There’s a line in the haunting song Rattlesnakes by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions that poignantly states ‘it’s so hard to love when love is your great disappointment’. It is unlikely that football was in mind when the song was written, but there is a valid connection to be made, especially in relation to the intensity of an international tournament.
Club football is infinitely superior, and the narrative played out over a greater period of time. In many ways, the close season is neither an end nor a beginning, but a small gap in the continuation process. Last season’s relegation for my club side has had a significant impact upon our forthcoming campaign. Supporting a club side is not a light that can be switched on and off, but a lifetime of suffering, uncertainty and despair, sprinkled with miniscule moments of unparalleled perfection. Well, it is if that team is Coventry City.
International football is the whirlwind romance that catches you in the headlights of summer. The storyline isn’t played out over months, but reduced to a microcosm of footballing love. The emotions may be there, but they are more of an infatuation rather than a concrete love affair. When the tournament ends, I find myself at peace with international football until the passion is re-lit in two years’ time. The great disappointment that I have been often saddled with in club football, however, last night reached the international stage.
It’s a fallacy to suggest that Germany losing to Italy evoked any raw emotions like I feel with Coventry City. My love for my club long since moved to a higher plateau, surpassing any success or failure I feel whilst playing or coaching. This year has been especially horrific. The Sky Blues were relegated to the third tier for the first time since 1964, the school team that I coach were denied a second successive title by inexplicably losing a final that we had dominated possession in, and, despite being top scorer, missed the decisive penalty in a tournament final. Euro 2012 was a chance to feel a modicum of victory.
When two friends and I watched the 2010 World Cup final in a Dutch bar, it firmly felt that we were gate crashing someone else’s party. It never felt like that supporting Germany. In the Bavarian Beerhouse we were surrounded by those with straightforward (‘I was born in Germany’) or bizarre (‘I won the Bundesliga with Fortuna Dusseldorf on Football Manager and decided to support both them and the German national team. I am Congolese’) stories. Football, as so often, was the unifier. I desperately wanted to return for the final, but I did not factor in Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli.
Italy deserves to be challenging Spain for the title. Jogi Low, a tactical chess player, called it badly wrong. In 2010, he was so scarred by Spain that he began to replicate their play. The wonderful counter attacking was replaced by a ruthlessness that, whilst still productive, had lost its charm. The Germany of two years ago would have ignored Pirlo, not through naivety but due to a complete faith in their own style. Toni Kroos is a defensive midfielder, and his inclusion, along with Khedira and Schweinsteiger, showed too much repect to Italy. The ineffective, bordering on embarrassing performances from Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez allowed Italy to dictate matters. Germany only started playing in the second half, but the psychological blow had been executed.
I am used to being disappointed by a football team, but largely because I expect this. In 24 years of supporting Coventry, we have never finished in the top six of any league; have had two relegations, and not an ounce of measurable success. The ecstatic moments, such as the last game at Highfield Road beating Derby 6-2, or the 4-1 victory away to Aston Villa in 1999, cannot be replaced. In the wider discourse of success though, they were meaningless. Is success a series of beautiful moments, or something more sustainable? If Germany had won Euro 2012, would I have claimed it as a fraction of my own because I’d have been in a German bar? Oddly, in the same way that I did in Berlin in 2006, I would have. Not on the same level as anything club related, but a tiny explosion of euphoria. After being international football’s nearly nation for six years, I had convinced myself that they would win this tournament. When success is expected, the acceptance of failure is more difficult to comprehend.