Some say that football is a language spoken universally, and while that may be true, perspective and region can have a massive influence on your view(s ) of the game. I live over in America, however, my parents grew up here and are completely Irish like everyone else in my family line. I have spent an extreme amount of time in Ireland; becoming adapted to the culture and social normalities, and in my head, those principles have significantly helped shape me into the man I am today. Because of those reasons, despite what my accent might imply, I do consider myself Irish. Before coming back for the summer, I briefly experienced the European Championship (Euros ) and the affect it had on American society; as a result, I can now compare America's participation against the Irish's stupendous level.
In Ireland, both the enthusiasm and support from not only football fans, but everyone as a collective whole, is unreal. Though Ireland showcase and play many sports, football appears to be inextricably linked to culture; I can hardly go anywhere without hearing about or seeing coverage of the Euros, and that in itself is quite remarkable. Everyone rallies behind and encourages the national team, even if they aren't an avid football fan. For example; while driving down to Galway I was listening to a local radio station. At the time the host was speaking to a lady, who had volunteered to come on the show, about her weekend. The first question, out of all the things that could have been prioritized, was, "Did ya watch the game?" Much to the host's surprise, the lady did not watch the game, as she was extremely busy cleaning up the house. The host was appalled and joked with the woman about her 'mistake', but the lady promised that even though she didn't like the sport all that much, she would absolutely cheer on the team in their clash against Italy, which took place last night. There was an obvious tone of regret in the woman's voice, though the interaction between the two remained playful and funny. The conversation later shifted away from the topic of sports. To me, this was one of the strongest examples of passion that you can show; despite not loving football, the lady (up until last game ) had watched all of Ireland's games and is going to watch their next one. This shows love for the country and an incredible amount of support of the Irish national team. Though I had already seen it before, the Euros have proved that loyalty and passion are two of the quintessential traits in Irish culture. And if this conversation didn't provide enough evidence, the reaction (among fans ) to yesterday's historic win surely did. The atmosphere was unreal, even before the game, and there was a sense of family in the streets as the loud cheers and celebration took place. As for the team, I have never seen a more determined group of guys; every single one of them wanted that win, deserved that win, and after the match you could truly see how much it meant to them.
Taking a more wide and general look at the Euros, there has been numerous ups, coupled with one down. For starters, it's fantastic to see fierce competition, especially when smaller, supposedly 'weaker' teams challenge and even beat those who are predicted to stroll through their group. Though not in the most difficult group, a real fairy-tale story has been found in Wales; they managed to finish top of their group and qualify for the last sixteen in their first-ever European Championship. This tournament appears to be one where anyone has a legitimate chance at winning any game, which makes for an unusual, but welcomed change. And I think we can admit that it's nice not watching Germany cruise by everyone untouched. My biggest disappointment or problem with the Euros is a small but irritating one, it's the safety, or even cowardice, that a lot of teams play with. Considering that four points, or sometimes even three, will probably qualify a team into the next round, we see a lot of teams settling for draws or completely sitting back and defending after scoring one goal. And yes, maybe that's the smart move and what's required in order to be successful but as a man who loves to watch the game and loves goals, this play-style makes for some rather boring and stale matches. Take Germany vs Poland for example; everyone is aware of how dangerous both teams can be in front of goal, but because both teams had already won their first games, Germany and Poland were happy with a single point. It's frustrating as the game had such potential but completely sizzled out and ended nothing more than mediocre.
So the group stages have now concluded, splitting the tournament into two sides; one which has won a total of nine times, and the other side with zero. Which, not so much for us however, is fantastic. There will guaranteed be a non-winner in the final, which is both exciting and great for the mass culture of football. I'd love to see Wales or Croatia, and while they do have a genuine chance, I fear that the Belgians will reach the final. As for the other side, Spain and France are my top two candidates but, theoretically, they could end up facing each other in the semi-final. If that should happen, I'm going to give France the edge purely because the tournament is in France and they'll be gleaming with pride and desire to win it for their fans and country. Ultimately, I believe the European Championship serves as an inspiration, and a way of further uniting the Republic of Ireland. Furthermore, it's been a great exhibition of football with some of the smaller countries truly proving their worth. There's still a lot more to play for, but hopefully nothing changes.