All over Europe, but in some places more than others, it's the morning after the night before. No different
at the BSaD Basement either. My kitchen's full of washing up, my head's full of hangover, my bottle of
cask-strength Talisker is a little emptier, everything's awfully bleary and blurry...and, as it will be
every morning for the next four years, Greece are European Champions.
Thanks to Peter Drury and his ghastly cohorts, all the relevant superlatives are over-used and spent. They've
been blown on cheap thrills, on sensational football by sensational players...which has somehow become par
for the course, nothing special. "DO THEY DO ORDINARY?" screeches Drury, as Pires swipes in another
"Goal of the Month" candidate from twenty-five yards, and, yes, that's precisely the word to describe something
that happens every week. It might be remarkably skilled, and quite pleasing to watch. But it ain't
exciting, and I resent the insistence, the ever-increasing crescendo from commentators who think that I'm not
bright enough to see for myself and to make up my own mind.
And I just adore this. It's not my victory, of course. But it's a sodding great triumph for everything
that I still love about football...and, even better, it's a massive, rude, insolent poke in the eye for
everything that's rubbish and nonsense. Celebrate it, for heaven's sake. It'll never happen again.
In many ways, the triumph of the underdog is just a small part of it. It's the frame for the picture rather than the
picture itself, for Greece's performances rapidly made history irrelevant. This might've been the same country
that had failed so completely in the past, but it wasn't the same team, not at all. It was a team that had
completely transcended its origins...initially designed to be less easy to beat, gradually becoming something
that was tooled up for victory. Being plucky and brave had nothing to do with it, in the end. Look back, and
you'll find that the best team won the tournament.
Nobody can ever argue about that. They beat Spain in the qualifiers, then sent them home early from the
tournament itself. They beat Portugal, the host nation...and then beat them again, just in case anyone thought that it
might've been a fluke. They beat France, the holders and favourites, making them, to Drury's evident disappointment,
look thoroughly ordinary in the process. They beat the Czech Republic, the tournament's best attacking side,
gradually wearing them down in an epic and memorable contest. They had some luck, naturally, but no tournament is
ever won without a bit of luck...and there was no penalty shoot-out along the way. In short, they were challenged by anyone and everyone, and nobody else was good enough. True
Much will be made of their defensive outlook, most of it will be nonsense. If you do something simple and
obvious - put all eleven men behind the ball for ninety minutes, for example - then the element of surprise
might mean that you can beat the odds once. But it requires something much more sophisticated to upset
opponents at every stage, especially at such a high level. And, to state the obvious, you have to be able to
score goals to win games. On each occasion, Greece evaded capture with new ideas, fresh problems for the
opposition to solve, then searched out weakness to exploit at key moments...and it was this, coupled with such fierce
implementation of the blueprint, that made them such a pleasure to watch. Not the most attractive side in the
tournament, clearly, but it's about winning and losing, not about step-overs and fancy flicks...and they were
responsible for the most absorbing and engrossing matches, for the most thrilling and dramatic football. And, incredibly, for
refusing to let it all be undermined by anticlimax.
Even more astonishing, really, that such a side could win a competition at which football finally became a
non-contact sport. And marvellous too, for there is perhaps still some hope that the game won't merely become
a vehicle for show ponies to exhibit their tricks, safe in the knowledge that if anyone so much as places
a hand on their shoulder, they can tumble to the floor and wait for the inevitable whistle. Isolated incidents
aside, "simulation" hasn't been the problem. It's been "exaggeration" instead - making sure that, since contact
is now forbidden, the referee is fully aware of any that takes place and is encouraged to punish it severely. For which, really,
we have television's all-seeing eye to thank, via hours and hours of pundits picking through slow-motion footage
to tell us whether or not any contact was made. "Contact" and "foul" have become interchangeable, and anything worse
than "contact" is a booking. And someone needs to kick Arjen Robben up in the air next season, by the way.
Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the heart of the matter. What really makes this important rather
than merely pleasurable is that the Greek's success bucked all of the prevailing trends in European football. You must celebrate it, because it
went against everything, absolutely everything, that's appalling about the modern game. It was perfect,
impossible. And bloody brilliant.
Now and forever, European football is about endless Nike adverts, in which the greatest game of all becomes
pro-celebrity ball juggling and Roberto Carlos isn't rubbish. Now and forever, it's about Real Madrid, accumulating
brandnames rather than building a football team. It's about referees with personal stylists. It's about ITV.
It's about the Champions League, UEFA stepping aside to allow the concentration of wealth and power in just
a handful of countries to the exclusion of the rest of the federation. It's about Ronaldo. It's about diving,
cheating, winning at all costs. It's about football that flows elegantly, but never really stirs the spirit
like it used to. It's about business opportunities, product endorsements, power struggles, everything but the
game itself. It's about all of that, now and forever.
Not this time, though.
Us 1, Them 0.