Jimmy Burns: How football can rebuild a nation

Far from being a failed state, this is a country that can do great things

Share
Related Topics

Spain's self-confidence may have been badly damaged by being at the begging end of the euro crisis, but its Euro 2012 victory should act as a reviving tonic. The conquest in Kiev confirmed the Spanish team's status as the best in the history of football, and a glowing example to present and future generations of fans and players. But beyond a sporting achievement, La Roja (The Red One) – as the Spanish squad is called – provides a role model for a debt-ridden country struggling to define its national interest.

The colour red is the colour usually worn by the national squad as long as most Spaniards can remember. But until relatively recently, politics seemed to get in the way of a broader acceptance of the word, like the Azzurri in Italy or Les Bleus in France. That is because during the Spanish Civil War, the colour took on a political identity. To be a Rojo was to be a communist and anti-Franco.

The perception stuck during the Franco years when football was manipulated for propaganda purposes by a fascist regime that contaminated and distorted the nature of Spanish nationhood. Franco favoured and promoted a virile and aggressive style of play known as the Furia Espanola (Spanish Fury), which became part of the regime's militaristic nomenclature.

Hardly surprising the Spanish national team was shunned by Catalans and Basques, even after Franco's death, with fans channelling their political passions into the intense rivalries that developed between Real Madrid (representing the centre) and clubs like FC Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao, de facto Catalan and Basque squads.

Things changed in 2008, when the then Spanish coach of the national squad Luis Aragonés felt that enough water had flowed under Spain's political bridge for Spaniards to call a team's shirt by its proper colour. Since then La Roja has come to be equated with a cultural phenomenon – football played with such finesse and artistry that commentators have drawn analogies with ballet and poetry in motion.

Sunday's victory celebrations had Basque and Catalan players waving their regional flags, and an Andalucian Real Madrid player flourishing a bullfighting cape, and fans from all areas of Spain paying tribute to Iniesta, Xavi, and Jordi Alba, some of the Barcelona stars of La Roja – all showing that you can take pride in being Spanish while having a sense of regional identity.

To La Roja's current coach, Vicente Del Bosque, a wise and conciliatory man from Salamanca, must go the credit for reminding us that Spain, far from being a failed state, is a country capable of doing great things when finding a sense of common purpose.

Jimmy Burns is the author of 'La Roja: A Journey through Spanish Football' (Simon & Schuster)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent