Back to football
I must confess, I am not a great fan of football. I mean, I am not someone who would religiously follow games, leagues, championships, know the names of football stars, follow their lives, admire the ones in my favorite team and hate the ones of the opponents. I am not someone who would do anything not to miss a televised match of my favorite club. Actually, I do not have a favorite team. And I get furious every time I am stuck in my car for hours being prevented from reaching home by thousands of cheering, screaming, chanting fans as my home is just a few hundred meters away from the Fenerbahçe Stadium. Worse than that, I could not fully share the ecstatic admiration of some of my Rum (Greek Orthodox) friends when they, some years ago, had introduced me to that great ordinaries, Lefter Antoniadis, during an Easter mass in his beloved island Prinkipo.
But I should be more honest. Yes, I am not a fan of football today. Or, to be more accurate, I was not a football fan until last week. But, I used to be. For us who grew up in Athens and played football with boys on the dusty streets of the Greek capital’s suburbia, you had no choice but joining the army of fans of Olympiakos or Panathinaikos. Of course, that was so, unless your family traced its roots to present day Turkey in which case you would not dream of supporting any team other than AEK, the Athletic Union of Constantinople.
So, as part of my families roots are from Athens, I became an Olympiakos devoted supporter from an early age. I would be very knowledgeable about the team’s activity and although I never entered a football stadium, I would pin pictures of my favorite players on my wall and often engage into long verbal matches with my opponents.
I realized that football was something more serious than an ordinary competitive sport, when I moved out of Greece to live in England and then to Turkey. Besides family, friends and landscapes, I also left behind habits that connected me with that primary, innocent collective enthusiasm that connects you to your childhood.
This football “mundial” (World Cup) in Brazil has turned things upside down for me. Initially the mundial meant an opportunity to analyze Brazil from a socio-politically standpoint due to its issues with poverty, corruption as well as the public’s anger towards the uncontrolled development and destruction of the countries environment. So, from the beginning, rather than the actual matches I followed the violent demonstrations, police brutality and the poverty in the favelas (Brazilian shanty towns). And for me the collapse of an unfinished overpass in Belo Horizonte near Mineirao Stadium with two dead and several wounded last week, was more important than the outcome of that day’s football matches.
But old loves never die. And I remembered that, when I happened to be in Athens last week for a brief visit. It was a period when Greece had briefly put politics and economy aside to watch the match between the Greek national team and the Costa Ricans. I had no choice but to join friends who cried over the Greek defeat but found solace in the fact that the Greeks had managed to be among the “16” finalists. The day after the Greek defeat, something started happening to me when I watched the few hundred Greek fans, all painted blue and white, struggling to console the demoralized team upon their return to Athens’ Venizelos Airport.
And being there, in my own country, albeit briefly, I felt somewhat angry towards those Costa Ricans, who play such good football and who – unlike my own country – come from a place where the inhabitants are the happiest people in the world, according to the Happy Planet Index!
That meant that after having cried following the defeat of my national team, I instantly became a fan of Costa Rica, supporting them when they played against the Dutch, and I decided not to miss any of the remaining matches in the Mundial.
In my case, I am reconnecting with my childhood and my roots, which means that from now on, I will never become angry with Fenerbahçe’s crazy fans near my house in Istanbul and I will not miss another second from the remaining matches of the Mundial.