For anyone who particularly cares (i.e. anyone not from America), UEFA’s Euro 2008 soccer tournament started up this week. This marks the 48th anniversary of European nations utilizing soccer as a proxy for war. Since European nations began having organized soccer tournaments in 1960, nary a war has been fought in Western Europe — a tremendous accomplishment for nations that used to invade each other for a laugh. Yes, the Union of European Football Associations, and not the UN, is to be praised for our long peace in Western Europe.
Now the sharp students in class may wish to point out that spirited international soccer competition has not in fact averted wars as the first World Cup was held in 1930. However, I would like to posit that:
1) Italy won two of the first three World Cups prior to WWII and thus only incensed Mr. Fuhrer Cat to invade Poland in order to one-up Mussolini.
2) The World Cup is not a proxy for the refined and gentlemanly pursuit of European warfare, but rather a frightening and disheartening display of former colonies exacting vicious revenge. For instance, the former colonies of Spain and Portugal have won half of the World Cups, while those two colonial powers are still 0 for 18. You would think that being dominated in soccer is not punishment enough for 400 years of colonial brutality, but then clearly, you’ve never been to Europe. Go backpacking. “Find yourself.” Just not in Prague. (Next time I’ll regale you about that time with Michael, the wolf mask, and the gypsies.)
3) Americans, having done so poorly in international competition have yet to have their war lust quelled, as evidenced by the numerous wars we get ourselves into. The fact that third world countries can routinely beat us in soccer only fuels our desire to invade them.
Having heard these arguments, the insufferable know-it-all will point out that the national teams fighting it out in Euro 2008 are full of international players poached from former colonies. How can this be a proxy for war?
Well Mr. Know-it-all, European nations have been using mercenaries in war since the beginning of time. The French employed thousands of Genoese mercenaries in the Hundred Years’ War. At least they did, up until the point when they massacred them during the Battle of Crécy. Those French really try their hardest to lose wars, don’t they?
If you still don’t believe that soccer is a proxy for war, here are a few more points to convince you otherwise. First, go see the movie Victory. The film, which pits Allied POWs up against the Germans in a soccer match, is pretty much a metaphor for the great Allied struggle. So much so that during halftime the players would rather finish the game than escape from the POW camp. Now that’s dedication. Yes, nothing’s more satisfying than watching Michael Caine’s ragtag team of Allied POWs beat the snot out of the Germans against all odds.
Second, and this should convince most of you, soccer was invented by the medieval English. The sport is absolutely antithetical to peace, as it was created when the medieval English managed to combine their favorite pursuits: wagering, pugilism, warfare, and pints of bitter with an inflated pig bladder. Soccer is so much like war that (and this is actually true) Edward III banned it in 1349 so that the English could concentrate on the Hundred Years’ War. During the two hundred or so years that soccer was banned in medieval England, the English picked fights with the Welsh, Irish, Scots, Cornish, French, Castilians, and themselves. It was literally as if out of boredom, those medieval hooligans decided to have a go at anyone within reach of a pint glass.
Luckily, soccer was legalized, and Europe has come a long way forward considering how 30 English and French knights once met on a pitch and fought to the death for the sake of national pride. (Yes, that actually happened too.) Now we just fight to kick a ball into a pen.
One must thank Ebenezer Cobb Morley for all this. He codified modern soccer in 1863 and founded the Football Association. Today, there are more players in the English Football League System than there are soldiers in the British Army. Wars are confined to the pitch and the soldiers are a bunch of overpaid speedy blokes with fancy footwork. Aside from England’s horrifying long ball tactics, brutality is kept to a minimum.
But don’t let that fool you. Soccer is just like war. In the heat of the match, with national pride on the line and the crowds blaring and waving flags, it’s easy to forget that this is only a game. Zidane forgot. And then he head-butted the crap out of Materazzi. If this was 400 years ago and the two of them met like that on a battlefield, and Materazzi talked trash about Zidane’s mom, Zidane would do the same. And then he’d stab him or something.
Yep. Soccer is just like war. Only, by the grace of modern progress, we’ve replaced Edward the Black Prince with a metrosexual Beckham and Peter Crouch doing the robot.