I find myself amongst a multitude gathered outside of a small restaurant in a small square in a small country in Europe. There are men, women, children: at least a hundred of them staring in the same direction, at the same television, watching the same soccer match.
There are flags flying, bandannas wrapped around wrists, ankles and necks and jerseys with the names of players past and present on the backs. Hands are clasped together in silent prayer and cigarettes are being smoked with nervous fingers. Eyes are closed in disbelief and mouths are open, spewing forth curses and praise.
The volume on the television is at maximum…pleasantly deafening to those in front, barely audible to those in back. Waitresses squeeze in and out of the gaps between tables, chairs and bodies delivering liquor, beer, snacks and checks as heads bob up and down, back and forth, trying to see around them.
I calmly move from the area near the television to a place towards the rear to give a better view to those more in tune to the game than myself. I am from neither country involved in today’s competition and I care not who wins. My country’s resting now, their match is not for another three days. It is then that I know I too will be clasping my hands together…mouth open…prayers at the ready. Today, however, I’m merely here for the love of “the beautiful game”.
Today I am a neutral.
I slowly glance across the piazza at several other restaurants, bars and hotels. Each has a television of its own, in front of which are more fans, seated and standing, mirror images of the hopeful, praying, cursing, colorful multitude I am a part of. Together we are hundreds, if not thousands of followers, in dozens of establishments, watching the same two teams in the same game.
It is 360 degrees of pure, fantastic, uninhibited World Cup mania.
“Who is winning?” asks an elderly man to my immediate left. He is late arriving to the fray but quick to seek an update as to what is going on.
“Switzerland,” answers a teenager in front of us, his eyes glued to the television, a disgruntled look on his face.
“Switzerland…?”, the elderly gentleman asks again, confused, yet somehow cheerful to hear this news.
“Yeah, Switzerland,” the boy answers again.
“HA!” the elderly man says, half in shock, half in delight.
The teen finally turns to see who is speaking to him. He notices the gentleman, then he notices the Swiss emblem on the gentleman’s 3-button Polo shirt. As he turns back toward the television the gentleman notices the writing on the back of the jersey the boy is wearing…Spain.
These are the last words they speak to each other.
The referee blows the final whistle.
The game is over.
Switzerland, the 250-1 underdog, is the victor.