December 13, 2017

Loyalties can become divided when living abroad

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Betraying one’s heritage

Two people pose for a picture with a statue resembling Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona holding the replica of a World Cup trophy, in Buenos Aires earlier this week.
By James Grainger
News Editor

Living as a foreigner in another country can have its benefits. But when the going gets tough (yes, I mean when football tournaments begin), extranjeros can be faced with a dilemma: under what circumstances should you root for your adoptive country?

First off, let me begin with a few disclaimers: I am an Englishman. I love football (not soccer, apologies to the Herald-style guide but I can’t do it). I live for it. Watching my team every week in England was the closest I got to following a religion. And as a football fan, I value loyalty. You should follow your team through thick and thin. You shouldn’t drop them when times are hard. No glory-hunters, please, not for me.

It’s the same for me now, even though I live here. My other half’s father is a Boca fan, so I think of them affectionately. But the first team I saw in the flesh when I came here a couple of years ago was Defensores de Belgrano, and they’re the team I’ve gone back to visit. So now I’ve adopted them as my Argentine team.

Now, you may be wondering, why on earth are you telling me all this? Don’t worry, you’re safe, I won’t be sharing my darkest, deepest secrets with you. But I want you to understand my dilemma and how loyalty plays into it.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about what to do when England inevitably gets knocked out of the World Cup — either in the first round after three 0-0 draws, or in the knock-out stage on penalties after pluckily defending for 90 minutes like those lovable chaps in the 300 film (it was something to do with Sparta Prague, right?).

There’s two paths here: one, back the underdog. English people love this. We love an upstart. This is why the FA Cup is popular. We love nothing more than seeing a bunch of overpaid Premier League stars taken down a peg or two by a non-league team containing a couple of McDonalds employees, a painter and decorator and someone who works in a sausage factory. And it’s not just the English. Look how Cameroon won everyone’s hearts in Italia 1990. They may never have got close to repeating their feat, granted, but the same happened when Senegal beat France in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup. People love seeing the big guns knocked off their perch. Maybe we’ll see a wave of support and outpouring of love for Iran this year? Sorry, I’m getting carried away...

By this logic, I should adopt the lowest-ranked team to make the second round and cheer them on. It’s a possibility.

But there is another option. When England are out, I could support Argentina. I do, after all, live here. My aforementioned other, better, more prettier half is Argentine. I have dear Argentine friends. Could I really do it? I mean, they do have Messi. And Agüero. And Di María. They have steak and good wine. And sunshine and hot weather. People have been good to me here. They’re so friendly and nice. And they don’t have some old lady who supposedly is their ruler, and they won’t have to live under her insufferable son in the future.

They had the greatest player that ever played the game and they now have the best player playing the game. My club back in England (Tottenham Hotspur) has even appointed an Argentine (Mauricio Pochettino) as manager. Is this a sign? Should I embrace the light-blue-and-white side? Maybe, just maybe, I’d get to taste victory for once?

But on the other hand, they don’t have decent beer. Or pubs. And everyone thinks the coffee is good, when it’s not really. They have inflation and dog turds all over the pavements, which are all broken anyway. They’ve invented their own dollar which is apparently a different colour and it makes going on holiday really confusing and annoying.

I know, I know. There’s a big elephant in the room here I’m not mentioning. It begins with “M.”

Oh ok, I will. You’ve pushed me.

Maradona. And his mano de Dios (we English don’t like foul play

y’know, that’s why we really told off Michael Owen after he won that penalty. Hmm.).

There’s something else that begins with “M,” but I can’t quite remember right now.

But hang on... I haven’t considered something. Perhaps there’s another question here: do the Argentines even want my support? I’m English!

I’ll let you in on a secret. I tried backing Argentina once, during the last World Cup, when I lived in London. My girlfriend and I called up all our Argentine friends and we headed to a truly horrible bar in Leicester Square to watch the game.

The bar, which by night is one of those truly shocking nightclubs where you can feel the desperate hormones eeking out of the men’s pores, smelt particularly of cleaning products that day. I’m assuming there’d been some colourful antics there the night before, but nonetheless those in charge had clearly done their homework. There were stands selling empanadas, blue-and-white flags and bunting were everywhere. The bar was even selling Quilmes.

Then came the songs. They played some Charly García and some Bersuit. Everyone was screaming at the top of their voice. The chanting started up: “El que no salta es un inglés.” (I didn’t jump). And then kick off arrived.

I don’t know if you remember the game but it was over pretty quickly. I felt really sorry for the Argentines. Poor little Maradona in his ill-fitting suit. The yells and the desperation as another German goal went in. Everyone drinking Quilmes like they felt obliged despite it being the worst beer in the history of the world.

Ok, I admit. I felt their pain, but it was a little funny. Perhaps there was a little touch of schadenfreude involved. You see, for us English fans, we nearly always lose to the Germans. And on penalties too. It was nice to see someone else get hit by a blitzkrieg for once.

At the end of the night though, I felt guilty. It may have been the fact that I’d been drinking, but I’m going to claim it was my emotions.

I’ve come full circle. I’m back to my dilemma. I guess it’s decision time. What do I do? Do I back La Albiceleste? Let’s go full Queen’s English for a second shall we: should one betray one’s heritage for a taste, a chance of glory?

I’m stumped. This hasn’t helped me at all. I’ve just confused myself even more.

Maybe I’ll just back Argentina when they’re the underdog?


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