What is the second most important thing in the world for you? I am sure you would come up with different things. However, I may have to disappoint you. It’s no iPhone 6s, nor the new season of Game of Thrones. Many men would agree with me that it is…football!
In the US they refer to it as soccer. Since we are living in a European city of Tartu, I will call it “football”. Whatever you call it, it’s a game that can bring together different nations cheering together against the fierce opponent and make them forget everyday problems. As my mom used to say, it is a game where ten players try to put the ball into their opponent’s goal. It might seem ridiculous and not that fun at all. But there is so much more to it (except, of course, hundreds of millions of dollars spinning around). I have in mind more modest attributes of a football game, from passion and excitement, to disappointment, adrenalin and tears.
My passion came unexpectedly. Since then, it has locked me up in the evenings and sometimes prevented from hanging out with my friends. So how did it all start? On June 14, 2006 Germany was hosting the World cup and was playing against Poland. I came to visit my brother to go for a shopping and to get back home with lovely new clothes which you can buy only in the capital. As life is unpredictable, not everything went as I had planned. So, I had to stay in the apartment with no choice but watching this “boring” football match. The rest is a history.
I began to understand the rules of the game, I saw some sense in ten players trying to get the ball into opponent’s net. Since then I really try hard not to miss important football games, European and World cups, and national leagues. How is that possible, since I am a woman?!
Usually when a woman mentions how she loves watching football, a man immediately thinks that she is into some football player, loves sporty men with muscle stamina and six pack or she would like to marry a professional football player, so she does not have to work for the rest of her life. Certainly, you can meet such women, but I have other reasons in my mind!
It is indeed something in the game itself and in adrenalin rush which the football game causes. I remember when I once chatted with a football fan. After telling him how I am close to a football enthusiast, he straightforwardly asked me: So, you said you watch Premiership. Tell me, which team do you prefer more: Arsenal or Betis? (Like I do not know that Betis is a Spanish club playing in Primera Division!). At the beginning I found it insulting, because people wouldn’t take me seriously at all. Nowadays, even though it happens really rare, I just go along with a joke. So yes, I even love to pretend that Luka Modrić is a tennis player and that I have no idea who Ibrahimović is.
That is probably one of the reasons why I don’t prefer watching football matches in sport bars and in public. You get all sorts of men screaming, making grimaces and making you feel uncomfortable as you are probably one of the rare girls in the bar that night (not counting the waitresses and girls who found themselves in a bar not having a clue that the Championship league is on tonight).
I tried hard until I proved people around me that I can talk the talk about football-related topics, such as yesterday’s Champions League match, how the referee missed to strike the penalty for home team or how it was not of side play. It feels good now, even though it took me almost ten years to prove myself.
Estonians withholding their passion, while Croatians set it on fire (literally!)
When a football match is on, women are far more welcome into the elite’s society. So, we can see a nice balance of women and men on the stadiums, especially during Word Cups and European football championships.
If you look at football fans of different countries, you can learn a lot about their culture in general. Of course introverted Northern fans behave differently from often over-communicative Southern ones. When saying football fans, I mean those who follow their national team worldwide, unlike others who sit on a cosy sofa and once in an hour whispers in excitement “Hey ref, get some glasses”.
Well, I saw Estonians on football matches and I will dare to compare them with other fans.
Although we all know that Estonians are little reserved, it might shock you that the crowd attending football games is not as stiff as you think. They behave as any other nation. They are proud, cheerful and passionate supporters with some alcohol running through their veins (on rare occasions).
You might think it’s already crazy, but in Croatia, as well in Balkans as a whole, sometimes it can go really, really insane. Bengals, flares, torches and other fans’ gadgets are the first thing you will see in newspapers the following morning. Once in a while the spectators are even not allowed to watch a match live on the stadium. The problems with football fans remains the hot topic in Croatian media and is definitely not something that you would spend hours and hours talking about in Estonia. That’s because in Croatia, football has a long historical tradition and is absolutely number one among all sports. In Estonia, however, that is not the case. One of the reasons may be the quality of the Estonian football league. Another thing is that clubs do not compete often at the highest level in Europe.
Croatians are so obsessed with football that you can even hear some rude songs coming from the most loyal football fans. Some of them even provoke other groups and send an open invitation to a fistfight. One of Croatian typical fan song is Bježite ljudi, bježite iz grada, which would mean Run people, run from the city, cos the drunk gang is coming, run people while there’s still chance, cos Croatia is playing here! Through the chants, even rude ones, you can feel the passion and loyalty to a certain football club or national team. Through the behaviour, even offensive one, you feel that people are still devoted and passionate about football which makes their life more interesting! If nothing, football is one of the rare things which can bring people together and make them forget about their problems – at least when the national team is playing.
Even though Estonians are not as crazy as Croatians, they also have their chants. I even remember some of them. For example Eesti Eesti or Kas Tunned Maad. Since I am still not fluent in Estonian (not even close!) it is hard for me to sing along with Estonian fans. Unlike Croatian football chants, the Estonians are not offensive at all and rather stir up the atmosphere on the stadium.
You can love it, hate it or feel indifferent to it. But one is clear ‒ football remains one of the most popular sports in the world. It is not only about the sport dimension and the quality of the game, but also about getting together, socializing and forgetting about all those concerns which keep us staying awake at night. That particular night everything stops and the life becomes a huge stage, on which we embrace thousands of people as our own. That is the real magic! And that is why I really enjoy watching it, whatever they say about women and football.