The month of May is traditionally full of European action. Not only the UEFA Champions League and Europe League finals are played. The Eurovision, that big annual small European countries festival, is also taking place in May. For one day a year it magically doesn’t matter whether you’re as small as Malta or as big as Russia, whether you’re a republic, a monarchy or a dictatorship, the points are yours to give as you please. It is also the time to settle scores, as the (public) voting reflects political grievances, migrating populations, historical conquests and alliances and religions. A goldmine for a modern anthropologist and a must for anyone who wants to become familiar with the complex fabric of European society.
But by now this is all ancient history. Its June, and almost time for another great European spectacle – the UEFA European Football Championship or Euro. Its the biggest all-European sporting event and, like the Eurovision, the chance to settle some scores. In this year’s tournament, every group features a match loaded with emotions and history. In Group A Poland vs Russia is a match between two neighbours who have invaded each other a countless number of times, and the recent aircraft crash in Russia, that killed the entire Polish government has not improved the relations a bit. In Group B the clash between Netherlands and Germany needs no introduction to anyone remotely familiar with football history. While back in the old days the Dutch grievances were fuelled by the German requisition of bicycles during WWII (whoever says “you can take our Jews, if you just leave the bikes” – ends up with no Jews and no bikes), nowadays the bad blood is mostly based on the loss of the World Cup Final in 1974, which even the winning of the Euro 1988 did not set right. In Group C Spain vs Italy is perhaps not as charged as the previous fixtures, but it is nevertheless a match between the last two champions of the world, and is no minor affair. Finally, in Group D the opening match between France and England brings with it a rivalry that goes back to the Tapestry of Bayeux of the 70’s – the 1070’s that is! While England and France are no longer invading each other militarily, both countries keep grumbling about mutual cultural, linguistic and economical invasions.
The Euro is, however more than just a game. The Olympic Games have for the past 60 years almost exclusively been held in big countries and the last FIFA World Cup in a small country dates back to 1962, leaving the Euro as a small European country’s best chance to win big glory. In the 21st century tournaments held in small countries have become more a rule than an exception, and with the Euro often co-hosted, it has visited no less than 7 small countries! And while the “older brother”, the FIFA World Cup, was almost exclusively won by the big guys, the Euro has seen its fair share of small European triumphs. Greece, Denmark, Netherlands and Czechoslovakia are all small countries that made it big time in the Euro, proving that size not always matters. At least in the Euro it doesn’t. Let the Euro games begin!