Sunday, April 15, 2007


Football is all very well as a game for rough girls, but is hardly suitable for delicate boys.

Oscar Wilde

If the Greek National Soccer Team were the U.S.S.R National Soccer Team back in the heady days when the Iron Curtain effectively stopped the icy red blasts of the Siberian steppes creeping under the doorstep of the Free, Capitalist World, they would have been taken out and shot. Their relatives, nay anyone who had ever associated with them or spoken to them, would have been named Enemies of the State, purged, and exiled to the Arctic gulags, there to labour the rest of their sorry days away in building soccer stadiums in the permafrost and developing Lysenko-like ways of propagating the peanut through penguin manure.
Sadly, the Greek National Soccer Team is not the U.S.S.R National Soccer Team. Nor is it the Colombian National Team, for it was, then the State, paying homage to liberalist laissez-faire principles, would permit any law-abiding citizen who is not in arrears with his tax, to select which of the members of that wretched Team were responsible for the inexcusable loss to Turkey on Greek National Day Eve and assassinate them. But then again, as Luis Suarez relates, in Latin America the border between soccer and politics is vague. There is a long list of governments that have fallen or been overthrown after the defeat of the national team and rightly so. In Greece, this usually takes an invasion of Cyprus or the complete embezzlement of the Bank of Crete, though recent indications are that as a result of our national humiliation at the hands of the valiant Turkish national team, the Karamanlis government is tottering upon its last legs. But then again, that aforementioned government has appeared to be tottering upon its last legs ever since PASOK lost the last election. As an aside it is not without coincidence that the cranial dimensions of a large number of Greek parliamentarians match those of the FIFA approved football, giving rise to the urban myth that Greek parliamentarians have been genetically engineered to answer Eric Morcambe’s pious prayer: “I think football would become an even better game if someone could invent a ball that kicks back.”
The importance of winning is enshrined within the human psyche. Winners are people who win. People who do not win are Losers. Losers are those people who cannot claim the respect of the rest of the members of their species. They bear a mark on their forehead in the shape of an L and no one wants to mate with them, lest their miserable line be perpetuated. Winners are macho. They can kick, jump, maim and injure more effectively than their weaker, effeminate rivals and as a result, get to be feted on morning talk-shows, host serious documentaries, take drugs while eliciting sympathy and mate with a selection of the most nubile and aethereal mating counterparts ever to have been created. If the rumours are anything to go by, it is no wonder that the then victorious and beloved Greek National Team is experiencing times of weakness and diminished ardor for victory, for in the aftermath of their visit Down Under, our community is populated by a number of immensely cute babies that show a remarkable propensity for kicking and all of whose mothers for some reason will not pose with them in front of a photograph of the National Team. It follows logically that the same will not be the case for them now. Eventually winners are admitted to that wider football game known as government, where they attempt, with the same vigour, to assist the government in achieving its goals.
Some people maintain that soccer is a matter of life or death. Far from it. It is much more important than that. To the aesthete it is an art form, an athletic ballet. To the spiritually inclined it is a religion. Just how important a tenet it is to the faith of mankind is evidenced by Anthony Burgesses’ fine scriptural exegesis: “Five days shalt thou labour, as the Bible says. The seventh day is the Lord thy God's. The sixth day is for football.” Therefore, the members of Greek National Team are not only losers, they are also heretics and apostates and just as the venerable Archbishop Christodoulos, who reputedly gets a kick out of soccer, (pardon the pun) triumphantly welcomed them into the Kallimarmaro Stadium in 2004, fresh from their European Championship, so should he now excommunicate them and cast them out of the fold of true believers, for the problem with losers is this: When one is an individual loser, they are identified as such and dealt with accordingly. However, a National Team by virtue of its very title, purports to represent a whole nation and by implication, us as well. Therefore, when that Team wins championships, we can also claim vicariously to be champions. Similarly, when that team loses, we too are losers and the team that renders as losers an entire nation is a traitorous team, whose members should be drawn and quartered and their decomposing heads displayed from Eleutherios Venizelos Airport as a warning to others.
Just how terrible the tragedy of Greece’s loss to it’s arch rival Turkey was keenly felt in Greece, can be evidenced by the way in which innumerable politicians graced Greek chat shows and provided their own expert commentary as to how and why everything went so horribly wrong. Then it was the turn of a multitude of unrelated sports coaches who proceeded to provide a chronicle of the national calamity so heart-wrenching and tear-jerking in character, that the likes of it have not been seen since Ibrahim Pasha’s invasion of the Peloponnese.
It comes as an enormous surprise that while great emphasis was placed upon the loss to national prestige that ensued as a result of the National Team’s defeat, the conduct of Greek fans during the match was glossed over and largely ignored. Our valiant compatriots, worthy descendants of Kolokotronis, Markos Botsaris and Lystarchos Davelis expressed their righteous anger at the Turkish National Team for having the temerity to challenge their own team’s natural superiority (which stems from the fact that we invented democracy, the bouzouki, baklava, Greek coffee, kataifi, loukoumia, imam baildi, yaprakia, the baglama, tsifteteli and of course Lefteris Pantazis). Picking up where our brave freedom fighters left off (from memory, that was where they had killed each other, shut up whoever was left in prison in Nauplio, allowing the Egyptian army to burn their way through the Peloponnese and requiring the intervention of Britain to save Greece from annihilation) they proceeded to throw bottles, refuse and other projectiles at the Turkish players. Other patriotic fans thought to overawe Turkey through the use of propaganda. They chanted slogans and held aloft banners proclaiming: “Kemal is Gay,” (not that there’s anything wrong with that,) “A Good Turk is a Dead Turk,” “Constantinople, Capital of Greece” accompanied by exquisite sketches reminiscent of Dali in his pubist period, depicting a stylized Kolokotronis grabbing a Turk (and you can tell he was a Turk because he was wearing a turban and looked mean) by the throat. All in all they did their bit to ensure that the Turks were fully apprised of the inherent greatness of the Greek. After all, we invented filoxenia and through the Olympic Games, the idea of friendly competition. And anyway, remember the time when the Greek basketball team’s bus was attacked by glass bottles in Turkey? What about the time when Turkish fans held aloft a banner of Mehmet the Conqueror entering Constantinople or another atrocious banner reading: ‘Greece: Gold medal swimming 1922’ ? I mean, are we just supposed to sit there? What kind of superior race are we? Of course the Turks abused our hospitality by winning. As gracious hosts we let them winning, so they won’t feel too bad and take over western Thrace in revenge. The only problem is that now, Xavier Solana is proposing that rather than tax the European Court with our interminable wrangling, that the issue of the Aegean Continental shelf and the No-Fly Zone be determined through another soccer match. Appeals to the European Union to have this mitigated to a lesser competition of tavli, prefa, birimba or Zorba ‘till you drop, have at the time of writing, fallen upon deaf ears which means that we, as a nation are facing annihilation and we have our inept National Team to thank, though it has since their vanquishment, managed at least to stave off a surreptitious invasion by Malta.
It is thus particularly hurtful to read sentiments like those recorded by George Orwell in ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’: “I loathed the game, and since I could see no pleasure or usefulness in it, it was very difficult for me to show courage at it. Football, it seemed to me, is not really played for the pleasure of kicking a ball about, but is a species of fighting.” Of course it is a species of fighting. Through it we realize all our national aspirations and obtain revenge for past wrongs without having to lift a finger. In the split second that a goal is scored, we assume the identities of Leonidas, Miltiades, Themistocles, Papaflessas and Koskotas and taste greatness. In that second, all the iniquities of the past are blotted out and we are forged anew. That these sentiments are also shared by Turkish fans is evidenced by the amount of jeering that has transpired between both sets of fans on international forums like Youtube, proclaiming to the world just how brave, mature and infinitely inventive we both are. For example, the Turkish newspaper ‘Fanatik’ rejoiced in the Turkish victory for two reasons: 1) because it took place on a Christian religious holiday and 2) because it took place in Karaiskakis stadium, Karaiskakis being a known rebel against Turkey, and possibly wethinks, distantly related to Abdullah Ocalan. Hurriyet newspaper on the other hand, granted the victors the title: “Conquerors of Athens,” thus avenging a defeat at the hands of Androutsos almost two hundred years ago. Don’t let the whinings of the timid traitors and those that those alphabetically-inspired artificial leagues whose agenda is the cleansing of ethnic conflict from the game fool you: Soccer is by far the most appropriate forum for the airing of ethnic discord, far better and more civilized than say, invading Iraq. Now we should all insist on the next Greece-Iran match to be held at Thermopylae. Diatribe leaves you this week, with the following periapt gem from the immortal J. B Priestley in 'The Good Companions': “To say that these men paid their shillings to watch twenty-two hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink.” Until next time, Ellas Ole, allez, oime.


First published in NKEE on 15 April 2007