What’s in a song?

I’m a fan of soccer and of nationalism. Thus, I relish soccer tournaments that pit national teams against one another. Euro 2020 (being held a year late due to the pandemic) is such a tournament.

Before the kickoff of matches in these tournaments, the starting players line up on the field and the national anthems of their countries are played. The camera pans on the players and microphones pick up their singing, which almost is invariably off key. The camera also shows the coaching staff and some of the fans, presumably the ones singing most lustily.

There’s lots of variation when it comes to how players react to the playing of their anthem. Some don’t sing at all. Some sing half-heartedly. Some sing with conviction. Some belt out the words as if their life depended on it.

There’s also variation by country. The Italian national team can always be counted on for robust singing (and they have a perfect anthem for pouring their hearts into). Some of the Eastern European nations can be, as well.

By contrast, the Netherlands isn’t known for widespread player participation in the crooning (I haven’t observed whether this is true in the current tournament). English players generally fall somewhere in between. (Spain’s players don’t sing because their anthem has no words. The country is so divided by region that lyrics couldn’t be agreed upon.)

Is there a correlation between the passion with which players sing the anthem and the passion with which they play? Probably not. I’ve seen teams serve up over-the-top renditions of their nation’s anthem and then play limply. Turkey was a bit like that in this year’s Euros.

The Italian team sang with the same passion when it was crashing out of tournaments as when it was winning the World Cup. They are still belting out their wonderful song at Euro 2020, although their two loudest singers aren’t present. Gigi Buffon has retired from international football and Giorgio Chiellini is injured. (They are last and second from last in the video clip below.)

I did notice, however, that Hungary’s players gave a powerful performance of their anthem before the game with France, while the French players put nothing into their singing of “La Marseillaise.” The Hungarians then played their hearts out and earned a 1-1 draw against the world champions.

Similarly, Denmark’s players, perhaps inspired by their ailing star Christian Eriksen, sang their anthem today with more gusto than normal, and more than their Russian opponents. They proceeded to win 4-1, thereby moving from last place in their group to second place and qualifying for the knock-out round.

Hungary’s match was in Budapest and Denmark’s was in Copenhagen. Maybe the combination of playing at home and signing the national anthem produced some magic.

Only the truly woke would fail to draw inspiration from that.

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