Monday, July 2, 2012

Partaking in a European Pastime

Regardless of where I am living, I'm not a huge spectator sports fan.  When we lived in Norfolk- a city devoid of any professional sports teams- we would occasionally attend a Norfolk Tides game with friends.  This Triple-A baseball team was affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles so Glenn would root for them under the auspices of cheering on his hometown team. In reality, we attended these games as social outings with friends and coworkers since neither of us had a real interest in the game's outcome.  Growing up in New England I was, by default, a Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, and New England Patriots fan.  Of course, this was during the time when these teams were in the midst of years long losing streaks.  (It wasn't until after I actually moved away from New England that they all began to have winning seasons.  I were the superstitious type, I would say that my presence in New England brought them bad luck).

Upon moving to Albania, it quickly became clear to us that football, or what we Americans call soccer, is a national obsession throughout Europe.  I knew football was a big deal here but didn't realize how important it was.  Even in Albania, a country whose national team is never a contender for an international title, football is popular.  Regardless of their size, it appears that every city and town in Albania has at least one football stadium (Tirana has two!).  Even more telling, when the rest of the city is shrouded in darkness due to power outages, night games in these stadiums are well lit.  Boys start playing football at a young age here (it always seems to be boys since I have yet to see any girls playing).  Whether it is young boys kicking the ball on our street or older youth playing pick up games in the dirt field in the neighborhood, everyone seems to be playing football.  Those who aren't playing are watching- either in the stands or on television in smoked filled cafes.  Football truly is a national pastime.

In Europe, the Super Bowl of football is the Euro Cup.   Buzz about the Euro Cup had been building in recent weeks as national teams dropped from Cup contention.  In coffee bars and on the street, people have been talking about which team was favored to win.  Much like fall and winter Sundays in the U.S. when Americans plan their activities around their football team's kick off time, Europeans do the same.  Football is such serious business here that the playoff schedule became a part of the discussions when planning the Embassy's Independence Day celebration; if a playoff game or (gasp) the finale coincided with our reception, which event would people chose to attend? (Fortunately there wasn't a conflict as the final game took place two days after our event).  Last week Glenn and I found ourselves in Dubrovnik, Croatia on the evening of a semi-final game.  Every public square and outdoor cafe in the old city was filled with chairs and large screen televisions as Europeans of all nationalities cheered Italy on in their victory over Germany.  I think it was at this moment that I truly realized that this was more than just a game- pride and national bragging rights were at stake.

This past Sunday night we watched the Euro Cup finale between Italy and Spain with a group of our international friends.  In typical Albanian fashion we met at a local restaurant where large screen televisions had been set up on the outside patio which made for optimum viewing.  Much to our own chagrin, but to the delight of our friends, we brought Sidney with us to watch the game that began at 2045.  (Even worse, we had been preparing for this night by delaying and extending his nap time over the course of two days with the hope that he would want to stay awake for the late game- he did).  We happened to be in good company as the playground adjacent the restaurant was filled with toddlers running around long after the hour that should have found them asleep in bed.  Sidney joined in the fray befriending a gaggle of Albanian boys who spent the first half of the game running and climbing as only boys can.  The entire scene was loud, smoky, humid, and classically European.  Italian fans, including our entire group that included two Italians, outnumbered Spain's so the shouting throughout the game was more out of dismay rather than joy as Spain scored four unanswered goals.  

Although the final results weren't what we had hoped they would be it was a fun way to spend a European evening.  Next up- watching a live football game in person.  After all, Tirana has two stadiums for us to chose from.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a fun evening...There's something for you over on my blog, I'm spreading sunshine