On Nov 13, Italy played one of their most memorable soccer games. But it was memorable for the wrong reason.
Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon cries after Italy loses a qualifier for the World Cup. AFP
“Players from both teams slumped to the ground, the Swedes in exhausted ecstasy (狂喜), the Italians in losers’ agony.” This was how AP described the game, between Italy and Sweden. Four-time champion Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.
The failure was described as an “apocalypse” by the nation’s newspapers. “It’s an intolerable disgrace ... It’s the end. Apocalypse, tragedy, catastrophe. Call it what you want, but our football is in a serious crisis,” commented Corriere dello Sport-Stadio, one of three major Italian sports daily newspapers. It’s no surprise that the country went into mourning, given the fact that Italians are so passionate about this sport.
Soccer is the national sport of many European and South American countries. Probably more than any other sport, soccer fans are passionately attached to this game, similar to how people are attached to their family or country.
How does a game inspire such passionate devotion? With World Football Day – or soccer, as it’s also known – coming up on Dec 9, it seems like the right moment to ask. To understand people’s love for soccer, you can look at how soccer culture is generated and passed from father to son, mother to daughter.
It starts at an early age. Children, encouraged by the enthusiasm of a parent, pick a team, most likely their local club. They soon become fans of “the beautiful game,” as it’s known.
They cover their bedroom walls with photos of the players. They go to games whenever they can. Many will play themselves, with friends at the local park, or in school. It’s a passion that will be lifelong. Even marriage will not dim their passion for soccer, and when they have kids, the kids will become fans too, just as their parents helped make them fans.
British soccer manager Bill Shankly once said something memorable and true about the game that goes a long way to explaining the true soccer fan’s attitude: “Some people think that [soccer] is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more important than that.”
Indeed, these are words that most of Italy will surely be able to relate to.