harry Kane shouting proudly on the front of almost every paper is a rare image of national unity. In a time of often divisive politics, universal praise seems to belong to a bygone age – an age of heroes.

On the pitch, footballers are heroes, performing feats no mortal could hope to achieve. Spectators are lucky to admire the beauty, power, courage and nobility of the game and its players.

Beauty. No beautiful moment of the beautiful game has shone like the goal scored by Patrik Schick against Scotland. The Czech player was barely out of his own half when he noticed that Scotland’s goalie David Marshall was away from the box. With perfect control, he was able to launch his shot past Marshall, the ball tracing an arc in the air on its unstoppable progress. Marshall leapt after it in vain, falling into the net. It was a work of art.

Power. Paul Pogba’s performance in France’s last match of the Euros reminded people why they refer to his shots as “Pogbooms”. In the 75th minute, he let loose a thunderbolt of a goal, smashing the ball into the top right-hand corner, stunning fans and silencing doubters.

Courage. The Pogboom may have cemented a 3-1 lead for France, but power, in this case, was no match for courage. While most opposing teams would have given up, the Swiss soldiered on. Led bravely By Granit Xhaka, they were able to claw the game back, bringing the score level, persevering through extra time and into penalties. During the shootout they held their nerve, beating the French 5-4.

Nobility. It takes real strength of character to rise above criticism and keep doing what you do best. Fans, and especially the press, have often given Raheem Sterling a hard time, but he has been the most consistent performer for England this tournament. From scoring goals to speaking out against racism, Sterling has shown noble independence of spirit. Now England’s dreams of glory lie on the 26-year old’s shoulders.

Is football more serious than politics?

Life goals

No, it’s not, say some. Football is just a distraction. The stuff of life is decided through politics, from vaccinations to whether you will have food to eat. Politics allows us to take control of our lives. If we are less passionate about it than we are about football, that reflects badly on us. Nothing could be more serious than the question of who is in charge. Sport is playing at life, whereas politics is life.

Yes, it is say others. For starters, many people were fed thanks to a footballer last year, when Marcus Rashford fought for free school meals. More fundamentally, football is where we see what is possible for a person to achieve. It is a glimpse of human perfection. Few would ever say that about politics. Billions watch the game, and the collective joy and sorrow of fans is a deeper reservoir of feeling than anything else on the planet.

You Decide

  1. Is it better to play beautifully or to win the game?
  2. Would the world be better if more people saw politicians as heroes?

Activities

  1. In pairs, name five famous world leaders each, taking turns and not repeating choices. These are now your teams for a five-a-side tournament of Solving the World’s Problems. Discuss whose team you think would win.
  2. In groups of three, write and perform a short dramatic discussion between three commentators about whether or not cheating in sport can be beautiful.

Some People Say...

“Someone said: ‘football is more important than life and death to you’ and I said: ‘Listen, it’s more important than that.’”

Bill Shankly (1913 – 1981), Scottish Football Manager

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is widely agreed that football has tactical fashions. Over time, particular approaches have come in and out of favour. Spain, for example, plays a form of football known as Tiki Taka, where the emphasis is on short passes. Most observers agree that while this tactic once dominated the game, we are now in a new era. The fashionable approach is gegenpressing, which emphasises counter-attack. No one knows what might come after gegenpressing, but fans are certain that this too shall pass.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is about whether football players deserve their salaries. People often criticise footballers by calling them overpaid, pointing out that the average Premier League footballer makes almost twice as much money in a week as a nurse does in a year. Defenders of high sporting salaries respond that footballers are the people who create the value of an industry that is worth billions. If there is money in football, they say, it makes sense that it should go to footballers.

Word Watch

Odes
The ancient Greeks took sport very seriously, and the winners of various events in the Olympic games and other tournaments were immortalised in poems of praise called odes.
1966
England have beaten Germany since their victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final, but never in a tournament.
The Jinx, it’s all over
During the 1966 World Cup final, commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme said, “they think it’s all over” as fans ran onto the pitch. He then noticed that England had scored and said: “It is now.”
Bygone
In the distant past.
The box
The penalty area. Within this box the goalkeeper is allowed to touch the ball with his hands.
Persevering
Continuing in spite of great difficulty.
Press
One example was Sterling facing a barrage of criticism for getting a machine gun tattooed on his right leg.

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