Tuesday July 3, 2012
By ANDREW SIA
The recent Euros produced a treasure trove of well-written articles on football. For fans, this is a rousing way to improve one’s English.
THIS match had been billed as the footballing equivalent of a fight between two hedgehogs, a meeting of counter-punchers forever crouched behind their defensive quills. Instead, the first half was absorbingly cut and thrust, with both teams committing themselves to sometimes full-blooded attack,” wrote Barney Ronay in The Guardian (June 24) after Italy defeated England at the recent Euro 2012 tournament.
It fills one with pure delight to read how a football match, supposedly between two prickly defence-minded teams, could blossom into a furious sword fight, as the cut and thrust metaphor suggests. With such quality reporting in football, it’s easy to see how a fan might easily improve his or her English, learning nuances of wit and sarcasm in the process.
When Germany faced Greece in the quarter-finals, it was transformed by the press into a proxy battle about politics and economics, a struggle between a big, rich country punishing a small one which had been naughty enough to waste much of its pocket money on economic lollipops – and which was now screaming about fiscal decay, pardon the dental metaphor.
The German tabloid Bild called the match Angela Merkel’s “most difficult game”, as the German chancellor would be in a dilemma: Would she dare to cheer a German goal or, out of respect for Greeks who blame her for austerity measures, show more reserve?
One German commentator dubbed it, half in jest, the “ultimate euro stress test”, with the double meaning directed at similar tests for financial systems. The terse mood was summed up in German and Greek headlines: “Bye-bye Greeks, we can’t rescue you today,” declared the Bild, while the Greek paper Sport Day urged: “Bankrupt THEM.”
Kate Connolly wrote in The Guardian (June 22) that the match “earned comparisons with the 1969 Olympic ice hockey match between Czechoslovakia and the USSR, when the Czechs sought sporting revenge for the Soviet invasion of Prague the previous year and England’s encounter with Argentina in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup, four years after the end of the Falklands war.”
As Bill Shankly, the legendary Liverpool manager, once said, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Tell that to the woman who says that this great game is just about 22 men chasing one ball around a field!
What headline would you write after watching Germany crush Greece? “German efficiency rules the Euro zone as Greece are axed,” ran a Guardian article by Paul Wilson (June 22), which continued, “Greece are probably as fed up as everyone else with jokes about who should be kicked out of the euro and who deserves all the credit.”
Yes, credit. Geddit? The double meaning of the word here refers not just to who should be honoured for saving the Euro (as in the currency) but also to the seemingly interminable loans being extended to Greece.
As for England, Steven Howard wrote in The Sun (June 25) that, “Ashley Cole had said England would fight to the death like 11 bulldogs. But in the end the family pet was put out of its misery at Euro 2012.”
“Yes, England, bless ’em, hung on for dear life in a performance that saw the total expenditure of blood, sweat and tears. And for 120 long, sobering, fraught, tense, nail-biting, excruciating, unbelievable minutes we thought it was going to be Chelsea all over again.”
I would not be surprised if the writer had shaken out a whole list of synonyms from the thesaurus bucket to describe just how anxious English fans were. It’s also interesting to note how he uses the noun “Chelsea” as shorthand to describe a situation: How a defensive-minded Chelsea had won the European club championship in May by erecting a fortress around their penalty area.
One Italian commentator scoffed that England had “built a dam” there, but the most commonly used term for such a style of play is “parking the bus in front of goal”.
But magic does now happen always, and so Howard wrote, “But, in the end, English football couldn’t pull the rabbit out of the hat another time. And nor did they deserve to.”
How should the team of one’s homeland be described? Sarah Crompton, in an article entitled “Euro 2012: jingoistic fervour by ‘patriotic’ TV commentators does not become us” (The Telegraph, June 27), is uneasy about the “over-extensive and undiscriminating use of the ‘we’ word” as it implies that every citizen has been enlisted (by the media) in a war between nations.
“It is the flags on the cars that always get me. Those fluttering symbols of England’s fluttering hopes, which start out so proudly – and end up so swiftly in the bin. I do resist the kind of mad jingoistic fervour that springs up as an accompaniment to any international footballing competition,” she wrote.
“Once England were out on the pitch, the pronouns grew ever more slippery. It wasn’t them, but us who were being shown up by the majestic Andrea Pirlo (the Italian midfielder).
“‘We’ might be sitting on our sofas and unable to do anything more than shout impotently at the TV, but we were implicated in national failure.”
Crompton added, “I once had to write an essay explaining the difference between jingoism and patriotism. Before the World Cup, perhaps every commentator should be made to do the same, and carefully consider the use of the ‘we’ word.”
Finally, there’s the debate on whether the rapid passing game (nicknamed tiki-taka) played by the Spanish team was a boring killer of football.
Richard Williams of The Guardian (June 27) wrote: “There is also the question of the texture of their play, which cannot be separated from their near-monopoly of possession... There is a soft, frictionless quality to the style known as tiki-taka which makes it feel as though Spain are playing in carpet slippers and which robs the game of the explosive, percussive element that has always been a part of the game.”
However, one should always be wary of how the English press like to puff up their own under-achieving team in misplaced patriotism while pulling down others. As Paul Hayward in an article entitled “Spain boring? Or are we just jealous.” (The Telegraph, June 29) wrote:
“Even the worst Premier-League-is-best zealot cannot withhold credit from a country who could be the first in history to win three consecutive titles – European Championship or World Cup.”
“Tiki-taka was the sadistic prelude to the kill. This time, admittedly, the bull is offered tea and cake. We wait, we wait. The ball moves left and right and around. Xavi polishes up his pass completion stats and nothing happens. The fed-up English yawn.”
“They have learnt the vocabulary of the game. They possess the fundamental technical skill of ball retention, the basic survival mechanism, without which no team can hope to leave a worthwhile mark in history.”
Ah... such glorious language to grace a magnificent sport!