The 2018 FIFA World Cup began yesterday night on July 14, and with it started one of my favorite times of the year. Although this year my country did not qualify, watching international football championships will always be interesting for a series of factors that go well beyond the game itself.
As a European, football (or soccer) was always a big deal. On Sunday afternoons, every town in Italy would stop for a few hours, just to stare at their screens and support their favorite team. The following morning, the barista in the coffee shop next to my house would serve me my espresso with a smile and singing if AS Roma had won, angrily mumbling in case of a loss.
Personally, I was never into the whole local teams thing. I found that they always divided people within the same country or even city in ways that, sadly, turned to rude comments and sometimes even violence.
Despite that, I was always a loud and proud fan of the national team. I’m not a great sports supporter and understand very little about football, but I always loved the atmosphere that the European or World Cup brought around the streets, reason for which I watched attentively every single game.
Italy winning the World Cup in 2006 is one of my earliest and most vivid memories.
I remember being with my cousins, playing in their garden. At one point, there was a collective scream throughout the neighborhood which scared us; we hurried inside just to find out that the match was over and we had won.
Some of my best nights growing up were spent watching matches. My family and I used to go to the center of Rome, always to the same pub, with their friends. We would bring Italian flags and face paint and little gadgets to support our national team even if they were thousands of miles away.
Those evenings always gave me a feeling of hope and calm, even though they were such tense and stressful moments when Italy was on the verge of being disqualified. Everyone on the street was cheerful and hopeful, and we were all doing the same thing. We all had the same purpose and the same exact thoughts in that moment. Italians will literally treat you like family if they find that there is something you have in common; those nights, I remember chatting to strangers like we were old acquaintances, with every person on the street being incredibly approachable and just so nice.
Those are some of my warmest memories because, as an Italian, we don’t get to be proud of our country all the time; actually, most of the time we are not proud at all. There is a kind of euphoria and adrenaline that kicks even if the national team lost, because, even if for just ninety minutes, we were all one.
That’s the thing about football and international championships: they bring people together. Even in countries where differences are exaggerated, and people feel distant from one another, have a sports event on an international level and everyone will start loving each other.
Although it is quite sad that we have to wait for an event such as the World Cup to feel proud of our countries and support them, I find it comforting to think that sports have such an immense power on national spirit and pride. As long as this is not turned into extremes and results in xenophobia or violent behavior, it is an amazing effect which should be cherished and embraced. After all, it does not happen often for the whole country to come together for a shared purpose– which goes beyond the sport itself.
Photo: Football Chronicles