Football is the most European, and simultaneously, the most global of sports. The British Empire spread the game throughout Europe, and then worldwide. But national cultures in Europe quickly shaped peculiar and distinctive ways of playing the game which in time became expressions of collective identity
European football cultures and their integration: the'short' Twentieth Century
Analyse - 01 mars 2002
What is the correlation between sport and international politics? More specifically, is there any connection or causal relationship between the game of football - the most global and at the same time most European of sports - and the way in which "Europe" has developed inside its borders and projected itself outside? And, if so, exactly what? All these questions may mesmerize both the educated fan and the open-minded pundit.
In fact, the so-called "Bosman ruling" of 1995 is generally regarded as the first direct intrusion of European institutions in the otherwise strictly national (in terms of the actors' sovereignty) and quintessentially intergovernmental (in terms of modalities of multilateral co-operation) universe of professional football. With it, football has come to be regarded as an industry, clubs as firms, and players as ordinary, if extraordinarily well paid, salary-earning workers. Hence, it cannot be exempted from rules that apply to all other economic sectors, much as both supply and demand are influenced by powerful non-economic factors.
In retrospect, however, it is arguable that football had already followed - and at times anticipated - the main evolutionary lines of development of international relations and, in particular, of European history and politics. Alan Milward reminded us a few years ago that it is precisely with football and in football that the first bilateral exchanges were re-established and the first pluri-national networks initiated in a continent that had just come out of the Second World War. UEFA was founded in 1954, on FIFA's 50th anniversary, in the wake of a joint Franco-Belgian-Italian initiative. The first European Champions' Cup came about after the European Coal and Steel Community but before the Treaty of Rome - even though it was initially dominated by clubs (Real Madrid and Benfica) that did not belong at all to the EEC 'core' - as did the Inter-Cities' Fair Cup. The European Nations' Cup - later called European Championship, and now Euro - came with détente, in the late 1950s, and the Soviet Union even managed to win its first edition in 1960.
More recently, the first forms of cross-border co-operation among national police forces, well ahead of Europol, have developed in the fight against hooliganism. A few months ago another judicial case - this time sparked by an Italian player, Massimo Lombardo, moving from Grasshoppers Zurich to AC Perugia - has triggered the second direct intrusion of EU bodies (this time the Commission) into the norms that regulate European football transfers and forced both UEFA and FIFA to negotiate and agree on a new set of rules.
Finally, since the "Bosman ruling" the prospect of introducing some form of "cultural exception" - whereby European clubs would always have to field, say, at least 6 players eligible for their respective national team - into the football market has been constantly floated and discussed in both political and sport circles.
Such tradition of exemplarity and consonance with the major trends of international and European politics has in fact a longer history - stretching from modernization to nationalism, from totalitarianism to European integration, from identity politics to globalization - that basically coincides with the "short" 20th century as defined by Eric J. Hobsbawm. . Over the last few years, especially on the occasion of the latest World Cups (1990, 1994, and 1998), scholars from different disciplines have begun to consider football and its origins in relation to the importance that it has gained in many contemporary societies as a vehicle for collective identity, for the transmission of values, for creating or overcoming social cleavages, for fostering political ambitions. This short essay is intended as an overview of some results of such research and as a first attempt to situate European football between social history, geopolitics, diplomacy, and IR proper. Yet it does not aim at 'conceptualising' it in a stringent manner. It will only stress and tentatively prove the links between the 'big picture' and the smaller world of sports.
I. The English 'model'
The first Italian football team, Genoa Cricket and Football Club, was founded by a group of English technicians and engineers who worked on the Riviera more than a hundred years ago. Milan Cricket and Football Club was set up on the initiative of some English and Italian sportsmen, in the final days of the 19th century. Napoli was created by the local Italian-British Society (and was initially named 'Naples'), Palermo by the Anglo-Panormitan Football Club. Vittorio Pozzo himself - the coach who led Italy to victory in the World Cup in 1934 and 1938 - had lived and worked in Manchester and Bradford before that . Initially at least, commercial ports were the main centres of diffusion of the game: Le Havre (home to the first French club), Barcelona, Marseille, Bilbao, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Istanbul, Athens, even St.Petersburg. Later on, railway construction and mining or other industrial interests also contributed to spreading the game worldwide, especially in Latin America. Buenos Aires Football Club was founded as a division of the local Cricket Club, in 1867, and all the football clubs that were created in Latin America in the following years were the expression of the English business communities and schools existing on the continent. Indeed, the Queen's English remained the official and only language of the game - in South America as much as in continental Europe - until the First World War and after.
Football, therefore, was an export product - one could provocatively say the most successful and durable one - of the British Empire. An evolution of the running ball game played in the public schools around the middle of the 19th century, and later in "Oxbridge", modern football was officially born in a London tavern, in 1863, with the institution of the Football Association (FA) and the establishment of the 13 basic laws of the game - the so-called "Cambridge rules" - which ultimately distinguished it from the other ball game: rugby. The first tournament of the FA Cup took place in 1872. Ever since football has spread all over the world as "the English game", following the vectors of the industrial revolution (and the passion of its torch bearers, i.e. Her Majesty's technicians and businessmen) and becoming, albeit more indirectly, the allegory of another primary export product of 19th century Britain, i.e. the political liberalism of the gentry.
Yet there is something curious, even paradoxical in the socio-historical evolution and impact of football. In its country of origin, after a brief supremacy of the "Oxbridge" gentlemen, the FA Cup was dominated by clubs from the industrial and mining North (largely composed by artisans and blue collars) by their projecting on the game the athleticism, speed and vigour that would soon become the distinctive features of the English masters. The kick-and-run attitude of British football made the game less and less aristocratic and drew it closer to the taste and behaviour of the working class and the urban lower middle class. If combativeness and elegance, combined with fair play, characterized the first FA Cup winners, the University of Oxford and the Old Etonians, the advent of a style that was closer to the lower classes of English society brought about - along with a much wider audience and deeper passion - the advent of fans, insults against the referee, and regional, city and neighbourhood rivalries . The upper class, as a consequence, turned to other sports: athletics, rowing, rugby itself - soon dominating in colleges - as well as climbing, riding, tennis, and especially cricket, a classic manifestation of the Empire, its values and territorial order . The famous definition of rugby as a game for hooligans played by gentlemen, as opposed to football as a game for gentlemen played (and followed) by hooligans, dates back to that pivotal moment.
As a consequence, the most prestigious English clubs have been largely attached to urban and industrial settlements: such are the London teams - proletarian Arsenal, Jewish and intellectual Tottenham, cockney West Ham, middle-class Chelsea - as well as Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle. And, within those settlements, civic rivalries linked to social or cultural cleavages have been quite common, as is the case also - apart from London itself - with Manchester (United vs. City) and Liverpool (vs. Everton). Finally, such socio-territorial roots are also linked to the tradition of the clubs' sports facilities, true metaphors of the game, temples of belonging, filled with memories - they are amongst the oldest stadiums in modern times - and with individual and collective myths. Anfield Road, for instance, is not just an address but is indeed Liverpool - along with the famous motto "You'll never walk alone" - as much as Old Trafford is Manchester United (with attached museum), St. James' Park Newcastle, Elland Road Leeds, and Villa Park Aston Villa. Similarly, in London, Highbury is Arsenal, White Hart Lane is Tottenham, Upton Park is West Ham, Stamford Bridge is Chelsea, while Wembley has always been the quintessential "national" stadium . For English fans, in other words, moving a team from one town to another for financial reasons - as it frequently occurs with franchises in America - or even sharing the stadium with another club from the same town would be unthinkable.
A similar evolution came about elsewhere in Europe, combining economic, regional and even political factors. The cradle of modern German football soon became, after the Hanseatic rim, the Ruhr region, with such clubs as Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund , before Bayern Munich emerged in the early 1970s to embody the strength and ambition of an entire region. In the 1980s Hamburg SV resurfaced, along with Werder Bremen, as Northern counterweight to Bavarian dominance, with latent political undertones linked to the explicit party allegiances of their respective managers (CSU for Munich's Uli Hoeness, SPD for Bremen's Willi Lehmke).
Similarly, in Spain, the alternative poles to Castillan hegemony formed themselves in cosmopolitan and export-oriented Catalonia and in the mining centres of the Basque region and the Asturias. Athletic Bilbao famously fields only Basque players, while Barcelona, especially during the Franco regime, became a sort of symbol of Catalan pride and opposition (as opposed to Espanyol, considered instead a symbol of compliance). So much so that the virtual end of the dictatorship came, in the perception of many Catalans, before its actual one, namely when Barcelona eventually beat Real Madrid in Madrid - in the spring of 1974, i.e. well ahead of Franco's actual death - to earn its first national championship in years . Incidentally, the team was led to victory by a foreign player, Johan Cruyff, whose controversial departure from Ajax Amsterdam put an end to the legendary winning streak of the Dutch club. Later, in 1988, he would also return to the club as a coach and lead Barça to their first and only European Cup victory in 1992, a few months before the Barcelona Olympics.
In Italy, the first division title was won for several years only by clubs from the "industrial triangle" in the North-West, who have long since retained their hegemony. Significantly enough, the first national championship ever won by a team from Rome was during Fascism, with the decisive support of the regime, and only in the late 1980s did the first truly 'Southern' club, Napoli, manage to grab a 'scudetto'. In all these cases, football fans have traditionally been split between competing clubs representing distinct segments of local society (Genoa vs. Sampdoria, Juventus vs. Torino, Milan vs. Inter, Roma vs. Lazio).
The only partial exception to such broad pattern is France, partly because of the primacy of rugby in the area otherwise most open to influences from neighbouring Spain and Italy - namely in the South and South-West of the country, while the mining North (e.g. Lens) was more fertile and helped spread the game into French-speaking Belgium - partly because of the lack of a strong team in the capital that, in turn, might have triggered opposition to Paris elsewhere. To prove the point just take Bastia, the club that enjoys the full support of all Corsican football fans but is nothing like Athletic Bilbao: Corsican players hardly appear in the line-up. Therefore, while the French national team (les Bleus) managed to occasionally shine on the international scene - in the 1950s, when its star was Polish-born Raymond Kopa, and especially in the 1980s, when it won its first European championship at home in 1984 (yet its star of the time, Michel Platini, played in Italy) - the clubs almost never did. The only ones to enjoy short but well-deserved moments of celebrity were Stade Reims in the late 1950s and St.Etienne in the early 1970s. The latter's sparkling football even took them to a European Cup final against Bayern (lost in overtime), but their weak background soon brought them back to the original provincial reality. A similar destiny occurred to Girondins Bordeaux in the 1980s. Only when business interests saw new prospects in football investment did more solid clubs take root in bigger cities, from Paris Saint-Germain (founded in 1970) to Olympique Marseille - the first and to date only French team to win a European Cup (just turned into the Champions' League) in 1993.
Exported as a sport and loisir for anglophile and cosmopolitan élites, football took eventually root in different fashions according to the different countries: it "nationalized" itself, so to speak, but drew the interest of an increasingly large popular (male) audience virtually everywhere. For a long time, however, the English masters refused to confront their overseas disciples in international competitions, whose regularity they heavily questioned - to the extent that, for decades, the clubs brought their own balls to international matches - and tried to preserve their splendid isolation and 'copyright' as long as possible. The Football Association joined FIFA, founded in Paris in 1904, with some hesitation and delay, but it soon fielded - with Daniel Burley Woolfall - an energetic president (1906-1918) who pushed for ever greater uniformity in the 'laws' of the game, following the English model. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first two international tournaments held "in the context" of the Olympic games, in London 1908 and Stockholm 1912, were won by England. And it is already legend what happened on Christmas Day 1915 on the Western front, on the occasion of the famous truce spontaneously enforced by privates on both sides. In the midst of no man's land, after fraternizing and sharing sausages and beer, British and German soldiers played a rough and confused football game (40-odd on 40-odd, according to witnesses) before duly resuming their positions in the trenches.
After the First World War, however, in the wake of the animosities (especially vis-à-vis Germany) that affected inter-European cooperation and networks, the FA basically withdrew from the Federation and international football - which began to be dominated by Jules Rimet, FIFA president from 1921 to 1954 - only to fully come back into the folder in 1946. Consequently, the "whites" of the national team did not participate in any of the international tournaments of the inter-war era, when new 'powers' - from Latin America and Central Europe - started to emerge.
In the British Isles only Scotland - Wales' national sport is definitely rugby, and the few Welsh clubs play in the English divisions, and Ireland's national team enjoyed its best moments when coached by the former English player Jack Charlton - has developed a football tradition and a professional league of its own. North of the Hadrian Wall, however, antagonism was both with England (the classic match between the two "national" teams remained, well into the 1960s, the most waited for in Scotland) and within the town of Glasgow, namely between the Rangers of the protestant working class and the Celtic of Irish catholic immigrants: "the biggest derby in world history", as it was once labelled, that was not immune at all from the religious and political tensions that characterized Northern Ireland and other areas of Britain. In January 1971, at the climax of the "troubles", clashes alongside the 'Old Firm' match (as the two clubs are jointly known) and accidents caused by overcrowding made for some 60 casualties and 100 people wounded.
A Scottish star player of the 1960s, Dennis Law, felt the rivalry with the "imperialist" English to such an extent that he named 30 July 1966 - when those he called "the Ramsey robots" won the World Cup against West Germany at Wembley - the "darkest day" in his life, a day that he ostentatiously spent on a golf course. His brightest day and finest hour, however, would fall only one year later, when at long last Scotland won 3-2 at Wembley against the reigning world champions: Law, who also scored, declared that he felt like William Wallace ("Braveheart") the day after the battle of Stirling.
Today Scottish football cannot boast any more of all-British charismatic personalities - Dennis Law initially was one of the "Busby babes" of Manchester United, the first English club to win the European Cup in 1968 - even though Celtic can still claim to be the first British club to have ever won the European Cup in 1967, one year before the 'Red Devils'. Even the old Glaswegian civic rivalry is no longer the same, especially after Rangers (Celtic had always fielded Protestant players) sensationally signed up the Catholic Maurice Johnston in 1989, an event that broke a virtually centuries-old taboo. The 'Old Firm' now seems even interested, to remain competitive in both sport and business terms, in abandoning the Scottish League and joining the English clubs. Yet when then UK Home Secretary Jack Straw proposed, a few months ago, to merge the four teams - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - into a single, presumably stronger and less hooliganism-ridden British team, criticism came, not surprisingly in the age of devolution, from both sides of the Hadrian Wall as much as from Ireland and Wales.
II. The continental 'models'
After the First World War, when football started to draw large crowds also in continental stadiums, another 'school' began making a name for itself. In Austria, Czechoslovakia, and especially Hungary - but one should rather speak of Vienna, Prague and Budapest, i.e. the three Central European capitals and their big national and club teams - a new game was gaining popularity, which was quite different from the kick-and-run played across the Channel. It was based on individual technical skills, narrow exchanges, and solid tactical organization. The "Danubian" school first conquered most of the European continent, then Latin America: Italy, Uruguay and Argentina were the main beneficiaries of the transplant. In the case of Italy, close sport relations accompanied close political relations with 'Mitteleuropa': for instance, the Italian-Hungarian Treaty of friendship and cooperation of April 1927, that broke Budapest's post-war diplomatic isolation, came only a few weeks before the beginning of the Mitropa Cup, the first international football competition for clubs on the continent (in which Italian teams, too, participated). Mussolini's special relationship with Dollfuss and his short-lived regime in Austria is well known: it certainly did not hamper the establishment of closer ties at football level. Italy's diplomatic activism in Central Europe also coincided with the import of many Hungarian and Austrian coaches/managers and players into the country: Bologna, one of the strongest teams of the Fascist era, had six "Danubian" coaches, Udinese twelve. Indeed, another distinctive feature of Danubian football was the widespread diffusion of professionalism, which was still regarded with some mistrust in the British Isles.
The famous Latin American tour of Budapest's club Ferencvaros, in 1922, showed to the public along the Rio de la Plata a kind of game - slow but elegant, based on ball control and dribbling rather than kicking and running - that seemed to match the characteristics (and aspirations) of local fans in a unique way. Italy, in turn, would benefit from this transatlantic implant by importing several Latin American players - mostly Argentines and Uruguayans with Italian ancestors, called "oriundi", that would soon be "naturalized" - into both the clubs and the national team itself. In the end - with their contribution, with the discipline and pragmatism imposed by Pozzo, and with the active support of the Fascist regime, eager for results and prestige - Italy even prevailed upon the same Mitteleuropean masters in the World Cup finals of 1934 (Czechoslovakia) and 1938 (Hungary). The 1934 edition of the World Cup in Italy, in particular, became the first open demonstration of the way in which football, and sport in general, could serve the purposes of a totalitarian regime as a vehicle for propaganda and a showcase of world primacy . Many examples would follow, famously culminating - insofar as football is concerned - in the 1978 edition of the World Cup in Argentina.
Italy never prevailed on the old English masters though: in November 1934, the "whites" defeated 3-2 the "azzurri" at Highbury, thus putting their recent world title in a more objective perspective (the English team had not participated in the Cup). But, ostensibly, the Italians fought with great courage - the Fascist rhetoric labelled them the "lions of Highbury ", much as the English blamed them for the "catenaccio" - in spite of being soon 3 goals behind and with some players injured (substitutions did not exist at the time). Later on, in 1948, the "whites" of legendary Stanley Matthews came to Turin and inflicted a severe 4-0 defeat on the "azzurri" and a fatal blow on the personal prestige of Vittorio Pozzo, who resigned soon afterwards.
The historic patrimony of Italian football eventually faded away with the tragic end of the great Torino team (and its Hungarian trainer) in a plane accident on the hills of Superga, near the city, in 1949. Only with the cyclical re-opening of football borders, years later, would the Italian clubs, followed by the national team, be in a position to gain back some competitiveness at the European and international level, from the early 1960s onwards. The victory in the 1968 European Championship (at home) and the World Cup final reached (and lost 1-4 to Brazil) in Mexico 1970 would thus become the symbols of the reconstruction and modernization of the country and its football tradition.
The sole European country that successfully adopted the formula that Italy tested in the 1930s was Spain: in fact, the imports of great players - later "naturalized" - from the Argentinian (Di Stefano) and the Hungarian (Puskas, but also Kubala, Kocsis, Czibor) reservoirs, along with the political support of the Franco regime, favoured the rise of Real Madrid and Barcelona as well as the only international victory to date of the national team (the furia roja) at the European Championship played at home in 1964. Indeed, Portugal tried a similar approach but succeeded only partially, i.e. more with its African colonies - just think of Eusebio - than with Brazil, in spite of the loose "naturalization" norms in force in the country.
In those years, however, the game began to resemble what most of us have since known through radio and, especially, television. In 1950, on their first showing in the World Cup, the English were strikingly eliminated by the United States in what then seemed an odd metaphor of broader trends on the international scene . Three years later, they were defeated for the first time at home, at Wembley, by Hungary, just another sign of an imperial decline that was now also visible outside of the football stadiums. Just one year later, though, the long "Danubian" cycle equally came to a bitter (and sadly empty-handed) conclusion with the dramatic World Cup final 2-3 defeat of Puskas & Co. by West Germany, then still trained by Sepp Herberger, the legendary coach who masterminded the slow ascendancy of German football for almost thirty years, from Hitler to Adenauer . In a previous match in the same tournament, Hungary had already met and defeated Germany 8-3. And in the final itself Hungary was leading 2-0 before a series of decisions by the referee (that apparently were not devoid of Cold War calculations) allowed Fritz Walter & Co. to eventually overturn the score. Hungary's unlucky swan song, however, became Germany's baptism of fire. In a way, the "miracle" of Bern 1954 mirrored the other German miracle of those years, namely the economic one, and anticipated just by a couple of months West Germany's formal accession to NATO and the completion of its Western integration. It also expressed - as Rainer Werner Fassbinder caught so effectively in the final scene of "Maria Braun" - the sense of catharsis and collective redemption of post-nazi Germany, the 'Wir sind wieder wer'-mood that would later become the domestic motto of that age.
In 1954 Eurovision broadcasting began, too, thus opening a new era to the game. In the same year, on June 15, UEFA was founded as the first continental football confederation emanated from 50-years-old FIFA, with 25 member associations, and was based in Nyon, Switzerland. In 1955, when the European Cup started, the English Football Association refused Chelsea (that had just won the first division) permission to take part in the competition, claiming it would play havoc with the schedule of domestic games. In doing that, it curiously found itself in perfect tune with the decision of the Foreign Office, on the eve of the Messina Conference, not to join the EEC (although they would both change their mind in the following years). In a way, therefore, the world title of 1966 - England's only victory in any official international football competition thus far, at the climax of the 'swinging' 1960s - and the many European cups that English teams would subsequently win may be considered as the (belated) product of a tradition that was still little known on the continent, rather than the outcome of an original primacy bound to perpetuate itself over time.
The sudden death of the Danubian and the long decline of the English 'models' soon left the door open for the emergence of a new actor on the European football scene: (West) Germany. Both the Nationalmannschaft and the clubs gradually built on Herberger's legacy and developed a game that, in many ways, mirrored the quintessential German 'virtues' of physical solidity, tenacity, basic technical skill, speed, aggressiveness and combativeness. The key date in this context was 1974, when Bayern Munich won its first European Cup and the national team won the World Cup, at home, against the other big European power (and 'model') of the time, the Netherlands. Outside of football, the year coincided also with the climax of the German Ostpolitik, with the ratification of the Basic Treaty between the two German States, with their full entry in the UN and the international diplomatic community, and with the first conceptualization of the so-called Modell Deutschland of political economy: perhaps the economic giant was no longer a political dwarf, but it certainly was a football superpower. Yet it is worth noting that the only defeat suffered by the national team in that edition of the World Cup occurred by the other German team, the GDR, at its first participation in the final phase (and second overall: once again, football had anticipated future diplomatic developments) of the tournament. The 0-1 defeat, an undeserved one in purely sport terms, had an enormous emotional impact on both sides of the inter-German border - but especially in the GDR, the then fledgling sport (but not football) superpower - and sparked a flurry of stories, anecdotes, even plays. It would also remain the only official match played between the two German "national" teams. Jürgen Sparwasser, the scorer of the winning goal, later defected to the West.
Ever since German teams have long dominated European football. Clubs shone in particular in the UEFA Cup - heir to the Inter-Cities' Fair Cup and, in itself, the expression of an already enlarged "Europe" in which Soviet, Turkish, even Israeli clubs could compete on equal footing with their Western counterparts - at times monopolising the final stages of the competition. The Nationalmannschaft has won three European Championships (1972, 1980, 1996) and lost twice in the final (1976, 1992) and once in the semi (1988). It went very close to winning the World Cup many times, losing either in the final (1966, 1982, 1986) or in the semi (1970), until it eventually succeeded on another crucial date: 1990, the annus mirabilis of national unification.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that most of the national myths and collective memories of the televised era of European football relate to Germany and, more specifically, to championship matches between the Nationalmannschaft and other national teams, in a symbolic replica of bilateral relations and mutual perceptions across the continent. On the one hand, this clearly hints at the traditional power and war games of European history: the German problem, die deutsche Frage, in football terms. On the other hand, however, it has a much more modern meaning in that German football became a sort of benchmark for all the big European teams, like the Deutsche Mark for the other currencies. Being in the same league as Germany's national team meant to be top class, and had a galvanising effect over both the public and the clubs.
This is certainly true of England, from the 1966 World Cup final (4-2) to the 1970 quarterfinal (2-3), from the 1990 semi-final (1-1) to the 1996 Euro semi-final (1-1) played - like the first match 30 years before - at Wembley, that triggered an infamous wave of anti-German headlines in the British tabloids . Incidentally, all four challenges dramatically ended in overtime or with a penalty shoot-out, and all but one (the first, but thanks to a controversial goal) in Germany's favour - which famously led a popular English striker of the time, Gary Lineker, to say that "football is a game played by 22 men and a round ball, and Germany always wins".
It is true of Italy, too, from the mythical 1970 World Cup semi-final in Mexico (won 4-3 in overtime) to the 1982 final in Spain (3-1): in both cases, in fact, the way in which the teams played was seen as epitomising their respective national strengths and weaknesses. The former was mainly perceived by Italians as a David vs. Goliath fight: as such, it imprinted on the collective memory of whole generations and is now reflected in books, plays, even movies. The latter crowned a tournament saga (from hell to heaven) that eventually coincided with one of the rare moments of national identification and coming together of an otherwise highly fragmented country, one that precisely at that time started claiming to be in the same economic league as France and Britain, if not Germany.
It is all the more true of the Netherlands - the team that built on the Ajax record and invented another 'model', the so-called "total" football of the Seventies, that substantially modernized the game - from the 1974 World Cup final (1-2) to the 1988 European championship semi-final (2-1) that would lead to the only major title won by the Orange team - both played on German soil.
And it is true, of course, of France, whose two consecutive defeats in the World Cup semi-finals of 1982 and 1986 still bleed: especially the first one, in Sevilla, came after a highly dramatic match (2-2, overtime, penalty shoot-out) played by both teams in accordance to their (alleged) national 'virtues', for better and for worse. It is even arguable that the latest triumphs of les Bleus (the World Cup at home in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000) have been made slightly less sweet by the substantial lack of a major revanche over Germany, although the markedly 'multi-cultural' profile of the French team has somewhat altered the kind of 'national' identification and historical symbolism that lies behind the Franco-German rivalry . By contrast, the only international achievements of such teams as Czechoslovakia (Euro 1976) and Denmark (Euro 1992) were certainly made all the sweeter by having defeated notably Germany in the final: for the Danes, in particular, the victory had a special taste because it occurred a few days after the 'No' narrowly prevailed in the first referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.
It is much less true, however, of Spain, which has not developed a similar rivalry with any other European national team but perhaps Portugal. Yet Spain has certainly developed the idea - initially put in practice in a systematic way by Germany after the 1974 World Cup - of enticing to its national championship and clubs the best players on display at international tournaments: a case of foot drain, as Pascal Boniface pointed out, rather than brain drain. Accordingly, the Spanish, German, Italian and (recently) English premier leagues have in turn come to constitute the most attractive showcases for the entire sport, creating a competitive cross-national environment and, thus, anticipating some elements of today's single market . The "Bosman ruling", in other words, has only reinforced a trend that was already in place.
III. Fin de siècle - end of history?
German unification and the end of the Cold War in Europe have not marked the end of football history, but rather the end of its "short" 20th century. Indeed, the collapse of communism and, even more so, of pluri-national States in Central-Eastern Europe has spilled over into football: more often than not, actually, football events have anticipated, or even precipitated, political ones.
Take the GDR, where the rivalry between Lokomotiv Leipzig and Dynamo Dresden, on the one hand, and, on the other, Dynamo Berlin - the club supported by the Stasi, the East German secret police, that was openly helped by biased referees to win a few of the ten successive championships it grabbed between 1979 and 1988 - somewhat heralded the peaceful uprising against the Honecker regime in 1989, that started precisely in Leipzig and Dresden before spreading all across the country.
Or take the USSR. At first, Soviet football fit in the general framework of totalitarian sport, namely as an instrument for orchestrating masses. Stalin, himself a former player in native Georgia, made it part of the Soviet show, like May Day parades: a popular song likened it to military training, a preparation for future battles (meant to be with imperialism). After the Second World War, in the wake of a true story soon transformed into a powerful myth, football even became a symbol of antifascism . Yet the USSR would never become a football superpower: Olympics apart, the sport in which the Soviet Union really and consciously challenged Americans and West Europeans alike (thus triggering competition also from within the Eastern 'bloc', as shown e.g. by the matches against Czechoslovakia after 1968) was ice hockey. In the age of détente, nonetheless, it managed to have a competitive 'national' team, mostly due to the charisma of legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin. It won the 1956 Olympic tournament and the 1960 European championship, lost the following one in Spain in the final (against the home team), reached the semi-finals in the 1966 World Cup and, still, the 1968 Euro semi-finals (eliminated by draw) and the 1972 Euro final. The Soviet team suffered a painful defeat by the GDR in the final match of the 1980 Olympic tournament - held in Moscow at the height of the last Cold War revival that led to the US boycott of the games - but had another successful 'cycle' in the late 1980s, under the immensely talented (but no less authoritarian) coach Valeri Lobanovski, with another lost Euro final in 1988.
In conformity with the USSR logic, team identities initially were not so much social or regional - not even in Belarus and Ukraine - but rather attached to various elements of the State. As such, they spread also across the rest of Soviet-dominated Europe, especially in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in the age of 'Stalinization' . Accordingly, Dynamo were the teams of the Interior ministry and the KGB, CSKA (or local teams named SKA, "Red Star"), were sport clubs of the army. Torpedo were teams of the car-building and truck industry (Torpedo Moscow, for instance, was the team of the powerful ZIL), Lokomotiv were teams of the railway sector, Rapid teams of the Trade Unions. In Russia, the only non-affiliated club was Spartak Moscow: back in the 1920s, it was the team of the private cooperatives, i.e. the last remains of capitalism, and in the 1970s there were attempts to link it to Aeroflot. In principle, however, it stood as a (weakly pronounced) opposition to the established structures, and was very popular with the intelligentsia: Spartak fans especially despised the CSKA habit of recruiting good players by simply drafting them, since all were liable to conscription. Significantly, however, only formally non-Russian clubs enjoyed international success, namely Dynamo Kiev and Dynamo Tbilisi, that both won European Cup Winners' Cups between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s.
After the failed coup d'état of August 1991 - at the real end of the 'short' twentieth century - FIFA questionably decided to allow only one CIS team to the 1994 edition of the World Cup and chose Russia, thus raising much resentment from the Ukrainian side. In fact, in the dying months of the USSR, almost all League matches between teams of different Republics were accompanied by clashes and demonstrations. One of the very first decisions taken by Lithuania in the wake of its unilateral declaration of independence, in 1991, was the withdrawal of its football clubs from the Soviet League: certainly no big loss in sport terms, given their modest level (Lithuania is a basketball-crazy country), but still significant as a symbolic gesture. The same happened with Georgia, which immediately set up a national championship and adhered to FIFA. Ever since, however, the quality of Russian football has sharply declined - with the notable exception of Spartak Moscow - and the only matches that still draw big crowds are those of the recently revived CIS Cup.
As for Czechoslovakia, supporters of Slovan Bratislava and Sparta Prague had frequent and violent rows in the run-up to the "velvet divorce" of 1993. Furthermore, roughly at the same time, Bratislava fans (and police forces) beat supporters of Ferencvaros ahead of a European Cup match against Slovan in what Slovak nationalists - first of all, future prime minister Vladimir Meciar - called a 'warning' to the Hungarian diaspora in central Europe.
Yet the most compelling case is former Yugoslavia. Until 1989, in spite of the undisputed primacy of basketball as the 'national' sport, Yugoslav football had enjoyed its golden age between the late 1960s and the mid-1970s. In 1968 a very young team, mostly made of students and amateurs, beat the reigning world champion England and almost beat the home team, Italy, in the final stages of the European championship . Yugoslavia had an excellent showing also at the 1974 World Cup and the 1976 European championship before its best players left the country to earn marks and pesetas abroad. The same success could have been replicated in the late 1980s, given the quality of the players. Yet the match that opposed Dynamo Zagreb to Red Star Belgrade, on 13 March 1990, was famously spoiled by violent clashes between Croat and Serb fans in which more than 60 people seriously wounded, almost half of whom were police officers. Zeljko Raznatovic, later known as Commander 'Tiger' Arkan, started his career as Serb thug leader on that day, whereas most of the 'Bad Blue Boys' supporting Dynamo became military commanders in the Croatian army. Franjo Tudjman, once he was elected president of the seceding Republic, immediately asked to rename the local club Croatia Zagreb, in order to do away with "the Bolshevik and Balkan legacy" (after his death, at the end of 1999, the team got their old name back). A few months later, on 26 September, at a match between Hajduk Split and Partizan Belgrade, Croat supporters invaded the pitch and spectacularly burned the common Yugoslav flag, in a gesture that symbolized the end of the old Federal Republic: as a result, the 1990-1991 Yugoslav league championship was cancelled. Finally, between 1991 and 1992, the European football community duly enforced its own sanctions against Yugoslavia, first by forbidding European and UEFA Cup matches to be held in local stadiums, then by excluding the national team of rump FYR - officially considered responsible for the conflicts already under way - from the final round of the European Championship, for which it had regularly qualified. The exclusion was deeply resented by the Serbian population as a whole - the team was already on the training camp in Sweden - for this marked as much as anything its international isolation . Later on, however, football authorities would adopt a much more flexible attitude, perhaps realising that sanctions could prove counterproductive and that sport (and football in particular) could instead be exploited in order to foster reconciliation.
On the whole, however, it is arguable that since 1990 the world of football in general, and of European football in specific, has undergone structural change. The main driving force has certainly been - once again - television, most notably satellite and cable TV. In 1992 the English Football Association and Rupert Murdoch's Sky Sports channel announced a ground-breaking deal that gave Murdoch exclusive rights to live coverage of the English Premier League. The contract became just another 'model' for the rest of Europe, thus generating huge extra profits for clubs, national football federations, UEFA and FIFA.
As a consequence, the traditional rules of the game were slightly changed in order to enhance its pace and offensive character. In 1991 the European Cup was turned into the Champions' League, with a broader roster of participants and a different format. The choice of the World Cup host country has increasingly been dictated by commercial reasons, from the Unites States in 1994 to Japan and South Korea in 2002 (and perhaps South Africa in 2010). At the same time, European leagues have retained and even increased their world primacy by drawing the best talents of the entire world to their bigger teams, thus strengthening the foot drain.
Transfer fees and contracts for players have skyrocketed, and the gap between richer and poorer clubs (and leagues) has widened: some of the richest teams have even been listed on the stock exchange, and new entrepreneurs have entered a booming market in which merchandising, sporting goods promotion, and pay-per-view returns have become at least as important as the fans' faithful support and passion. At times, traditional allegiances have been affected by the increasingly pluri-national character of most club teams: take Ajax, Chelsea, Milan, Inter, Barcelona, where "foreigners" often are in a majority on and off the pitch. At the same time, many more national teams have been admitted to international competitions, in Europe and worldwide.
In a way, therefore, European football has deepened and widened at the same time. Furthermore, like the EU, it now finds itself torn between an almost unstoppable liberalization and a growing loss of identity . Finally, if racism has never ceased to be a serious issue, in spite of the relative decline of hooliganism , even illegal immigration (as in the case of the false passports given to some Latin American players) has now become one.
To sum up, there seems to have been frequent and recurrent relations between events in the organization of football and the overall process of European cooperation (or lack thereof) and then integration, and one is strongly tempted to draw comparisons between them. Indeed, European football can be seen as a microcosm of tensions between the EC/EU and the Nation-State (and between member States), between managed and free market (and trade), between Europe and the wider world, and between local/national identities and globalization. However, it looks very difficult to convincingly fit all these developments (past and present) in a single analytical framework, be it geopolitics, dependency theory, IPE, liberal institutionalism, or just post-modernism. More plausibly, explaining the relationship between football and international politics (possibly like European integration itself) requires a certain amount of sound eclecticism - and, of course, passion.
Vingtième Siècle, special issue: 'Football, sport du siècle', 26 (1990)
Le Monde diplomatique, special issue: 'Football et passions politiques', 39 (1998)
P.Boniface (ed.), Géopolitique du football, Bruxelles, Editions Complexe, 1998
P.Delbourg, B.Heimermann (eds.), Football et littérature, Paris, Stock, 1998
S.Kuper, Football against the Enemy, London, Orion, 1994
A.S.Markovits, S.L.Hellermann, Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism, Princeton-London, Princeton UP, 2001