It’s been several weeks since the Euro finals in Paris and I still can’t shake the small rush of adrenaline I get every I think about being in Stade de France amongst the supporters in that last match of the European Championships.
Living in Bangkok and being fortunate enough to come by some tickets, I had experienced international Thai games against Malaysia and Singapore at our own national stadium, Rajamangala Stadium. With Thais often taking up most of the space in the stadium, we chanted and sang and played the drums to support our fellow players. However, I am ashamed to say that we could not quite assemble an atmosphere as intense as the French, let alone the Portuguese.
I’ve been given a lot grief for liking football and spending a significant portion of my allowance to watch a “dirty game that is played by boys and influenced by money”. Putting my personal attachments to the sport aside, I do think that, for the rotten reputation that football has acquired over recent years, there was magic in the atmosphere of the supporters that evening. The French supporters took up approximately three quarters of the stadium were loud and firm in their support. The Portuguese supporters, however, were just of a different calibre. Taking up only a small portion of the seats in the stadium, they chanted and clapped and sang the entire 120 (plus stoppage time) of the game. They shook the stadium with their passion and the roars of happiness after Éder scored the winner. Tens of thousands of us, in this Stade de France sized bubble of pure passion with a burning desire to win, shared this experience together. For those 120 minutes, even though some of us were divided in our hopes of the outcome, we were all focused on that green grass pitch with 22 men kicking the ball around trying to find the back of the net. Being in that stadium was really one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
What I love so much about going to games is that there will be these moments — whether they are only for a minute or for an entire game and extra time — that we see such a strong sense of community and unity. Sure, there may be hooligans and violence after the game, there will be hurtful things said, and football — English football especially — has a reputation of having problematic fans and scandals that cheapen the game. These things are all issues about the sport that needs to be addressed but understandably are difficult to approach. Where would one begin? There is always an ugly side to the things we love, none of which are excusable. However, I do believe that in one sense of the other, maybe not nearly as much at club level but definitely on an international level, the unity amongst the people in the stadium is something of a magical sight. Prior to the finals, I had always had an affiliation with a side in an international football game: wincing every time the opponent has a near miss, groaning when our players strike and hit the crossbar, jumping up and down when that ball finally hits the back of the net. However, being in the midst of such a massive game that holds so much weight and has so much importance to a millions of people and not having any affiliation to either side has given me the most wonderful opportunity of witnessing what sports can mean to people — what football can mean to people. Whether it is patriotism or love for the sport or both, it is undeniable that under the right circumstances, large congregations of people can truly be united for a single cause. I just so happen to love it especially when it is in a football stadium.