Football and Politics: like oil and water.
With the expanded format for Euro 2016 now having 24 teams instead of 16, it has meant that several sides have qualified for their first ever European Championship. It also throws up the prospect of some ‘politically delicate’ matches not witnessed before at a major tournament, most notably Northern Ireland vs the Republic of Ireland. The two nations have never met before at a major tournament, and whilst politically things are relatively calm across the entire island of Ireland these days, a meeting would have most observers crossing their fingers that the match passes of peacefully. The match may not occur; it depends on the results of the different group stages, which you can find out more about at http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/y/5/Football.html In light of this, here are some more football matches where the stakes were high both on and off the pitch:
Battle of the Bailout: (Greece vs Germany Euro 2012).
It was destined to happen wasn’t it? Whilst the world of finance was transfixed on Angela Merkel and the bailout for Greece, the two sides were drawn together in the quarter finals of the last European Championships. Germany won the game at a canter, 4-2, but the subtext was more interesting than the action. The Greek fans saw Germany as the oppressors, after a stretch of tough fiscal regulations set out by Merkel’s government. The match, in the end, passed off with no violent incidents. Incredibly, and much to the ire of the Greek fans, Mrs Merkel attended the match and cheered Germany on from the stands – a brave lady indeed.
A Match for the Diplomats: (USA vs Iran World Cup 1998).
Relations – if they had any at all – were frosty between Iran and the USA ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Nearly 30 years later the two nations were to meet at World Cup 1998 in France. Any fears of on pitch violence were dispelled even before the kick off when the players posed together for a mixed team photo. The sight of Iranian captain Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh showering his American counterpart Thomas Dooley with gifts is still one of the most surreal moments in the history of football. Incidentally, Iran won 2-1, but both nations exited the World Cup at the Group Stage and went back to hating each other from a safe distance.
The match that sparked a war: (El Salvador vs Honduras World Cup Qualifier 1969)
Okay. It would take a thesis sized explanation to outline all the causes of the ‘La Guerra de Fútbol’ in 1969. Suffice to say that violence between El Salvador and Honduras played a pivotal role in the outbreak of war between the two neighbouring countries. There were over 3000 casualties in total, and despite an end to the violence a few days later, diplomatic relations were not restored until 1980. It was certainly not all down to football, or its fans, but events like this remind us that football is not always the beautiful game.