World Cup 2018: Chanting their obsession

In Russia, the relationship between lyrics and identity, between chants and allegiances and enemies veered between earnest and banter as football fans from around the world sang, gesticulated and ultimately expressed their obsessional support.

Light-hearted lilt: “Football’s coming home” is in vogue again for English fans. The song, titled ‘Three Lions’, was written in 1996 as England enjoyed an Indian summer, hosting the European Championship.   -  AFP

With a mundane strike, Marcos Rojo delivered salvation for Argentina, allowing the South Americans to edge past Nigeria and progress to the knockout stages of the World Cup. The Argentina faithful who had engulfed St Petersburg Stadium transformed the city’s metro lines into a party as they headed in celebration for the famed white nights on Nevsky Prospekt. They shrieked and shouted. They banged their drums, and they sang. A simple refrain: “Brasil, decime que se siente tener en casa a tu papa. Te juro que aunque pasen los anos, nunca nos vamos a olvidar. Que el Diego te gambeteo...”

The translation: “Brazil, tell us how it feels to have your dad come home and boss you around. I swear that even if years pass, I will never forget that Maradona outskilled you...”

The chant is a reference to Argentina’s 2-1 win over their South American rivals at the 1990 World Cup, when Diego Maradona and Claudio Caniggia contrived to defeat the much-fancied Brazilians.

Just days earlier, the Brazilians had revelled in schadenfreude after Argentina’s messy — Messi? — capitulation against Croatia in their round-of-16 match in Russia. They gloated and delighted at so much anguish and despair in the Argentine camp. They chanted: “Mil goals, mil goals. So Pele, so Pele. Maradona cheirador.”

Harking Back: The Argentinian fans’ chant was a reference to the country’s 2-1 win over Brazil at the 1990 World Cup, when Diego Maradona and Claudio Caniggia contrived to defeat the much-fancied side.   -  AP

 

The translation: “A thousand goals, a thousand goals. Only Pele, only Pele. Maradona’s snorting coke.”

Much of the animosity between the two sides stems from the historical struggle over continental hegemony. “The song explains the feeling Argentinians had when playing the World Cup in Brazil,” explains Fernando Czyz from website Doble Amarilla. “The relationship between Pele and Maradona is a difficult one, reflecting the antagonism between the two countries. Brazil and Argentina have always battled for dominance, but Argentina has an inferiority complex.”

In part, football and music — the samba and tango — have defined national identity in both Brazil and Argentina. Samba and tango were low-class rhythms that were eschewed by the elite. Football, on the other hand, was a British invention and was thus steeped in elitism. While the music worked its way up, football slowly trickled down.

 

As Gary Armstrong and Malcolm Young observed in Culture, Sports, Society in 1999:

“...for the world of chanting fans pitches us into a universe which is:

filled with a passion and a love;

with a parallel and coexisting set of hatreds;

with the crucial aspects of a narrow and ferociously demonstrated cultural identity;

with an emotional commitment to events that at other times and in other circumstances would be laughable or even ridiculous.”

In Russia, the relationship between lyrics and identity, between chants and allegiances and enemies veered between earnest and banter as football fans from around the world — 700,000 foreigners invaded the country during the group stages — chanted, sang, gesticulated and ultimately expressed their obsessional support. This dynamic ebb and flow has marked all 32 fan groupings.

 

For the Belgians, the signature chant is “tous ensemble,” a recent design for EURO 2016 and the perfect battle cry for their multicultural team, bridging the social divide in the country. It means “all together.” Ever since Belgium’s ascendancy on the global stage with a quarterfinal result at the last World Cup and with a swat of stars plying their trade in the English Premier League, the Belgian team has become hot, so much so that a new word has come into vogue: “Belgitude” — a confluence of Belgium and attitude that alludes to a nostalgic desire for an ideal and homogeneous country, with an understanding and even admiration for the complexity and absurdity of Belgium’s contradictions. In short, it’s a peculiar form of renewed patriotism for a country that is often divided between Flanders and Wallonia, Flemisch and French.

Strictly speaking, Belgitude is not a new term. “The word refers to the construction of a national consciousness in the 20th century,” says Luc van Doorslaer, an associate professor in translation and journalism studies at the University of Leuven. Vincent Kompany is one symbol of Belgitude. Charismatic, he symbolises Belgium’s new, modern citizen who is open-minded, multicultural and no longer encumbered by the old conventions. Kompany embodies the “tous ensemble” chant, which fans bellowed after Belgium’s impressive 5-2 win against Tunisia.

France’s “Allez les bleus” captured the nation’s imagination during the 1998 World Cup triumph on home soil and the song has stuck, a reminder of the unifying power football possessed that summer 20 years ago.

“Football’s coming home” is also in vogue again. The song was played eight times in Nizhny Novgorod as England demolished Panama 6-1. Ian Broudie, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel wrote the light-hearted lyrics in 1996 as England enjoyed an Indian summer, hosting the European Championship. Paul Gascoigne, the patron saint of troubled English souls, propelled the Three Lions — also the name of the song — forward until they succumbed to nemesis Germany in the last four.

Today, England’s brimming youngsters have fans nostalgic again for a time when things looked up. The rose-tainted glasses have come on, but “Football’s coming home” reminds fans of “Cool Britannia,” a global brand that projected England as a progressive nation. At the same time, the song struck — and still strikes — the right balance between all those years of “hurt” and the eternal sliver of hope that engulfs English football at major tournaments.