Brussels Bits: The Small Country that dreamed Big

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I am a soccer fan: I have been watching matches since I can remember and still think of the night of 1990 when Roberto Baggio failed his penalty against Maradona’s Argentina as one of the saddest moments of my childhood. Speaking soccer is for an Italian girl a strategy of survival amid soccer-obsessed boys and if it all started to get the attention of the cute middle-school classmate, it ended up becoming a passion of mine.

One of the first things I wanted to do, when I set foot in Belgium, was going to a proper local soccer match. It took a couple of years (during which I had to land a Belgian husband, in order to go to the stadium with an authentic, uncontaminated Belgian little crowd) but I won’t ever forget the night I finally drank beer in plastic cups minutes before entering the Anderlecht – Vienna match. I can’t remember how it ended, but I guess Vienna won. It wasn’t a good season for the Brussels team.

The main reason I can’t remember the score is that I was carried away with the anthropological side of the situation.

I was fully equipped, the Italian way: Anderlecht scarf, cigarettes and a lot of voice to cheer up the team and urge them to win. The match starts, Anderlecht has the ball. I start shouting, all excited by my new expat milestone. It turns out, mine was the only voice to be heard. Long time supporters, seated in front of me with cigarettes hanging from their lips and a resigned look, kept shaking their head. I could hear them grumble: “I have never seen a worse team in my life. I hate them”.

Ok, I think. There must be some inside thing I am not aware of. I ask The Husband. He shakes his head too: “They are no good this year. Too bad”. I still don’t understand. “Ok, they are bad. But they’re your team. Get out the voice, encourage them, make them feel you’re here!”. Silence. Belgian supporting style is extremely discreet. The veterans in front of me spent the rest of the night buttoning their coats, smoking and muttering insults to their players. In the meanwhile, on the other side of the stadium, we witnessed Vienna fans singing, screaming and even undressing themselves whenever their team got very close to the goal.

Some time has passed, I haven’t been invited to an Anderlecht match since (it’s a boys thing here and maybe last time I was too loud) but I have experienced another bit of Belgian supporting. Last Friday, when the Red Devils (such a promising name!) won on Croatia, thus securing their position at the 2014 World Cup, Brussels went crazy. I would have never imagined that this teeny tiny country, who has never won the World Cup and didn’t even play in it since 2002 could suddenly feel patriotic and united by the chance of entering the international competition.

The team – says The Husband – is amazing this time, regrouping some of the young best players in First League across Europe. (I didn’t verify this information, but he’s so enthusiastic I will take it for true). The coach is an ancient Red Devil, who played in 2002 and is a childhood hero for today’s team. According to certain bookmaking sites (which, my Italian friends say, are probably based in a shack in Belgium countryside), Belgium has more chances than Italy to win the Brazil World Cup! Some commentators even said that the national soccer team – composed of Flemish- and French-speaking players alike – could bring together the two sides of the country and delay the electoral strike of the Flemish separatist party (which, otherwise, could reach over the 30% of the votes).

I will still support Italy (come on, 4 times World Champion, I can’t betray that) but I am frankly amused at the prospect of assisting to a metamorphosis in Belgians’ supporting style. Will they wake up a little more Latin, on the eve of their first match in Brazil?

2 comments

  1. I only watch soccer when the World Cup is on and then I cheer for Italy. Can’t take soccer seriously here in the States – never was much of a fan to begin with. But basketball, well, that’s another ballgame altogether! Season tickets from when I was 13 until I left Italy, never missing a game and also travelling to away games (and always losing my voice). And now I am a Laker fan. But when the World Cup rolls around again, I will be there for Italy. But good luck Belgium anyway.

  2. I’m not a soccer fan (and not a sports fan at all… I prefer to practise), but if Belgian “warm” style of supporting means no violence, no hooligans and no riots after every match… beh, God bless Belgium. Francesco Spisani Mestre

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