With great reluctance, England fans celebrated their 0-0 draw with Turkey, marking their automatic qualification into the UEFA Euro 2004 competition. I say reluctant because after losing two Leeds fans to hooligan violence at the hands of Galatasaray’s “Stay Up All Night” gang in 2000, England supporters wished for a more decidedly lethal result, ending a rivalry that has left a bitter taste in the mouths of England’s more passionate fans.
That’s not to say that the fans wanted to see on-pitch violence, or an eruption between rival supporters where white and red clashed in bloody battle. What they seemed to want more was a punishing defeat. One that sent the Turkish fans home in misery, cursing the English scoring machine, that unstoppable mechanism all fans believe lies dormant at the heart of their team, surfacing when only the right motivation sparks their hidden talent. The problem was, that the English scoring machine was nowhere to be found.
Beckham’s free kick in the 36th minute could have put the national side ahead, but as Beckham lost his footing while striking the ball, sending it into the stratosphere, Turkish fans sighed relief. This would not be a dominant English side. It would be a game where equal footing for either team would be hard to come by.
International rivalries are something new to the casual American sports fan. There are no real rivalries to speak of in the big three sports (NBA, NFL and MLB), unless you want to want to find some tentative link between Toronto Blue Jays’ fans and some other equally boring baseball team in the U.S.
Our only significant rivalry internationally seems to be the Mexican National Team where we have traded blows game after game for decades, usually on the losing side. That tide has turned however after the 2002 World Cup where a 2-0 underdog victory sent the Mexicans home in disgrace and sent American fans, well, home.
We don’t play up international rivalries here in the U.S. during some of the international competitions we participate in, whether it is the Olympics or international soccer, like the World Cup or the CONCACAF tournament. Maybe it’s because we have a dominant superpower on our side politically, namely Bush’s government, who seems to piss everyone off. We don’t have to school Libya, Iran or Iraq in international competition because we can do it on the political stage or in their very countries. Like AC Roma and Juventus fans, our battles become political, but our field of play becomes the country we dislike rather than their soccer pitch.
This is not to say that the problems in Iraq could or would have been solved on a footie ground had we the opportunity, but it would have been nice. Iraq doen’t have much of a soccer team, mostly because Saddam tortued them when they lost and shamed them when they produced unwanted resluts. We could have taken Iraq on the field, though the hooligans (if we have any) would have probably lost because we don’t like to use suicide bombers or fully automatic weapons historically.
Of course, their isn’t much between Turkey and England politically at the moment and the battles between rival supporters are mainly about showing your colors and true off the pitch strength rather than some disagreement between the Labour party and Turkey’s passive/aggressive government.
For anyone who enjoys the game, the beautiful game, a chance to settle our differences on the pitch might prove an exciting prospect, but when it comes to the truth of the matter, we seem to like our big stick, rather than a soccer ball.